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  • So I'm talking today with Samuel Andrea, who's composer, a Canadian composer who's currently residing in Strasbourg, where he's working as a composer.

  • And we're gonna talk today about music.

  • So but I think we'll start off by having Sam talk a little bit about his career and position himself so that we can move into the into the conversation and provide a bit of context for everybody who's watching and listening so taken away well, I'm a composer, I'm from Canada originally, and I lived there until I was 22 I decided, actually fairly early on that I wanted to live in France.

  • And so I moved to Paris, where I studied for quite a number of years at the Paris Conservatory.

  • Um, I remain there for 12 years and moved to Strasbourg 2.5 years ago, and I've been here ever since.

  • So I mainly a composer.

  • But I do a lot of other things as well.

  • I'm also a poet.

  • I'm also a teacher.

  • I'm also a performer.

  • So tell me a little bit about your experiences in North America, first as a composer.

  • Well, I should start by saying that because I left so young.

  • I didn't really have the opportunity to put together anything resembling a professional career when I was living in Canada.

  • Uh, but what I can say is that I started out in music by by producing songs when I was a teenager, and that became something of an obsession.

  • I was very interested in a sort of unusual branch of the sort of singer songwriter tradition that involved paying attention to avant garde manifestations of music and trying to incorporate those into the pop song format.

  • And there is, Ah, very fascinating and lengthy history of that.

  • And so that was sort of my initial foray into music.

  • So I made a total of about eight or nine albums of songs, and as I was going along with that, I became more and more interested and forms of musical expression that we're not easily compatible with the song format, and that resulted in a kind of interesting tension.

  • And so, towards the end of my sort of very short lived career as a singer songwriter, it became obvious to me that I couldn't I couldn't resolve the contradictions between sort of popular forms of expression and the sorts of things that were really starting to fascinate me and just keep me up at night in the format of the pop song.

  • So that resulted in a kind of schism at a certain point where I was making songs that really didn't sound like songs at all.

  • And it was from that point it was It was a fairly straightforward matter just to abandoned ship, so to speak and basically, uh, take up a full time composition.

  • You said that you were trying to incorporate avant garde elements into your songs.

  • So I think maybe the first thing you could do is defined for the listeners.

  • The difference between the song and and other forms of composition because it's not self evident to people standing outside the professional musical universe and also what you mean by event garde forms and why you were trying to incorporate them well, Essentially, the song is a vernacular format.

  • It's ah, it's It's a form of expression that deals with materials that are familiar to everybody and that are accessible to everybody.

  • So, in other words, the standard pop song has three chords for most part, and so these are These are very easy materials to master.

  • So anyone who's interested enough in it can can take the trouble to learn those three chords and put together something resembling a pop song.

  • They might not be very good at it, but you can still you can access the basic fundamental building blocks of the pop song fairly easily.

  • Um, whereas other branches of composition are primarily written, they're not primarily things that come out of the performance tradition necessarily.

  • In other words, they might be initially encoded as a score and then only after the score is written.

  • Do you have hopefully a performance tradition coming out of the peace, whereas in pop music, it ze opposite you.

  • Start with the instrument.

  • You start with performing.

  • You start with with the sort of immediate sort of tactile relationship you have to your instrument, and the music sort of flows out of that.

  • But you don't begin with the score with the written document and these of that guard elements that you were talking about two things.

  • What what got you interested in?

  • Then why did you think it was useful And, uh, and explain a bit more about what happened when you started pursuing them.

  • I didn't think of it in terms of utility.

  • It was something that it literally just grabbed me by the throat.

  • Because 11 thing that started to happen was in the in the sixties, particularly.

  • You had this very brief cultural moment when there was a kind of crossover between between what the Postwar Evelyn Guard were doing and and the sort of most broadly popular rock acts.

  • So, for example, the Beatles on There on the White Album famously included the track called Revolution Nine, which is the sound collage.

  • You know, it's a piece of sonic art.

  • It is an absolutely no regards a rock song.

  • And they did that because the John Lennon and Paul McCartney were interested in Stockhausen and things like this.

  • And that's an extraordinary cultural moment, and the Beatles were far from the only ones to do that.

  • So if you if you get interested in in that kind of music from that Europe from the sixties and onwards, um and you look at it closely, you can't help noticing that there's a kind of shadow world that's that's peeking through via these sorts of manifestations and a lot of Ah, a lot of groups did.

