MODULATION Here’s a new music term for you to learn: modulation [mod-you-lay-tion]. When we sing our new state song, “Oh, Arkansas!”, have you noticed that when we get to the second verse, the singer starts singing it a little higher than the first verse? That’s using modulation, and you hear it all the time in country and pop songs. Modulation adds variety and creates a sense of excitement in the music to make it more interesting. It’s sort of like if you were watching a basketball game where neither team was scoring any points. Then, all of a sudden, one team starts scoring and the game gets more exciting. That’s what modulation does in music--it takes it up a notch!
Click Below to listen to our assembly song for the week. The first has lyrics, the second, no lyrics.
Our world today is filled with electronic sounds, including electronic music. We hear it in phone ringtones, electronic device apps, games, computer music, and other places. But did you ever wonder how electronic music got started?
Our composer this week is Edgar Varese [var-EZ], an innovative musician who saw the potential in using new electronic mediums for sound production in the 1950’s, such as synthesizers and computers. His use of new instruments and electronic resources helped him to realize his vision that he called a “liberation of sound”. Varese became known as the “Father of Electronic Music”.
In 1958, at the age of 75, Varese composed a piece of music called Poeme Electronique, which in English means Electronic Poem. This was one of the earliest masterpieces of electronic music created in a recording studio. Varese’s sound material came from a wide variety of sources, including electronic generators, church bells, sirens, organs, human voices and machines. The sounds are often processed in a way that they cannot be easily identified.
LISTEN FOR . . . Varese described the sounds as “gongs, taps, electronic tones, short squawks, piercing sounds, low sustained tones, grating noises, chirps and two-second pauses”. Tension is created in the music by the suspenseful pauses. Varese organized his sounds into an electronic poem that sounds weird, yet is amazingly logical and compelling. This week we’ll be listening to excerpts from “Electronic Poem”.
The Electronic Poem by Varese is an 8-minute piece of electronic music that was written to be played in the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium. The pavilion was shaped like a stomach, with a narrow entrance and exit on either side of a large central space. The building’s designer came up with the title Electronic Poem, saying he wanted to create a “poem in a bottle”. So Varese composed the piece intending to create a “liberation between sounds”. The result was a series of noises not usually thought of as “music”.
Varese designed a very complex spatialization plan for his music. You learned about visual spatial relationships in music when Mrs. Philpot showed you how notes in measures are usually spaced equal distances from each other to help you see where each beat falls in the measure.
But Varese used auditory spatialization. This means the sound was projected through hundreds of speakers placed throughout the inside of the pavilion. Several speakers at a time would be activated from different locations: the left side, the right side, the back, the front, and so on.
Surround sound systems
In today’s world, we call this stereophonic sound, or stereo. This method of sound reproduction creates an illusion of multi-directional sound. Another term for it is “surround sound”. Stereo sound is now common in entertainment systems such as radio, TV, recorded music and cinema theaters. Our listening example today is part of Electronic Poem that features some of the images used with the music. As people walked through the building, they would hear the sounds and see images projected on the walls.
LISTEN FOR . . . If you listen to the Electronic Poem through a set of headphones or good speaker system on your computer, you can hear the sounds passing back and forth from left to right. [2:20 - 3:30 minutes]
Varese was a French-born composer who spent most of his career in the United States. Besides experimenting with electronic sounds, he was an innovator of the tone color of percussion instruments. Remember, tone color, also called timbre [tam-ber], is the way individual instruments sound. During the early 1900’s, tone color became more important than ever before. It took on a major role, creating variety and mood in music. Varese was a pioneer in exploring percussive and noise-like sounds.
Siren Tam-tam (gong)
Temple Blocks Guiro
In 1931, Varese wrote the first important work for a percussion ensemble. An ensemble is a small group of players. After years of listening mostly to full orchestras, or groups of strings and woodwinds, twentieth-century composers were interested in exploring the special colors of the percussion group and occasionally wrote entire pieces to show it off.
Our listening example today is called Ionisation. Ionisation is written for thirteen percussionists. The first performance was at New York City’s famous Carnegie Hall in 1933. People were not used to hearing music by just the percussion section. One music critic described the performance as “a sock in the jaw”! The title refers to the ionization of molecules.
LISTEN FOR . . . The music features small rhythmic cells that expand and change. This piece emphasizes rhythm and contrasting tone colors.
MUSIC LISTENING LINK
Listening Example: Ionisation
Varese came up with the term “organized sound”. His idea of music reflected his vision of sound as living matter, and of musical space as being open rather than restricted by boundaries. Varese thought that, to “stubbornly conditioned ears, anything new in music has always been called noise”. So he asked the question, “what is music, but organized noises?”
"Lion's Roar" drum
LISTEN FOR . . . In Ionisation, Varese used an unusual instrument called a “lion’s roar”, which originated in Africa. It is a drum with a cord pulled through a hole in the membrane. The friction creates a sound similar to a lion’s roar. In this performance, the drum is suspended in the air. Watch and listen closely, because this excerpt only lasts ten seconds. [2:25 - 2:35 minutes]
MUSIC LISTENING LINK Youtube video - "lion's roar" 2:25-2:35 min.
AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT While audiences at the first 1933 performance must have been fascinated by this new style of percussion music, it is no less fascinating to watch and listen to today. As we listen to the conclusion of Ionisation, note the attentiveness of the audience, which includes many children. Imagine the challenges of composing and performing such creative music as Varese has written. [ 3:03 - 5:31 minutes]
This week we heard the strange sounds of electronic music composed by Varese in his Electronic Poem. Ionisation featured his interest in the sound of percussion instruments. Varese also wrote music for the full orchestra. One of these pieces is called Arcana, and like the others, it was not always well received by listeners. Many questioned whether his organized sounds were really music.
Arcana was composed in the 1920’s, when many other composers were starting to experiment with new styles of music. Until about 1900, orchestras and small groups played what we might call “pretty” music that was traditional, predictable, and generally pleasing to listen to. It had nice melodies built on simple scales that people were familiar with, and the harmonies matched the melodies. The percussion section served as a support to the rest of the music. This kind of music is called tonal, and it is what we listen to most of the time in our daily lives.
But Varese and other composers started writing music that is called atonal. Atonal music does not have recognizable melodies. In fact, there is usually no melody at all, but what sounds like just randomly selected pitches. There are no familiar sounding chords under these random pitches. This music was so radical sounding in the early 1900’s, that fights actually broke out during and after performances. People booed and hissed at the performers. But in today’s world, this is the kind of music that you might hear during a good action-adventure film, or a suspense scene, and it sounds pretty normal to our ears.
LISTEN FOR . . . Arcana is written for an orchestra of 120 players with many extra instruments. Similar to a volcano, it is something like a series of orchestral eruptions, with exciting rhythm and creative choices of tone colors. This is one of Varese’s more accepted pieces. You decide if it sounds more tonal or atonal.
MUSIC LISTENING LINK
Weiner Elementary School, 313 N. Garfield St., Weiner, AR 72479 870-684-2252(o) 870-684-2684(f) (We are not responsible for any content on any page linked from our page)