Wednesday, June 26, 2019

John Borstlap on the intellectual crime at the heart of modernism, although which modernism and who the victim(s) of the crime are could be cleerer

http://subterraneanreview.blogspot.com/2019/06/intellectual-crime.html

... Modernism has at its heart an intellectual crime: an attack upon culture in the widest sense, and unintentionally bringing destruction into the world of culture which the fascists had avoided, as if modernism finished the job that the fascists had inflicted upon the real world. This attack was not only an attack upon culture but also upon the inbuilt perceptive framework in the human mind for beauty and order, and for the psychological dimension that any form of beauty inevitably reveals, and which stimulates the spiritual capacities of a civilization. 

..

If the case is that cultures are destroyed by modernizing attempts then I guess I get that ... but since half my ancestry is Native American I can't help but think of how many a progressive-minded civilizational bid was the catalyst for a lot of terrible things done to Native Americans.  

But even so, who would the victim or victims of the intellectual crime be?  I was just reading The New Demons by Jacques Ellul in which he proposed that an old sacred cannot be banished by no-sacred but by a new sacred that is whatever casts out the old sacred.  I get a sense that Borstlap's larger description of what Krier describes in architecture can be understood as an account of how the new sacred, if you will, of the high modernist anti-Romantic avant garde sought to cast out all traces of the Romantic era and traditional European notions of beauty.  

And yet ... in his essay "Masscult and Midcult" Dwight Macdonald pointed out that the early 20th century innovators did not even think of themselves as exactly being avant garde, they were rejecting what they believed had been the accrual of conventions in 19th century art, music and literature that had increasingly diminishing returns.  Or at least that's Macdonald's account.  Eliot and Stravinsky didn't abandon traditions so much as refracted them.  Or as Adorno put it when condemning the total serialists, Hindemith and other composers could reject tonality and understand what they were rejecting because they had mastered those idioms. The total serialists, Adorno charged, betrayed neither competence in the new techniques nor any indication that they could write in a Palestrina style to save their lives.  A Schoenberg or a Hindemith or a Stravinsky or a Bartok showed the ability to write as traditionally and tonally as possible before rejecting that way of making music.  I could quote Adorno on that point but ... he's so long-winded I don't feel doing that right now. 

On the whole I think George Rochberg's observation that high modernism doomed itself by insisting on making works so hermetic the works defied normal cognitive perceptual processes.  He used the term "central nervous system" but it's not that difficult to get the idea in spite of his dated terminology.

THE AESTHETICS OF SURVIVAL: A COMPOSER'S VIEW OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY MUSIC
GEORGE ROCHBERG
Copyright (c) by The University of Michigan 1984

ISBN 0-472-10037-8

The Avant-Garde and the Aesthetics of Survival

page 226

If my speculations have any plausibility at all, the implications for the present state of music and the direction of composition for the future are enormous. Clearly much of today's music has foredoomed itself to extinction. For example, all forms of strictly aleatoric music which evoke chance operations and improvisatory pieces which are not based on already stated or culturally known external referents but rather on internal rules of a game devised for those specific works alone do not, on principle, address themselves to the human nervous system and its memory functions.  [emphasis added] Because they reject structural forms of self-perpetuation there is no way in which they can achieve identity, and therefore now ay in which they can be remembered because there is nothing to remember.  ...  Any system of composition which bases itself on precompositional matrices--total serialism, stochastics, information theory--which depend solely on arbitrary rationalizations of rules of the game, cannot achieve a direct and meaningful correspondence to the functions of the central nervous system, for the very reason that whatever music it produces depends for its understanding not on the perceptual functions built into the nervous system but on a post-intellectual comprehension of its externally predetermined rationalizations.  In such cases the "ear" has been bypassed and ignored.  [emphasis added] ... 

Page 227

... Self-extinction, then, is built into much of the avant-garde music of our day; and no amount of training or conditioning on its perception, no amount of repeated hearings can eventually overcome its essential lack of correspondence with the primary functions of the human nervous system.

page 228
... It is then plausible to conjecture that any music which consciously frustrates the goal-directedness of the nervous system, which denies clarity of structure, which suppresses perceptible periodicities, which is lacking in self-perpetuating characteristics, which turns it back on identity as an essential feature of its design, must ultimately pay the price in terms of perceptual failure and cultural self-extinction.  ... 

