Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Journey Through Counterpoint VIII

Dissonant counterpoint
This is what I like to refer to as the "Let's be different for the sake of being different" counterpoint.  Dissonant counterpoint, which originated in the 1920's,  takes the confines of species counterpoint and reverses them so that dissonance rather than consonance becomes the rule.   Charles Seeger, former chairman of the Music Department at the University of California at Berkeley is largely credited as being its main proponent.

Dissonant counterpoint sought to create a new musical point of view by avoiding musical conventions and the "norm."  Perfect octaves (consonant) are generally shunned in favour of major sevenths (dissonant).  Where species counterpoint "steps," dissonant counterpoint "skips" and "leaps."  In general, dissonant counterpoint does the complete opposite of traditional counterpoints.

So let's take a closer look at this curmudgeon in our cast of counterpoint characters (I couldn't resist the alliteration... sorry!):
 Dissonant Counterpoint is contrary and negative. He is revolutionary and would like to stage a coup de grâce to put an end to consonance.  If he can't accomplish that, he can at least banish consonance to her room and only let her out for mealtimes and bathroom breaks.  He sees his melody as a New World Order - a "pure" melody of strength, power and victory. 

Eighth application:  Why bother?  I do not mean to say this in a facetious manner.  I am absolutely serious: why bother with dissonant counterpoint?  Is there any value to it?  Can we, in fact, learn something from it?  Our first inclination might be to throw it out the window; who needs such negativity?  But upon closer examination, is there perhaps a benefit to it?  [Here's a thought to get your philosophical juices flowing - can light exist apart from darkness?]


Elisabeth said...

These are all incredible. I'm so very glad you wrote them. Thank you. Very very much.

Dan Erickson said...

Maybe things need to be broken down so they can be built up again in new ways, but I think I'm with you. Why bother?

You have some wonderful ideas here. What's next?

Annie said...

You're actually *not* with me on the "Why bother?" While I think dissonant counterpoint completely eliminates musical interpretation and distorts the emotion to a formulaic aberration, I DO think there's a purpose in it.

Come on, you're the philosophical one between us - think hard! I would suggest again: can light exist apart from darkness? Would it lose its definition, its very essence? It would definitely lose its efficacy. In that sense, do we *need* darkness?

Dan Erickson said...

I understand the need for contrast in order to appreciate certain things, but "darkness" in music is silence, not dissonance. The accessible, "beautiful" kind of counterpoint existed before the dissonant one- so it clearly didn't need it in order to exist.

So the value I see in it is more like mixing up Scrabble tiles, just to get a new perspective on things. But it all seems like a means to some other end instead of an end in itself.

wakeupcowboys said...

All of us know people who are the dissonant counterpoint types. Impossible to work with in a team. They do lead to an end, even if they don't mean to, and no matter how maddening they are. They make us re-think our counterpoint and possibly put it in better balance...and so our dissonance becomes consonance.