Symphonica Electronica

Here’s what bothers me.  I’ve just seen a television programme that held up the symphony and the symphonic form as the pinnacle of artistic achievement in music.  It was called “monumental”.   It was said that the symphony was to music what Shakespeare was to the English language.  None of that bothered me.  It’s arguably beyond dispute.  What bothers me is that the last few decades have seen a massive explosion in musical instrument design.  There are now more genuinely interesting and beautiful instrument timbres available than at any other time in the history of music, yet those with the skills to compose, according to the classical tradition, simply ignore those sounds.  Why?

When Mozart was alive, he embraced the new sounds that newly designed instruments were capable of making.  Indeed, they had to redesign the pianoforte just to cope with the heavy metal playing technique of Beethoven and his symphonies.  Why aren’t there new and interesting works, in the symphonic form, being written for these delicate and unique new sounds?  Why are they shunned?

OK, there is a perception that modern instruments are not worthy of virtuoso players, but that isn’t strictly true.  Many electric guitars made today are every bit as playable as the finest violin.  In the hands of the right player, they can evoke a wonderful range of tones, timbres and emotions.  In electronic instruments, the sounds are less playable, arguably, but with each release of the popular sampling synthesisers or modelling synthesisers, another level of subtlety is achieved.  The modern sound library, coupled with a weighted eighty eight key controller, is every bit as expressive as an acoustic piano, for example.  So why are there no symphonies for sampler and synth?

Perhaps it’s the audience’s fault.  Perhaps it’s snobbery.  There is a marked divide between those that like Renaissance art and those that like modern abstraction, but I would argue that painters are far more willing to experiment with old and new materials and media, whatever their style.  In contrast, classical composers turn a deaf ear toward electronic and electric instruments, it seems.

I liked this page from Yahoo Answers:

It covers a lot of ground, but I think it’s clear, if you read it, that there is no really compelling reason why composers in the classical tradition cannot embrace modern sounds and instruments in their works.  I guess film composers do, to a degree, but these are not works that are published, promoted and performed like symphonies.  They are not considered to be quite as “high art” as the symphonic form.

I think that if I knew a little more about composition and arrangement, I would be tempted to try to write a symphony for electric and electronic instruments, which hopefully would have all the qualities that make symphonies performed with the acoustic instruments of the traditional orchestra such a delight to music lovers.  It’s a nice dream, in any case.

I can think of nothing more delightful than listening to a powerful, passionate, evocative symphony, in a lovely concert hall, replete with the most diverse and new sounds imaginable.  I’d do the same in a living room, just like classical music aficionados do.  An iPod filled with electronic and electric pieces, of perhaps twenty to sixty minutes in duration, which had movements, light and shade, drama and pathos, joy and despair, would be a wonderful thing to drown out the troubles of the day and focus my mind on my work.  As much as I enjoy the rhythms and power of rock, pop and electronica, there are some times when this form of music isn’t what I hunger for.

I wonder if there are any composers out there (I know quite a few composers) that might like to have a serious attempt at writing such a symphony.  I sincerely hope so.  I’m not sure I can study composition and become good enough at it in time to satisfy my own desires.


About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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2 Responses to Symphonica Electronica

  1. Nikki says:

    I know exactly what you mean. I’m a huge pop/rock/electronica fan, but I love the classical world as well. I always hear sounds in both realms that I’m dying to wrap around each other, just for kicks. I think a lot of people see old world instruments as more pure, and they assume that harsher things like synths will ruin their effect. That’s probably because most of the electronic sounds they hear in music are in pop tunes — which aren’t bad, just a little too limited and standard to show their true range.

    And man, you’re right about guitars… I mean, Jimi Hendrix has made sounds with his that emote in a carnal way that classical music can’t capture sometimes.

    Excellent post. I really love the way you write! 🙂

    • Thank you for your very kind comments. It was Bob Moog that said anybody can make something sound good “forte”, but making it sound interesting “piano” is the real trick. (or words to that effect). Bob strived to add complexity and subtlety to the tones his instruments produced. I think he was on the right track.

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