Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 08-06-2016, 11:36 AM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Ohio
Posts: 10,392
My thoughts on Sonic Youth

I'm fairly old school when it comes to rock music. I like The Who, Sabbath, Cream... stuff like that. I also love some of the stranger/avant garde rock music made during the 60s and 70s such as Zappa, The Velvet Underground, and The Residents.

I don't listen to much music that was made past 1985. I thought Soul Asylum had some good songs, and I liked some of metal music made in the 80s. And I'm a huge Ramones fan, but only their first four or five albums.

So at any rate, a friend recently suggested I listen to some Sonic Youth. "Based on your tastes, I think you'll really like them," he said.

So I bought EVOL (1986), Daydream Nation (1988), and Goo (1990) on CD. (Yea, I still listen to CDs.) I've been playing them in my car while traveling to and from work. I've probably heard each album four or five times by now.

Strange as it sounds, I still can't decide if I like them or not.

The Good
- By far the most talented member in the group is Steve Shelley. During some songs I find myself listening only to the drums.
- I really like the sound effects they're getting out of the guitars. They could have easily chosen to use a keyboard to make all the cool sounds (like so many other bands did during that era), but they're using guitars.
- Some of the "noise" pieces are pretty interesting.
- Many of their songs (especially on EVOL) do not fit the typical song writing "mold." Some, for example, do not have a chorus. This non-commercial aspect of their music appeals to me. It also means they were risk-takers, which I have respect for.

The Bad
- The singing sucks. I have never heard such crappy singing from a popular band. Especially Gordon. Not only is she a bad singer, but she's out-of-tune in many parts! Moore is a weak singer, but at least he sings in tune.
- The bass playing is nothing special; it sounds like she just follows along with the guitar.
- Lyrics are stupid. But that doesn't bother me much since I usually don't care much about lyrics anyway.
- Very pretentious.
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 08-06-2016, 12:57 PM
PaulParkhead PaulParkhead is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: West Lothian
Posts: 2,574
I've tended to see the poor singing as a feature rather than a bug. Yes, neither Moore nor Gordon will win any awards for it, but it suits the overall sound of the band very well.
  #3  
Old 08-06-2016, 01:18 PM
WordMan WordMan is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 21,075
No arguments. The vocals are a distraction and I don't find the songs compelling enough to keep me engaged. Respect their interesting place in indie history more than I listen to them. Sounds like Thurston Moore was a douchebag to Kim Gordon after years of marriage, but I am not deep on details.
  #4  
Old 08-06-2016, 01:28 PM
Go_Arachnid_Laser Go_Arachnid_Laser is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 692
There's a certain stoner-rock-iness to Sonic Youth, the experimentation, the trippy sounds, the noise guitar solos, the silly, zero effort lyrics (I gotta cotton.. croooownnn...) You certainly need to be fine with the whole experience before enjoying a song.
  #5  
Old 08-06-2016, 01:33 PM
CarnalK CarnalK is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Posts: 13,786
I saw Thurston Moore in San Francisco years ago at a smaller club. I thought I was going to get Sonic Youth but I mainly only got the "noise" pieces. Trust me when I say it gets a lot less fucking "interesting" after about 30 minutes of it.

Last edited by CarnalK; 08-06-2016 at 01:34 PM.
  #6  
Old 08-06-2016, 02:14 PM
Channing Idaho Banks Channing Idaho Banks is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2015
Location: beautiful Idaho
Posts: 2,023
Never a big fan of the Sonic Youth, however, I saw them at a Halloween concert once about 25 years ago, and it was totally spooky and rocked. I was not expecting that.
  #7  
Old 08-06-2016, 02:39 PM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
My favorite band for decades. My thoughts on your thoughts:


The Good:
- Steve Shelley is positively amazing. He's one of the most fluid drummers, ever. The early albums he doesn't appear on are much more angular rhythmically.

