ChristopherSchlegel

Musical Timbre

72 posts in this topic

I don't think you opened it. You just moved it, lol.

:D

I just listened to some of his stuff; his skill is jaw-dropping. His songs didn't really hit home, though. Take away his extreme mastery of the guitar and you have a replica of every other 80s pop-metal band. I guess I'd say I liked what I heard enough that I could listen to it, but not enough to buy.

EXACTLY! It is disappointing to me that a lot of his studio albums are little more than mediocre 80s "hair band" material ... with brilliant 30 second guitar solos! That's why I included my disclaimer earlier about only loving his instrumental stuff. Now, his instrumental songs are anything but mediocre!

lol  @ dischord or datchord

:D

At any rate, a dissonant harmony is on in which there is a sort of "clash" between notes, but when played in the presence of (certain) other intervals as well, still maintains harmony.

This "clash" is due to ratios of the wavelengths. In a general sense, the smaller the ratio, the more consonant the sound of the simultaneously sounding notes; conversely, the higher the ratio, the more dissonant.

If I were to play {C, E, G, B-flat}, the dissonant note would be the B-flat, which causes a "clash" with the C (the dissonance will typically resolve after a series of harmonic changes, and end in consonance).

I am not trying to be annoyingly hair-splitting, but.... The clash between the E (major 3rd) & the B-flat (minor 7th) is the strongest dissonance involved here; it's a tritone (or flat 5th). It is an important point too, because these are the two most important notes in this chord from a tonal theory perspective. These are the two notes that will resolve to a consonance: E goes up a half-step to F & B-flat goes down a half-step to A. The result is that the C7 chord you described is a V ("five") chord, the dominant that then resolves to an F major chord, which would be the I ("one") chord, the tonic or root chord (or F minor if the the B-flat moves to A-flat instead, but still the tonic). To be sure, the minor 7th interval between C & B-flat is a dissonance, just not the crucial one in that chord. :D

Now, if I were to play {C,D,E-flat,E}, that would still qualify as dissonant, but it would also be discordant, and I would find it hard to believe that anybody found the sound at all pleasant.

Actually, to get back to the title of the thread, this depends a GREAT DEAL on the timbres involved. It is quite possible to play all those notes at the same time & NOT be heard as discordant by some individuals. Consider, IF the notes are played softly on different instruments (say some winds & strings) & in different octaves (different ranges) it's quite possible for such a collection of notes to sound, if not pleasant, at least not completely discordant, even though technically dissonant from a musical analysis perspective.

I threw together some examples:

Notes C, D, E-flat, E all in same octave with same timbre (piano)

Notes C, D, E-flat, E all in different octaves with same timbre (piano)

Notes C, D, E-flat, E all in different octaves with different timbres (flute, oboe, clarinet, 'cello)

Notes C, D, E-flat, E all in different octaves with different timbres (flute, oboe, clarinet, 'cello) & pursuing a musical goal, moving towards a resolution

Keep in mind these are just simple MIDI files limited to the quality of the sound card in your PC. Real-world instruments can be even more "transparent" & thus potentially less discordant. Finally, keep in mind, provided the proper context (i.e. in this case goal-directed harmonic structures), dissonance is an essential component of music. Music without it is left only with consonance that would never have a contrasting component (i.e. building tension) so that it can resolve.

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There is a connection here to Yngwie Malmsteen that I had not realized...

...I looked at the little booklet of the one CD of his that I own, The Yngwie Malmsteen Collection.

Stop the presses!!!!

Stephen, you own a Malmsteen CD?!?!? Awesome!!! :D

& YES, YES, YES!!! That is a major connection! In fact 3 of my early electric guitar heroes (Blackmore, Van Halen & Malmsteen) were inspired by, influenced by & regularly quoted Baroque & Classical composers.

Yngwie has done many interviews & guitar magazine "lessons" in which he talks about & teaches excerpts of Paganini's caprices. In my estimation, he has done more to influence young musicians to learn & play beautiful, tonal music than many academic musicians/professors.

