Monday, September 28, 2009

Intervals: what happens between the notes

One thing that recorded music can never seem to reproduce is the stuff that happens in the air when you play resonant double-stops on a stringed instrument. A particularly good instrument (or a group of instruments) will excite a whole rainbow of vibrating resonances, that dance around like a group of excited atoms. A good set of speakers and a set of extremely sensitive microphones can come close to capturing what happens on the surface during a given moment, but the beauty of live performance (or live practice) is that each time you play--even the same written notes--the set of phantom rainbow resonances that happens inside of the intervals, inside of the double-stops, is different. The set of dancing rainbow resonances even varies over the duration of a double-stop, even if the double stop only lasts for a very short amount of time.

There is a universe inside of a perfect fifth, particularly because, in addition to all the magical dancing atomic rainbow vibrations, it contains implied possibilities that are sometimes filled in by the imagination of the listener (and player), and are sometimes filled in by the addition of a major or minor third, which throws those atomic rainbow resonances into a whole new hierarchy.


Anonymous said...

Two things come to mind.

First, by noting "implications" in intervals with which many musicians agree, you blast to smithereens with your intellectual shotgun the early 20th century argument that dissonances are all somehow neutral and can be used in serialism without consequence as to their implications.

Second, the notion of hearing changes from distance and perspective. A string player, for example, hears his instrument in a way an audience member sitting at a distance can never know. Is this perhaps why musicians see more implications in notes and intervals, because they are so close?

Elaine Fine said...

On a tempered instrument, like a piano, dissonant intervals can have more of a sense of neutrality, and can be heard more easily outside of the natural harmonic consequences that result from intervals that are manipulated by the ear-directed fingers of a string player to get maximum resonance.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons that the most successful 12-tone music (at least in my opinion) is piano music.

Sitting close to great string players who are playing in a really resonant space can be as rewarding (harmonically speaking) as having your ear next to an instrument yourself. It isn't quite the same in a large concert hall, though. And a lot depends on the instruments that are being used, which is one reason that people spend so much money on great instruments. Why else would someone spend as much on a wooden box as s/he would for a huge house?

Anonymous said...

Is not a wooden box the same thing, whether a viola or a fine old concert hall?