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Alternate History Mining

Exploring alternate historical courses for cultural trends
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As I see it, the vogue of musical tastes and styles for any historical period is a complex reaction to the tastes and styles that immediately preceded it. Some are embracing and extending the thoughts of their peers and predecessors, others are rejecting and avoiding them. To make matters more complicated, it isn't just a matter of who thinks/does what, but when.

We've all seen the same thing happen in conversations. Person A says something. Person B starts to prepare a really witty and interesting response, but Person C jumps in with some peurile comment and before you know it, the ground is no longer fertile for Person B's more valuable contribution. The flow is off in some new territory now and the world is deprived of whatever B was going to say.

Well the evolution of music is no different. Think of it as a conversation taking place between cultures, rather than between people. The course of the conversation is not always dictated by the most interesting or the most thoughtful contributions. The real tragedy in the example above is when B's comment would have been that tiny speck of an idea from which entire new schools of thought or expression might arise.

In alternate universes, where any number of historical events might have transpired differently than they did in ours, what alternative progressions in the flow of Western musical thought might have taken place? What if, due to a conversation that never took place in our world, some other universe had its 19th century dominated by issues of harmonic discord and syncopation, rather than technical virtuosity and florid arpeggios? Well, in that universe, their 20th century music would have developed in reaction to a completely different aesthetic.

I guess this is an overly complicated way of wondering what other kinds of music are possible. Rock and roll bores me. Punk never got my attention and hip-hop, while expressive enough, is not melodic enough (at least within my aesthetic system) to reach me emotionally. So I've turned my attention to older styles. Romanticism is too showy and self-indulgent for my tastes.

I'm really getting into the pre-Romantics: Bach and Beethoven more than Mozart. And I'm starting to explore more of their contemporaries: Czerny, Clementi, the mini-Bachs. It will take me a few years at least to reach the point where I feel I've internalized their aesthetic sensibilities. But what then? As a dabbling composer, I'm wondering about exploring what might come AFTER their styles, without necessarily assuming that it must be the Romantics.

Do other people do this? For now, until somebody tells me there's a better term for it, I'm going to call it 'alternate history mining': the process of going back to a previous historical period, and re-imagining how it might have progressed along different lines. (Of course, I can never completely divorce myself from my immersion in actual 19th and 20th century music, but I can try.)

This is an idea that's intrigued me for years in other domains. For example, what would we be using for transportation now if the internal combustion engine had never arrived to scratch that itch? We would have used steam for a while, but it would likely have never become truly satisfactory. Are there really fabulous ideas waiting to be discovered, accessible to 19th century science, that we've never uncovered because Mother Necessity had turned her attention elsewhere?

Jefficus, Jan 19 2006

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       How can you learn anything from hypothesis and fantasy, except about the people doing the hypothesizing? Alternate History is an exercise in (science) fiction writing, and while it can be entertaining, it ain't gonna tell you a whole lot you need to know.   

       P.S. llamas.
DrCurry, Jan 19 2006
  

       Although I'm not finding an invention in your posting I do find it very nicely written, clearly expressing a complicated set of thoughts.
bristolz, Jan 19 2006
  

       I'll let you know when I finish my bagpipe and accordian concerto.
hubby2debbie, Jan 19 2006
  

       I like the idea a lot. Its overly wordy (by a factor of at least 3). Since some business processes are patentable, this idea of using this as a creativity technique qualifies (albeit barely) as a legitimate invention.
sninctown, Jan 19 2006
  

       ah !! if only everything was different, then it wouldn't be the same. I'm starting to wonder what I would have been like if I hadn't read this....but it's too late for that now.   

       // I can never completely divorce myself from my immersion....// - Think I'll just try for a set of gills by lying in the bath for an few extra hour each day..... Still and all, giving you a + for being thoughtful, in a thoughtful sort of way.
xenzag, Jan 19 2006
  

       Thank you, [Jefficus]. That was really, really interesting. I'd suggest posting it as a blog entry since I don't see any idea there ("let's all sit around dreaming up alternate histories" really doesn't qualify).
moomintroll, Jan 19 2006
  

       [Jeffi] proposes that music evolves via intracultural conversation. A related analogy would be the creation of a dog breed, by mating dogs with desired traits. Perhaps music is created by interbreeding of different musical concepts with desired traits.   

       With this analogy, one could propose different musical hybrids from musical concepts in different cultures. For example: America imports slaves not from Africa, but from China. What becomes of jazz? It still is all science / music fiction but it is interesting.
bungston, Jan 20 2006
  

       +
zeno, Jan 20 2006
  

       I, for the time bieng.. agree with [21].
daseva, Jan 20 2006
  

       It is an interesting thought exercise. Kinda reminds me of the premise of (particularly the earlier episodes) of the television series "Sliders". What if penicillin hadn't been invented? What if the South had won the civil war? What if cromagnon man hadn't died out? What if red meant stop and green meant go?
half, Jan 20 2006
  
      
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