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Finally, keep in mind, provided the proper context (i.e. in this case goal-directed harmonic structures), dissonance is an essential component of music.  Music without it is left only with consonance that would never have a contrasting component (i.e. building tension) so that it can resolve.

That's a really important point. I think dissonance is a dirty word only when it dominates a piece. My favorite composer, Rachmaninoff, who is as lyrical as they come, made masterful use of dissonance in his works.

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Finally, keep in mind, provided the proper context (i.e. in this case goal-directed harmonic structures), dissonance is an essential component of music.  Music without it is left only with consonance that would never have a contrasting component (i.e. building tension) so that it can resolve.

I agree whole-heartedly, which is the reason I wanted to defend dissonance from attack. I've engaged in discussions with Objectivists who didn't know much about the mechanics of music where they condemned dissonance. Having a history in vocal jazz, I find such a condemnation very disturbing.

The samples are very interesting. My training is strictly in the area of vocal music, focusing on the very (comparitively) narrow range of the male voice, so I wasn't aware of all the possibilities available with mixed timbres and very large intervals. We vocalists are rather limited, you see. :D

A question I have is: Did Ayn Rand ever misuse the term "dissonance" in this manner? The reason I ask is because I have seen a great many Objectivists use the term "dissonant" when attacking certain types of musical sounds, when they really meant discordant. Is this misuse, due to a recycling of a misuse on Ayn Rand's part? Such a misuse would be entirely understandable; I have never heard that she had a great deal of musical training, if any at all.

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That's a really important point. I think dissonance is a dirty word only when it dominates a piece. My favorite composer, Rachmaninoff, who is as lyrical as they come, made masterful use of dissonance in his works.

Do you find jazz arrangements unpleasant Stephen? In jazz music, but particularly in vocal jazz arrangements, dissonance may be use in very close to every single harmony. Christian jazz sextet Take 6 will sometimes start with dissonance, progress with dissonance, and end with an unresolved dissonance, but their music contains some of the richest, most beautiful harmonies I've ever heard. Manhattan Transfer's jazzier stuff is another example of music with primarily dissonant harmonies, although not to the degree of Take 6.

(Singing very dissonant harmonies requires extreme ear training, much more so than with any other instrument, due to the nature of voice. If you want to hear an example of true mastery of the human voice, listen to Take 6. Their lyrics may be Christian, but their music is out of this world.)

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Stop the presses!!!!

Stephen, you own a Malmsteen CD?!?!?  Awesome!!!  :D

A young Objectivist who I liked suggested it. I haven't spoken with him for many years now. :D

Yngwie has done many interviews & guitar magazine "lessons" in which he talks about & teaches excerpts of Paganini's caprices.

Sounds fascinating. I will look for some of these.

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Do you find jazz arrangements unpleasant Stephen?

I love some of the old greats, like Brubeck, Parker, Davis, etc.

In jazz music, but particularly in vocal jazz arrangements, dissonance may be use in very close to every single harmony. Christian jazz sextet Take 6 will sometimes start with dissonance, progress with dissonance, and end with an unresolved dissonance ...

I just listened to a few clips by Take 6 (Destiny, I L-O-V-E U, Mary) and I think I'll stick with Brubeck and Take 5. :D

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I love some of the old greats, like Brubeck, Parker, Davis, etc.

I just listened to a few clips by Take 6 (Destiny, I L-O-V-E U, Mary) and I think I'll stick with Brubeck and Take 5.  :D

Man, you listened to all the wrong ones!!!! All of those are more R&Bish :D

If you ever want to give them another try listen to "A Quiet Place," "Gold Mine," and "So Much 2 Say"

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Christopher, will your equipment allow you to record the notes in the same octave with different timbres? I would be interested to hear that as well.

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If you ever want to give them another try listen to "A Quiet Place," "Gold Mine," and "So Much 2 Say"

Listened to a quick clip for the first two. Again, I'll stick with Take 5, rather than 6.

