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#464694 - 12/12/07 09:30 PM "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
What do you all think of futuristic music, that is written to imitate the sounds of machinery?

For example, this piece by Rzewski, called "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues" --

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDNy4YuCxdk

(that video is rated 5-stars, with 35 votes -- must mean that people like it)

Incidentally, that's the only futuristic piece that I'm familiar with, and I like it a lot. I like the driving rhythms, and the little deviations from that rhythm that sound like throwing a wrench in the machines. The repetative nature could be boring to some; on the other hand, I find it very engaging: "It has to change sometime... when? What's going to happen next?"
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#464695 - 12/12/07 09:42 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
playadom Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/21/06
Posts: 1366
Loc: New Jersey
I love it. Quite seriously. It's good stuff!
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#464696 - 12/12/07 10:11 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
What do you think of the concept?

I find it to be much more concrete, and much more closely related to the other arts than most music which is very abstract.

Until relatively recently, most "good" art in the Western world depicted something specific -- an artist would paint machines in a factory, or he would paint a person, or he would paint a basket of fruits, and the idea was that the more closely the painting imitates the real life objects, the better the painting (and the better the painter).

That's really what the futuristic composers did -- that's what Rzewski did in this piece. He masterfully imitated the sounds of machinery in a cotton mill.

But there's more to it than that. A great painting digs deep into the subject to portray what is ordinarily lost. A great painter will put emotion behind the eyes of a painted women; he'll give her identity, purpose, some hidden agenda.

That's also what Rzewski did in this piece. It's not just the machines -- something's happening to those machines. Why do they stop (i.e. break) half-way through? Why does the motion become more irregular? What's with the blues theme?

Beethoven and Brahms did that, too -- but their music was much more abstract. They were not necessarily depicting something physical... they were just writing beautiful music. Even a lot of programmatic music is very abstract, leading Bernstein to describe the sheep scene from Strauss's Don Quixote as "Superman breaking out of prison."
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Sam

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#464697 - 12/12/07 10:15 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
That is definately *not* to say that Beethoven and Brahms didn't write great music. They wrote *great* music.

I'm just trying to put down my thoughts on futuristic music, and how it really isn't as arrogant and strange and unmusical as one might think -- it's actually very similar to the aesthetic goals of the other great arts for millenia.
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Sam

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#464698 - 12/12/07 10:18 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
Monica K. Offline

Platinum Supporter until Dec 31 2012


Registered: 08/10/05
Posts: 17776
Loc: Lexington, Kentucky
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianojerome:
What do you all think of futuristic music, that is written to imitate the sounds of machinery?

....Incidentally, that's the only futuristic piece that I'm familiar with, and I like it a lot. I like the driving rhythms, and the little deviations from that rhythm that sound like throwing a wrench in the machines.[/b]
Ah, but surely you're familiar with "Welcome to the Machine" by Pink Floyd? It's not piano, but they also do a great job of capturing the repetitive rhythms of machinery with quite an ominous overtone.

The Rzewski piece was interesting. I liked it better than a lot of more modern compositions I've heard, but it's probably not something I would put on in the background for a romantic date. \:D
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#464699 - 12/12/07 10:24 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
playadom Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/21/06
Posts: 1366
Loc: New Jersey
 Quote:
Originally posted by Monica K.:

The Rzewski piece was interesting. I liked it better than a lot of more modern compositions I've heard, but it's probably not something I would put on in the background for a romantic date. \:D [/b]
Funny, listening to this is my idea of a perfect evening... Perhaps that's why I don't get along with anybody my age.
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Practice makes permanent - Perfect practice makes perfect.

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#464700 - 12/12/07 11:01 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
Rach.3Freak105 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/06/05
Posts: 446
Loc: Moorestown, NJ
Wow, I very much enjoyed that. I really enjoyed the "breaking" of the machinery in the middle, I could really picture in my head and piece of equipment breaking down. Any idea where to get the sheet music for this? I'm really curious to see it.
_________________________
Once during a concert at Carnegie Hall, the violinist Rachmaninoff was playing with lost his place in the music and whispered to Rachmaninoff, "Where are we?" Rachmaninoff replied, in all seriousness, "Carnegie Hall".

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#464701 - 12/12/07 11:21 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
Futuristic, machine-like music is nothing new. Sam, check out George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique.