One of the central mistakes of what might be called a high modernist approach in post 1920 art and literature is probably summed up as follows--some people assumed there was no upper limit to the cognitive and perceptual demands producers and presenters could make of audiences.   At the risk of invoking an apocryphal tale of Harrison Ford complaining to George Lucas, "George, you can type this shit but you can say it." There are plenty of things that seem like great ideas to the creator in studio that don't translate into interesting results for an audience.  Rochberg's argument was that you have to be able to remember it long enough to even decide if you liked it and that a lot of the post-tonal modernisms were so abstruse and tethered to precompositional systems there was no way to hear the result as something that sounded like, well, a result.  An even more withering put-down of aleatoric and serialist music was written by Adorno when he quipped that the total serialists of the Boulez and beyond variety made the mistake of thinking that arranging the colors of paint on the palette was the same as having painted anything on the canvas.

But, still, I admit to some skepticism about who the victim or victims of the intellectual crime are, if we stick with the idea that it is, indeed a crime.  Borstlap and I may be on the same page about the flexibility of classicism in its broadest sense but ... not so sure I'm of the same mind about the intellectual crime.  I think that Scruton, for instance, has not exactly rebutted Xenakis' claim that the conventions of music are made by humans and humanly modifiable.  I think Xenakis was probably right about that ... but I think it's safe to suggest that Xenakis tried to modify too many conventions too radically at the same time and in a short time frame for his work to appeal to more than a small niche of people.  I really like some of his work ... but ... per Rochberg he probably also foredoomed most of his work to some kind of extinction. 

I am more of a mind that we've had enough revolutions in the last century and a half and that the real hard work in artistic and creative terms will be figuring out how to consolidate into accessible forms the more revolutionary and iconoclastic elements of earlier eras.  My concern with the post-Cage and post-Schoenberg avant garde traditions is that I can get how and why the found the late Romantic style stifling and I can even get how and why they felt it had to be rebelled against in some way.  The thing is that Bartok, Hindemith and Stravinsky all felt a need to rebel against what they thought was the dead weight in the Romantic idiom but didn't necessarily make a point of attempting to invent a new system.  I'd quote Ben Johnston on the problems of over-applied thematicism but I'm trying to keep this post short ... or ... short for me. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

John Borstlap on what classicism is and isn't--not locked into some narrowly defined historical period and ...


Classicism, not in any concrete particular architectural style but as a principle, as a value system and a constructional dynamic, is not bound, not locked into some narrowly defined historical period, but relates to universal principles of beauty and order.

Stated in this way, I agree.  Classicism, as a principle, is not bound, not locked into some narrowly defined historical period and this can be as true with respect to music as it is regarding architecture.

Which is why I think that composing sonata forms drawing on the harmonic and melodic vocabularies of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin, and Joseph Lamb is a practical and aesthetically interesting pursuit.  

Any attempt to say that such an enterprise is not possible owing to the inherent tendencies or possibilities ... or limitations of the material is, I think, a category mistake, and it's the kind of category mistake about the nature of musical materials that George Rochberg found in the pronouncements of ... well, let me just quote Rochberg about this:

THE AESTHETICS OF SURVIVAL: A COMPOSER'S VIEW OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY MUSIC
GEORGE ROCHBERG
Copyright (c) by The University of Michigan 1984
ISBN 0-472-10037-8

Tradition and Twelve-Tone Music

page 34
To accept the notion that form is totally dependent on "given material" is to deny creative will and its dominance over material. 

page 35
... The problem of the composer has always been to impose, by an act of creative will, his vision on material while at the same time respecting the properties of his material. There is undoubtedly an awareness of the intractability or resistance posed by his material on the part of the composer. If he cannot overcome it, he fails creatively. But when emotional fire is wedded to intellectual power, material and resistance are no longer impediments but a pliable means to the realization of artistic purpose.

Boulez's aesthetic assumes that twelve-tone material is different from any other previously used. As material, which poss new problems and new resistances, twelve-tone is different. To that extent he is right. But little else has changed. [emphasis added]

Rochberg was dissenting from some claims from Boulez.  Boulez, I recall, once claimed that popular music was the wrong answer to the right question.  Boulez being Boulez, he was confident he had the right answer to the right question.  I'm not going to say what I generally think about Boulez because I found that Jacques Ellul put it better for me when he wrote about art in technocratic societies. And in case you're slightly curious about Ellul on the arts, there's other posts on that.

