Providing a tether to a theme is a way you can draw a straight line between seemingly disparate works. Here’s a quick review of what I’ve been listening to this week, and what I think provides it all with some commonality:
The repeated theme here is the atonal C-major scale, thrown off kilter by two “accidentals,” though I have not seen the sheet music that determines key signature. You can assess this as monotony if you like; what I hear is an engine that throws off sparks, that provides an igniting center for the flurries of dissonant chords that move above and below that center even as the center shifts octaves and provides what passes for momentum. It proves how the counterbalance between the two is infinitely more valuable to me than free-floating ideas. Ligeti’s work is brand new to me but this etude stuck out for me because of what I see as its centrifugal force, one that doesn’t stop even in the face of the eventual drag of the penultimate set of chords.
Without the ability or desire to really throw sparks, Deerhunter settle instead for a “widening gyre” approach that still has a repeated arpeggio theme but with the eventual effect of putting your head on the end of a baseball bat and spinning you uncontrollably for four minutes. It starts with Bradford Cox’s simple don’t-have-to-move-your-hand descending theme as a countervailing force to Lockett Pundt’s dueling octaves. It is not those octaves that ground this song – it is the consistency of the disorienting high notes plus their effect.
It’s those often droning but infinitely beautiful whirling themes that underpin most of my favorite music. Perhaps I will never make a jazz improv star. But please give me centrifugal force over free expression every time. Frankly, who’s to say there’s not something freeing about that centrifugal force and the anchor it provides? Not I.