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"Associationism" in music? (Read 1092 times)

Offline cuberdrift

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"Associationism" in music?
« on: January 29, 2016, 07:51:27 AM »
Hey all!

I just have this thing in my head about "associationism" in music - my term that describes how people associate a certain kind of music with...er...something.

Let me try to explain.

I grew up with mostly Western classical music, some Indian classical music, as well as Jazz as the main kinds of music I listen to, as a child. That's why I like playing the piano.

On the other hand, I have always not really liked popular music. The reason is that I find it weird, strange, and listened to by annoying teenagers.

Therefore, I associate pop-sounding music with annoying teenagers.

On the other hand, I associate many classical pieces with 'things classy", or fine things.

I like "fine" things.

Uh-oh, here we go: what, indeed, are "fine" things?

For me, it's a bit hard to describe. But for me, "fine" things are generally things that are pleasant. You know, the beauty of nature, the beauty of a beautiful woman, etc. Things that touch the heart, in a pleasant way.

For me, much of today's popular music (not all, but much of it) unnerves me in some way. It seems to be so harsh. And so wild, and animalistic. And "unrefined". Kind of "barbarous", even. Why do today's singers scream so harshly? Where is the pleasantness in that? Beethoven "screams" too, through his music, but for some reason, I find it a lot more pleasing to hear, and a lot more beautiful. I don't know why. I think it's the sonority, or the harmonic progression. And the nuances, perhaps.

But all in all, perhaps it's not the pop music itself that unnerves me, but maybe past experiences, when I was a kid, that influenced my taste towards it.

Maybe I saw that I was the only kid who didn't really like pop music because I leaned more towards classical stuff. So the other kids thought I was weird, outdated, etc. As a result, I found them to be annoying, and their music to be annoying, too.

It still kind of goes on today, although I think I have chosen to take another more "intellectual" approach to all kinds of music. To do this, I try to shut off my "associationism" switch.

That means I forget what things I associate the music with. I just hear it at its most raw, and then decipher what it REALLY is talking about, what it REALLY is communicating to me.

Anyway, I find it kind of difficult to explain in a simple way what this "associationism" thing I'm talking about is, but I do hope you understand.

Perhaps this "associationism" transcends to the common perception of the major mode being happy and the minor mode being sad. Maybe people feel happy when they hear music in the major mode because that piece was played while a movie was showing a happy scene. Or whatever.

So how true and how powerful is "associationism" in music? Have you also encountered these things I'm talking about?

So, as a classical piano performer, whenever I play a classical piece, which sounds rather exotic to the mainstream ear, the audience associates it with all things academic, serious, dignified, high-class, and disciplined. I am highly annoyed by this. I kind of prefer if they took it as it is - the ethos it is trying to project - unless perhaps, the ethos of most classical pieces is indeed to project an air of dignity, refinement, high class, and seriousness!

But I also kind of suffer the same thing. As I said, that seems to be the main reason why I don't like listening to most pop music today. And when I attend a concert featuring a Koto performance, I imagine a Samurai in a medieval Japanese castle. And when I hear a piece by Debussy, I imagine myself lounging in a cozy hotel lobby, because there is usually a piano in a hotel lobby, and fine things are heard from that nice, comfortable place. So I like Debussy, he-he.

But I think this "associationism" mentality prevents me from actually absorbing the music's true message. Because if I associate Mozart with the nobility, then all his pieces will sound the same - just high-class, regal, etc.! That's kind of boring and limited, don't you think?

Please share your insights on this.

Thanks!

Regards,
cuberdrift


Offline themeandvariation

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Re: "Associationism" in music?
«Reply #1 on: January 29, 2016, 05:22:53 PM »
Hi CDrift..
Perhaps your 'associations' are too large to adequately describe a musical experience.
For example, I would say w/ re: to Mozart, 'noble' isn't enough to describe (in such term(s)) All of Mozart's music.. Is it not also, playful, fleeting, sumptuously singingly, delicately beautiful, souring, passionate, grave, joyful, austere, 'holy' mercurial, etc.  -- depending on the piece.. But also, even within 'noble' are there not subtle variations of that feeling?

(Shame about Debussy and hotel lobbies… I think that is one thing Warhol was saying with his take on the Mona Lisa… Many works of art have been 'appropriated' and reduced to the commonplace.. at least for the non critical observer.. I still find Debussy profound and fresh.. 'they can't take that away from me'  ;D
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Offline themeandvariation

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Re: "Associationism" in music?
«Reply #2 on: January 29, 2016, 05:58:01 PM »
ps… Warhol also did the reverse as well - bringing  the common place (a can of soup) to a museum.  Which, I guess is saying the same thing…  ;)
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Offline dcstudio

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Re: "Associationism" in music?
«Reply #3 on: January 29, 2016, 06:29:04 PM »

associations to me are far more specific and have more to do with intervals and melodic riffs.   i.e. tritones are used to create tension or fear...  whole tone scales seem to be associated with space.. a lone trumpet wail with the military..   then there are little melodic passages associated with characters or movies... Dracula with the Toccata and Fugue in D minor--(I find this interesting as it seems ALL children make this association no matter how young they are)--the Axel Foley theme, or Pirates of the Caribbean also have specific associations.


Offline ted

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Re: "Associationism" in music?
«Reply #4 on: January 29, 2016, 09:59:00 PM »
I consider music has no meaning at all except that which the personal listening mind imposes. Thus to assert that certain specific musical properties have immutable and identical significance to all listening minds seems to me nonsense. This is not a popular view, but I have yet to see a solid argument against it. Moreover, the older I become, the more I find associations are controllable at the conscious level and are subject to change from day to day. This is a wonderful reward of increasing age, an immense liberation from the social and economic musical magisteria which labour ceaselessly to tell us how to think.

Association is a powerful tool for the enjoyment of music, but used as a compulsory habitual response it can also be a hideous obstacle. The only suggestion I have for the original poster is to decide on and create associations for himself, and be unafraid to demolish them in favour of new ones when they become stale and unproductive.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller