Waves; Fields or Spheres

In my post last week on blogospheric discussions of the future of concert music, I made this statement:

Most important, from my particular perspective, a thousand compositional flowers continue to bloom, despite ongoing style wars offensives from all points on the stylistic continuum.
We often think of style as a continuum, with x kind of music on one end and not x on the other. As a corollary to this, we tend to think of stylistic change (not of individuals over the course of a career, but in the larger, historical sense) as pendulum, swinging back and forth between the extremes.

I've been thinking lately of waves. Waves of sound defining musical structure or as musical events punctuating the discourse. It occurred to me that maybe that's how style and styles have developed in history, and that the impetus for these waves comes in the dichotomy of simplicity/complexity. One can easily find points in music history where the prevailing style or styles had become, to some ears, as complex as could be sustained. Or more than could be sustained: Just as simplicity too often devolves into simple-mindedness, complexity too often becomes mere complicatedness.

The wave crashes. Underneath, new simplicities are created, which then are developed until they are part of a wave, which crashes, and the process starts over again. There are times like our own when there are multiple waves, washing over each other so that no one wave dominates the shore. It's tempting to fix other dichotomies (consonance/dissonance or homophony/polyphony) to the wave idea, but history is more complex than that. The wave of late romanticism that crashed around the turn of the 20th century was fiercely chromatic, but the simplifying wave that began underneath was not purely diatonic, as one might think. Pantonalism came about as part of the simplifying movement of the time, in reaction to the crashing of the wave, may seem counterintuitive to those who think that simple always means diatonic or tonal.

I like the wave metaphor for the historical process of stylistic development. The idea of a continuum is equally inadequate for stylistic description, too. Its two dimensions are fatally inadequate for the task. I'm thinking of fields or spheres. What do you think?


  1. Anonymous8:06 PM

    waves are nice analogy.

    The one I hear over and over again,related to not just music but art and history, is circle, or Historical Cycles

  2. The circle or cycle is an attractive metaphor, but they don't work for me because with a circle/cycle, you always end up in the same place.

    Maybe a spiral.

  3. Anonymous7:55 PM

    Spiral works wonderfully.

    I tried to work out some analogy between composers and turtles...such as "its composers alll the way down"...but didnt get too far...