  • Did things like that as well.

  • The doors did that.

  • They did very uh, a strange sort of collage, avant garde poetry and all sorts of things that you can't easily square with the demands of the pops along format.

  • So as I was listening to these things when I was 12 or 13 years old, like my attention was instinctively drawn to the more unusual elements of those records.

  • Which is interesting because when they came out, those were usually the tracks that everybody skipped.

  • Right, right.

  • You know, I was instinctively fascinated by them.

  • I always thought that Jim Morrison's foray outside of the song format was generally unfortunate, but and I was confused, of course, when I listened to Revolution Number nine, although I thought that in the context of that album, it was very interesting because that, well, it's a double album, which was a very remarkable album, and it seemed oddly enough to fit in some strange way.

  • I mean, that whole double album fits together in a remarkable way, even though there's quite a diverse range of of song formats that were incorporated into it.

  • So why do you think the up?

  • So let's do a couple of things.

  • Why don't we define what constitutes avant garde, period?

  • It's not necessarily a term that people they've heard it undoubtedly.

  • But people here, all sorts of what would you call them?

  • Let's call them terms.

  • They hear all sorts of terms that they're not necessarily that haven't been well defined.

  • So you could tell us about the avant garde.

  • Tell us why it attracted you.

  • Do you think as well?

  • Well, first of all, to define the avant garde.

  • I mean, it's it's a military term, and it simply means the unfortunate souls that were the first to go into battle there on the front line, so to speak on DSO.

  • I suppose that in the artistic domain, it simply means people who are or engaging in forms of artistic expression that are as yet untested.

  • No, there's a you can certainly debate whether that term is at all historically valid anymore.

  • And there's a a strong case to be made for saying that the avant garde, in a certain sense, basically no longer exists because it's been so thoroughly institutionalized and written about and discussed, and it's very, very difficult these days to make a work of art that actually shocks anybody.

  • You know, that's kind of an interesting thing, and that's a very recent phenomenon also.

  • I mean, you can do absolutely outrageous things and have them be installed in public places, and it'll generate a certain amount of civic controversy, but nothing even remotely close to what would have happened 60 years ago.

  • Even right?

  • That's the first thing on an interesting phenomena in and of itself, right?

  • So there's a kind of extraordinary tolerance for, um, all sorts of artistic expression.

  • You could also argue that it's a form of societal indifference as well.

  • You could say that Well, the reason nobody's rioting and no one's shocked and seeking to have these sorts of cultural forms band is because it simply doesn't matter.

  • The sort of arts have been declawed in a certain sense.

  • I mean, there's an argument you could make in that sense, is what people are so flooded with sounds and images now to that, the sheer volume of those sorts of things that were exposed to I also think inoculates us against or also in Oculus inoculates us against Shaq but also makes it more and more difficult to be sufficiently original to actually have that effect on people.

  • It's not like people have dropped on their taboos because you see that the doubt the taboos about what can be said, for example just shift around.

  • But it certainly does seem to be the case that it's harder for artists to play a to play a role that it also, I suppose, speaks to some degree to the degeneration of cultural norms around ronel sorts of different areas.

  • Because if there are strongly established norms, it's a lot easier to violate them.

  • And that's pretty interesting, because it also means you can't be revolutionary unless there's 1/2 decent tired around to have me end.

  • So right, yeah, So why do you think the avant garde attracted you instead of, I mean, it would have been more typical, Let's say, for someone who started out composing pop songs to continue in that vein, not to go down the rabbit hole of the avant garde, which is a very strange thing for anyone to do.

  • Yeah, a couple of reasons.

  • The first thing is that the the pop song format is interesting in that it only works if you stay relatively close to its parameters.

  • And if you start to stray too far outside of them than what you're doing, basically no longer functions as a pop song because it's no longer vernacular.

  • And so I have, ah, fascination with all sorts of forms of music, and the pop song is an incredibly difficult medium to work within again because you first of all it's it's completely unforgiving.

  • You're working and basically an extremely compressed format.

  • It's very rare for pop songs to be too much longer than three minutes, so you don't really have much room to maneuver.

  • Um, and you certainly don't have any room to maneuver structurally.

  • I mean, you pretty much have to stick to the first scores for scores thing.

