Pop songs have clean melodic structures that are as condensed as possible. No one knew this better than The Beatles. From Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da to She’s Leaving Home, they had an uncanny ability to immerse you in a whole world in only a few minutes, catchy, compact like poetry, almost dense, like a song from a musical but better.
It’s fitting that on A Day in the Life, they went to such lengths to try to snap you out of their pristine songs, ending on a nightmarish almost unsatisfying crescendo, as surreal and dirty as their songs tend to be pleasant and sweet.
What I did there was to write ... the lowest possible note for each of the instruments in the orchestra. At the end of the twenty-four bars, I wrote the highest note...near a chord of E major. Then I put a squiggly line right through the twenty-four bars, with reference points to tell them roughly what note they should have reached during each bar ... Of course, they all looked at me as though I were completely mad.
This proved to be only the start for John Lennon, who later went to absurd lengths to embody a sort of over-realism: his experiment with psychotherapeutic primal screaming – it sounds as odd as it looks on paper – and posing nude on an album cover.
An unstable tone combination is a dissonance; its tension demands an onward motion to a stable chord. Thus dissonant chords are 'active'; traditionally they have been considered harsh and have expressed pain, grief, and conflict.
Going back to Kamien’s definition, when I’m in the right mood – say, listening to the right song while driving my car at night – it seems like there’s an underlying dissonance which drives intelligence and clarity of mind. In a sense, the drive for knowledge is predicated on not being content with the current state of things. In a world of perfect contentment, there’d be no need to learn more. In this sense there’s a truth to the archetype of the happy idiot, though I’m not sure whether it says more about man or knowledge. The inability to just be content seems to have a biological correlate as well.
Naturally I assumed that the second part would build on the first, by applying the theory. On the contrary, the applied portion of the book simply went on and on like the theoretical portion. I doubt this is a shortcoming of the author, as it’s more likely a reflection of the beast itself. But I found it rather thought provoking that there should be such a sharp disconnect to begin with.
It was a bit like learning English – or what I imagine learning English must be like: There are principles, structures, and rules, but after you master them, you then spend even more time learning about nuances and exceptions.
Certainly there are theoretical principles and natural laws, but the impression that one gets is that based on some primitive defense-system, mother nature was just making shit up as it went along, constantly responding to new threats and stumbling upon new weapons, necessity giving birth some pretty wild inventions, a patchwork quilt of defense systems.
The analogy to dissonance of course is a stretch – but it’s not as much a stretch as one might think at first. Both lend creed to the a-posteri ever-changing being-at-work-staying-onself/coming-into-being approach to knowledge.
Media (in order of appearance)
Photo: (1)Album cover of Beatles' 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; (2)Moon up, 07/05/2009, [kane]; (3)Ralph Steadman, self-portrait.
Video: (1)Music video of the song Forever by Drake; (2)Music video, Two-Headed Baby channel, of the song Steam Engenious by Modest Mouse from their 2007 album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank; (3)Music video, cdiamond channel, of the song A Day in the Life by The Beatles from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.