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Unnatural Atonality Scam Turns Music into Hard, Painful Work for the Listener

One corner of the hipster-dilettante avant-garde music scene is a genre called “atonality,” or the 12-tone technique, also known as dodecaphony. It’s a method of musical composition devised by Austrian-Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) and associated with “Second Viennese School” composers.

The hacks promoting this noise refer to it as “classical-modern music.” The hipsters who still defend it will become highly offended if you react negatively to it, hate it or simply don’t get it. By all means, weigh in, dear readers.

While traditional classical music follows strict patterns and a formula that allows the brain to make sense of the sound, modern symphonies by composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern simply confuse listeners’ brains. Russian composer Igor Stravinsky adopted a bit more tolerable aspects of atonality. Decide for yourself, but I find his music only slightly less annoying than Schoenberg, Berg and Webern.

This ditty by Webern seems like it would fit with the 3 a.m. crowd, doing ritual animal sacrifices in an old cemetery. It plays off-kilter chords interspersed with silence that sounds “wrong.”

Watschenkonzert, caricature in Die Zeit, April 6, 1913

In the 1920s and 1930s, Webern’s music and that of his ilk was denounced as “cultural Bolshevism” and “degenerate art” by National Socialists in Germany and Austria. It was called a Jewish-leveling conspiracy.

Here at Winter Watch, we never back down from or skirt the J.Q. and, accordingly, we try to verify and let the chips fall honestly where they may. In actuality, and to be fair, most of the composers were gentiles, not Jews. There must have been something in the water of Vienna. Cognitive-destabilizing heavy metals perhaps? Mercury or lead poisoning maybe?

That said, this music was promoted by Jewish Frankfurt School cultural Marxists. The “new music” — which flowed out of the Second Viennese School — and its founder would be the subjects of countless essays and books by Theodor Adorno, author of the quack book “The Authoritarian Personality.” During the 1930s, Adorno considered Arnold Schoenberg the most “progressive” person in modern music.

Certainly, in the U.K. and U.S., most universities are perfectly happy to produce students who write atonal music for the hipster crowd. But such so-called “music” has been badly received by audiences and critics who have found it difficult to follow.

In “Origins of Negative Dialetics,” Susan Buck-Morss makes the atonality Frankfurt School critical-theory connection. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it was all from the same playbook. Whodathunk? [See “Flower Power Sowed Seeds of 50 Years of Weaponized Degeneracy“]

Schoenberg’s revolution in music provided the inspiration for Adorno’s own efforts in philosophy, the model for his major work on Husserl during the 1930s. For just as Schoenberg had overthrown tonality, the decaying form of bourgeois music, so Adorno’s Husserl study attempted to overthrow idealism, the decaying form of bourgeois philosophy.

The great composer Richard Strauss described Schoenberg as being in need of a psychiatrist. He said that “he’d do better to shovel snow instead of scribbling on music-paper.” But let’s just compare Schoenberg with Strauss and see where the rubber meets the road, shall we? I don’t think you have to be a musical expert to understand.

Schoenberg’s revolting and twisted ditty “A Survivor from Warsaw” (1947). Yes, call me a hater.

Richard Strauss – Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 – Hard to beat!

Let’s endure just one more 12-tone composer before dispensing of this.

Here we have Berg’s opera “Wozzeck.” This is awful “music” (noises actually) for the inane and insane. If you watch a few minutes you will see the doctor vexing the police official with a stroke.

Is this music aesthetic or psychic violence against the human spirit? In principle, yes, except most reject it or don’t like it, and thus can apply their own hygiene to discard it.

The brain is a pattern-seeking organ, so it looks for patterns in music to make sense of what we hear. The music of Bach, for example, embodies a lot of the pattern-forming process.

Professor David Huron, an expert on music cognition at Ohio State University, has studied some of the underlying reasons why listeners are repelled by such modern classical pieces. Here’s what he had to say:

Much of what the brain does is to anticipate the future. Predicting what happens next has obvious survival value, and brains are remarkably adept at anticipating events.

We measured the predictability of tone sequences in music by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern and found the successive pitches were less predictable than random tone sequences.

