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Thursday, May 05, 2005
Another way of saying the below is to relate it to the idea of "your 'hood is your town." In other words, you're not from New York, you're from Bushwick, or the South Bronx, and modern ("urban") music reflects this sensibility, of the more insular neighborhood rather than the totality of the center, everyone mixing and mingling. More corner store than town square, more outer-borough than midtown (or even downtown). And of course I don't need to point out the amount of "NYC music" that's made by kids from the suburbs...

Also, I know I didn't really give a good musical description of why modernist music sounds like cities outdoors, but that is because I don't have one. But if I had to come up with something, it would go like this: modern music's harmonic tendency has been towards compression and reduction, taking major/minor chords and removing the third to make power chords, having basslines describe chordal structure rather than having the actual chords themselves. In contrast, modernist music (until minimalism) seems to represent the endpoint of the increasing harmonic complexity we seee moving from triads to sevenths to ninths to elevenths to thirteenths...taking chords and adding more and more tones, making them denser and less precise. But this is what I think of when I think of cities: everything dense and confused, muddled, mixed-up. It's not easily understandable, and it's not straightforward. It's an eleventh chord. Same with the rhythms: instead of the straight 4-4 of most modern music, we have polyrhythms, plus the various intricate time signatures inherited from classical, to say nothing of 12-tone's total lack of a time signature or the new methods of notation invented by composers.

If there's an argument to be made for modern pop music being wish fulfillment, being dangerously simplistic, it follows most strongly from the music, which takes the complexity of, say, Stravinsky and reduces them to the I-IV-V progression, takes eleventh and reduces it to two notes, takes the cities and reduces them to the suburbs. The fact that I do not agree with this view lies in the fact that I don't think it's a reduction.