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Lack of theoretical rigor in metal

Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 01, 2007, 09:14:06 AM
Is this a bar to the future development of good metal or a necessary condition of metal's existence?

Inarguably mankind's greatest period of music, the classical era was characterized by strict requirements in musical organization and composition entailing for the would-be composer decades of study and dedication. Fast forward several hundred years and the next greatest period in music (we argue) comprises not of a body of written, formulative rules but of wild, disshevelled and unshaven rebels who learn guitar chords from their heroes by rote in their garage.

I've always viewed theory - and not necessarily classical theory - not as a constraint on the imagination, but as a tool the composer can use to help shape and liberate his ideas. Could metal musicians benefit from a more intensive study of such a tool - or is the idea of sharing the methods of ideologically opposed music inimical to the wild and untamed spirit of metal?



Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 12:27:54 PM
I'm not a musician, but I'm sure there could not be a drawback to studying the originals.   I always thought that many metal musicians had some sort of classical upbringing.  It's difficult for me to imagine that Windham Hell evolved in isolation from the music of past centuries.  Bands like Golem are also obviously classicly influenced.  But even metal bands that do not wear this influence on their sleeve seem to call back to old aesthetics and ideas.  I've always thought of metal as a sort of microcosm throwback to classical.  

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 12:58:25 PM
I think musical organization and form could be a wonderful thing for the metal genre. This concept does not necessarily predetermine music's path, but gives the artist a template with which to express his uncouth ideas. It could also create a standard with which bad music could legitimately be dismissed.

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 02:56:40 PM
i find it extremely hard to believe that the guys of gorgoroth didn't have classical knowledge to create anti-Christ, i always thought there were plenty of metal fans that were aware of the workings of classical

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 04:06:42 PM
Systematic music theory is a product of the 20th century, and emerged simultaneously with the death of the classical/Romantic tradition of the sovereign artist and the rise of the composer-as-technician motif of Modernism.  Modernism presupposed that meaning in an exterior sense was impossible, and thus sought novelty in form rather than authenticity in expression. Theory is the perfect servant when purity of form is the goal.

It's no accident that metal's finest artists from Sabbath to Bathory to Burzum haven't been formally trained in theory, and the ones that have (cf. Dream Theater) are invariably faggots of the first water.

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 04:15:09 PM
I've been playing guitar since I was 11 years of age, and throughout the years I studied much theory. I taught myself quite a lot of classical, and took lessons for jazz theory.

I feel that knowing theory is important as a musician in terms of what is one doing. Theory is how musicians communicate with one another. Theory explains why certain notes harmonize well, or why they don't. Theory tells us everything about what we are playing. We don't have to follow theory, but to know why one is getting a particular sound is a great advantage to any player's ability.

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 04:23:03 PM
Not only that but training in theory can help an artist to think more abstractly, within the more simple constructs of the message they are trying to get across. I think that helps to express a message more universally, so that it's understandable by more people than just the creator, if portraying an emotion or message is the goal. Music really is exactly like a language, and does in fact facillitate understanding of languages. Understanding music theory is not only useful as a musician, but as a person. It helps one to understand more universal ideas that may be outside of oneself.

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 04:33:43 PM
If theory was so useful, why have the conservatories not turned out a composer that mattered in a hundred years?

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 05:23:05 PM
are you mad, what about any 20th century composers, theres an entire movement for classical called 20th century, there must be about 30 composers within that worthy of extremely great praise if not more (more composers that is), the most musical ground that was every broken in classical music was in this period

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 07:12:14 PM
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are you mad, what about any 20th century composers, theres an entire movement for classical called 20th century, there must be about 30 composers within that worthy of extremely great praise if not more (more composers that is), the most musical ground that was every broken in classical music was in this period


Most of whom didn't emerge from the conservatories - much like the great writers of the last century (and this one) by and large didn't come out of academic literary departments.  

Even then, the 20th century didn't produce a single composer fit to hold jocks of Wagner, Beethoven, Schumann, Bach etc.

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 09:22:08 PM
Sibelius i hold in much higher regard then any romantic composer, there is also Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartók, Schoenberg, Britten and Strauss, all of who refused the avant-garde style of other composers of the period, i consider these composer extensions of romanticism and exceed high above it, everything that made romantic big and strong and powerful and emotive is expressed with even more strength and more power

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 10:29:22 PM
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It's no accident that metal's finest artists from Sabbath to Bathory to Burzum haven't been formally trained in theory, and the ones that have (cf. Dream Theater) are invariably faggots of the first water.


I doubt Dream Theater composes scores on paper or constructs their music in that way. They no doubt have greater formal training but still only use theory to write what sounds good according to those predetermined rules. They know their classical theory, but forget it to compose by ear and in that sense they're not much different from Sabbath.

What i'm talking about is withdrawn, unbiased and non-impulsive application of some sort of theory rules in pursuit of a musical or expressive goal - something I believe hasn't yet been fully realized in metal.

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 10:55:29 PM
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It's no accident that metal's finest artists from Sabbath to Bathory to Burzum haven't been formally trained in theory, and the ones that have (cf. Dream Theater) are invariably faggots of the first water.

Gorguts?  Luc Lemay went to conservatory between the writing and recording of "Obscura", meaning that he had formal theoretical knowledge for FWTH.

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 11:21:51 PM
it doesn't just take knowledge, it takes inspiration and  real passion, its is meant as a tool (as stated before) to create works that have more power, more of whatever you wanted.

Its not like you site down and look into a text book and go ok, that doesn't make sense (but by musical theory there is nothing that doesn't make sense only something that suites a particular need over another in any given instance) but it becomes second nature to you, you just start writing music that changes keys and has appropriate chord sequences and uses motivic development in an interesting way and you haven't had to put down your instrument.

its just like person who doesn't know any theory writing a song and a person who does will be exactly the same, both do what they want from what they think sounds best, but because one of them knows how to do things in far more interesting fashions his music will be superior (if your judging both works against classical or jazz

the only time you pick up a book is when your stuck and need some ideas

Re: Lack of theoretical rigor in metal
January 02, 2007, 11:45:20 PM
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So yea I modified this after Cynical posted, but it looks like Luc appreciates both points of view.  Music theory is helpful, but in another one of his quotes "the first thing you have to do is forget all about it."  Rules were meant to be broken.  Metal really is about breaking rules anyway isn't it?


Of course, my good sir. But I don't think that's what he meant. People need to either stop talking about metal like it's a fine art. I highly doubt any band from Sabbath to Burzum could take any of their albums apart, explain why each song, each note, each part is there which is what the classical composers did do. Look at any metal review - even Prozak's - and the reviewer talks about the music in such generalized and sterile terms. Yes, it's great that metal has all this spirit and soul and breaks rules but we're still in the dark ages as far as songwriting goes. I mean, where do you think we will go now? The rules have been broken - now we need to think about how to lay down the new rules. Writing by ear was fine 10, 20 years ago but if you write that way now it's always going to end with repeating what is obsolete, or rebreaking the same rules which have already been broken. Think of is as analogous to communicating before the invention of writing. The intent is there, but the tool isn't yet sophisticated enough to communicate new or more refined ideas, which is what we want to do.


EDIT - THIS IS THE PROBLEM:

Quote from: mayhem_to_carnage
you just start writing music that changes keys and has appropriate chord sequences and uses motivic development in an interesting way and you haven't had to put down your instrument.