Different in Similarity

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Illustration by Eddy Vazquez

Classical and jazz. Punk and metal. These pairs of music movements have much in common. The truth is, though, they are all quite different in their sounds as well as their cultures. Some set the stage for dance, others are meant for pure intellectual contemplation and some exist for pure rebellion and unabashed madness. Each of these pairs has converged on similar sounds through the influence of the other while simultaneously pushing to be different. This has resulted in pairs of genres with similar music but completely different philosophies.

For a novice listener, it’s easy to mistake jazz and classical songs for each other. The majority of their artists produce instrumentally inclined songs that range from slow, melodic tunes to quick songs that focus on highly technical parts and a fast pace. Furthermore, neither follow to the tenets of popular music. They’re often minimally produced and do not make songs for the sake of catchiness.

The history of the movements explains why their sounds are actually so contrasting. Classical music emerged in Europe as the first major musical movement and it was originally church music. As a result, many classical songs have a pious atmosphere to them. They are delicate and contemplative, conveying a notion of religious importance and intellectualism to listeners.

Jazz, on the other hand, is a movement that originates with African slaves in America. They desired to separate themselves as much as possible from their white masters, so they created music that was influenced by their Afro-Caribbean roots and dominated by tonally heavy banjo instruments.

As they continued to push away from the tastes of their masters, jazz musicians created an antithetical culture to that of their white countrymen. They created jazz music theory, which shed the diatonic (adhering to the key) rules of classical music and added chromatic notes into scales to change sonic characteristic of the music. They also shunned white culture by smoking cannabis, which was quite rare in America until jazz musicians embraced it.

While jazz evolved from the music foundation set by classical music, punk and metal were simply separate branches on the rock ‘n’ roll tree. They developed as contemporaries, and this sheds light on their differences. Black Sabbath is where metal starts. The band took the heavy sound of the African American blues and mixed it in with contemporary rock music to create music heavier than ever before. By adding in a tritone, AKA the devil’s tone, Sabbath established the supernatural theme that metal has always carried.

Punk, on the other hand, originated with the energetic youthfulness of The Who. Their themes of uniting the youth, as heard in the song “My Generation,” and rebellion against the adult authority sparked the punk movement’s prominent voice for political criticism and youthful angst.

These movements sound similar because their sounds sharply contrast the music of the previous generations through their use of intensely fast tempos and distorted guitars. But like jazz and classical, these movements desired to push away from each other. In the 1980s there was even rivalry between the youths of each movement — they were fighting for position in deviant culture. In the end they simply went in opposite directions.

Metal became the music of extremes — extremely loud music, extremely frightening aesthetics and extremely deviant themes. Punk, on the other hand, has become music of the teenager; it has come to represent hatred for societal constraint and adult ignorance.




Filed under: A&E

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