Now, getting back to Rochberg's comments, it's possible that a composer may lack emotional fire, however that's defined.  It's possible a composer may lack the intellectual power to observe and grasp the possibilities of this or that material.  That is not necessarily the fault of the material, even material that many would regard as shabby.  There's that old tale of Beethoven remarking that with enough craft even something like a Diabelli waltz can be transformed into something substantial.  I would submit that any random selection of Thelonious Monk is more substantial than Diabelli's best moments, and I write that as someone who genuinely likes Diabelli's Op. 29, No. 3 Guitar Sonata in F major.  

To translate Rochberg's observation, yes, a composer will discover over time that there is this thing or that thing that is possible with a particular set of musical materials while this other thing or that other thing isn't possible using a particular musical material.  There is a melody that might be terrible as a fugue subject that could be great for a rondo.  There is an idea that might be suitable for a sonata that is not very compelling when you try to use it as the basis for a continuous set of variations.  The caveat in Rochberg's commentary is that the more emotional fire and intellectual power you bring the less and less likely the constraints in the material may be seen as "inherent".  

So, for instance, I find it very easy to imagine taking a couple of strains from a rag by Joseph Lamb and making a sonata of it.  It would be easier to do that, for me, than it would be to try the same process with a Scott Joplin strain and it's not because I don't love Joplin's work.  Joplin's approach to phrasing and themes is a bit too firm in his internal cadence structures.  His phrase-endings can tend to be just a bit too final.  Lamb's themes are, on the surface, even more recursive but there's a flexibility to his harmonic and melodic writing that is more open-ended and so it's easier to think of ways to spin out a sonata form from Lamb's ideas.  You can create a sonata from the strains of either of these composers, of course, it's just that there are different challenges involved with the kinds of material the two composers wrote.  

What is not really in question is whether or not you can compose a sonata movement based on the work of these ragtime masters.  That's a given, even if most people don't know enough either about ragtime as a style or the syntactic processes of sonata forms to appreciate this.  I hope to write more about that in time but for now I'm using ragtime as an example that I hope can expand upon Rochberg's observations.  

Rochberg's argument against Boulez highlights a risk inherent in ascribing to a musical material "inherent" anything. Respecting the possibilities latent within the material is not even close to the same thing as arguing that there is something "inherent" in the material, as if the job of the composer were to discover what is "inherent" and then bring it out.  Leonard B. Meyer would have called that a hold over from the ideal of organicism that developed in the Romantic era and there is value and beauty in the concept of organicism provided it is offset by other elements.  I wasn't planning on getting into that in much detail so I won't get into that in much detail.  

I've written in the past about how I differ a bit with Roger Scruton on the nature of George Rochberg's legacy.  Scruton has described Rochberg as rejecting atonality and turning back to tonality but this, I think, does not quite accurately represent what Rochberg said about his change in compositional practice during the period in which he wrote his Third String Quartet.  I've written in the past about what I think Rochberg did was introduce code-switching between musical dialects.


Well, let me now quote Rochberg, once again from essays in The Aesthetics of Survival:

On the Third String Quartet

page 239

... Far from seeing tonality and atonality as opposite "styles," I viewed them as significant aspects of an enlarged language of musical expression with ranching subdivisions of what I like to call "dialects"--a particular way of stressing or inflecting parts of the whole spectrum of Western musical language.  These dialects can be represented singly or in combination depending on what one wants to say and the particular size, shape, and character of the work one wants to say it in. In the quartet the dialects range widely from diatonic, key-centered tonality to forms of chromaticism which veer toward nineteenth-century or early-twentieth-century practices (but still structurally tonal) to a more atonally oriented chromaticism; from predictable to unpredictable periodicities of phrase structure; from simple to complex metric pulsation; and from continuous to noncontinuous gestural relationships between phrases, sections, and movements.  [emphasis added]
...
page 240

... I suspect that what my quartet suggests to others, and what I began to accept for myself at least fifteen years ago, is that we can no longer live with monolithic ideas about art and how it is produced. Nor can we take as artistic gospel the categorical imperatives laid down by cultural messiahs or their self-appointed apologists and followers of whatever persuasion.

On the contrary, the twentieth century has pointed--however reluctant we may be to accept it in all areas of life, social as well as political, cultural as well as intellectual--toward a difficult-to-define pluralism, a world of new mixtures and combinations of everything we have inherited from the past and whatever we individually or collectively value in the inventions of our own present, replete with juxtapositions of opposites (or seeming opposites) and contraries.  ...

page 241
Granting pluralism, how is a composer to deal with it? From the inside out, i.e., from the internal psychic imagery which becomes the musical gesture to its artistic manifestation. Gesture, singly or in combination, successive or simultaneous, is the determining factor--not style, language, system, or method.  