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I'll Take Five too. I have most of Brubecks Recordings on vinyl and am starting to replace them with CD's.

If you like Brubeck, you might like Chick Corea. His CD's Akoustic Band and Alive are wonderful! I particularly like his takes on Autumn Leaves, So In Love, Green Dolphin Street, and his own tune, Morning Sprite (very uplifting).

Take 6 is a good group. They are patterned after a group called The Singers Unlimited, led by Gene Puerling, who also led a very fine jazz vocal group in the '50's called the Hi Lo's. They all had perfect pitch! The Singers Unlimited sound like they all have perfect pitch too. My favorite album by them is:

A Capella. Another good one is Singers Unlimited Christmas (if you like Christmas Tunes). Both of the albums are a capella. Puerling's sterling arrangements make the vocal ensemble sound like an orchestra. Talk about musical timbre!

Listened to a quick clip for the first two. Again, I'll stick with Take 5, rather than 6.

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I'll Take Five too.  I have most of Brubecks Recordings on vinyl and am starting to replace them with CD's.

If you like Brubeck, you might like Chick Corea.  His CD's Akoustic Band and Alive are wonderful!  I particularly like his takes on Autumn Leaves, So In Love, Green Dolphin Street, and his own tune, Morning Sprite (very uplifting).

Have you heard his "Autumn Leaves" with Bobby McFerrin? Quite different from Akoustic Band. :D

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Have you heard his "Autumn Leaves" with Bobby McFerrin? Quite different from Akoustic Band:D

Too bad about that! I hate that kind of sarcasm. He often allies himself with people below his musical stature, like that thing he did with that Grammy winning "pop artist" (have forgotten his name). He is also into Scientology :D I wonder how producers like him can be so competent on one hand, and yet have such poor philosophies. They must have the right philosophy about their work ethic. I suppose it is possible also to be emotionally inspired even by poor philosophy, as many of great works of art were inspired by mystical ideals and stories.

But, his Akoustic Band, especially the two albums I mentioned, are virtuoso calibre. The ensemble is very tight and clean. I am amazed that a group can improvise so well together. The "Morning Sprite" on the Alive Album has me hopping around the room every time I listen to it. He has my deepest respect both musically and artistically.

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A young Objectivist who I liked suggested it. I haven't spoken with him for many years now.  :D

Uh-oh...Hopefully not because of his suggestion.

Sounds fascinating. I will look for some of these.

Well, I don't really know how fascinating you might find them. I wasn't per se encouraging anyone to go look them up. I was simply trying to make a point. Whereas, in some ways "modern" classical music/musicians have not been advocates of rationality in art, some "pop" artists have; regardless of whether or not one finds the timbres used pleasant.

Christopher, will your equipment allow you to record the notes in the same octave with different timbres? I would be interested to hear that as well.

What you heard was a very small, simple MIDI file. You can create them yourself with a MIDI sequencer. Or, yes, to answer your question I can very easily also. The beautiful thing about MIDI protocol is that it has been fairly standardized. So, built right into any PC these days is a stereotypical soundcard with a wavetable/synth that conforms to a standard list of MIDI protocol instrumentation, commands, etc. There are 128 "standard" sounds in this list. For example, on most every soundcard, sound #0 is an acoustic piano, #13 is xylophone, & so on.

My little examples are VERY small because MIDI files contain no sound, only the data that tells your soundcard what to do (notes, timbre, attack, release, etc.). The largest of my examples was only 421 bytes! This, as opposed to a wave file (*.wav) which is typically about 10MB per minute of sound (this is the format as audio CD uses) or an mp3 (*.mp3) which is typically about 1MB per minute. Of course they are larger because they contain actual audio.

In any event MIDI is a wonderful tool for studying/analyzing music.

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Is this the same as the "fuzz" effect, that was introduced (to my disgust and horror) in the mid-60s?

Most probably, yes. If you are referring to some pop/rock tunes using the "fuzz" effect. Although it was not the exact same type of timbre as the "metal guitar" I have been discussing, it is probably close enough for you to not like either of them :D .