For listeners, this means that, every time you try to predict what happens next, you fail. The result is an overwhelming feeling of confusion, and the constant failures to anticipate what will happen next means that there is no pleasure from accurate prediction.”

Some of the things that were done by those composers such as Schoenberg undermined this cognitive aid for making music easier to understand and follow. Schoenberg’s music became fragmented which makes it harder for the brain to find structure.

The music is, however, good for something. A train station in Berlin has unveiled a plan to use atonal music to “scare off” drug users. The basic premise of the experiment assumes that atonal music is uncomfortable to listen to, and people won’t want to spend extended periods of time listening to it, especially when under the influence.

Winter Watch Takeaway:  Atonal music is a dead-end impasse. It does not correspond to the natural way of hearing. It constitutes a “musical terrorism” that has nothing to do with the profound nature of music.

Fortunately, the movie and gaming industry has utilized a genre called “epic music.” It’s not easy listening; but in short doses, its profound. Instead of being sadistic, it gives the listener rewards throughout. For sure it incorporates new, more modern instrumentation, and electronica, but in an inspiring and aspiring way. Listen to the naturally uplifting vocal reward at minute 00:01:15 in Per Kiilstofte’s “Battle Of Kings.” The second video is “Battle of Titans.” Fighting the forces of darkness!!

21 Comments on Unnatural Atonality Scam Turns Music into Hard, Painful Work for the Listener

  1. This is the just the counterpart to Modern Art, which is neither. This was and is a systematic disassembling of structure. There’s a reason why almost everyone recognizes good art or music from any culture. It’s pleasing, it’s inspiring. Just like law or finance, the more convoluted, confusing, and technical, the worse it gets. Oh… and guess which tribe is responsible for those two????
    Seems like a pattern.

  2. Great thread. The Adorno image is quite funny.

    As I enjoy many forms of music (except anything Tavistock has concocted — anyone else notice how Faul McCartney now looks like someone’s grandmother??? seems the hormone therapy and the estrogen are working), in tone, I do not even comprehend atonality. Oh well.

    Either way, excellent thread that I was glad to read.

  3. I confess I never liked western classical music of any kind, tonal or atonal. To me it lacks structure, theory and thematic drama, improv and real time freedom. Jazz has freedom and improv but lacks structure. I did enjoy listening to sixties’ and rock music in my time, but transitioned in 2005 to Indian classical music, learning to play an instrument and create my own music sovereignty. The attraction seemed natural. Hippies instinctively accepted Ravi Shankar and his drummer, maestro Alla Rakka at the Monterey Pop Festival, and I had seen them perform live in 1967, while Jimi was burning his instrument. For source music, today in Varanasi there is a free drupad music festival every year around the time of Shivaratri. Plenty of this type music on the internet if you don’t create it yourself.
    But maybe you like western classical music, which is fine and can inspire you for your own good reasons. In case anyone is interested, here is the eastern difference: Drupad has no atonality within the twelve notes because it follows rules which are demonstrated during the alap portion before the drum starts. Indian classical music has the same modalities, pitch frequencies and solfeggio as western music but structures itself into ragas that perform simple rule sets that are identifiable to listeners as moods or rasas. It has slides, articulation, and vibrato but without clashing with a theme. Atonality would break the rasa and be a red herring.
    From that ‘lockdown’ into rules of mode and structure the raga format unleashes total improvisation, with secondary emphasis on drum rythm. Raga music is an active collaboration of drum and voice or instrument, in real time with a late performance phase called sawad jawal of instant copying. Western music follows someone else’s composition, not performers’ inspiration and skill; Indian has merely one sixteen beat phrase or gaat composition, and the rest is improv. The drummers too have a language and options for improv, which they get to show off as the gaat is reintroduced for a few rounds.