  • For the immense majority of pop songs, there's been very little variation in that since since rock, Really, since the fifties from I mean, I know the three minute length was that was actually a commercial imposition, if I remember correctly.

  • But that structure, verse, chorus, verse, chorus what out of what did that originate?

  • Well, that's a That's an extremely old forum, and you certainly have there.

  • They are broke forms such as the Rondo or the Return mellow, that have an extremely similar forum where you alternate one fixed element that keeps returning the same way essentially and then a secondary element that that sort of gives you a certain degree of relief, a certain degree of, uh, contrast with the proceeding element.

  • So Kate's chaos that's a chaos order into play, I guess of sorts.

  • At least that's the way I would interpret it.

  • And why the three structure wise?

  • Why do you think instead of two chords or four chords?

  • Why why do you think that's dominated?

  • Well, three chord structure is the bare minimum that you need in order to have any kind of harmonic tension.

  • Basically, in music, generally speaking, you, you in total music.

  • Anyway, you have a very simple and effective polarity between what's called the tonic and dominant degrees.

  • And that's that's something that was but that basically structured the entire classical period of the Baroque period as well.

  • Thio unpack that for that for us and tell, Tell us what that is.

  • Why that quite at why that works musically, why it works it aesthetically well It's one of many possible strategies for music.

  • And in fact, if you, if you go beyond the broke into into Renaissance music or or even earlier you don't have this sort of strong polarity between two opposing harmonic regions.

  • That was something that really came about during the 17th century.

  • Basically, is that conversational?

  • Do you think that, like one of the things that I've noticed about many pieces of music is that they sound like dialogues?

  • There's an announcement on the one hand, and then there's a response on the other.

  • And then there's an announcement.

  • And then there's a response.

  • It it seems to me to be based in dialogue based Anna.

  • Logically, metaphorically, maybe in dialogue.

  • Did you hear that many classical pieces as well?

  • So I would say that it's it's It's a way of setting up an extremely rudimentary story, an extremely rudimentary form of narrative in the sense that you start with a region that is established that you that you basically have is your home base essentially, and then you you modulate to a different different harmonic region, and through this process of modulating, you move from your home base to somewhere else, and that creates attention.

  • It creates nostalgia, and it creates a need for resolution.

  • Um, there are plenty of other ways you can do a great Well, okay, so that's interesting.

  • Mean for a variety of reasons.

  • 11 thing that made me that report made me think about right away is the proclivity of small Children to do that with their mother in particular.

  • So the space around the mother is defined as home territory, partly because mother is familiar, but also partly because if something goes wrong and mother is, their mother can fix it.

  • So So there's There's a zone around the child when the mother is there, where there is access to immediate resources that will fill in where the child skills are locking.

  • And then what the child will do after obtaining sufficient comfort from being in the presence of mom is to go out far enough into the world.

  • Driven by their curiosity, which which has an underlying biological manifestation.

  • There's an exploratory system that drives the child out there, too.

  • It discovered new information and to extend their skills by pushing against the unknown and then when that when they either get tired or when they go out far enough.

  • So the negative emotion as a consequence of threat predominates.

  • They run back to their mother inside, so it reminded me of that.

  • And it's also a microcosm of the hero's journey right, which is the journey from a safe and and defined place out into the unknown and then a return.

  • And that is, well, I wouldn't even say that's the simplest story.

  • That's the simplest story that also involves transformation.

  • So it might be the simplest good story, something like that.

  • I had mapped that onto that chorus.

  • Uh, what did you call it?

  • Verse Chorus?

  • Yes, yes, yes.

  • So that and that return to stability.

  • So?

  • So you think so?

  • Does that make sense that mapping as far as you're concerned?

  • Absolutely.

  • Because one of the one of the main tenets of the of the the total harmonic system is that you have an eventual return to where you started out at the end.

  • So there's always the promise of a return at the end, and and that's the essential structure that you see in pop songs as well.

  • So it's it's fundamentally, it's a directional.

  • It's a TV logical sort of structure.

  • Um, and that's extremely different from Renaissance music, which basically has a very, very weak degree of directionality.

  • It doesn't seem to want to particularly go anywhere.

  • It's sort of floats, and uh, that's that's an interesting thing that that music sort of went off in this other sort of direction.

  • Did you have any idea why that transformation occurred?

  • Well, I think it's because there was ah need for a more dramatically intense form of music, and that's certainly that certainly took took place during the Baroque.

