Nonmusic, Pt. 1

Non-musical components have always been included in musical compositions. To go beyond the boundaries of normal or acceptable parameters in an art form is to explore, it is akin to scientific experiment, takes courage and commitment, and when most successful, the attempt can shed light into the dark corners of the soul. Whereas philosophy also often takes as its subject the intricacies of human nature, it seeks to evaluate its findings, in contrast to art, which is revelatory.

In a series of theoretical essays which I will post here on my blog, I will attempt to set down a theoretical basis for the inclusion of such components, including definitions of relevant terms, structural functions, procedures, a conceptual framework, along with some examples and quasi-philosophical method of evaluating preëxisting work.

When complete, the essays will form a larger whole, which will be a unit within a larger music theory manuscript. The sections within the unit consist of the following:

Section 1:

Linguistic: Prefix considerations - naming conventions (a-, anti-, non-)

Definitions: music, rhythm, melody, harmony; nonmusic, nonmelody, nonharmony

Purpose - why nonmusic: outside of normal or acceptable parameters, derangement

Structural Functions

Section 2:


As a conceptual framework

As a set of procedures

Section 3:

Evaluating nonmusic in music criticism

Relation to common practice and examples

Aleatory music

Noise music

Field recordings

Unreliable Narrator

Each of us is the unreliable narrator of our own lives. After all, it’s easier to see and judge the actions of others than it is to do so for ourselves. Some of us are our own best friends, some of us are our own worst enemies, none of us are to be trusted.

Especially don’t trust me when you read my prose ramblings. Like you, I am the unreliable narrator of my own life. I’m just better at writing it down than you are. That you can believe, but when I talk about plans for the future, pass unwarranted critique on things, philosophize, or generally essay anything in writing, you as the reader may never know if what I’m writing is sincere.

Sincerity in writing has its uses. It’s a device. But writing that is unfailingly sincere is tedious beyond measure. That’s why I hate so many of the songs that I hear, poems I read, and other poorly conceived work. It’s not the sincerity per se, it’s the inability to cope with the lasagna model (remember, the universe is nothing but a lasagna composed of infinite layers of meaning).

All of my work is noise. Like many children born each day on this planet, nobody wants it, but it insists on existing anyway. It has a will of its own, and you must learn to treat it as you would that gossiping cousin you can’t wait to catch up with every holiday.


For years as a teenager I focused on teaching myself music theory with as much energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail as a trekkie would expend learning the ins and outs of warp drives. I tried to take theory classes when I got to college, but was told that my knowledge would place me out of them. I took them anyway and reënforced what I’d already learned.

As a songwriter, of primary interest to me has always been a hook, or a distinctive and memorable piece constructed of words and music together. These are a dime a dozen, easily made, and it always shocks me that more songwriters in my local music scene do not incorporate such a basic, entry-level method of making their music listenable. The majority of bands around here seem to have no concept of what a hook is, how to construct one, or how to incorporate it into a song’s design, and most of the ones who do write asinine, saccharine hooks that only the most unsophisticated listeners would find moving or compelling.

Even worse are the high-school journal keeper types who insist upon emoting their humdrum lives in song in a way that would better serve the world in the privacy of therapy. Greenville, South Carolina abounds with these types of musical dross.

If you’re reading this, then of course you’re excluded from all of the above blanket statements. You wouldn’t stoop to crafting such trite, forgettable, and meretricious nonsense, now would you?

In spite of a theoretical background (or perhaps because of it, who can say for sure?) the concept of noise, specifically when defined as unwanted sound, has always appealed to me. There is a perverse, transgressive pleasure in defining all of my sonic output as noise. It frees my guitar to howl like Allen Ginsberg on crack. (I don’t know if Ginsberg was ever a crackhead, but in my Mirror Universe, “crack” is the hypothetical fuel of all the wild and wonderful poetic crazies of history, the bards, the shamans, the heretics, the martyrs, the visionaries.)

It also frees me to make whatever I damn well please, as what I make is allowed to come into the world without regard for whether it suits the taste of anyone, living or dead. All of it comes through, be it angelic or demonic, and all of it is noise, foisted upon an unwelcoming world.

Unity Paradigm

The Unity Paradigm (UP) is a framework in which all my work - past, present, future - may be placed so that it may exist within a common context. It is a function of Harmonic Theory, and attempts to reconcile various structures, some of which are apparently at odds, through juxtaposition and hybridization.

UP is an attempt to define, demonstrate boundaries, and on occasion dissolve them. It is essentially Buddhist and poetic because it seeks to identify analogous forces, parallels, parities, comparisons, metaphors, and so on, and show the relative oneness or sameness of disparate, often seemingly contradictory, contrasting, or paradoxical things. It is also a Daoist thought structure, or even Manicheanist, as it is sometimes a bringing together of opposites, and shows essentiality of all things, and the impossibility of polarities to eliminate each other or achieve some final victory over one another.

To approach work through the UP is to have a skeleton on which to hang all the organs, the muscles, and the skin of said work so that it forms an organic whole in terms of form and content in poetry, fiction, music, photography, philosophy, video, assemblage, sound art, graphic design, and so on.

It should be noted that successful unity between forms is neither universally sought or desired. At times, the unity displayed may be the contrast itself, or often a deliberately incoherent, dissonant effect.

In a fundamental way, the UP is an application of the musical Drone Principle, meaning that a single things is presented for a duration. In music, that means a recurring or sustained tone, as in the music of the Indian sitar, or Western Drone music, which begins with LaMonte Young. The monotone is also applied to ostinato figures and vamps.

The Drone has within it the implication of the mathematical and spiritual infinite. Under UP, I permit myself sustained monomanias. In this way it is also a framework for creative behavior patterns - indulgences and deprivations, and the attempt at balance between them.

I have sustained a monomania for poetry for half a year, leading to rapid development and learning. I believe I have reached a true breakthrough via this method of sustained attention, having increased my comprehension, close-reading technique, and facility with a few technical methodologies. I have read more poetry as well as criticism, which has deepened my hermeneutic practice. I feel as though I am now on the cusp of producing actual poetry.

All that being said, the most natural course to pursue at this, the beginning of a new year, is to leave the intensive and extensive practice of poetry momentarily.

To clarify, I won’t quit writing poems, but I will pause my study of poetry. Instead I will produce poems to the best of my current ability and focus my learning elsewhere, specifically on image-making, treating it as an aspect of the core pursuit of writing poetry.

Now the real poetic practice may begin. I will study again in the future, but for now I must apply all that I have learned and direct my curiosity to vision, a fundamental aspect of poetic experience.