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Sir Mustapha Offline




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Posted: June 08 2008, 10:51

I have problems with that kind of approach; firstly because, well, how do you define what you'd throw on the "pop" bucket? Would you throw Sigur Rós into it? Radiohead? Kraftwerk? Aphex Twin? And if those artists aren't "pop", are they "classical" as well? I think they're far closer to "pop", and I refuse to believe there aren't objective ways to approach that music; matter of fact, that's how I listen to them every time. Of course I "like" them, but only because they passed on my filter (which is honestly not very restrictive, but that's for later).

Secondly, even if we take only the "pop schlock" of lately, is it true that there's no possible "objective" criteria to them? But then, how can we explain why some songs become hits and others flop? Magic? Chaos theory? I don't know, I think making a "perfect" pop hit is a very precise, almost mathematical affair, because people need something to cling on (or how they say, a hook), you need to capture the listener right from the start, you can't let the song lose steam, and so on. It is an objective affair - perhaps TOO objective, even, and that's what makes it so little fun: the humane, uncertain, experimental, spontaneous approach is what makes stuff like Mike Oldfield, Sigur Rós, Radiohead, Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin so great, in my opinion.

Of course, I reckon there are cases like here, in Brazil, in which the guy just makes whatever the hell he feels like doing and if it sticks, it Styx...


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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 08 2008, 11:58

Quote (nightspore @ June 08 2008, 15:26)
once you embrace "pop music" as such you've tacitly agreed to suspend the critical facility: all that's important is whether you like the music or not - hence the term "popular".

I'd find this rigidity of labelling far too restrictive, myself (actually it doesn't tally at all with the way I listen to music, or indeed enjoy any art), and I can't see any value in such an 'either/or', 'black/white' approach. The distinction you mark, here, between 'pop' and 'not pop', isn't really a distinction at all.  Those two labels merely mark the extremes of a continuous spectrum of approach and types of engagement. It's a bit like the so-called division between abstract and representative painting. There is no such division - just a continuous spectrum, with abstraction at one end, and representation at the other.

Massenet (I mention him because I happen to be revelling in C19th French opera just now) wasn't averse to having big hits, I think. And I certainly don't suspend my critical faculties when I listen to the Shadows' 'Wonderful Land', or when I enjoy the lovely and inventive guitar playing by Paul Simon on his early records. I think those 'pop/not pop' labels hinder the enjoyment of music, actually, rather than help it. (The same can be said, of course, about a great deal of art criticism.)
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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 08 2008, 12:08

And now.... FOUR WINDS!!!

I listened to it again (after a lengthy gap) today, specifically listening for the N/S/E/W effect - and it is pretty clear isn't it? The first section is rough and raw, and very northernish; the second is like a balmy, mild south wind; the third with its sitar-like sound, has distinctly oriental references; and the fourth has a strong feeling of High Noon and gunslinging about it, as Sweetpea pointed out earlier on. So I think that even if we hadn't been told that the sequence was N,S,E,W, there'd really be no doubt about deducing it.

I'm adding this post not because I think it contains penetrating insights (actually they're distinctly absent from it), but merely to prove that I can stay on topic in this thread!
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Sir Mustapha Offline




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Posted: June 08 2008, 13:08

Correction: you can be on topic, but not STAY on it! ;)

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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 08 2008, 13:23

Quote (Sir Mustapha @ June 08 2008, 18:08)
Correction: you can be on topic, but not STAY on it!

Perfect!

Drat! I'm off topic again!
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Sir Mustapha Offline




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Posted: June 08 2008, 19:41

You know, re-reading my post, I think I understand why the things I say can upset some people - I have a way of saying certain things that make me sound like a bastard son-of-a-bitch. It's entirely unintentional, though.

(thought there were times I was pretty close to walking around with a limp and a cane and a PermaStubble™ and say irritating things in a low, jaded voice, but I think Hugh Laurie and I are almost on opposite ends of the coolness spectrum)


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nightspore Offline




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Posted: June 08 2008, 20:25

Quote (Sir Mustapha @ June 08 2008, 10:51)
I have problems with that kind of approach; firstly because, well, how do you define what you'd throw on the "pop" bucket? Would you throw Sigur Rós into it? Radiohead? Kraftwerk? Aphex Twin? And if those artists aren't "pop", are they "classical" as well?