  • And of course, that's related to the power and cultural influence of the Catholic Church and the need to create forms of artwork that would be extremely dramatic and expressive.

  • And in broke music, you have this intensification of musical expression that's that's quite striking.

  • In a sense, you could say that that that strongly directional thrust that you get in music developed even further in the classical and then in the romantic periods as well, to the point where it it becomes this sort of constant push towards ever more cataclysmic forms of expression.

  • Until it actually ruptures the fabric of music itself, you no longer can contain this.

  • This level of expressivity.

  • Okay, so that's as good a team.

  • So lots of the people that are listening, I presume, won't know the the temporal relationship between those periods of musical development that you just described.

  • So why don't you go back to the to the medieval era and then just lay out the periods of time across which music developed?

  • And then we'll go back to that idea of this cataclysmic upheaval that sort of shattered destructor of music, say, in the 20th century?

  • Well, there's only so far you can go back because music has only begun to be written down in a way that's that's reliably retrievable since the late 14th century or so.

  • So if you try to go too much farther back than that, you end up with documents that are extremely hard to decipher.

  • We don't really know exactly what these things sounded like.

  • We've got about 600 years yet we've got about 600 years.

  • So roughly speaking, the Renaissance period extends to about 1600 so roughly between 1416 100 the Baroque is usually said to end with the death of ball in 17 50 then you have a kind of no man's land that lasted 20 or 30 years, where there was a sort of in between period of generalized experimentation.

  • But there wasn't yet a strongly characterized style yet, And then you have classicism that starts really towards the well in the second half of the of the 18th century.

  • And Romanticism is a little bit more difficult to pin down.

  • But but Beethoven is considered to be one of the earlier exponents of of a romantic style.

  • He died in 18 27 so that more or less takes us to the end of the 19th century.

  • Then you have something that you could plausibly call late romanticism, although that's very difficult to define.

  • And that sort of dovetails with modernism.

  • So can you set out some of the defining features of each of those set out the defining features of each of those parks?

  • Let's say, and then maybe you can walk us through this.

  • This idea that you expressed about increasingly cataclysmic changes and then that resulting in in se 20th century music that takes us back to the avant garde is well, right.

  • Well, the first thing I would say is that these sorts of categorizations are our generalizations.

  • I mean, you can't You can't take 200 years of human cultural endeavor and reduced them down to a single word.

  • And of course, these things air constantly flowing and transforming.

  • And there are There are also all sorts of overlapping, um, contrasting movements happening at at any given time.

  • So this is really just for the sake of convenience.

  • But But if you wanted to make a generalization, you could say that during the Renaissance, music was essentially linear.

  • It was essentially melodic and and contra pencil.

  • In other words, that you would have, you would have individual voices, individual lines that would be flowing along together.

  • Ah, but music was not yet primarily thought of in terms of vertical or harmonica sonority ease.

  • That really starts to happen with broke early in the 17th century, so broke music has a much stronger harmonic dimension to it.

  • It's it's You could argue that it's harmonically somewhat simpler than Renaissance music because it's more codified.

  • That's when you start getting the first treatises on harmony in the first.

  • Theoretical writings on music also isn't the Baroque period.

  • It's also characterized by the use of highly stylized and very strong dance rhythms.

  • Theo Classical Period is essentially a simplification of the Baroque style.

  • In a certain sense, music became strongly divided between what you would call foreground and background elements.

  • In other words, you would have a very prominent melodic line, and then you would have an accompaniment.

  • But the two are not necessarily of equal importance, whereas in the broken in the Renaissance, the voices would have tended all to be of basically equal importance.

  • There's very, very little foreground background distinction in broke and and pre baroque music, so the classical style is a simplification.

  • It's also a codification of musical forms.

  • That's when you start getting the symphony, the string quartet, the concerto while the concertos will broke form.

  • But it starts to take on the characteristics of of other classical forms, such as the Sonata in the classical period.

  • So you get this basically is codification, and this simplification of the basic tools of music in the classical period and in the classical period is quite extraordinary, actually, because it's it's It was a rather short lived period in which, for a very brief span, of time.

  • There is a A, an overlapping of popular and several InStyle's.

  • So you had you had sort of a vernacular dimension in the classical period.

  • You had very simple popular reforms and popular forms of expression, and you also had the absolute highest degree of musical science.

  • And they were combined.