The Days of Dense Notation

April 4, 2019

When I was in secondary school, a strict religious view entered into my musicality. From this point on I believed music should be human and transcendental. Human in a sense of being conceived by humans, as in popular variations on great composers’ lives. Wind is fluttering the curtains bordering a moonlit window as Beethoven tirelessly drafts one of his great symphonies, scribbling ever more decisively and with obvious devotion.

 

At that time, I strived to be a composer. Emphasis on the mere act of artistic creation greatly outweighed the tendency for refinement in what I was writing. The principles of tonal harmony and metric order were an obstacle to me, since I knew little about them. I thought they were redundant, that they would obstruct my musical expression. In addition, they would keep the notes imprisoned in my head because I would not have a compositional tool at my disposal to let them out accordingly. As I assumed that music is only music when it is as strong and effective as it can possibly be, notes were crowded on the staff, forming almost as many tuplets as could be squeezed on it, as many diverse interval jumps, and even as many rests. 

 

After all, music should be something completely different, thought a young version of me. A superior artistic expression, and a tool to make the listener experience serenity and perceptive withdrawal to the countryside. The music drafted was intended to transport listeners to another place entirely – visually, aurally, as if listening were a hallucination. Curiously, never did anyone else have the chance to hear these pieces. I kept them for myself and rarely even rehearsed them in privacy. 

 

Gradually, such compositional mentality developed in an intense worship of aurally non-existent music, of the inner-musicking, confined entirely to the imaginatory potential of the mind. Facing its great rhythmical, harmonical, even timbral complexity with a lack of instrumental technique, its physical performance was doomed to fail. No wonder that I considered musicking independent from the performer. It itself, not me, became the performer. I then believed that it was a substance: intangible, to be felt as a calming energy or a flow of warmth, crystalizing what I belived was good. As the internal musicking became an external substance, a need arised to distinguish it from the musical Other that did not seem substantial and as valuable.

 

In a world governed by binarity, one is attracted to the other side just because it is there to be discovered. The correlation of the latter to electronic music, popular with my school friends, was drawn automatically and without reflection. The first encounter with it was a fearful one: what if I am somehow converted so as to like it, and leave the worship of the secluded aural world behind? The prejudice of artificiality I would use to describe electronic music puzzled me. However, it was foremost the palpable, ground-shaking pulsation of the bass to amplify the possibility of musico-religious conversion. 

 

Years after, when almost nothing remains of such youthful fundamentalism, I consider bass as an elementary force that cannot be questioned or denied. But I am certain that withdrawing from absolute complexity of notation and proceeding onto fascination with the bass relates to nostalgia. 


Even if only a fraction of 21st century pop music deals with imagery of wealth and hedonism, it so seems that the bass precisely from such subgenres constructed a nostalgic aura for me. My first extensive contact with electronic music was at a final trip at secondary school, deliberately advertised as a paradise for uninhibited adolescence. It was no wonder that music played there conformed to such marketing, notably to material richness and sensual pleasures. All of a sudden, the musical Other entered into my world of strict, dividing religiosity, and it was the bass that entered with the most rumble.

 

Basing on the distinction between pitches high and low, the musical theory ingested in schools made bass denote something sounding deep. Reflecting on my story, such depth of a bass became a literal musical fundament that replaced the complexity of my notations. It might have been an aesthetic misunderstanding, because something sounding low does not necessarily make or break the music as well. I was aware that bass cannot substitute scriptural complexity of a score and so, no wonder that from then on, for me, the bass denotes nostalgia for the days of dense notation.

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