It's not so much the groups you mention, Sir M, but the sort of approach that tends to accompany mention of them that I was talking about. When you discuss a classical work such as Sibelius's "Night Ride and Sunrise", which I in fact did some time ago on the Music of the Spheres thread, I found that to talk about it I was virtually forced into using very precise analysis, the kind that tends to be more associated with "classical music", in order to get my point across. (I was forced to say things such as the rising horn notes express formally the idea of the sun rising, while the strings' galloping rhythm expresses the horse ride, etc). On the other hand - and I've noticed this on this forum - the very mention of pop groups tends to invite a far less critical vocabulary, comprising words such as "cheesy", "stunning". etc. Of course you can discuss groups from a "classical" point of view; but my point is simply that if the less precise way of looking at music, which accompanies mention of groups, is going to happen, it's best to avoid mentioning them, in order to do justice to Mike's work.
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nightspore Offline




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Posted: June 08 2008, 21:24

Quote (Alan D @ June 08 2008, 11:58)
when I enjoy the lovely and inventive guitar playing by Paul Simon on his early records. I think those 'pop/not pop' labels hinder the enjoyment of music, actually, rather than help it. (The same can be said, of course, about a great deal of art criticism.)

The trouble is, it's virtually impossible to respond to Paul Simon's music (to use your example) without falling back on a pop way of looking at things. Take "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover". There's nothing in the instrumentation or the form of this song that in any way reflects its subject matter. (It has a kind of jerky drum rhythm that more suggests the attempts of someone to put on a sock while hopping around on one leg than any kind of suggestion of departure or valediction.) Contrast this with Haydn's Farewell symphony, where the idea of departure is captured by the fact that the instruments gradually thin out, until, at the end,there's only one violin left playing the descending (and thus sadness-suggesting) melody.

In a nutshell, my point is this: you'll get better discussions of Mike's music if you stick with the classical canon than if you bring in people like Paul Simon or Duane Eddy.
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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 09 2008, 04:43

Quote (nightspore @ June 09 2008, 02:24)
The trouble is, it's virtually impossible to respond to Paul Simon's music (to use your example) without falling back on a pop way of looking at things. Take "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover".

That may be the case for the song you mention, which I hardly know (I lost interest in what he was doing after the first couple of albums). I was talking  of  Paul Simon's earliest work - things like the plangent guitar-playing on the lovely 'Kathy's Song', which has haunted me for over 40 years and still makes me ache, close to tears, as I listen to it now. Any critical system that dismisses such delicate, poignantly expressed music as 'pop' would be worse than worthless to me; it threatens impoverishment, not enrichment.

Quote
In a nutshell, my point is this: you'll get better discussions of Mike's music if you stick with the classical canon than if you bring in people like Paul Simon or Duane Eddy.

But why should we narrow our vision in this way (and thereby understand less, not more)? Anyone who didn't understand the influence of 'pop/rock' on Mike Oldfield would be missing an entire dimension of his music, and to discuss it in purely classical terms would be seriously misleading. As I mentioned in another thread yesterday, one of the marvellous things about him is that he trashed those boundaries. He showed that you can be a guitar hero and still make 'serious' music. To try to put those boundaries back up again would be to negate a large part of his achievement.

To listen for little references to Duane Eddy or The Shadows, or even (who knows) for hints of Paul Simon's early finger-picking style, in Mike Oldfield's music has a number of possible benefits, but best of all it sends us back to the music, willing to look at it in yet another new light.
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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 09 2008, 05:22

Quote (Sir Mustapha @ June 09 2008, 00:41)
You know, re-reading my post, I think I understand why the things I say can upset some people

You mean the one about being but not staying? I thought it was excellent. Like a wink and a handshake and a jab in the ribs all at once.
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Marky Offline




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Posted: June 09 2008, 05:43

While I have no bright idea to add to the off topic but very interesting discussion about pop and classical, there is one matter slightly troubling me and that is that Mike himself is arguably more pop than classical. He certainly wasn't born from classical roots. To understand his influences you'd need to be able to reference some of the things that created his sound, and rock and folk music were central. Then again, returning to Four Winds, this is rather more classical in nature - maybe - because the music seeks to define something in sound. The fact it does so entirely by use of guitars is another matter! Clever really. Anyway, as you were.
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Sir Mustapha Offline




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Posted: June 09 2008, 09:02

Quote (Alan D @ June 09 2008, 05:22)
You mean the one about being but not staying? I thought it was excellent. Like a wink and a handshake and a jab in the ribs all at once.

Oh, I didn't mean that. I think you already can see when I'm joking; but stuff like attributing the behaviour of pop charts to "magic" and "Chaos theory" can smell of condescension and impoliteness. It wasn't intentional.

What I have to say is that I guess you really can't go too objective on "pop" music because it wasn't made for that. The simplicity of pop music defies heavy analysis because it's hard to analyse simplicity - it kind of misses the point. Pop music often aims straight to people's tastes - either because that's what fares better commercially, or because people want their songs to be remembered immediately, or something - so that's why it invites those attributes mentioned ("cheesy, etc.), but you can do that to Classical music, surely? Perhaps if your classical training is high enough, you'll avoid that, but a "regular listen" can surely find The Rite of Spring "weird", or "scary", or "thrilling", and say Bach's cantatas are "boring" or something (heresy!! ). It's just a different way of phrasing things. And if you can have a "Classical" training, you can have a "pop" training, can't you? Those pop songwriters don't randomly write songs - they often know more or less what works and what don't, and if they do, they certainly can explain it in objective terms.