- The sounds they get on guitars are pretty unique. Keyboards could approximate it, but it would be quite a bit of work to approximate the sound of jamming a screwdriver under the strings of a guitar that's tuned to the point where it's non-western. Some people say the guitars are out of tune, but they don't know what they're talking about. They guitars are intentionally in that tuning, and you can tell on live recordings when they're out of tune.

- Oh yeah, if you don't like some "noise" pieces, you're probably listening to the wrong band.

- Yeah, it was a little strange when Daydream Nation came out, and about half the songs had normal rock structures. They do more of that for a few more albums, and then go back the other way.

The Bad:

- Ehh, when you're dealing with non-western idea of tuning, the vocals are probably going to be the hardest to absorb. Kim often just speaks. I think it works, but that's a matter of taste.

- I'm a bass player. I have a lot of respect for Kim's bass playing*. Since the guitar parts are so alien to anything else accompanied by the instrument, she's in uncharted territory.

- Yeah, the lyrics aren't necessarily about what rock songs are normally about. I don't usually really hear the lyrics to a song in the first few listens. When I finally hear SY's lyrics, they're vague/abstract enough that you can put a lot of different interpretations on them. In the end, I like them.

- Ehh, I find them no more pretentious than your average Prog rock band, probably less so. I find they don't take themselves very seriously. Reasonable people can disagree on that one.






*Full disclosure, we're related. So I may be biased by that as well.
  #8  
Old 08-07-2016, 12:06 AM
drad dog drad dog is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 4,402
I think they are great fans, tastemakers and scenesters, but that's not enough.

Teenage Riot is one of the great songs though.
  #9  
Old 08-07-2016, 12:21 AM
Snowboarder Bo Snowboarder Bo is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Las Vegas
Posts: 20,058
Quote:
Originally Posted by drad dog View Post
I think they are great fans, tastemakers and scenesters, but that's not enough.
Aye, this is close to how I view them. There's way too much melody for my taste, way too much wussy angst and way too much cleverness. I don't hate them and in fact have fond memories of wonderful times in college where we were listening to EVOL and Daydream Nation in particular.

I appreciate their willingness to experiment and am glad that so many people were in turn influenced by that and by them.

But I don't have any of their albums in my 5000+ album collection.
  #10  
Old 08-07-2016, 01:13 AM
coremelt coremelt is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 5,642
Love Sonic Youth.

Theresa's Sound World is one of my all time favourite tracks. But then I was 20 in 1992 and into anything that was alternative / industrial / goth.
  #11  
Old 08-07-2016, 01:51 AM
Snooooopy Snooooopy is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Charlottesville, Va.
Posts: 10,128
I enjoyed enough tracks off of Goo and Dirty to consider them worthwhile additions to my music collection. But Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star barely interested me at all beyond the big single, and by the time that Washing Machine rolled around, I more or less knew that I was going to be focusing my musical attentions elsewhere. They just had a much greater appetite for noise and experimentation than I ever did.
  #12  
Old 08-07-2016, 07:52 AM
Maserschmidt Maserschmidt is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: New England
Posts: 5,231
I love SY and have pretty much all the full-lengths they've released. I wouldn't want to see them live, however, as I find myself curating even as I listen, particularly because - as the OP noted - Gordon's vocals can be really grating, and sometimes songs just don't work.

Still, their energy and sounds are fantastic, and I'd stack most of Dirty or Daydream Nation against any other band.
  #13  
Old 08-07-2016, 08:24 AM
Shakester Shakester is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 2,891
Daydream Nation is a masterpiece, in my opinion. Sister is pretty close. Their earlier noisier stuff is good but not on the same level. After Goo the quality dropped off; diminishing returns.