That's a lot of bolded text up at the top of the quote.  I would say Rochberg pretty definitively defined what he was doing in his Third String Quartet as what we might now call "code-switching".  He invoked the metaphor of language and then subdivided language into dialects that he said could be shifted in and out of depending on what expressive purposes a composer had in mind.  That sure sounds like Rochberg saying he was code-switching.  

If we could have a complaint or ... a constructive criticism ... about Rochberg's code-switching is that, here in 2019, what he was doing was so overt and ostentatious that it lacks subtlety.  It may have been what was needed to make the point that code-switching harmonic and melodic and rhythmic dialects was an option, but Rochberg may not have mastered it.  I would submit that back in the 1970s there were musicians who mastered code-switching between forms of tonal organization 

... and I've written about what I think is brilliant about the shift from tonality based on the circle of fifths to the octatonic tag after the chorus in "Living for the City" already.  


Rochberg may not have been the most successful at implementing code switching across tonal and atonal idioms as other composers were.  That can be granted.  He's an acquired taste and I think there are other more compelling composers out there.  I listen to Stevie Wonder more consistently than I listen to Rochberg but there's value in studying both of them for what they do musically.  Wonder, after all, could turn from doing his R&B thing and sing Schubert's "Ave Maria".  I think a suitably skilled and creative composer could take just the chords from that little bridge in "Living for the City" and create an entire sonata form from those chords.  If there were anyone who doubts that's possible because of the nature of the material that's why I've quoted George Rochberg on the problem of people who think that what is musically possible depends more on the perceived inherent nature of the material than on the emotional commitment and intellectual inventiveness of the composing musician.  

In the most abstract sense Borstlap and I agree about classicism.  We have some ... differences of convictions about applications ... but I would venture that as stated and quoted above, we agree about the basic idea that classicism is not bound to a particular time or style in architecture and I would extend that, personally, as a claim that can be said about music, too.  

Ethan Hein on Monk being remixed and covered ... some thoughts about that as a classical guitarist who revere's Monk as a composer

http://www.ethanhein.com/wp/2019/remixing-monk-vs-covering-monk/

I love Thelonious Monk more than just about any other musician in history. I enjoy learning and playing his tunes on the guitar, where they tend to sit well. I’m especially proud of my solo guitar arrangement of “Crepuscule with Nellie.” A jazz guitarist named Miles Okazaki, who is enormously better than me, also enjoys working out solo guitar arrangements of Monk. So much so, in fact, that he took it upon himself to record every single Monk tune for solo guitar. All seventy of them!

Ah ... see ... if I hadn't gotten some other stuff recently this could be the sort of musical thing I'd want to get and hear!  But I kinda went and saw Toy Story 4 this last weekend and plan to see the next Spider-man film because, right after Doctor Octopus my other favorite old-school Spidey villain is Mysterio and Gyllenhal seems like a good casting choice for Mr. Beck.  But ... I will probably have to bookmark this Monk project as something to get to listening to.

But there's something Ethan Hein wrote that I'm not quite sure I agree with about Monk.

I mean, of course they’re good. Some of them are gorgeous. Okazaki is incapable of playing badly, and Monk tunes are bottomlessly wonderful. “Shuffle Boil” is my favorite–Okazaki nods to Monk’s youthful tapdancing by creating the sound of tapdancing on his strings. However, some of these recordings don’t sound as good as they could. The more uptempo ones, in particular, sound like a guy playing jazz solos with no rhythm section, and I find myself missing the rhythm section. As I listen, I also start asking, why not use overdubbing? Why not play with other people? Why not transpose tunes into guitar-friendly keys so you can drone open strings? In “Blue Monk,” which is in B-flat, Okazaki keeps playing his open E string, and blagh, why? Why not just play the tune in A, or E, or D?
In fairness to Okazaki, let’s say you’re a musician and a Monk fan, and you want to bring something fresh to your interpretation of his music. What more could you possibly add at this late date? You can already hear Monk tunes as Latin jazzMonk tunes as vocal jazzMonk tunes arranged for string quartet, and Monk tunes combined with James Brown and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. There are so many Monk tribute albums that NPR felt compelled to make a list of the ones that aren’t terrible. Okazaki’s recording isn’t the first Monk tribute album for solo guitar, and it wasn’t even the only recording of the complete Monk catalog released in 2018. It would seem there is not a lot of juice left in this particular orange.
Well, since I ... know of a few guitarists who made a point of composing preludes and fugues for solo guitar in every major and minor key I think one of the cases to be made in favor of transcribing Monk works in the original keys is simple mastery of the guitar.  There are sonorities you can get with a mixture of closed and open strings that you won't get if you go all open strings.  If you favor the kinds of added augmented fourths or elevenths that are ... not so uncommon in Monk then the open strings can be what you have for the neighbor tones and tone clusters.  The open strings can still be used for giving you space in a performance for a position shift while you still play the slow intro to Brilliant Corners in B flat.  

