Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Do You Own Anything In Music?

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Do You Own Anything In Music?

 Everyone is presently bent on trying to define in legal terms what means what in relation to who owns what and what defines the part that makes the what someone's what and not derivative of the other what somebody else made.

 I'm not concerned with that; I am but a peasant.

 But in my book (literally: Experiencing Guitar -Chip-McDonald-ebook/dp/B0714P93RS  I present the notion of "owning" chords.

What a crazy notion, are you crazy Chip?

 I don't mean legally, literally owning a chord of course.  What I mean is that what drives me insane about "life in the 21st century" we've passed into discarding common sense in favor of the Abject Official Description of a Concept.

 In actuality (I know I say that too much), we've gone a step into that even further: we don't just require an Official Designation About Everything, it would seem that society today thereafter bases it's valuation on that.  This is (as far as I'm concerned) extremely important, and a watershed moment in Human Non-Development.

 Nobody is willing to come out and say "yeah, it sounds like the Marvin Gaye song and I think he probably knew that and maybe even leaned on that".  Well, except for me!  Everyone else, it would seem, is completely bent on figuring out the "logical, legal" description of why it's NOT like the Marvin Gaye song.

 I'm here to say that IT IS OBVIOUSLY LIKE THE MARVIN GAYE SONG.  As a human with reasonable cognition,  I don't require something to fulfill scientific method or legal jargon in order to present my position.

  I can explain my position in technical detail, but that shouldn't be the point.  As a human with a brain, I don't exist based on procedural algorithmic decision making.  As humans we don't have to do that consciously - that's what we do naturally: think in the abstract.  I've written a lot about the psychology of flitting back and forth between the conscious approach to making art, and the sub-conscious, that is why we are different than the lower animals.

 Unlike in politics, where everything is vague and emotionally driven (which is maybe how one should pursue art?) it seems like with the Sheeran/Gaye debate who owns what is the only thing that matters?

 Instead of what you think matters to you.  

 To me it's the Marvin Gaye song.  When I have taught that song to students, the first time I heard it, I thought "this is "Let's Get it On".  I've presented it as such to students by playing the progression (which is actually inverted...) and asking "does this sound like another song to you?" at which point many, even younger than me (the song pre-dates "my era" as well) will say it does at least, and some can name the song.  All agree that yes, "it's the same song!". 

 In this nascent part of the 21st century, the record of recorded music (uhg) is so vast that as a song/music writer you're mostly likely "ripping off" someone with a chord progression.  The real questions are:

1) is it a song that is so high profile "most" of your audience will realize it?

 2) do you realize it?

 I'm now talking about "relative to my personal philosophy", which is mine alone.  I possess and own it, it's not the hoi polloi's, the mass media's or anyone else.

 To me:

 Jimi Hendrix owns the mid-guitar neck voiced E 6/9 chord when played with a generalized funk rhythm.  When I hear "Been Caught Stealing" by Jane's Addiction I can't help but to think "Purple Haze chord".  When Corgan does it on the Smashing Pumpkin's song "I Am One" I'm thinking "Purple Haze chord" (and I guarantee he does, too...).  And there are a number of other examples where that chord is used with a staccato, "funk" rhythm, SRV and others.

 Hendrix "owns" it because as far as I'm concerned, he made it the most high profile FIRST.   In MY knowledge base, that's what gets ticked over: if you play that particular chord with a funk rhythm, I'm going to think "Jimi Hendrix".

 I don't care about it's antecedents.  I'm quite well verse in music at this juncture, having analyzed music daily as my job for over 30 years.  In my experience, Jimi Hendrix "owns" that chord.  You can try to write a song with it, in a funky manner, and claim it's YOUR creation, but I'm still going to think "Jimi Hendrix".  Sorry.  I don't care about legal descriptions, what somebody at Berklee thinks, or the status quo on YouTube.  It's Hendrix.  I will stay away from it in my creative process for that very reason. 

  There are other examples in Pop Song Culture.  As far as I'm concerned ascending arpeggiated Add 9 chords belong to Andy Summers/Sting/the Police.  When I heard "Satellite" by Dave Matthews the first thing I thought was "he likes the Police".  Does he?  I would bet he does, but regardless to me the effect of playing an arpeggiated add 9 as a melodic figure is "Andy Summers", he owns it. 

 There is a difference in this example, though.  I like the Dave Matthews song!  Because - there is a creative additional element to it.  In the DMB song the rhythmic grouping is different, the progression is different.  In my way of thinking it's been influenced by the Police.  It's not for all intents and purposes the same thing. 

 And that's the important bit.  All that humans create are built on the what another human did.  In my way of thinking, Sheeran hanging different words with a different melody on top of "the Marvin Gaye progression" isn't a lot of added value.  In the Dave Matthews song the progression is different, the rhythm is different, the melody is different, the cadence of the melody, the time signature, on and on: it's not the same thing.

 Today people seem to need to be told, instead of thinking for themselves "that is or isn't the same".   That's a peculiar aspect of Life in the 21st Century I don't get.  People tend to not have much of an opinion beyond what is expected of them these days, but you're standing on my lawn.

