The development of lyrics only manifested really itself in the second half of this century. Oh sure, there was music with lyrics before this century, but they were stuck in the idiotic religious purgatory, never developing. Perhaps you are referring to Melody's Saddest Time, because you won't get any argument from me there. From ska punk to rap, there is no melody today. I doubt there are even focusing on melody now. It's all lyrics now.

Probably because most of today's musicians are trained differently than before. So Trent Reznor was bred on classical piano. Tori Amos was a genius in classical music. I think they are both exceptions. Note that rappers such as Eminem are called "artists", not musicians. You're right, that isn't really "music" in a true sense, he just utters lyrics. Trent Reznor didn't stick to his classical roots. I don't listen to NIN a lot, but I do know from my limited collection that his music rocks. Perhaps he is more interested in beat than say, the melodic algorithms that Chopin was so into.

And then there is techno. I am particular to Aphex Twin, and he is a musician, and an excellent one at that. Go listen to some of his stuff, you might be surprised by the lack of lyrics and the interesting melodies.

My musical background was completely classical, I played the violin for a good 14 years and the piano for 9. Unlike some young musical ignorati today, such as my old roommate, I appreciate classical music, but I also like modern music. Some teenage fools today only listen to new music and refuse to even give classical a try. Look, I composed classical music in the past, but that doens't make me narrow-minded toward other types of music. Frankly, I got sick of the lack of lyrics after a while, and I got into other types of music, from alternative to rap to techno. I still have a huge collection of Bach, Beethoven and Chopin, but I also have Blink 182, Goo Goo Dolls, RATM, KMFDM, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. People laugh at me for my classical tastes, but screw them.

Dance tastes change as well. Waltzes and tangos were an art back then, I've played many a violin piece designed for them, but since people now think they're "kooky", they've been replaced by newer stuff. Frankly, I think the dances today are a farce myself, but I can listen to a good disco piece without gagging.

Music is just evolving. Sure, there is plenty of rubbish along the way, such as ska punk and Cantopop, but they will be forgotten. Lyrics now have the emphasis, and in a way, that is good. Four centuries of melodies can get sickening after a while. Today, we only know the famous composers. In 100 years time, nobody will remember the Spice Girls or those anonymous punk bands my roommate used to listen to. Now, that is horrid.

Besides, I like Wesley Willis. He has no melody whatsoever, his lyrics don't make sense, but I still listen to him. I find a certain charm to Rock over London, Rock on Chicago! and Disharmony Hellbus. So sue me.


Whoops, forgot about opera. Annoyingly moderate? What the hell is that supposed to mean?   :)

I have to agree with DMan. When I was younger, I used to make fun of the music my brother listened to because I didn't like it. (It doesn't matter what kind of music that was.) Then I started learning to play the guitar, and I came to realize that just because you don't like something doesn't mean it isn't any good, that it doesn't have any value.

It's not an easy thing to write a piece of music, any kind of music. Some music is certainly more complicated than others, just as some art is more complicated than others. Bach is in many ways like one of those engravings by M.C. Escher, with interlocking harmonies that fit together as neatly as a puzzle. Some very slick pop tune may be more akin to an Andy Warhol painting. They're very different from each other. You might not like both, or either, but to say one has no value just because you happen to prefer the other is just wrong. They may have not value to you, but that is not the same thing as being worthless.

One more point about heavy metal specifically. If you aren't used to listening to an electric guitar played through an amp with a lot of distortion, it can sound very noisy, and I mean noisy in the technical sense, that is, full of random frequencies, and it's especially difficult to hear chords through all that apparent noise. However, there is really very little actual noise in there, there is a lot of distortion of a very specific type, but not very much noise. Many people like this particular sound, and with listening practice, (though most people don't even realize they've had to practice it) hearing the notes and chords through all that distortion is possible, even effortless.


Lith, You're right, I wasn't meaning to present the idea as if it were my own. I've read that book so many times that that particular idea has just become part of my psyche and I forget that not everyone has necessarily read that book or Hofstadter's other books. (Similarly, I also don't credit Homer Simpson when I say "Doh!" :-) And that particular analogy is so dead-on that I kind of doubt Hofstadter was the first to hit upon it anyway. Your radical ideas about other people's radical ideas have already occurred to others. Not that it's a reasonable defense, but, ideas such as this are not copyrightable nor patentable, nor are they property...so if I didn't want to, I have no legal obligation to credit anyone. But it's not as if I've never credited Hofstadter here on E2. Read things that rhyme with orange or Creativity is absolutely dependent on boundaries for instance).
Uberfetus is right: There's no such thing as bad polka.

DMan's being annoyingly reasonsable and thoughtful, but I'd like to observe that non-religious lyrics in music were happening all over the 19th century: Lieder, opera, operetta, etc., not to mention Stephen Foster and ilk. And then there's "folk" music: There's not a battle in the history of Scotland but what there's a ballad explaining in endless detail who tolchocked whom and in what order, and then who ran away first. And we only seem to be talking about Europe and the US; I've no idea what goes on in the rest of the world. Finally, it seems a wee bit reductive to me to be focussing on ska punk and rap to the exclusion of everything else that's happening nowadays in popular music. Yes, this stuff wasn't happening at all thirty years ago, and that probably does mean something, but it's only one thing out of many that's happening now.