    • No raga has twelve notes. Most have just seven, and often five, or five in ascent, seven down. The basic seven notes of natural solfeggio can have augmentations of five of them: one to four can be flattened and one elevated, so up to total twelve possibilities to choose seven notes from. The first and fifth are never augmented. At one bookend of modes is ionic mode (Bilawal thaat) the natural solfeggio, and at the other bookend is frigian or Bhairavi thaat, with four flat notes. Both modes only have seven notes, and all ragas belong to mode families.
      I’m all for people feeling uplifted from western classical music, if it works for them, but it never did for me. The Indian raga system avoids stale tunes because every performance is different and alot of the uniqueness is technique and ‘skateboard tricks’ in improv rather than composition.
      In Indian folk music there are traditional compositions that must be practiced and memorized, similar to western memorization from set notations. There was a super popular folk song from 1973 radio going around the last year which everyone tried to learn and perform on Youtube. It had an alap in one classical raga and then changed ragas in the beat portion. It had double and triple time phrases in 6/8 most people never learned, but still sounds good in 4/4 and captivates people as an oldie. Alot of musicians playing Indian pop and folk switch the original track to eight beat taal because it is the easiest, like in the west where 4/4 is ‘common beat’. Beat variations in western rock would be “Money” by Pink Floyd 7/4 and “Tom Sawyer” by Rush 7/8, so having a classical background in any kind of music and ability to syncopate within any variation can work in pop to make compositions less stale. But that’s not the tonality issue which seems to be inherent in any system that does not stick to one mode with rules within that.

  4. Western or European tonal music has a certain effect on its listeners that is inspired, and which enabled the creation of works of genius. The problem that happened in the twentieth century is that the number of pleasing or interesting “high” compositions that you can compose with the octave is simply limited, and its limits got reached with Wagner, Bruckner, and Debussy (mainly Wagner). There is little original you can create after that, which is why the tonal composers of the twentieth century, Strauss as mentioned, as well as Sibelius, Brittan, and Rachmaninoff, while excellent, sound like afterthoughts (Strauss almost sounds constipated). Sibelius eventually stopped composing and Rachmaninoff composed little later in life.

    “Easy” or popular music got a big lease on life through mass broadcasting, but eventually also got played out in the 1990s and nothing worthwhile has come from there for over a decade. Again, the same issues, there is only so many worthwhile compositions that can be done in a genre.

    I don’t really take the conspiratorial view of atonal music, it was an attempt, albeit a failed one, to expand the horizons of the genre at a time when this was needed. I agree that the results are of no more than academic interest and the better ones have tonal elements.

    • Post to read.
      Albeit I disagree with ” … its limits got reached ” .

      Furthermore, even without conspirational explanations, the Jewish mind is oriented towards the “distinguishability ” , at any cost, often at the bend in deception.

      Please correct my approximate English

    • I don’t even consider rap to be “music.” (And the stupid drum machines?) Rock is music, but unfortunately, so much of it is atonal (but at least real people play the instruments). Even atonal “classical” music is hard to listen to.

  5. I’m a musician myself, and stand in absolute awe of music theory – specifically tuning. It may seem like very theoretical and abstract minutiae, but the late Renaissance/early Baroque geniuses like Tylman Susato and Vivaldi were defined by tuning. The idea of a triumphal procession of Arthurian knights is captured perfectly by this piece.

    The Danserye – Tylman Susato
    https://youtu.be/o7jM0JKthwo

    Or the ethereal and utterly exquisite beauty of Medieval Polyphony.

    O primus homo coruit
    https://youtu.be/PbRivbCWooI

    However, this type of music was beginning to be phased out in favor of more “precise” music. Now, we listen to Equal Temperament music tuned to the 440hz A instead of Just Intonation music with uneven and overlapping Keys.
    https://youtu.be/XhY_7LT8eTw

    Atonal music is both theoretically ugly and Acoustically ugly. Saying that it is similar to Polyphony is absolutely false. Polyphony uses multiple sympathetic overlapping melodies that harmonize and amplify, especially within the acoustic environment of a cathedral like Chartrés.

    Personally, I’m even a fan of George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue is a very moving piece. But, it doesn’t speak to my soul the same way Medieval Polyphony does.

    • Atonal music, like abstract painting and sculpture, is an expression of the WEST (USA included) who has reached an utmost technique everywhere, and an utmost desertion of its soul.

      This nothingness is even reached in science : the WEST’s science is by now mere technology.
      The fake physics of particles is a technological flight forward.

