Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - May 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

Led Zeppelin Ripped off Claude Monet, and Renoir Ripped Off Spirit!

Are these the same...?

Led Zeppelin - "Stairway to Heaven" oil, 1870
Spirit - "Taurus" oil, 1868

 I USED TO TEND TO THINK in absolutes when I was younger, a sad, stereotypical thing to do.  It seemed like a possible concept when applied to art, or rather, it seemed like the American thing to do: something MUST excel over something else!


 Of course not.

 That idea shouldn't be confused with perfectionism, or OCD personality traits I may have.  It's really just the inculcation of seeking to categorize "the best" as a culture, without question.  It's something that pervades American culture, and not obvious until exposed to other culture's viewpoints. 

 "Led Zeppelin ripped off Taurus by Spirit!".   Well, maybe, sort of. 

 The recent Guns and Roses case regarding musical thievery of an Australian band, and the big payout to the Marvin Gaye estate over the Pharell/Thicke circumstance, seems to have people slavering over potential new sources of "income".  I would like to point out a difference with the Zeppelin case, despite the legal result.

 In this situation, you have two bands fronted by two prolific guitar players.  Coming from a time when they were influenced by another set of prolific guitar players.  One of which is a guy named John Renbourn.

 One can find antecedents to both songs in Renbourn's recordings; delicate oblique harmony arpeggios that sometimes use voice leading to modulate.  In the case of Stairway, the addition of flute is something of  giveaway to this, in my opinion. 

 So you have a musical theme - a chord progression - "depicted" with arpeggios at a certain tempo. 

However, you also have two really different arrangements.  Page's arrangement has a pattern of ascending, then all descending, with a reoccurring accented beat.  Additionally, there are chords added beyond the Spirit rendition, an a connecting melody. 

 This discounts the entirety of the rest of the song.  In this singular portion, it is my position that Page's depiction of said chord progression has more implicit detail that is substantially unique, added value.  As such, there are distinct ways of playing the components of the progression in such a way that it is immediately identifiable.  The Spirit song much less so - it is somewhat more ambiguous and staid.  The similarity is not in the execution or arrangement, as much as it is "a similar arpeggiated chord progression".

 As it is fairly well known in musician circles that the blues idiom, and for the most part traditional country music, is all based on the same chord progression, nobody makes an argument about similarities between two blues songs on just the progression alone, or even when combined with the same tempo, the same rhythm and even the same blend of chord extension.  It's usually the domain of the nature of the melody, or even one titular aspect that lends a song a different character than another.

 In the above two paintings, there is a common theme.  "A woman with a parasol".  On paper, similar, and if one were to make a primitive drawing of both, one could cite how one is maybe copying the other. 

But, like the blues, a great theme is not owned by either the first person who decided to use it, or who did it the best.

 In the Guns and Roses example (and the Tom Petty case), there was more involved than just the progression, there was a *confluence* of aspects relating to the whole.  The G&R song not only used the same progression/tempo, but the same arrangement, the same drum break, melody over the top.

 The Zeppelin case is different.  There is a great theme present, the descending oblique  inverted chord-modulation idea, but in Page's case there are added facets not present in the Spirit example.  Monet's Parasol is on a hill, the woman (his wife) occupies about a 1/3rd of the painting, is standing, the parasol is green, the child standing with the woman.

 All of these elements are different in Renoir's Parasol.  But look - there is a woman with a parasol, and a child!  It doesn't matter, that's just the basic elements, everything else is different. 

 If Renoir's had been standing on a hill, wind blowing, child in hand at her side, green parasol - that would be different.  This is what occurred in my opinion with the Petty case, and the G&R case.  With the Pharell situation, maybe it's more like he painted a coarse outline of a woman with an umbrella standing on a hill with some grass, and a child, and copied Monet's color palette (very closely...) and used a bunch of loose brush strokes (in a completely unoriginal way, as opposed to Renoir's unique style).  

A progression is not the same as the whole.  There are more chords in Stairway than a blues song, and as such maybe makes it seem like the line between "chord progression" and "melody" is blurrier.  The gestalt of the two songs are made up of different elements, beyond just the progression. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

University of London using Confuse-a-Cat (tm Python, Monty) algorithms to quantify a subjective popular art - MUSIC

Attention, University of London: your conclusion,

"Those who wish to make claims about how and when popular music changed can no longer appeal to anecdote, connoisseurship and theory unadorned by data. Similarly, recent work has shown that it is possible to identify discrete stylistic changes in the history of Western classical music by clustering on motifs extracted from a corpus of written scores"

.... is a non-sequiter mush-brain *opinion* that ignores the data set uses progressively iterated information (making your process void, you don't/can't subtract out this aspect), and it's generalizations are not weighted relative to each other. It contains subjectively erroneous quantification ("loud" drums = drum machines, which becomes an *aural* aspect of the late 80's, while equating disco to m7 chords, ignoring the role of the drum machine in disco, and then lumping disco into the same category as funk?).

It does show *something*, just not what you claim. The core premise is absurd: using algorithms to try to show something that is wholly based on subjective tastes, that also incorporates derivative iteration? Next up, statistics to show why Monet wasn't a big deal and Thomas Kinkade is the most important artist in history....