It's complete nonsense to call their tunings "non-western", though, and I say that as a guitarist who uses non-standard tunings all the time. And also as a guitarist who is a big fan of actual non-western music and who has played with genuine non-western musicians.
  #14  
Old 08-07-2016, 08:37 AM
NAF1138 NAF1138 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: North of Philly
Posts: 9,505
Of all the things I love about Sonic Youth, their music isn't one of them. I appreciate what they were doing more than I want to actually listen to it. Still, they are really good at what they do. Lord knows I like enough dissonant weird crap that I won't say anything against people who enjoy Sonic Youth. And they did great things for the scene and rock in general.

The worst thing they did though, was make what they were doing seem easy. If you want to appreciate how great Sonic Youth are at what they do, go see a band that is trying to be like them. I swear if I never see another guitar player attempting to play his guitar with a Mikita Drill it will be too soon.
  #15  
Old 08-07-2016, 10:10 AM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shakester View Post
It's complete nonsense to call their tunings "non-western", though, and I say that as a guitarist who uses non-standard tunings all the time. And also as a guitarist who is a big fan of actual non-western music and who has played with genuine non-western musicians.
They tuned the strings to intervals less than a half step apart. At that point they've consciously left the 12 tone scale. How is that within the western tradition?

Last edited by scabpicker; 08-07-2016 at 10:12 AM.
  #16  
Old 08-07-2016, 10:19 AM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Lincoln, IL
Posts: 23,857
Quote:
Originally Posted by scabpicker View Post
They tuned the strings to intervals less than a half step apart. At that point they've consciously left the 12 tone scale. How is that within the western tradition?
I think most people understand "non-western" to mean "of or relating to the part of the world that does not include the countries of western Europe and North America", i.e. something that is part of or comes from a non-western tradition, not just anything that isn't within the western tradition.
  #17  
Old 08-07-2016, 10:23 AM
Guest-starring: Id! Guest-starring: Id! is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2016
Posts: 2,064
Quote:
Originally Posted by NAF1138 View Post
I appreciate what they were doing more than I want to actually listen to it. Still, they are really good at what they do. Lord knows I like enough dissonant weird crap that I won't say anything against people who enjoy Sonic Youth. And they did great things for the scene and rock in general.
Thanks for putting it perfectly for me. One of my fave tunes around 88 or so was "White Cross", off Sister. That propulsive drum beat on the toms - thunderous fun!

Last edited by Guest-starring: Id!; 08-07-2016 at 10:25 AM. Reason: timing of posts
  #18  
Old 08-07-2016, 10:33 AM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
I think most people understand "non-western" to mean "of or relating to the part of the world that does not include the countries of western Europe and North America", i.e. something that is part of or comes from a non-western tradition, not just anything that isn't within the western tradition.
Fair enough, assume my earlier statement to be "outside of the expected western tonality". Gah, that's a klunky phrase. How about "outside of 12 tone music"? "Extra-western?"

Last edited by scabpicker; 08-07-2016 at 10:37 AM.
  #19  
Old 08-07-2016, 11:38 AM
drad dog drad dog is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 4,402
Quote:
Originally Posted by scabpicker View Post
They tuned the strings to intervals less than a half step apart. At that point they've consciously left the 12 tone scale. How is that within the western tradition?
I didn't know that. Do you have a tune that you can recommend that illustrates this well?
  #20  
Old 08-07-2016, 11:41 AM
Gatopescado Gatopescado is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: on your last raw nerve
Posts: 17,237
My only complaint is the name. They should now be Sonic Geezers.
  #21  
Old 08-07-2016, 12:02 PM
Shakester Shakester is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 2,891
Quote:
Originally Posted by scabpicker View Post
They tuned the strings to intervals less than a half step apart. At that point they've consciously left the 12 tone scale. How is that within the western tradition?
No, they didn't. What people imagine they do and what they actually do are two different things. Take a look at the tunings list on SY's site and tell me where the microtonal tunings are if you like.
  #22  
Old 08-07-2016, 01:47 PM
Tamerlane Tamerlane is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: SF Bay Area, California
Posts: 12,632
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shakester View Post
Daydream Nation is a masterpiece, in my opinion. Sister is pretty close. Their earlier noisier stuff is good but not on the same level. After Goo the quality dropped off; diminishing returns.
This is exactly where I fall out. I like about half of Confusion is Sex and the rest of the output through Goo. For some reason I never could get interested in Dirty and pretty much left them after that *. But I will still occasionally listen to Daydream Nation and Sister in particular.