If you lose the "lyrics vs. melody" thing and replace it with "rhythm vs. melody", or better yet "groove vs. melody", you can throw techno in the box with rap etc. and then we may have something more interesting. But I'd still hesitate to make too much of it.

I wish hackthemainframe would share with us the definition of "melody" which excludes sequences of pitches that he doesn't enjoy while including the ones he likes. I'm not following the part about rhythm, either. Again, there may be a problem with definitions: Assuming that Pearl Jam qualifies as "grunge", the rhythm is usually so dismally simple-minded that you'd have to be stone deaf to miss it (and brain damaged to get off on playing it, IMHO). If you don't like it, you know, it's perfectly okay to say "this shit sucks". You don't need a musicological justification.

People have been dancing as long as there's been music, by the way. Not me, for God's sake, but some people. Don't ask me why.


The whole discussion almost seems slightly silly anyway. Y'all're talking about things happening in the last ten years, or twenty at most in the case of rap. That's a drop in the bucket, really, compared to, say, the so-called "romantic period" in the 19th century.
Being a composer and having a reasonable amount of musical experience, I have to add my thoughts to this node.

Music is subjective in interpretation and practice, just as many forms of art are. With instrumental and symphonic music I must admit that there are plenty of composers and compositions that I could do without on a personal level: if I never hear an Arnold Schoenberg piece again it will be too soon. However, if one can step back and think logically and on a more linear scale, one can realize that sometimes what the work of art did for the world and the process itself is more important than it's aesthetic value.

For instance, take Andy Warhol's student films. Do you have to watch his eight hours of the Empire State Building or the eight hours of some guy sleeping to appreciate the impact it had on the creative world? No. And I would even hazard to say that it wasn't made to be watched; sometimes an artist endeavors to do something totally different and new and original, and while occasionally it is groundbreaking and incredible, usually it isn't. Many 'artists' who 'disregard the old established rules' in favor of 'artistic freedom' are simply wannabe intellectual rebels who didn't or couldn't learn the established rules in the first place.

With any form of art, I think it's severely important to learn the rules before you break them. It was Renoir who said "First of all, be a good craftsman; this will not prevent you from being a genius."

I bring up the matter of craft because on the flipside of the perhaps-all-music-is-valid-so-lets-give-it-a-chance coin is the side that says just because you can make music doesn't mean that you should. I just can't stand it when I hear people say things like "Jay-Z should do a remix of that Beethoven song about moonlight! That shit'd be the bizomb!" or about how Sid Vicious is like "so totally more important to the world than Mozart was." And no I'm not kidding. People actually say these things.

Maybe I'm an elitist bastard, but I hate it when people take monumental achievements in music and use them for nefarious purposes, like the Starz raping of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Anytime I hear any electronic artist using pieces of a composition out of context or adding to them, I want to ask that person if they understand the piece, if they know what is involved in writing a great piano sonata before putting porno star moans and jungle beats to it. I want to ask the 'composer' (who thinks dropping a crate full of ping pong balls on piano strings is a valid composition that people should pay attention to) if he has a thorough understanding of the symphonic concerto form, or even if he knows how to play the piano. Infuriatingly, the answer is more often no than yes.

I would like to continue on at this point about how composers and the musically academic drove their own audience away at the turn of the 20th century, but I'll cover that in another node. Let me close by saying that if it weren't for Mozart, Sid Vicious probably would never have even had the opportunity to play a fookin bass gihtahr.

And a s ahint to my more easily confused readers, please understand that there is more to melody than a sequence of pitches, K THX.

The notion that a reliance on lyrics is a modern thing is utterly wrong, I must say. It was a cornerstone of the late renaissance and early baroque. Composers like Monteverdi and Caccini stressed time and time again the the music must serve the text. In setting poetry by such fantastic writers as Tasso and Petrarch, they came up with the most incredible effects by disregarding all of the "rules" of music in order to emphasize the affect of the words.

Even a lot of the instrumental music of this period shows a lot of the same influence - it relies on a "speech-like" sort of cadence, with the same constantly changing emotion that can be found in the poetry.

This idea of music's subservience to text let to the development of opera. The musical theatre of the 17th century is a far cry from the relatively static set pieces of Handel, and even Wagner. The music twists and turns as it tries to follow the chaos depicted in the text, giving each word a specific colour. It's really rather similar to rap, only instead of disregarding the music entirely to allow the words to come through, the music simply becomes simplified and extremely flexible, so that it can follow the words wherever they might go. In some cases, you even see the same sort of repetitive musical accompaniment to the words that rap has, for example in Monteverdi's Lamento della Ninfa.

So just because the 18th and 19th century saw a lot of large-scale instrumental music, don't think that lyric-centric music is a modern invention. Examples like this abound in music history, from medieval troubadour songs right back to Aristotle's poetics. Poetry and music have always been linked, and will probably continue to be.

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