hip hop music

February 12, 2004

Aaron Copland Says Bring The Noise

(this is a continuation of the discussion here)

A while ago I singled out the "noise" as a missing piece in Jack White's definition of music, as applied in his negative assessments of hip-hop. My assertion was that the visceral quality of the sounds, as distinct from melody/harmony/rhythm/lyrics, always helps to shape our musical experience, and is a crucial element of hip-hop's appeal in particular.

From Marley Marl's seminal screeches on "The Bridge", on to the Bomb Squad's "Bring the Noise" aural manifesto, on to El P's funcrushery, on to Dizzee Rascal's grime, hip-hop has focused on cultivating and exploring this element of the music, the quality of the noise, more than any western pop form I can think of.

I recently came across some corroborating testimony on the subject from Aaron Copland, who unlike me possessed the musical vocabulary to express the ideas properly. This comes from an essay named "The Sonorous Image" in his book Music and Imagination (published in 1952):

One of the prime concerns in the making of music, either as creator or as interpreter, is the question of how it will sound. On any level, whether the music is abstruse and absolute or whether it is intended for the merest diversion, it has got to "sound."

...Yes, the sonorous image is a preoccupying concern of all musicians. In that phrase we include beauty and roundness of tone; its warmth, its depth, its "edge," its balanced mixture with other tones, and its acoustical properties in any given environment. The creation of a satisfactory aural image is not merely a matter of musical talent or technical adroitness; imagination plays a large role here.

...Most people's aural memory is remarkably strong; heard sounds remain in the mind for long periods of time, and with a sharpness that is also remarkable. From the early twenties I still retain an impression of fantastic sonorities after a first contact with Schonberg's Pierrot Lunaire, or a little later, the astonishing percussive imaginings of Edgar Varese, especially in a piece called Arcanes, head once but not again. ...I can remember too the particular acid sound of a mexican small-town band playing in the public square on Sunday evenings in Tlaxcala. Were they playing out of tune, do you think? Perhaps, but nevertheless they were creating an aural image authentically their own. So was an English choir of boys' and men's voices that I heard in a London cathedral. They had a hollow, an almost cadaverous quality; not pretty, perhaps, but certainly memorable. Most unforgettable sound of all was that of a massed orchestra and band of some one thousand high school performers in an Atlantic City convention hall all simultaneously searching for the note A. It is hopeless to attempt to describe that sound. Jericho's walls must have heard some such unearthly musical noise.

I do not mean to suggest that sounds in themselves, taken out of context, are of any use to a composer. Interesting sonorities as such are scarcely more than icing on the musical cake. But a deliberately chosen sound image that pervades an entire piece becomes an integral part of the expressive meaning of that piece...

I'd like to see what Copland would say if he was around to apply his concepts to hip-hop..

Posted by jsmooth995 at February 12, 2004 1:19 AM

Weblog Archives