*That said, I have I've listened several times to their take on Ça Plane Pour Moi .

Last edited by Tamerlane; 08-07-2016 at 01:50 PM.
  #23  
Old 08-07-2016, 01:54 PM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
Quote:
Originally Posted by drad dog View Post
I didn't know that. Do you have a tune that you can recommend that illustrates this well?
She's in a Bad Mood's opening shows one of the tunings' microtonality fairly well. Lee is Free does as well.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Shakester View Post
No, they didn't. What people imagine they do and what they actually do are two different things. Take a look at the tunings list on SY's site and tell me where the microtonal tunings are if you like.
That list is incomplete, at best. For instance, on the main page for that list, he admits that he doesn't know either tuning for "She's in a Bad Mood". "Lee is Free" isn't even listed on the complete page. Others have many notes beside them such as "Unconfirmed, but possible". Some say they're confirmed by various sources, but there's no real analysis. It's fairly safe to say that the strings that are listed in unison are generally not actually in unison, but are slightly apart.
  #24  
Old 08-08-2016, 01:59 AM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
Hmm, apparently the word I was looking for was non-dodecaphonic, which actually has a history in western classical music. At least, I think that would be the word. It seems that after more than a century of classical musicians working in strange intervals, the language has a hard time keeping up.

And not to be too unkind to your cite, Shakester but it's pretty sparse on my favorite record. Aside from where they admit they have no idea, or reference where they have no idea, it includes cites such as:

Quote:
NOTES FOR INHUMAN - LEE (?)

In 1985, Lee was using EG#EG#EG# for this song. I doubt that tuning was used on the original recording though. He also used to play a modified zither on this song.
and also in the notes for Daydream Nation

Quote:

NOTES FOR ERIC'S TRIP - THURSTON (BBxxF#F#)
Thurston plays an old guitar the band had for ages called a "Drifter" (stolen in '99). It had 4 bass strings on it and he fretted all the notes with a drumstick. The lower strings were in unison B, and the higher strings in unison F#. Confirmed by sonic techs.
By the time you're dealing with a guitar that is intentionally strung with strings that its bridge can't compensate for, or you've jammed a drumstick or screwdriver at XX fret, you're in microtonal territory. Nevermind such acts as jamming the drumstick (or the screwdriver) under the strings and pulling it away from the fretboard indicating that you've willfully abandoned the 12-tone tonality. Only guitars fashioned in our imagination are going to be able to hold anything close to an even-tempered tuning under those conditions. Several times in the page's notes, it admits that the tuning isn't important for live shows, and that it's not really authoritative. It may be as authoritative as you can get for a comprehensive set of SY tunings, but it's often a guess, at best.

Essentially, the notes for that page reveal that SY doesn't know some of the tunings they once used. They were particular to that guitar strung with those strings, and the intonation fell where devil physics led it. It also often cites a 1989 February Guitar Player interview for its tunings, which is where I remember learning the tunings for "Silver Rocket" and "Candle". I remember in that same article (nope, I'm not digging it out of the stack for an exact quote) either Thurston or Lee saying something to the effect that the unison strings were intentionally slightly out of tune to create a beating effect. Hence, microtonality, even before you get to the extreme irregularities of their guitar setups.

And in my final defense of Kim Gordon's vocals, I'll present my three favorites of hers, and pretty great moments for the band.

Brother James - yeah, just the right amount of growl.

I Dreamed I Dream - perfect amount of mystery and pathos. "The days we spent go on and on"

It's also a nice example of Richard Esdon's drumming, which I've always liked. Plus, it's supposedly done in standard tuning. I can play most of it appreciably well in standard tuning, but there's so much bending that microtonal doesn't really do it justice.

Cinderella's Big Score - A gorgeous examination of what having a sibling actually means when you've crossed beyond that link. "You'd rather have a dollar, than a hug from your sis"
  #25  
Old 08-08-2016, 03:06 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: SW Side, Chicago
Posts: 41,268
I've actually always liked Kim Gordon's vocals. Yeah, they're "pitchy" to be diplomatic about it, but in the context of their music, it works for me. There's an earnestness and snarling vibe I get from them that I like in this type of music. I can't imagine a song like "Kool Thing" or " Drunken Butterfly" (to pick the poppier records) sounding better with a more traditional polished rock vocalist. She sells the song to me.

Last edited by pulykamell; 08-08-2016 at 03:08 AM.
  #26  
Old 08-08-2016, 05:33 AM
Shakester Shakester is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 2,891
Quote:
Originally Posted by scabpicker View Post
It also often cites a 1989 February Guitar Player interview for its tunings, which is where I remember learning the tunings for "Silver Rocket" and "Candle". I remember in that same article (nope, I'm not digging it out of the stack for an exact quote) either Thurston or Lee saying something to the effect that the unison strings were intentionally slightly out of tune to create a beating effect. Hence, microtonality, even before you get to the extreme irregularities of their guitar setups.
If you're going to claim not being in concert pitch as being "non-western" or "microtonal" then you also have to claim that all slide guitar and all steel guitar and all bent notes and blue notes and, for that matter, anyone using vibrato on a note is also "non-western" or "microtonal". Because those techniques aren't functionally any different to Sonic Youth's unison string sound, or anyone playing a 12 string guitar, or any other instrument with unison strings, all of which are firmly a part of western musical traditions and not in any real sense microtonal.
  #27  
Old 08-08-2016, 10:27 AM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shakester View Post
If you're going to claim not being in concert pitch as being "non-western" or "microtonal" then you also have to claim that all slide guitar and all steel guitar and all bent notes and blue notes and, for that matter, anyone using vibrato on a note is also "non-western" or "microtonal". Because those techniques aren't functionally any different to Sonic Youth's unison string sound, or anyone playing a 12 string guitar, or any other instrument with unison strings, all of which are firmly a part of western musical traditions and not in any real sense microtonal.
I would say that setting up an instrument where playing anything in concert pitch is one of the more difficult acts you could manage on the instrument is definitely leaving the dodecaphonic world. I don't really know how you could interpret it differently.

In the case of the blues, I don't think the 12 tone system does an adequate job of describing what they do, at all, especially slide players. The instrument wasn't created to be played that way, so you get overtones, etc. that were not intended. Muddy Waters played microtonally, but he described it as "his blues".

Your other options? Not so much like SY's tunings. They always return to the concert pitch. The pedal steel player that holds the pedals between the stops is going to be fired from their country band in short order.

Last edited by scabpicker; 08-08-2016 at 10:28 AM.
  #28  
Old 08-08-2016, 11:26 AM
drad dog drad dog is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 4,402
Quote:
Originally Posted by scabpicker View Post
Hmm, apparently the word I was looking for was non-dodecaphonic, which actually has a history in western classical music. At least, I think that would be the word. It seems that after more than a century of classical musicians working in strange intervals, the language has a hard time keeping up.

And not to be too unkind to your cite, Shakester but it's pretty sparse on my favorite record. Aside from where they admit they have no idea, or reference where they have no idea, it includes cites such as:



and also in the notes for Daydream Nation



By the time you're dealing with a guitar that is intentionally strung with strings that its bridge can't compensate for, or you've jammed a drumstick or screwdriver at XX fret, you're in microtonal territory. Nevermind such acts as jamming the drumstick (or the screwdriver) under the strings and pulling it away from the fretboard indicating that you've willfully abandoned the 12-tone tonality. Only guitars fashioned in our imagination are going to be able to hold anything close to an even-tempered tuning under those conditions. Several times in the page's notes, it admits that the tuning isn't important for live shows, and that it's not really authoritative. It may be as authoritative as you can get for a comprehensive set of SY tunings, but it's often a guess, at best.

Essentially, the notes for that page reveal that SY doesn't know some of the tunings they once used. They were particular to that guitar strung with those strings, and the intonation fell where devil physics led it. It also often cites a 1989 February Guitar Player interview for its tunings, which is where I remember learning the tunings for "Silver Rocket" and "Candle". I remember in that same article (nope, I'm not digging it out of the stack for an exact quote) either Thurston or Lee saying something to the effect that the unison strings were intentionally slightly out of tune to create a beating effect. Hence, microtonality, even before you get to the extreme irregularities of their guitar setups.

And in my final defense of Kim Gordon's vocals, I'll present my three favorites of hers, and pretty great moments for the band.

Brother James - yeah, just the right amount of growl.

I Dreamed I Dream - perfect amount of mystery and pathos. "The days we spent go on and on"

It's also a nice example of Richard Esdon's drumming, which I've always liked. Plus, it's supposedly done in standard tuning. I can play most of it appreciably well in standard tuning, but there's so much bending that microtonal doesn't really do it justice.

Cinderella's Big Score - A gorgeous examination of what having a sibling actually means when you've crossed beyond that link. "You'd rather have a dollar, than a hug from your sis"
They don't remember the tunings they used because they had no intention to have an extra-western musical system, and their songs are not outside that system. They are using out of tuned strings for effects within the system. We are all used to that from blues and other music.

Basically it sounds "cool" which is cool, but may never get beyond that, depending on what one may require out of music.

But this is also possibly the reason why they can become boring and self indulgent to some. It is pretty solipsistic to base your songs on accidentals and cool sounds.
  #29  
Old 08-08-2016, 11:34 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: SW Side, Chicago
Posts: 41,268
I never thought of Sonic Youth as being microtonal systematically, either, but they definitely have a lot of microtonal intervals in their music. When I think of microtonal music, I think of music that is still scale-based, but has fixed intervals that are outside your standard 12-tone system. I don't think of slight detuning of strings so unisons have beats (or create a chorus effect, which is exactly what chorus does--it plays a detuned version of the unison along with the main note) as microtonal music, but we can probably argue for ages about that, and I'm not particularly married to my definition.

That said, dodecaphony is not the word you're looking for, at least not how I've always heard it used. Dodecaphonic music is 12-tone music, meaning music that uses all 12 tones of the (Western) scale without creating a tonal center/tonic. Each note is played roughly equally in a piece and, in the strictest interpretation a la Schoenberg, each note and every note of the 12 tone chromatic scale is played exactly once in a theme.

Last edited by pulykamell; 08-08-2016 at 11:36 AM.
  #30  
Old 08-08-2016, 11:53 AM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
Quote:
Originally Posted by drad dog View Post
They don't remember the tunings they used because they had no intention to have an extra-western musical system, and their songs are not outside that system. They are using out of tuned strings for effects within the system. We are all used to that from blues and other music.

Basically it sounds "cool" which is cool, but may never get beyond that, depending on what one may require out of music.
I didn't say they developed an extra-western system. I said they didn't use the 12 tone system, and they absolutely did intend to leave it. After you leave a system, why do you have to create a new one? They had worked with Glenn Branca, who also had generally left the 12 tone system behind, before forming the band. They were poor, and developed the tunings for the guitars they had at the time, which were cheap guitars to begin with. They developed organically for each other.

Those guitars were stolen in '99, and very few have been recovered. That's the primary reason why those tunings had to be re-created. Also, they were playing for the moment. After those songs fell out of the set rotation, there was no reason to keep remembering that tuning.