      Rhapsody in Blue is a great thing indeed, and I’m far from supporting Jewish composers.

      Please correct my approximate English.

  6. I played with a bass player who would claim, upon being called out for a musical error, that he never made “mistakes” and “there are no wrong notes.” He also insisted time was “flexible,” usually when appearing late for rehearsal. Oye! But he was a good guy and mostly played in the pocket.

  7. There you go again – you’re baiting me, right?

    I would say just two things: there has always existed in European art music a divide between, roughly, easy music and hard music. The dance and popular tunes vs devotional, meditative, “serious” works. There have been various terms for the latter: musica reservata – i.e. reserved for devotional or other serious uses.

    Schoenberg et. al, were simply composers working at the hard/serious end of the scale.

    Second: the practices associated with tonality and its gradual mutation to increasing chromaticism and eventually, atonality simply IS the history of western art music. The grand arc of tonality, perhaps. The very logic of tonality includes atonality; Schoenberg et al were just the right men at the right time to bring that logic to its historical conclusion in a rigorous way: 12 tone composition was the methodology.

    In sum: Schoenberg’s music IS difficult – it was meant to be. But it “fits” – it was not arbitrary and certainly not intended to be destructive of the cultural practices that preceded it (Schoenberg claimed to be a direct, and organic successor to Brahms). (In that sense, I’m not sure Schoenberg agreed with Adorno.)

    Finally, it’s over! We’re talking 100 years ago since the heyday of Serialism or Second Viennese School. The depressing aspect is precisely that: that it did conclude in a real sense the millennial long development of European art music. What followed it – much of it very fine music – is really just endless iterations of late-late-Romantic compositional practices. That’s all folks!

    • Well said. I like much of Webern and Berg, and even some SChoernberg. Stravinski’s Agon is serial, I’m pretty sure, and is absolutely fantastic. As far as music after the 2nd V school, I like Dutillue and George Crumb. I think Crumb is really one of the only ones to take a step. That is, with tone. His music seems to be simply about new timbre, rather than combinations of notes. His forms are also new, especially that Ancient Voices.

      I do understand the feeling of the EMJ’s and Winter’s of the world. Atonatity is confusing, and it does smack of artificiality, but theres somthing in it that asks us to try, at least.

      And I agree with you, this could be the end.

      • I tried.

        No substance is no substance.
        Feelings are substance (between flesh and cerebral domain) .
        Schoenberg, Dutilleux and the like (not Stravinsky) are the poorness of the feeling (cerebral domain only = vicious formalism) .

        Please correct my approximate English

      • Thanks – everything the post and the commenters said about Schonberg and atonality is correct; my point was simply: but there’s a reason for that. Alban Berg wrote a famous article (1930s): “Why is Schonberg’s Music so Difficult to Understand?” – short answer: it’s supposed to be!

        And yes, I think a lot of American independent and academic composers in the 1950s and 60 “took” atonality/serialism to some very interesting places – Cumb and John Cage being foremost among the “independents”. Surely lacking the universality of Mozart and Beethoven but, again, that was (part of) the point. A certain esotericism is inherent in all forms of moderism.

  8. I prefer Stravinsky to Richard Strauss. I have not heard much of R. Strauss’s music, but what I have heard made me seasick. The same goes for much of Wagner’s music, although it has some good moments.

    I thought Stravinsky was Russian. According to Wikipedia, he was Russian, although he had Polish ancestry on his father’s side.

  9. >A train station in Berlin has unveiled a plan to use atonal music to “scare off” drug users.<

    In Copenhagen Central Station, there was a problem with junkies hanging out in the part of the Station that is next to the "Red Light" and druggie/drugdealing section of the town.
    They set up playing soft melodic harmonious classical style music, and that actually made the junkies mostly go away.
    The poor druggies are, in my opinion, often demonically possessed, and cant stand Light Music. .
    Much better than the Berlin plan, that might backfire.

  10. Excellent post, Russ. I did not know that Adorno and the Frankfurt School types had promoted this garbage, but of course it makes perfect sense. BTW, Stravinsky was Russian, not Polish.

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