For instance ... and I'm writing this from the perspective of a classical guitarist, you could take most of that head tune from Brilliant Corners and present it in canon against itself in two voices if you are playing it in B flat major and those open strings are what help make that possible.  But ... perhaps obviously ... this is a description of how a classical guitarist who likes to compose and venerates the music of Thelonious Monk might go about transforming Monk's work into the basis for a fugue or a two-part invention for the guitar.  The orange has no end of inspiring and flavorful juice provided we abandon the idea that Monk's music has to be thought of as jazz in whatever way jazz musicians think about it.  Hein gets at this idea when he writes about how Monk can be used for sampling and as a contribution to hip hop.  Since I love Monk and recall that sampling jazz classics has been a tradition in hip hop for generations I can say "Sure!"  

But there's something else that's worth mentioning in addition to Hein's observation about how jazz was at its most vital when it was in a synergistic relationship with popular styles, which is to point out that back in that period it was also in a synergistic relationship with classical music.  Someone Ethan Iverson was interviewing, I think it might have been Henry Threadgill, was pointing out that jazz musicians were listening to blues but also listening to classical music.  The synergistic interaction was going on between jazz and popular styles and also between jazz and other forms of non-jazz music, i.e. what we might call classical.  That was partly how Adorno wrote his scathing and ghastly screed against jazz but I'm skipping that altogether for the time being.

I believe that Monk's music has no upper limit on what you can do with it.  When I was studying composition as a journalism student I had to minor in something, so I minored in music composition.  My instructor was a traditionalist sort and was into Mahler and Bach and Shostakovich and Strauss and Beethoven and, you probably get the idea, the symphonic tradition.  I made a point of asking which jazz composers I could study and, well, let's just put it plainly, I wanted to know which composers in the jazz traditions I could study that my composition instructor believed could teach me things I needed to know about writing good melodies and harmonies and good overall compositional technique.  The instructor said that for the kind of composing he taught there were not a ton of really stand-out composers in jazz but ... I could study all of the Ellington and Monk I wanted because he considered them to be truly great composers.  I could also study Joplin and ragtime composers because, even if they had a lot of interchangeable parts, they were so steeped in the piano traditions that they served as a valuable mid-point between the classical traditions and jazz.  And some Brubeck but this instructor didn't like Coltrane or Miles Davis at all!  And ... well ... half a century after "Giant Steps" I guess I can get why someone into the symphonic tradition could revere Thelonious Monk and Ellington but find Coltrane's work to be a kind of dead end.

So, that's another aside.  What I'm thinking is that you could take just some of "Pannonica" and probably do a Goldberg style set of variations on it and it would be wonderful.  It wouldn't have to be what anyone would recognize as "jazz". 

Since Monk and Haydn are two of my favorites I don't see why a guitarist couldn't start with one of Monk's themes and riff on it in the direction of Haydn's monothematic sonata forms.  There would still be room for solos as jazz performers would understand it.  If jazz players are game to play "Giant Steps" in every single key then if they want to do that, okay, but for the chops you need to do that why wouldn't you want to create a fantasia or sonata movement on `Round Midnight?  All you'd need to do is have the theme in a tonic key, transition, have the theme in the non-tonic key of your choice (any will do), have more development derived from the theme, then have the return of the head tune as recapitulation and develop some kind of coda that maybe brings back the theme again one last time to round things off.  It has been a while but I've read somewhere a case that a large stretch of Bitches Brew can be understood as being guided by the paradigm of sonata in terms of thematic presentation and sequence, even if there's no development with modulation as we'd normally understand it.  But Hepokoski and Darcy in Elements of Sonata Theory have proposed the principle of "rotation" is actually more important than tonal architecture overall; that the order in which the themes appear and reappear is more crucial for 18th century approaches to form than the tonic-dominant contrast earlier scholarship has described, though that's not unimportant for 18th century practice.