Quote:
Originally Posted by drad dog View Post
But this is also possibly the reason why they can become boring and self indulgent to some. It is pretty solipsistic to base your songs on accidentals and cool sounds.

Heh, if we didn't base songs on accidentals and new cool sounds, we'd be forever stuck in the past.
  #31  
Old 08-08-2016, 12:06 PM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
I never thought of Sonic Youth as being microtonal systematically, either, but they definitely have a lot of microtonal intervals in their music. When I think of microtonal music, I think of music that is still scale-based, but has fixed intervals that are outside your standard 12-tone system. I don't think of slight detuning of strings so unisons have beats (or create a chorus effect, which is exactly what chorus does--it plays a detuned version of the unison along with the main note) as microtonal music, but we can probably argue for ages about that, and I'm not particularly married to my definition.

That said, dodecaphony is not the word you're looking for, at least not how I've always heard it used. Dodecaphonic music is 12-tone music, meaning music that uses all 12 tones of the (Western) scale without creating a tonal center/tonic. Each note is played roughly equally in a piece and, in the strictest interpretation a la Schoenberg, each note and every note of the 12 tone chromatic scale is played exactly once in a theme.
Yeah, the more I look into formal atonality in modern classical music, the more it seems there isn't any firm language that anyone agrees on after you've decided "only 12 tones? bleah". Xenharmonic, maybe?

Either way, thanks for trying to help me figure out what I'm saying here.
  #32  
Old 08-08-2016, 01:05 PM
GargoyleWB GargoyleWB is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Somewhere cold 'n squishy
Posts: 5,161
Long-time fan, seen them live about 5 times.

Sister, Daydream Nation, Goo, and Dirty are whole-album masterpieces. They are also the albums containing the most traditional rock structures and coherent pieces. It's arguable what that means to a "true fan", but I prefer the more traditional structures.

The rest of their catalog is wildly inconsistent, IMO, with far too many noise pieces that, while interesting for a play or two, are something that I can't enjoy for stretches of more than 10 minutes or so.

Steve Shelley is an amazing drummer, I agree, top-tier rock drummer by any measure that is always overlooked in greatest drummer lists.
  #33  
Old 08-08-2016, 01:21 PM
drad dog drad dog is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 4,402
Quote:
Originally Posted by scabpicker View Post
I didn't say they developed an extra-western system. I said they didn't use the 12 tone system, and they absolutely did intend to leave it. After you leave a system, why do you have to create a new one? They had worked with Glenn Branca, who also had generally left the 12 tone system behind, before forming the band. They were poor, and developed the tunings for the guitars they had at the time, which were cheap guitars to begin with. They developed organically for each other.

Those guitars were stolen in '99, and very few have been recovered. That's the primary reason why those tunings had to be re-created. Also, they were playing for the moment. After those songs fell out of the set rotation, there was no reason to keep remembering that tuning.





Heh, if we didn't base songs on accidentals and new cool sounds, we'd be forever stuck in the past.
I'll give you that they wanted to use "out" tones. I can understand that. (But they were "out" to the western scales.)

But "Those guitars were stolen"?! Don't you need to tune guitars when you perform, every time? Isn't that like the dog ate my homework?

I guess i just don't follow how you have songs worth playing, remembering and listening to, that depend on a certain guitars not ever being stolen or retuned. Didn't they have to be operating at a more intentional level than that?
  #34  
Old 08-08-2016, 01:22 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: SW Side, Chicago
Posts: 41,268
Quote:
Originally Posted by GargoyleWB View Post
Long-time fan, seen them live about 5 times.

Sister, Daydream Nation, Goo, and Dirty are whole-album masterpieces. They are also the albums containing the most traditional rock structures and coherent pieces. It's arguable what that means to a "true fan", but I prefer the more traditional structures.

The rest of their catalog is wildly inconsistent, IMO, with far too many noise pieces that, while interesting for a play or two, are something that I can't enjoy for stretches of more than 10 minutes or so.