It strikes me as an attack on my mind.

It is good to know what one values & what one does not in order to indulge in the former & avoid the latter.

I suggest that you would probably be wasting your time if you were to seek out any Van Halen or Malmsteen samples on the 'net. But I can assure you that I am not a pain-seeking, low-self-esteem,evil, irrational monster :D

Distortion is not a "misshapen" or "contorted" soundwave. It is one in which the peaks and valleys in the sine waves composing an instrument's sound have been clipped...

I forgot to thank you, Ray, for providing this link that does an excellent job explaining what I was attempting to explain about the overdriven guitar signal.

But if you ask me, my electric guitar plugged into my Peavey 5150 II amplifier (through copious amounts of distortion) is neither painful nor contorted; it's music to my ears!

Wonderful! Awesome amps, those! The 5150 is the Peavey amp that Van Halen helped to design for those unaware.

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On the Sensation of Tone by Herman Von Helmholtz

There is a good discussion of Musical Timbre on this sight:

http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/projects/bluet.../html/bonn.html

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Take 6 is a good group.  They are patterned after a group called The Singers Unlimited...

Added to the list. :D

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"Fuzz" was actually the first type of popular distortion pedal. Apparently, in the 60's, a lot of guitar players were turning their guitar amps up so loud that either a) the wattage of the amp was insufficient to translate the imput signal acurately or :D the speakers would blow, either of which would result in what we call "distortion" [hint: the phenomenon of "distortion" in musical timbre is analogous and closely related to the "distortion" in electrical signals in engineering.] My guess is that this started happening in an attempt not to be drowned out by drummers who, in the 60's, never seemed to let off the crash cymbals, which drown out everything-- especially in a small room or club, or garage as the case may have been.

At any rate, some guitarists decided they liked the way that sounded, and so someone made it into a box you could turn on and off with your foot. At least, that's how it was/is usually marketed. The original fuzz pedals were actually little synthesizers, that converted the signal into a distorted sound with (I'm pretty sure) an oscillator, and a resonant filter. They actually turned out to be rather versitile devices, for purposes other than blatant nihilism (though I won't evade the fact that that is how they were/are often used). It was an astute observation made by gnartharst that a distorted guitar can mimic the timbre of a violin. Even more so with a clever device called an "E-bow."

In fact, you may be surprized how often distortion is used in subtle ways to obtain various sounds, or to introduce "warm" overtones into a mix.

I would dispute the claim that distortion introduces no dissonance into a tone. In fact, it brings in distant overtones in the form of harmonics which are "dissonant."

Most probably, yes.  If you are referring to some pop/rock tunes using the "fuzz" effect. Although it was not the exact same type of timbre as the "metal guitar" I have been discussing, it is probably close enough for you to not like either of them  :D .

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Fuzz was the first, but not the only type of distortion. Later types of distortion were variations on similar principles, but sometimes their construction and results could be different in significant respects.

If a single note (tone) is played into an early fuzz pedal, most of the harmonics ("partials") that result will be "consonant" octaves of the fundamental frequency (the tone before it went into the distortion.)

But when multiple notes are fed into it simultaneously, the result is "intermodulation distortion." In an attempt to process and clip all of the signals at the same time, extra harmonics are added which are the sums and differences of all the individual tones involved. These will not infrequently be "dissonant" with at least one of the notes being played.

In conjunction with everything else acting upon the tone in a guitar set up, it is not at all difficult to end up with a result which is not only dissonant, but discordant as well.

"Heavy Metal" music does often make use of fuzz (when bands like Led Zeppelin and Kiss, usually considered the first "Heavy metal" bands, were starting out, that's all there was.) But later groups, the 80's "Heavy Metal" groups in particular, more typically relied on tube distortion.

Tube distortion achieves a distorted signal by means of compression as well as high gain/clipping. This makes the distorted sound a little more like the fundamental frequency, with lots of octave harmonics, and is sometimes called "clean distortion." Not so many discordant overtones muddy up the sound.