At the 1926 Paris performance the onstage airplane propeller caused a commotion when hats and toupées were blown off the unsuspecting audience! \:D

An excerpt from a rare recording can be found here.
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#464702 - 12/13/07 09:02 AM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
Bassio Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/24/03
Posts: 2480
Loc: Alexandria, Egypt
Very interesting piece. I like it. It certainly grabs anyone's attention.

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#464703 - 12/13/07 02:37 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
Robert Kenessy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/07/07
Posts: 394
Loc: Enebyberg Sweden
The original futurist movement was early 20th century and solely Italian.
The focus was on appreciation for the machine, the lifeless, the automaton, industrial processes, trains, tanks, airplanes. It made the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm coin the term necrofilia. Some futurist works I like, mostly sculptures. But nothing goes above music as reflection on life, vitality, the human condition.
Most if not all early italian futurists were fascists, of course.
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Robert Kenessy

.. it seems to me that the inherent nature [of the piano tone] becomes really expressive only by means of the present tendency to use the piano as a percussion instrument - Béla Bartók, early 1927.

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#464704 - 12/13/07 03:00 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21448
Loc: Oakland
Milhaud set a catalog of agricultural machinery to music early in his career.

Look up Advertisement by Henry Cowell sometime.
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Semipro Tech

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#464705 - 12/13/07 03:01 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19280
Loc: New York City
I generally do not like contemporary music but I heard Ursula Oppens perform Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues and loved it(as did the rest of the audience). She even sang a verse of the song on which the piece is based before playing it on the piano.

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#464706 - 12/13/07 03:14 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
C H O P I N Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/13/07
Posts: 310
Loc: England
Interesting how he can do that with a piano, but not something i'd listen to personaly.

C H O P I N
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"I Think Therefore I Am." - Rene Descartes

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#464707 - 12/13/07 06:23 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7802
Some of the earliest "machine music" would have to be music actually written for machines, i.e., the barrel organ. Then there's Alkan's choo-choo train etude. And various pieces imitating music boxes, which are especially fun because they imitate a machine that in turn imitates live music. I'm pretty sure that Prokofiev's Toccata is supposed to be machine music, evoking a factory, and thus would be a direct ancestor of Rzewski's piece; I like performers of the Prokofiev who really give it that imitation factory machinery sound. And, outside of piano music, there are plenty of other machine music pieces, like Mossolov's Iron Foundry. I like it all (but wouldn't want to be on an exclusive diet of it).

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#464708 - 12/14/07 03:07 AM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
godowskian Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/03/07
Posts: 50
I think I have a piece for my next jury! \:\) I wonder what our studio would think of that..wink wink..

Godowskian

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#464709 - 12/14/07 10:09 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
AdlerAugen Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/30/07
Posts: 200
Loc: Hawaii
bleh...personally I can't stand 'contemporary' music when it goes to such extremes to make the listener annoyed. And that means even more so I probably won't be caught learning it. More Chopin and Handel please.
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#464710 - 12/14/07 10:14 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
 Quote:
Originally posted by AdlerAugen:
bleh...personally I can't stand 'contemporary' music when it goes to such extremes to make the listener annoyed. And that means even more so I probably won't be caught learning it. More Chopin and Handel please. [/b]
I don't think Rzewski tried to annoy the listener.
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Sam

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#464711 - 12/14/07 10:52 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
Rach.3Freak105 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/06/05
Posts: 446
Loc: Moorestown, NJ
I also have a theory on the blues section of this piece. Well it's representing cotton mills right? Now I assume that the slaves were working in them? Now if that is true, maybe that is representing the slaves taking a break and singing while the machine is fixed. Sound plausible?
_________________________
Once during a concert at Carnegie Hall, the violinist Rachmaninoff was playing with lost his place in the music and whispered to Rachmaninoff, "Where are we?" Rachmaninoff replied, in all seriousness, "Carnegie Hall".

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#464712 - 12/14/07 10:57 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
The blues theme wasn't written by Rzewski.

"Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues" is an old blues song.


