Conflict and dissonance
"Why are you afraid of dissonance?" asked my teacher. "Play a wrong note for a change. Compose something different."
Dissonance refers to the not so smooth sound of notes that disagree (create tension) when played together --- a conflict of sounds. Dictionary.com defines it as a combination of tones contextually considered to suggest unrelieved tension and require resolution.
I don't like conflict. It takes up too much energy to resolve conflict, and when not resolved, the tension wears me out. In fact, I try to avoid conflict as much as possible. Conflict produces dissonance. And dissonance neither sounds good nor feels good.
My composition teacher thinks that I create music to please the ear. In this age of modern music, composers try to challenge the listener not to please them. And modern music is full of dissonance.
In the simplest of musical language, there is the melody. Then there is harmony, which is what I like. After the major and minor keys, there are modal scales and other exotic scales. I have tried composing in all these keys and scales. Now, I am venturing into accidentals to produce the safest of dissonances.
Dissonance requires resolution, just as conflict does. There is tension and expectation in music, just as there is in disagreements between two parties.
If the left hand stays still while the right hand goes crazy, there's no dissonance in the pianist's playing. As the Chinese saying goes, one bowl cannot make noise. You need two to create noise. So, if one person stays silent while the other continues to talk, write, and express herself, there is no conflict. But neither is the pre-existent conflict resolved.
By avoiding conflict, you stay in the safe territory of easy-listening music, the kind of silly love songs and elevator music that will eventually bore you to death. I have finally stopped listening to Air Supply, Chicago, and Einaudi for this reason.
I am tired of producing music to please my ear. I am stepping out of my 4/4 time signatures and white keys to experiment with new possibilities. But like conflict, dissonance must resolve. Until I get used to dissonance, however, I will tread gently on the ivories.
24 May 2004 Monday
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If I produce music to please, could this also mean that I am susceptible to saying things that don't not offend? Which could include not saying what I really want to say (because it might hurt or get misinterpreted)?
Perhaps this is a matter of culture. Chinese people, like the English, are not direct. Some things are better left unsaid or left to subtlety.
I like to provoke and challenge, but I do not like to offend.
Faceless words in cyberspace can hurt. Misunderstandings cause conflict. In cyberspace, it is too easy to hide. And conflicts are left hanging, unresolved, like dissonances echoing in mid-air.