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Author Topic: Music: composition or performance
Speed
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Here's a question for the music lovers among us. It's a question looking for a black/white either/or answer. Although I realize that everyone will prefer a combination of these options, a shade of gray, I'd still like you to select the option that is more important to you. Here it goes.

When you're looking for a piece of music that would suit your personal taste, which of the following would you prefer:

  • A brilliant, exciting, unique composition performed by musicians only just competent enough to express the composer's vision.
  • A pleasant but derivative, uninspired composition performed by the most fantastically skilled and brilliant musician/group you can imagine.

Of course this is a spectrum. But I've seen people judge their music from one extreme to the other on this scale. I've known people who'd happily listen to The Art of the Fugue dispassionately programmed into a Casio synthesizer, and others who'd love to hear Stevie Ray Vaughan play Mary Had a Little Lamb.

I'd like to know which of these options you'd choose. Or, if you'd prefer, where you'd fall on the spectrum between these extremes (provided it's not dead center.) And more importantly, why. [Smile]

[ September 09, 2007, 02:04 PM: Message edited by: Speed ]

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The White Whale
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If I really had to only choose one of those two, it would be the latter one.

When I was in highschool, we had a pianist come in who played multiple variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and it was incredible. He did it in multiple classical modes and some more playful, modern modes, and each one was unbelievable.

As a counter example, I've heard plenty of mediocre groups play brilliant, famous songs not-so-brilliantly. (I played bass for the song Tom Sawyer (Rush) at my high-school end of the year coffee house, and although it was fun to say I did it, we didn't really do it justice. Sure, people could recognize it and follow it, but it was a far cry from Rush.)

Then again, every once in awhile it is nice to here popular songs played well enough as to be recognizable, but nothing more.

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erosomniac
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The latter, every time. Bad musicians can ruin the best compositions, while excellent musicians can bring new and better things to bad/mediocre compositions.
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Tarrsk
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Composition wins out for me, easy. There are a great many bands I like who aren't the most talented musicians or singers, but their music still affects me deeply. On the other hand, there are plenty of extremely skilled musicians whose compositions are dull as dishwater, and leave me utterly cold (and here I'm lookin' at you, Steve Vai and ilk). The ability to play more notes in five seconds than any other guitarist on the planet does not inherently make your music any damn good.

As another example, Mariah Carey is a phenomenally talented singer, but the songs she sings are musically uninteresting to me. Simple structures, repetitive subject matters, simplistic rhythms, and excruciatingly bad lyrics... all of these elements kill any enjoyment I might have gotten from the power of her vocals. On the other hand, a band like Tegan and Sara, whose members are quite good at what they do, but are not brilliant musicians by any measure, I can listen to obsessively for months because their songwriting is just so damn powerful. Tegan and Sara themselves would probably be the first to admit that they're not the most talented singers around, at least according to any traditional metric, but they write songs that suit the timbre of their voices perfectly, and which have the necessary emotional heft that Mariah Carey's written-by-committee songs lack.

Regarding classical music... well, there's a reason why "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" is called a "Mozart piece," and not a "London Philharmonic piece." Which isn't to denigrate artists such as Yo Yo Ma, whose skills and fame are such that they CAN release performances of a given composer's music under their name, but I think (and I suspect Yo Yo Ma would agree with me) that the way such artists are always careful to prominently credit the composer anyway is crucial.

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Saephon
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I also have to go with the latter, for the same reasons erosomniac listed.
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Mike
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Yup, what eros said.
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The Flying Dracula Hair
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I guess I'd have to say the first, but I think being competent enough to "express the composer's vision" is very different than being skilled enough at whatever instrument piece of software to execute it. I've heard plenty of things with awful production/limited resources and/or made by people with low technical ability that accurately tell the story of a song and those by amateurs only focused on trying to hit the right notes that do nadda for me.
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Teshi
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quote:
When I was in highschool, we had a pianist come in who played multiple variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and it was incredible. He did it in multiple classical modes and some more playful, modern modes, and each one was unbelievable.
Mozart did this.
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Earendil18
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I'd have to go with the latter choice.
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Nathan2006
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Thank God. I thought you were asking about a potential college major (Performance, Performance, Performance!!!)

No piece, played well, is simple... Or boring, for that matter.

And any fantastically skilled musician wouldn't choose a boring song unless they could fix it. So, I'd go with the latter.

I was amazed how good 'Contemplation' (By Mendlessohn [SP]) was, once I, as the performer, stopped thinking of it as boring and completely easy, and incredibly insipid. Once I got past myself, I was able to put a little bit of myself in it to make it better.

I think the same would apply to modern contemporary music (Until now, I've been thinking of classical.)

This can (But, sadly, often doesn't) include lyrics. I like the idea of taking a completely disney-fluff, feel-good song, and singing it with sarcasm. One things of Barbra Streisand and 'Happy Days are Here Again'... Although, I wouldn't call that song 'Disney-fluff'. But, I digress.

Anyway, changing a key word or two (Or five, or fifteen) or singing with an entirely different tone of voice can add or change the meaning of mediocre lyrics, I think, in some cases.

[/Rambling]

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katdog42
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The second one, definitely. Music is just like any other kind of art. I can paint some wildly creative and interesting landscape, but I could never do it justice the way that a true artist can. A good musician can take any piece, no matter how mediocre, and make me want to listen.
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Launchywiggin
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<out on the limb>

A brilliant, exciting, unique composition played by whoever, whenever, wins over one that is derivative and uninspired. The better composition might be performed by mediocre musicians once, but that's a single performance that ends after the piece is finished. The music will live on to be played by better musicians. A great performance of a bad piece is an unfortunate occurrence, because in the end, it was a waste of time.

Defining what a brilliant composition is over one that is derivative and uninspired is the difficult question.

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Lyrhawn
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Composition, usually.

The thing about all those different versions of Twinkle Twinkle...isn't that composing? Wouldn't the difference be if 20 people played ONE version rather than one playing 20? I think that bears out composition.

For instrumental, I'd have to say composition. For voice...that's tougher. I think I'd still lean towards composition, but voices vary so much more. 10 people playing the same song, the same notes, there can be variation, and one can be fundamentally better than the others, but 10 voices all singing the same notes, the range is staggering, the differences can be drastic.

Still, composition.

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Elizabeth
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This mat be no surprise, Speed, but I would go for A every time.

Jerry Garcia would never have made it as a session guitarist, nor would Jeb Puryear(Donna the Buffalo), yet they are my favorite guitarists. They bring a spirit to their music(as well as composition), but I would rather hear them flailing away at a song than hear someone precisely reenact a composition.

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The White Whale
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quote:
Originally posted by Teshi:
Mozart did this.

Yes, but surprisingly, it wasn't Mozart who performed at my high school. [Wink] Now how often does someone with this type of talent come around? It seems to be something that isn't really creative ability, in the sense of composition, but more in the sense of being able to channel theory and styles through your playing.

quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:

The thing about all those different versions of Twinkle Twinkle...isn't that composing? Wouldn't the difference be if 20 people played ONE version rather than one playing 20? I think that bears out composition.

I'm not sure if it's composing. I played music in highschool and was able to apply different musical styles through the same song, but I wasn't really creating new music. I played Irish Whistle and clarinet, and was able to play classical songs and add trills and rolls on the clarinet that I learned from the Irish style. Neither the music nor the styles I was playing in were original.
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DevilDreamt
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The first, I think.

If I were writing a piece of music, I would much rather work with the first group than the second.

I thought about which would be more boring, "A pleasant but derivative, uninspired composition" sounds very boring to me, even if you know the performer is brilliant.

Perhaps its the music I listen to. I was at a concert and a band played "Blitzkrieg Bop." You don't have to play that song technically well (hitting all the right notes, etc. etc.) for the audience to love it, you just need energy and attitude, and if we're dealing with someone who is capturing the composer's vision, it should have those things.

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Speed
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Thanks for the responses, everybody. I guess it's time for me to weigh in.

It looks like I'm in the minority here, but I'm going to have to go for choice A on this one. Of course, like most people I do find it especially exciting when the best of both come together. But as someone who owns, for example, about 20 discs worth of Nobuo Uematsu's soundtracks to Final Fantasy (which are basically interesting compositions programmed into a MIDI sequencer), I would feel a little hypocritical insisting upon brilliant musicianship.

Likewise, one of my favorite albums of 2006 was BT's This Binary Universe, which was not only mostly electronic, but the entire first track was programmed entirely in computer code, so there wasn't so much as a finger laid upon a synthesizer in that recording. And I loved it.

Furthermore, some of my favorite musicians would never have made it out of their basements if they'd been trading solely upon technical skill. Frank Zappa, for example, is one of my all-time musical idols. Joe Satriani could whip his arse technically on the guitar, and Michal Buble will out-sing him any day of the week. But his compositions impressed me so profoundly that I own about 20 Zappa albums and 0 by any of those other people, and if there's to be any change in those numbers in the future, it will be when I buy more Frank Zappa albums.