Steve Shelley is an amazing drummer, I agree, top-tier rock drummer by any measure that is always overlooked in greatest drummer lists.
I agree with all of this. Those are exactly the four albums I listen to repeatedly and the most coherent from a traditional rock standpoint. "Dirty" was my introduction to Sonic Youth. It kind of gets poo-pooed by the more noise rock types, but I find it an extremely listenable and solid album through-and-through, one that I have no problem playing and listening to from start to finish.
  #35  
Old 08-08-2016, 03:02 PM
scabpicker scabpicker is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Funkytown (Fort Worth)
Posts: 4,151
Quote:
Originally Posted by drad dog View Post
I'll give you that they wanted to use "out" tones. I can understand that. (But they were "out" to the western scales.)

But "Those guitars were stolen"?! Don't you need to tune guitars when you perform, every time? Isn't that like the dog ate my homework?
Not in the case of these guitars, no. A great deal of them were from '60's Japanese constructors. Due to the indifference of some of the cheaper manufacturers at the time, the guitar couldn't hold standard concert pitch even when it was handled with great care and strung with the correct strings, and the intonation on each of them is pretty unique. I own about 5 of these type of guitars, maybe more if you're more critical of guitar construction than I am, and playing something that approximates concert pitch on them takes a lot of skill (I kid you not, one of mine has aluminum frets). Almost all of them are relegated to slide duty, where their inability to be intoned properly can be ignored or used for effect. Once you add the fact that SY's guitars weren't strung with the correct strings, such as four bass strings, and were heavily modified over 20 years of playing, they're pretty special instruments, and the vagaries of the whole package was a central component of their sound.

Now, they did go back and re-create the sounds to the best of their ability after their guitars were stolen. But, people aren't making guitars like Japan did in the '60's anymore. When Daydream Nation was inducted into the Library of Congress, they decided to play the album as a set. They had to re-create a bunch of those tunings to work on instruments available at the time. Those songs were originally recorded on better quality guitars than some other records, but they still hadn't played some of those songs in about 15 years. When I saw them on the original tour for that record, they didn't play all of the songs from that album in their set. They tuned/recorded for the moment, but they can recreate the same vibe. The tuning for "Rain King" had to be reconstructed for the induction tour. Even though Lee's "pretty sure" that the tuning is right, they didn't recall it, but the later live versions capture the feel/sound of the one on the record.

But, all that said. They supposedly played the entire first EP with guitars in standard tuning*. From what I understand, they did not play them in standard tuning for long after that record was recorded. The tuning isn't necessarily always central to the sound unless the song has a bare open strum of the strings, such as "She's in a Bad Mood". As I said earlier, you can play those songs in standard tuning, but there's so much bending that it doesn't make much difference. I think they saw the songs as constantly evolving if they were still worth playing, and if they could find an easier way to skin that cat, they'd do it. The live versions rarely lined up 1:1 with the studio versions, even when they were touring for that album.

Quote:
Originally Posted by drad dog View Post
I guess i just don't follow how you have songs worth playing, remembering and listening to, that depend on a certain guitars not ever being stolen or retuned. Didn't they have to be operating at a more intentional level than that?

Well, as I explain above, they did still play the songs, but they're altered. As to whether you have to work with intention to make something worthwhile, I don't really think so. I think that in art, if you don't allow your mistakes to teach you something by leading you somewhere, you are more likely to simply imitate your heroes or teachers.


Wow, I can bloviate on this subject for awhile, huh?




*The great thing about the tuning list that Shakester linked to is that the guy did try to verify it through some manner other than SY themselves. One of the more pretentious/fun habits of the band was to spread disinformation about their technique. It got to the point where Lee stopped Thurston in an interview and made him tell the truth, because he didn't want to be asked in a couple of years by some foreign journalist about "zee toy ray gun" and how they didn't explore it more, and he'd have nothing but a blank stare to return because he didn't remember the joke.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:15 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2017 Sun-Times Media, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017