That is to say, I hope you've seen, that there's not really a compelling reason I can see or hear for not using the work of a great composer like Monk to build upon and expand upon what he's given us in his music.  Yes, in the jazz tradition music is often written so as to invite potentially limitless continuous variation and that's a great tradition and it's also an approach that was developed and refined in a very different way in the 18th century.  Then, as Elaine Sisman put it, enough bad virtuoso variations on popular tunes got cranked out by musicians that they fell out of favor.  So ... at the risk of making a historical analogy ... by the later 18th and early 19th century there was a classical music equivalent of people being pissed off at the equivalent of everybody trying to do virtuoso variations on Giant Steps.  And uh ... speaking as a guitarist, pointlessly meandering virtuoso variation sets on popular tunes was going on back in the early 19th century.  I'm saying that Monk's music is so challenging and so difficult and beautiful in all the best possible ways that guitarists kind of fall into the category of 1) they can play his music at all and have some sense to handle it responsibly or 2) they can't play his stuff and don't, sparing us the trouble of hearing them. 

My dream would be a guitarist takes a Monk tune and does what Elaine Sisman said was the ideal of good variation technique in the era of Haydn, bringing forth possibilities latent in the music that maybe you couldn't hear on the surface but that an experienced and experimental musician can bring forth--variation was once a revered musical practice in the classical music tradition before it got frowned on thanks to a lot of crappy variations done by virtuosi whose fingers were more fleet than their minds. 

That genres of music or styles are more permeable than purists may like to concede can happen in any and every direction.  "Old Town  Road" won't sound like country to those who think of country music as being based on circle progressions built around I, IV, and V.  If that's your idea of what country has to sound like then a chord loop that might be explicable by the likes of Richard Cohn in his work Audacious Euphony won't be country.  Hein discusses the song over here.

http://www.ethanhein.com/wp/2019/lil-nas-x-and-the-racial-politics-of-country-music/

Since I read Audacious Euphony last year and found it useful I could point out that Hein is right to say that G# is the anchor sonority.  It has the strongest rhythmic emphasis.  I haven't delved into the debates about the harmony of the song but ... well, I'm going to lean on my reading as a guitarist and point out that this chord progression is explicable as a variant of a harmonic schema Matanya Ophee once described as the Andalusian cadence.  If you think you've never heard that formula before and, say, watched Animaniacs at some point, the PInky and the Brain theme song features the root movement of the Andalusian cadence.  You could say it's i, VII, VI, V in a minor key but the main thing is the stepwise descent along a tetrachord.  You can interrupt or interpolate this pattern and still hold to its basic outline.  Hold on, oops, okay, the explanation was at Ophee's LiveJournal but the explanation is from Carlos Barrientos.

https://matanya.livejournal.com/123418.html
...
As we have progressed on the instrument, some of us may have encountered the four-chord descending minor chord progression known as the Andalusian cadence: i - VII - VI - V in many different genres and guises. After all, it appears in Ray Charles’ Hit the Road, Jack, the verse on Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, Walk, Don’t Run by The Ventures, Runaway by Del Shannon and in that great work arranged and embraced by the Guitar: J.S. Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004.  ...

One of the things that I've grown to love about being a guitarist in reading theory and analysis is that for the most musically omnivorous of us you get passages like the above, pointing out how a single musical schema, if you will, shows up across songs by Ray Charles, the Beach Boys and so on, but also appears in a work by Bach. 

Robert O Gjerdingen, building on some work done by Leonard B. Meyer, has described the galant style as deploying a lot of what he calls schemas or schematas.  These are not so much riffs that can be easily identified as linear/melodic/harmonic gestalts that can be varied and spliced and combined.  For instance, a lot of popular songs can be understood as combinations and variations of what Gjerdingen describes as the Romanesca and the Prinner.  Probably the easiest case study of a Romanesca answered by a Prinner would be "Let it Be" by the Beatles.  One of Gjerdingen's observations about the galant style is that these schemas can be substantially reworked while still being recognizable. 