 Puff Daddy, or P Diddy, or whatever he calls himself now, won a Grammy for talking a sentence over the top of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir".  This apparently had the approval of Jimmy Page, who no doubt made a ton of money off of it.  The thing that's sad is that when that happened, you could read and hear about so many people describing the "genius" of Sean Combs - with no mention of Zeppelin. 

 The year that happened I even had a few people want to learn "that Puff Daddy song".  Which was a wake up call, I was very much in a state of cognitive dissonance that year as I encountered people that seemingly thought that the recording of the original song was somehow either a remix, or something Puff Daddy created and then this guy Jimmy Page was in the video.  Ok.  Great.

 Zeppelin owns the song, Page gets to "own" the oblique riff, John Bonham that rhythmic approach of playing over the bar line, etc. etc.. 

 That is my opinion.  I could write a dissertation supporting my thoughts, but I won't. 

 The crux of the Marvin Gaye/Sheeran dispute is this: does brilliance deserve "eternal" credit?  Are there not certain moments in artistic history where there is one human that actually deserves the credit for something?  In the 21st Century the PC thing to say is that everyone is equally talented, so of course, no one human should get credit for coming up with something Really Great. A philosophical position espoused by people who are Generally Mediocre or Talentless. 

 In my opinion the real travesty of this whole thing is that hardly anybody knows who the Funk Brothers are, or how Motown recordings came to be relative to the musicians involved.  It's Gaye's song, but the brilliant representation of it has a lot to do with how it was played.

 That aside, prior to the 21st century things were more clear cut. Pop music has always tended to be derivative on some level, but there was a line in the sand.  People understood that the Monkees were meant to be a teenybopper rip off of the Beatles; it didn't have to be explained or denied by lawyers or a professor at Berklee.  Ironically there was in the end probably more novelty in the Monkees relative to the Beatles than 2/3rds of the pop music today relative to present contemporaries.  The bar has been lowered.

People have lowered expectations and standards today, and weight other things - media savvy, hair cuts, subtle references to the Pop Sound Du Jour (witness the "Millenial Whoop") (look it up on YouTube if you don't know what I'm referencing).  It's kind of more about "is the artist I'm listening to presently tied in some manner to something else that is also happening in pop culture at the moment?", rather than how the music makes you feel.  Does it sound sufficiently "now"? It's kind of more about a competition to make something that clicks certain intangible switches of conformity. 

 But that's in my opinion.  Your mileage may vary.  What's your opinion?  Is it actually YOUR opinion, or do you need a chart and polling data to figure it out?  By the way, you're still standing on my lawn.  




  1. Like pi or a room full of monkeys with typewriters eventually every possible expression will arise .You indicated in my first lesson this was the case with music (not counting the infinite sound effect combos with pedals etc). If so what musical tale is left to tell without leaving the human domain? Maybe we're already there and machines will define their own sonic preferences .

  2. I have a problem with the Infinite Typewriting Monkeys conjecture because it only gives a hypothetical excuse to say "all combinations are possible". Which is always the case regardless of what causes the combinations to be instantiated. The multiverse perspective applied to music (or any art, writing) ignores the aspects that the combinations don't matter without:
    1) an "audience" to perceive that there are actually nth combinations having been created;
    2) humans are walking sorting algorithms.

    The monkeys get through writing everything, Shakespeare, Pink Floyd, Frank Lloyd Wright and Renoir, but it doesn't "exist" until it's perceived. The human subjectivity sorting through that is no different than a human sorting it's present-historical data set.

    It's the inherent limits of human perception that makes the sorting algorithm the creative part, combined with embracing the near-random aspects of chaos math. An A.I. will not have limits that are the result of organic evolution in the Newtonian world as we experience it. It will not make new music that befuddles our sorting process, except in the sense of making it so diffuse we can't specify it's origin. Having a whisp of an "origin" prevents music from being noise to us, there has to be context.

    I've heard some a.i. music that is very creepy, that one can generalize as being the product of some sort of sorting process of human composers, but without human Newtonian-biological experience it has no context. I think the creepiness is not from a musically relevant source, but that there IS a quasi-biological neural-sim process that has made it that puts it into the Uncanny Valley.

    I don't see a.i. created music coming out of the Uncanny Valley without them being human at that point...

    ... but we're still humans, and the way "music" is presented is still pretty unlimited sans corporate social influence. You do a sort on your musical experience and make a polyglot-collage that tweaks another human's cognition; a mutual-shared intellectual hallucination, "almost cognitive dissonance". That's "art".

    Relative to my blog post, if one assumes there is (was) a General Knowledge Base of Pop Music then given what I wrote above, certain combinations triggers the Herd's Sort Algorithm and *should* put certain reoccurring data into a top-level hash table array. The process of hashing combined with ... "human mantissa over run", the human attempt to grasp patterns in the Lorentz-space of a chaotic system is pleasant. Uhm.. Ok, I'm making myself say "wow" looking at that, hahaha...

    but I'm serious.