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  • Avick Malo

The Influence of Avant-Garde Composers on Modern Day Music

Cover Art: Alex Chen

As we venture forth to write ourselves into history generations ahead of us will look back on, it is vital to understand the roadmap plotted by the previous generation to simply understand and navigate the present more efficiently. In music specifically, a genre where this very reference is extremely sharp and deep-rooted is hip hop. The gravitational appeal of the culture behind hip hop music, the flagrant perspectives, and the technicalities within the score of sound itself are all unlocked through multiple influences, one which includes avant-garde compositions throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

“Poème Électronique” by Edgard Varèse was the first contemporary music that was revolutionary in regards to the overall weirdness of the piece: seemingly Varèse always attempted to find new ways of expressing his music. It opened up the rule book and extended the boundaries to what is acceptable in the music industry. Fraying from original conventions like melodies, orchestras, and harmony, Varèse created a timestamp of his own. Through innovations in percussion, electronic instruments, and the flowing coordination of sound, Varèse explored color, timbre, and musical space in an abstract manner. He held themes of attaining complete freedom while still maintaining organization, similarly being liberated from traditions to create a personalized distinct value. An example of this in “Poème Électronique” is the emphasis of creating music without instruments, integrating for the first time electronic and instrumental sounds (undistinguished sounds). Varèse used the clarinet, a siren, and 258 speakers, extreme registers all stimulated by environment rather than generalizations.

Similarly in the golden age of hip hop, artists today, including Young Thug and Future, have become rebels of hip hop, veering away to express their own individualities and bring distraught value into those areas within a span of a decade. At a time where power was solely left to the lyrical geniuses and intricate production masterminds, Young Thug and Future were the pioneers of the so-called ‘mumble rap’. This new way of expression emphasized absolute flagrancy in terms of subject, setting a mood through melody and even pushing the extreme boundaries of what is considered hip hop by battling against normality (shorter songs, at times unintelligible verses). They did not do so to particularly become the new heads of the game, rather through interviews and discussions it is evident their ears lead them to these fast melodies, and flowing art form that has origins back again in their environment. Future and Young thug both gaining origin from the southern state of Georgia, played a deep part as some diction and phrasing of involuntary speech are gained simply by being raised in such environments. The genius that grew the attraction to this form of expression, similar to how Varèse glued his impact on electronic music, were the gains accomplished by testing the boundaries, provoking the classic method, polarizing the old and new creating characteristics that make them both distinctive in each respective way which in the long play grows the genre as a whole.

Another piece of composition that triggers a gravitational pull in the time-lapse is “Revolution 9” by The Beatles. In particular, a specific aspect of this piece is the frenzy layering and looping distinguishing the expression of sound collages. Almost uncharacteristic of music at all “Revolution 9” truly broke true into the avant-garde electronic collage. The experimentalism in this piece is the powerful repetitiveness of the loop “Number 9” however the simplicity of this is it opens up greater freedom to add sounds that play along with the plucks of strings and bangs of sound creating an ear-pleasing piece of music. There are in fact structural correlations, almost as if the loop is the chorus, and the crying/laughing sounds are pathways of music that bring you on a trip. The more you listen to it the more you can anticipate the melodic changes. The popularity of the Beatles shot up this underground conformity into the limelight in the evolution of music.

The counter reference to “Revolution 9” can be found in mainstream hip hop structures, where verses are repeated throughout the whole song however no question is asked due to the ear-pleasing music. Similar to “Revolution 9” these songs, in particular, can bring you on an emotional trip depending on the artist and phrasing. An out and clear diamond example is the track “Versace” by Migos. The key lyric “Versace” is repeated 163 times in the course of 4 minutes and the major distinguishing value the song contains is its flow and melody. The group starts with a hyped complexion repeating it in a triplet standard and continuing into a slower flow with 3-4 lines added into the latter half of the song. All and out the song was a pivotal moment in hip hop evolution as it paved the cobblestone roads curating later artists such as 21 Savage where the repetitive expression is capitalized on to extend a greater melodic flow.

In the end, you hold a sensitivity to what the present holds, however understanding the past and acknowledging the differences in hertz throughout evolution provides a larger stimulation to music as an art form itself.

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