So I'm not saying hard and fast that "Old Town Road" is a variant of the Andalusian cadence but I'm suggesting that there are riffs or meta-riffs in plucked string literature that you can recognize as fun to play and easy on the hands.  The Prinner is a descending tetrachord from basically the fourth scale (or /and the sisth scale) that runs stepwise down to the tonic.  "Let it Be" has a Prinner but probably the finest example of a Prinner in more recent popular music would be ...

about 0:18-0:21
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEWuAcMWDLY

Aretha Franklin singing "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman".  That turn before the next line, that's a classic Prinner as defined by Gjerdingen's schemas.  If we wanted to try to explain it as a cadence (which it isn't, necessarily, when we're talking about a Prinner) then one way to think of it would be to say it's an extension of a plagal cadence or an "Amen" cadence as it's sometimes called.

So what does all and any of that have to do with "Old Town Road"?  Well, admittedly not a whole lot. :)  It's possible to see the guitar and banjo riffs combined as an interrupted Andalusian cadence.  G# jumps up to B before going down to F# and then down to E but since it never completes the trip down to D# that would fulfill the "path" of the cadence it's not exactly an Andalusian cadence. 

But ... I would suggest that knowing subversion of these kinds of schemas are what people do to have fun writing music.  The incomplete Andalusian cadence is the core of the start of the Hall and Oates song "Maneater".
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRYFKcMa_Ek

We don't get to that V chord.  Instead of completing the trip down the bass line moves back up.

Way, way back when I was a high school student and in college I thought Hall and Oates were lame but now ... you know ... I was wrong about them.  They actually wrote a lot of pretty solid songs.  And in this case I can use one of their better known songs as an example of how subverting the completion of a musical schema can be the start of a song.  Just because the cliche is subverted doesn't mean it isn't the foundation of the song.  Art is very often about taking a cliche and doing something unexpected and charming with it.  You can have a whole string of cliches but if you combine them in the right way with some charming and clever twists you can get ... four Toy Story films, all of which I love (not that you asked).

The lines between blues and country often seem to have been drawn after the fact and by marketing teams.  Among musicians there has been room to cross color lines that some people keep drawing.  This reminds me, too, that I've been meaning to get a book by Randall J. Stephens on how early rock was partly inspired by white and black Pentecostal music.  As an ex-Pentecostal there's a lot about that tradition I don't care for now but I admit I still have a pretty big soft spot for the musical traditions and, at least here on the West Coast, there was an often emphatic interest in racial reconciliation involved in Pentecostalism.  I'm not sure if it was that way in the rest of the United States and if it wasn't that's really unfortunate.  

But the Stephens book interests me and I'll eventually get to it, because he maps out how Pentecostals ... albeit very badly behaved Pentecostals!, helped to define first generation rock even though they were disdained by their church traditions for secularizing church music into love songs and then, within ten years, rock translated beyond that idiom and along the way was condemned by Baptists and Presbyterians (of course!) and Catholics.  I've touched on that a teensy bit by pointing out that Martin Luther King disapproving of rock, for instance, could reflect not just a distrust of the music but it could be an example, perhaps, of an animosity between Baptists (who often tend to be cessationists) and Pentecostals who are ... absolutely not cessationists.  I keep thinking of myself as ex-Pentecostal in so many ways but then when I remember how it was more or less in a Pentecostal milieu my parents seem to have met, well, I'm grateful for that, seeing as without that I might not have been born.  

But that's sort of a long way from "Old Time Road".  and perhaps even farther from Thelonious Monk.  The common thread may simply be that I think it's possible to respect the boundaries of a musical style while recognizing and highlighting that any given boundary defining a musical style can be a permeable one.  There's more than one way to think within the pitch possibilities of the equal tempered chromatic scale.  For the microtonalist composers (a number of whom I admire) there's no obligation to stay fixed on twelve tones.  For we guitarists who aren't messing around with different tunings we have to work with what we have.  So my interest has been, in the interest of continuing to work with the equal-tempered guitar I have, standard-issue as it is, on exploring the different points at which boundaries between styles and forms can be regarded as permeable. 

For instance, a potential path for a fusion of blues or country or jazz or ragtime idioms could exist in the monothematic sonata paradigm established by the work of composers like Haydn and Clementi. Yes, I did say Clementi.  I know he's not as iconic as ... that other guy ... but I am of the same mind as Kyle Gann on a number of Clementi works being more fun than Mozart.  And for guitarists I think we can benefit from studying Clementi and Haydn and Hummel and applying observations on monothematic sonata forms to more recent vernacular styles developed on the guitar.  I.e. there's no reason sonata forms derived more from popular than "highbrow" styles can't be written for our instrument. Ponce and a variety of guitarist composers from Latin American traditions have been doing this for about a century..  Those of us who play the guitar, no matter the style or tradition, have some opportunities to compare notes and work toward a newer and more robust fusion of all the styles we love if we keep working at it. 