Old man Sargent sitting at the desk,
The damned old fool won't give us no rest.
He'd take the nickels off a dead man's eyes,
To buy a Coca-cola and a Pomo Pie.

chorus: I've got the blues,
I've got the blues,
I've got the Winnsboro Cotton Mill blues,
Lordy, lordy, spoolin's hard,
You know and I know, I don't have to tell:
Work for Tom Watson, got to work like hell.
I've got the blues,
I've got the blues,
I've got the Winnsboro Cotton Mill blues,
( Repeat after each verse)

When I die, don't bury me at all,
Just hang me up on the spoolroom wall.
Place a knotter in my hand,
So I can spool in the Promised Land.

When I die, don't bury me deep,
Bury me down on 600 Street,
Place a bobbin in each hand,
So I can dolph in the Promised Land,
_________________________
Sam

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#464713 - 12/14/07 11:15 PM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
Brendan Offline



Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 5303
Loc: McAllen, TX
 Quote:
Originally posted by AdlerAugen:
bleh...personally I can't stand 'contemporary' music when it goes to such extremes to make the listener annoyed. And that means even more so I probably won't be caught learning it. More Chopin and Handel please. [/b]
What a remarkably sophisticated viewpoint.

I saw Rzewski give a masterclass on this. There's some cool text painting towards the end of the piece where the clusters are played at the top end of the piano instead of the bottom. It's supposed to represent the poor worker spooling in Heaven.

North American Ballads is a great set. The other pieces in it (Dreadful Memories, Which Side Are You On?, and Down by the Riverside) are very well-written.
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#464714 - 12/15/07 05:18 AM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5246
Loc: Europe
This is a great composition indeed! And great performance! Thanks Sam.

The idea is not exactly new, and tbh this piece didn't remind me of completely new piece (like written after 2000) but rather old one written in the 50s, 60s (without searching for information of course, or reading anything in this thread).

I do think that this idea of immitating machines in music, is rather old and a bit... outdated (please don't hate me for this) by now.

I mean, Ligeti did something not so far off from this, by trying to incorporate "studio techniques" (flanger for example and chorus) in live orchestras. filters and stuff. I mean you listen to a live orchestra doing all those transformations and sounds and all these filters, like having Max DSP somewhere hidden in your brain and it plays tricks or so. Magnificent. As well as this piece.

BUT

(small edit: Looked up Rzewski, and the work was written in 1980... there goes half my argument \:D )

BUT

Thing with Ligeti and what he did is that nowadays it's no longer SO hard to apply a filter or a studio technique in a wav file, as it used to be in the 60s. Why "punish" a full orchestra like this, when this will go on a record, and you could, very well do a bit of post productio work and get it over with? Either way they all end up in recordings. When was the last time you heard the violoncello concert by Ligeti live? While the recording is accessible by everyone.

The imitation of machines, which would be interesting in the 50s - 60s and an experiment for the 80s, now is doable completely by "everyone" with a free version of a sequencer...

Still, certainly, the starting point is hugely interesting and I have nothing by respect for anyone who has "extro-musical" ideas in his/her music.

and this sounds VERY cool! VERY VERY COOL!

(My favourite phrase in this forum): I hope I make sense...

EDIT: The above comments have to do with composers, much more than performers (if at all). I mean by the above thinking Beethoven, Mozart, even Messiaen and Ligeti should not be performed which is stupid...
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#464715 - 12/15/07 07:19 AM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
PoStTeNeBrAsLuX Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/05
Posts: 2618
Loc: Geneva, Switzerland
I think it is in essence a great piece, full of delicious moments and some marvellous ideas, but similar to TPUWNBD, it is just too darned long for the limited content; both pieces would be a lot more effective if at least 30% shorter. And this opinion comes from someone who reckons that Mahler symphonies are just about right ;\) .

-Michael B.
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There are two rules to success in life: Rule #1. Don't tell people everything you know.

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#464716 - 12/16/07 09:20 AM Re: "If I want to hear a machine, I'll go to a factory."
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
It's much more than imitating machines. There's an entire human culture depicted there, and it is filled with social content and commentary. And it's a very intriguing piece to listen to.

But I don't see that there is anything particularly new, or futurisic in this piece. Rather, it is a new expresssion of an old thematic idea having to do with the future--the machine age--in art, literature and music. Check out the folk literature on John Henry and the steam hammer, for starters. Or Modern Times by Charley Chaplin.

Tomasino
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"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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