But about the Paul Simon thing - is it required that the music must express something, or that it must express exactly what the lyrics talk about? Yeah, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover gallops and hops around playfully, maybe because it's just meant to be playful. There are things more extreme: Pink Floyd's Free Four talks about dying over a merrily snappy tune, and Radiohead's No Surprises has a tone of despair over what sounds like a children's lullaby. But what about that music that isn't intended to express? Sometimes the lyrics are there just because they have to be, and music and words work on different levels; the Pet Shop Boys often have quite meaningful lyrics over a tune that's just meant to be catchy and danceable, Sigur Rós has an entire album of extremely deep and layered music with completely meaningless syllables instead of words, and Brian Eno most often writes lyrics guided only by the sounds, not meaning, of words. This ground is too filled with nuances and shades to get such a binary attitude. Overall, I'm in Alan D on this one, but I think I know better where you're coming from now.


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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 09 2008, 10:52

This thread is completely wrecked by now, so what the heck. On the other hand, its title is 'Four Winds'; and the point of the four winds is that they can blow you in all possible directions - so hey! This may actually be Tubular.net's most on-topic thread! (He pleaded, plaintively, as the admins deleted his account....)

I would want to bring back to the discussion the difficulties that arise from  this polarity issue (Sir M calls it 'binary' ). I was listening today (for the first time) to a ravishing piece of singing by Susan Graham of Reynaldo Hahn's 'O Mon Bel Inconnu' from his 1933 operetta of the same title. Coming at it after being soaked in late nineteenth century French opera in recent weeks, I was able to enjoy it (indeed, be ravished by it) in a way that would have completely passed me by just a few months ago. But, as one reviewer described the album from which it comes, it's like a big bumper box of chocolates. It's pop music. Delicious, sexy, delectable, sophisticated pop music. But it's also part of that whole French opera tradition, from which it sprang. So it isn't pop music actually, after all. Or at least there seems to be more to it than that ...

Fact is, the labels are pretty much useless, as labels so often are. And to have only two labels available ('pop/not pop' ) is as restrictive as a straitjacket. This is one of those thousands of pieces of music that lies in some indefinable position along that spectrum I talked about; it is what it is, sexy and slinky and gorgeous - no more and no less than the Pipettes, Whitney Houston or Rihanna, each sounding completely (and in their way, brilliantly) different but trailing their own cultural baggage along with them. There's no wrong or right way to listen to this stuff, nor to talk about it, except to surrender to it, and be seduced by it, for being so deliciously what it is.
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Dirk Star Offline




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Posted: June 09 2008, 12:47

You know all of this sprung from Sweetpea`s remark about the western section of Four Winds sounding like surf guitar music.Which frankly it does you know,I don`t think you can really argue that.I did`nt think it was therefore too much of a stretch to the imagination to bring Duane Eddy into the comparison albeit in a roundabout way originaly.In terms of musical comparisons I can only talk about the one`s I`m familiar with.Incidentaly if you play Music From The Balcony at just around the nine and a half minute mark.I think you might find a quite interesting riff going on in the background there which holds together the entire piece at that point.It resurfaces again at about 10:50 ..I do believe the theme from Peter Gunn is a Henry Mancini thing originaly.But in the context Mike used it here I must admit it does remind me of another version of that piece of music entirely... ;)

As far as comparisons outside of the musical spectrum go,I`m no intellectual that`s for sure.I can only say things like the western section of Four Winds has a great air of mystery and intrigue to it.A little bit like this one in fact...  ;)
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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 09 2008, 14:15

Quote (Dirk Star @ June 09 2008, 17:47)
You know all of this sprung from Sweetpea`s remark about the western section of Four Winds sounding like surf guitar music.Which frankly it does you know,I don`t think you can really argue that.

You're right. I don't think you can, either.

Quote
I did`nt think it was therefore too much of a stretch to the imagination to bring Duane Eddy into the comparison albeit in a roundabout way originaly.

Indeed. Maybe this means I might not have been so ludicrously off topic after all? (Clutching at straws here, Mick.)

Quote
Incidentaly if you play Music From The Balcony at just around the nine and a half minute mark.I think you might find a quite interesting riff going on in the background there which holds together the entire piece at that point.It resurfaces again at about 10:50

I'll check that out. Thanks.

Quote

I can only say things like the western section of Four Winds has a great air of mystery and intrigue to it.A little bit like this one in fact...

