Wednesday, February 16, 2011

There’s a Method to the Madness

Prior to putting together the Music Outside the Box library, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of Avant-Garde music. After all, anyone can sit down at a piano and randomly play notes – my kids do it all the time. But after immersing myself in this world for awhile, I soon became aware that not all of this music was created equal. Yes, the landscape was cluttered with imitators and wannabes, but there existed a certain class of composer who stood out. They were doing something different – something that on the surface might seem incoherent to the casual listener, but it really wasn’t.

There was an obvious difference between what I’d consider the “real thing” and people who were just imitating the style, but what was it? At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew it when I heard it.

I came to realize that the truly great ones were attempting to either convey meaning or elicit emotion with a non-standard musical vocabulary. They were creating what linguists would call “phonemes,” or basic building blocks of sound, and then using those to build something that did have an underlying structure, much the same as “traditional” composers would. This was not always immediately obvious, but to my ears, it made the distinction between art and chaos.

In some of these pieces, the structure is obvious: patterns emerge, themes return, and you begin to hear something not nearly as non-standard as you first thought. Other pieces are less obvious, but can have just as strong an emotional impact. And that, as filmmakers, is ultimately what we’re after: impact and response. If we can’t get those, then the music isn’t doing its job.

The tracks in our new Music Outside the Box library have all been chosen with the creative filmmaker in mind. They catch the attention, say something, and deliver an emotional impact in a non-standard package. So we find, after all, that there is a method to the madness.

- Dave Hab