But the 80's metal bands always have plenty of crash cymbals there to make up for it. :D

Not to mention the "distortion" achieved by a screaming vocalist. But I can't talk about Heavy Metal now without picturing those Umpa Lumpas in the Mike TV scene from the new Willy Wonka!

I would dispute the claim that distortion introduces no dissonance into a tone.  In fact, it brings in distant overtones in the form of harmonics which are "dissonant."

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But the 80's metal bands always have plenty of crash cymbals there to make up for it.  :D

I didn't mean, literally, "always." But many/loud cymbal crashes are not uncommon in Heavy Metal music, to put it more fairly. These are "noisier" than distorted guitars!

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"Heavy Metal" music does often make use of fuzz (when bands like Led Zeppelin and Kiss, usually considered the first "Heavy metal" bands, were starting out, that's all there was.)  But later groups, the 80's "Heavy Metal" groups in particular, more typically relied on tube distortion.

I'm really nit-picking here because I'm bored and I haven't found anything to respond to. I'll give you Led Zeppelin (although some would fight me on that), but no way is Kiss one of the first metal bands. Should we have a sub-forum for knuckle-head discussions headed by yours truly? Cream or Black Sabbath, or King Crimson.

On a differnt note. I think that the clean tube distortion is superior to an artificial pedal type distortion. It has a percussive edge to it, much like an acoustic guitar. Although I do not have near the level of knowledge as some of you others on this, for some reason you can play a wider range of chords on a tube than you can otherwise. It seems

that the pedal or effect use of distortion gets pretty damn muddy if you are trying to play, say a Dminor7 chord. Is this because of the process of harmonics that you just explained?

I love the clean tube sound. I wish I owned a house, I could let that ring everyday...

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I think so, but I will admit that "intermodulation distortion" is a term I learned about the same day I made the post. Like you, I'm more familiar with the sound of the phenomena than the names for it.

But since my last post, I refined my conception of another, perhaps more appropriate way in which "distortion" could be related to "dissonance."

I challenge anyone who thinks the two are not related to take a second look at the "Distortion 101" page that was linked to before. This page, I would say, is more of an approximate analogy of what distortion is than an "explanation," but at the top of the page, there is a diagram of what a sound wave looks like, normal and then clipped by a distortion. On a lot of similar pages I looked at, they used sine waves to illustrate this point, but the waves pictured there are more like what a guitar tone would look like.

Notice how there are many peaks and valleys of various sizes. It is my understanding that it is only the big peaks/valleys which bring to mind a particular note-- "A" or "C" for example. But the smaller peaks and valleys could very well be communicating, or suggesting to the ear another note-- "Eb" or "Gb" maybe-- in other words, possibly a note we would call "dissonant."

So it's not hard to imagine what happens when you clip the tone-- the big peaks and valleys get smaller, and the smaller ones become louder by comparison. That, I would say, is a major reason that distortion sounds "more dissonant."

At any rate, I wish that such statements as that distortion and dissonance are completely unrelated, that distortion is clipping of a signal and nothing more, or that someone should not post on this topic until they "understand" the relevant topics in physics that are involved, as if anyone has a fully adequate understanding of these things, were omitted from this discussion.

I think timbre has a more profound effect on the way music is perceived than some people here are letting on. Observe that when new instruments are invented, new genres of music tend to emerge around them. This no doubt has something to do with the ease of playing certain notes/chords on the new instrument, but I think it has just as much to do with the timbre of the instrument.

Yes, you can play Mozart etc on an electric guitar just as you can on a violin. But does it convey the same artistic message? Does a single digital keyboard recorded direct into a computer really sound like a symphony? Does it mean the same things? Evoke the same emotions?

Personally, I feel completely different about the same music depending on what room I'm listening to it in, not to mention all these other considerations!

It seems

that the pedal or effect use of distortion gets pretty damn muddy if you are trying to play, say a Dminor7 chord. Is this because of the process of harmonics that you just explained?

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