Same goes for Tom Waits and Neil Young and Paul McCartney and countless others. And as much money as Placido Domingo has made in his life, people will have long since forgotten who he is before they stop studying and celebrating the works that he performed.

Of course, this isn't to discount the thrill I get when I hear an amazing performance by Jimmy Page, Stevie Wonder or the Berliner Philharmoniker. But when I hear a piece of music for the first time, I personally tend to focus on how it was written and put together before I pay much attention to the performances. And brilliant musicianship in a bad song is more likely to irritate me than impress me. Yes, this means you, Whitney and Christina.

That's just my personal opinion, though. All contrary positions on this particular issue are totally understood and respected. [Smile]

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erosomniac
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quote:
It looks like I'm in the minority here, but I'm going to have to go for choice A on this one. Of course, like most people I do find it especially exciting when the best of both come together. But as someone who owns, for example, about 20 discs worth of Nobuo Uematsu's soundtracks to Final Fantasy (which are basically interesting compositions programmed into a MIDI sequencer), I would feel a little hypocritical insisting upon brilliant musicianship.

Likewise, one of my favorite albums of 2006 was BT's This Binary Universe, which was not only mostly electronic, but the entire first track was programmed entirely in computer code, so there wasn't so much as a finger laid upon a synthesizer in that recording. And I loved it.

This is unfair. In the case of BT, for example, he's not just the composer, he's the musician; the line between the two, in this instance, has become blurred to the point of being indistinguishable. The composition includes, by necessity, choices with regard to how it should be played; due to the digital nature of electronic music and instrumentation, how effectively these choices are implemented mostly doesn't (and often can't) vary by performer. A classical composition has its staccatos and crescendos open to the interpretation of the conductor and/or musician, and the ability of the musician matters more because the analog implementation requires skills not necessary from a digital artist.

If you haven't before, try to see BT (or any electronic musician) in concert. If you have an understanding of how DJ equipment works, you'll see that he's not just a talented composer, but a superb musician--and this only comes across in concert, where the live mixing of music requires analog skill rather than digital.

I think the real difference, though, stems from this:
quote:
I personally tend to focus on how it was written and put together before I pay much attention to the performances.
I'm exactly the opposite, and 2 gets you 7 that's why we feel so differently.
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El JT de Spang
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Nothing's more impressive to me (as a musician) than a great live performance. No matter what it is that's being performed.

I've seen artists cover songs that I loathed and do them so well that I completely flip-flopped on the song.

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Saephon
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Speed, your example of Nobuo's work has inspired me to rethink my answer. Because in all honesty, Final Fantasy music even in MIDI form bring back memories and emotions I hold dear [Smile] I'd venture to say there exist some artists out there whose compositions are, shall we say, "immortal." Play it with a glockenspiel, several strings and household objects; Aeris' theme is still magic. [Wink]
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Steev
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I'm split.

I want to hear new stuff and in most cases the only way to do that is put up with bad performances. I'm judging the music underneath to see if it has potential of really kicking some but on it's own merits not how it's performed.

Now on the other had a very well performed piece might be just what it needed to take an otherwise dull composition and give it the nuance that fixes it.

So I like them both because that allows me to find new music that will kick but on it's own merits and then allows me to kick even more but when it gets performed skillfully.

That's some serious musical butt kicking.


edit: I just realized that I've improved the nuances of a piece by intentionally performing a part unskillfully. It totally depends on what works.

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Nathan2006
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I don't know about final fantasy, but I love the music to The Legend of Zelda... But, although the performance on MIDI (Or whatever it is... Not exactly my forte) was brilliant, it's still MIDI (Or whatever.)

I think the music would benefit from an adaptation to an orchestral score, played by brilliant musicians (I call Piano!!!). The MIDI (Or whatever) version would pale in comparison to the real deal... Although, my opinion could stem from some classical snobbery.

I really do like the music on MIDI... I just think it could be much better played by a whole bunch of really great musicians (As opposed to the Metroid Prime music, which is much better on synth or MIDI or whatever)

I'm totally off-topic. Sorry. And I'm rambling even more.

PS: Anybody know where to get the Twilight Princess Soundtrack?

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Saephon
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This is the internet. Shared music rains down like a, um, torrential downpour [Big Grin]
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Lanfear
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I think the former is way more interesting than the latter.
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