It will be a lot of work but I believe the musical results will be worth it.  I have a dream of writing guitar works that will make use of contrapuntal techniques and use what could be considered fairly traditional 18th century forms but are written in a style that will not be recognized as 18th century.  I believe that sonatas based on ragtime, blues, country, and jazz are not only feasible but should be relatively easy to compose once there's enough of a conceptual groundwork established to show how it's possible.  I'm incubating a project toward that end that will involve some sprawling references to Adorno, George Rochberg, Leonard B. Meyer, Hepokoski & Darcy, William Caplin and a number of quotes from James Scott, Joseph Lamb, George Bottsford, Fernando Sor and some digressions into works by Henry Martin and Richard St. Clair in using ragtime for fugues and sonatas. 

But that will take some time.  This blog has been in "semi incubation" phase for a while because what I've been trying to put together is kind of complicated.  I'm also trying to not forget, in the midst of this abstraction, to keep writing music.  I don't want to just lay out a theoretical basis from which I think other musicians can create ragtime sonatas and fugues, I want to write ragtime sonatas and fugues myself.  I want to write fugues that demonstrate triple counterpoint but that are based on riffs that require bottleneck technique, a slide guitar fugue homage to, say, the great Don Helms.   What doesn't come across at the undergraduate level of music education is that the big famous white guy composers like Mozart and Haydn were closer to the popular styles of their time and place than their post hoc canonization might lead people in undergraduate study of music to perceive.  If I hadn't sprawled so much as it is in this post I might write something about that but that's really something better left to official professionals.  Charles Rosen did a pretty good job of unpacking that about Haydn and Mozart in The Classical Style ... so I don't have to.

I may be in many respects a Presbyterian stick in the mud and a moderately conservative one at that but there is, I guess, some Pentecostal kid in me still who wants there to be music that helps people celebrate that however hard it is much of the time life is still life.  I've name-dropped Richard Sibbes enough that I figure you may work out that I read Puritans for fun.  The Puritan legacy isn't all bad, after all.  Roger Williams was a Puritan who founded Rhode Island and wrote against the persecution of non-Christians by the state.  I admit I'm writing my theories and ideas as a Christian, maybe not a particularly good one, but I am not writing about these things in a way where I would insist anyone has to believe the things I do. 

One of my complaints about evangelicals has been that over the last fifty years they have to often been concerned with solving problems that, at the end of the day, are about their perceived lack of social and cultural standing.  They have not seemed to put in much work to solve actual problems that anyone outside their circle might want solved.  When I see the stratification between high and low in the arts, when I see how classical and popular styles seem to be divided by a supposedly infinite chasm, I look back on the history of music in the Western societies and see that the chasm clearly could be and was bridged and there's no really clear or compelling reason I've seen to say why it can't be bridged again.  The people who say the span can't be spanned seem committed to the purity codes of one style or another.  I love a lot of styles of music but I'm not interested in treating those boundaries as if they can't be crossed.  Nor am I suggesting that none of the boundaries matter. 

But it seems that in our era there's such a thing as finding a way to translate the conceptual approach of classical music in a way that can be applied to more recent styles.  I think it's possible to take lessons from Haydn and write music that draws from the vocabulary of Thelonious Monk is probably the clearest way to put it.  I regard both Haydn and Monk as great geniuses of musical creativity and in a way they both have in common that they were neither chops-of-death musicians but they thought through what it was they wanted to do musically and perhaps it might also be said that they cared more about how things sounded to the ear than being sticklers for a set of rules.  I've sung in unaccompanied choral groups so I know why a lot of those voice-leading rules got developed but I also know that if you're not writing for unaccompanied chorus you can break a lot of those rules because those rules weren't exactly designed for keyboard music.  Plus ... you can do some wonderfully weird stuff with a chorus. 

Here's an adorable piece for voices by Xenakis. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jESS3gP1GGE

So ... I haven't written as much here as I used to but it's not that I don't think about stuff.  It's just that I'm trying to put together some things in offline life that will take some time.  That third version of the essay on how ragtime and sonata forms can be fused has transformed into a pretty big project. 

And ... I really did write a fugue for guitar that has triple counterpoint and also calls for bottleneck technique.