I had no idea there was so much of Duane on YouTube!

I did a bit of digging myself and came up with this gold nugget. Without this, there would never have been a track called 'Cochise' on the Guitars album. Don't you think? My goodness, what fertile seeds these guys planted.
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nightspore Offline




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Posted: June 09 2008, 20:32

Quote (Alan D @ June 09 2008, 10:52)
Fact is, the labels are pretty much useless, as labels so often are. And to have only two labels available ('pop/not pop' ) is as restrictive as a straitjacket.

Alan, there's a fallacy here, that unless you can define a word precisely, it's meaningless. But this is absurd: as the philosopher Wittgenstein pointed out, it would be very difficult to give a definition of,for example,a horse - yet we seldom make mistakes when using the word.
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Sweetpea Offline




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Posted: June 10 2008, 01:55

I was glad to see those videos - thanks, Dirk and Alan. I'm ignorant about both Duane Eddy (I thought you were kidding about all the "Twang" stuff! ) and The Shadows. I don't recall ever hearing their version of "Wonderful Land", and it's lovely, I think. I can sorta see what Sir M (?) meant when he said, elsewhere, that MO's version may have too much going on. And, having just written that, I'm suddenly getting an inkling of what nightspore may mean in regards to viewing MO's music from other than a pop perspective. Aggravatingly, a full understanding has eluded me, for now. Anyway, I think my point is that I can see the value of looking at MO's music from a more 'classical' viewpoint, but I agree with Alan and Sir M that limiting one's study to exclude other approaches sort of misses out on important aspects of his art. Speaking of art, I was struck by something Marky said...

Quote (Marky @ June 09 2008, 05:43)
returning to Four Winds, this is rather more classical in nature - maybe - because the music seeks to define something in sound. The fact it does so entirely by use of guitars is another matter! Clever really.

...and I've been listening to "Four Winds" often, lately, to try to see what I can gain from a more objective view than I normally apply. It's times like these that I wish I were more knowledgable on such matters, as the only new insight I had was the impression that - aside from "East" - all of the sections have a North American slant to them. Then I thought, 'Well, duh! Of course you'd think that - you're American'. So I wonder if that's my America-centrism at play or if it is an actual objective observation.

Oh, and following the YouTube trail, I discovered The Shadows' version of "Moonlight Shadow", which I'd only heard of before, and I really liked that too!


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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 10 2008, 02:59

Quote (nightspore @ June 10 2008, 01:32)
Quote (Alan D @ June 09 2008, 10:52)
Fact is, the labels are pretty much useless, as labels so often are. And to have only two labels available ('pop/not pop' ) is as restrictive as a straitjacket.

Alan, there's a fallacy here, that unless you can define a word precisely, it's meaningless. But this is absurd: as the philosopher Wittgenstein pointed out, it would be very difficult to give a definition of,for example,a horse - yet we seldom make mistakes when using the word.

But that isn't what I was talking about at all. I think you've missed the main thrust of what I was saying there.

The issue of whether a piece of music is 'pop' or 'not pop' is nothing like whether a given animal is a horse or not, unless you think there are only two categories of music. The important sentence (of those two you quoted) is not the first (which I'd happily discard as flippant and unimportant), but the second.

Wittgenstein's comment isn't applicable to this situation: in the case of the label 'horse', we would indeed all agree about what is a horse and what isn't; but as this thread amply demonstrates, there is very real disagreement about whether a given piece of music is 'pop' or 'not pop'. And the reason is that those labels are being applied incorrectly! It's useless to insist on labelling a colour 'black' or 'white' when one is presented with a whole spectrum.
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Matt Offline




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Posted: June 10 2008, 03:08

Quote (Alan D @ June 10 2008, 07:59)
It's useless to insist on labelling a colour 'black' or 'white' when one is presented with a whole spectrum.
Is it pedantic to point out that white *is* indeed the whole spectrum! :p


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Alan D Offline




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Posted: June 10 2008, 03:23

If, having begun with a thesis ('Mike Oldfield's music is best approached as if it were classical' ), followed by an antithesis ('Mike Oldfield cannot be understood without reference to pop culture' ), we wanted to create a synthesis, maybe in fact that is what we are doing already (in a small way) without realising it.

To take a small example: by observing that Mike Oldfield's 'Cochise' owes something to the Shadows' 'Apache' we are saying something not so very different in kind (though on a much smaller scale of course) to the statement that Elgar's 'The Kingdom' owes something to Wagner's use of the leitmotif in 'The Ring'. In other words, when we do this we are indeed discussing Mike's music with something other than a merely 'pop' attitude, even though our reference (the Shadows) is drawn from 'pop'. Perhaps we can have our cake and eat it, after all. I think this may not satisfy Daniel, though!
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