What a beautiful combination


Quick quiz.

What do the following songs have in common?

The Beatles – You Never Give Me Your Money
Erasure – I Love To Hate You
Frank Sinatra (and others) – Fly Me To The Moon
Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive
Train – 50 Way To Say Goodbye
Cat Stevens – Wild World

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PopMAC day 1: The Matrix & Cultural Diagnostic Concepts in Analyzing Recordings of the Beatles… Craig Morrison #popmac

Single labelUsing the Matrix & Cultural Diagnostic Concepts in Analyzing Recordings of the Beatles & Others. Craig Morrison, Concordia University


Peter Van der Merwe defines the matrix as a unit of musical communication such as a beat, note, or chord. Matrices group together concretely (songs, styles) and conceptually (sonata form, key, note), and come with implications, like the major scale with its fixed intervals, implying a sequence of chords. A matrix can carry embedded meanings: The major mode is bright, the minor dark; slow tempos express repose, fast tempos animation.

Vargish and Mook, investigating a scientific theory, a painting movement, and a form of literature in the early 20th century, coined the term ‘cultural diagnostic’ for advanced intellectual activities that serve to reveal the values of the period, with value defined as an underlying but identifiable characteristic [that is] pervasive, almost ubiquitous. Values, not necessarily new, can become dominant themes or qualities. A popular music style can be a cultural diagnostic as it contains historically defining values.

I developed these concepts in my doctoral thesis Psychedelic Music in San Francisco. In analyzing melodies, harmonies, rhythm, and lyrics while teaching The Music of the Beatles, I realized that as the band evolved, they not only became masters of embedded meanings (typically tied to emotions), which were integrated intuitively, I believe, into the compositions and arrangements, but their repertoire was an excellent example of a cultural diagnostic that contained the values of the period expressed as musical devices. That their use of matrices seems more sophisticated and extensive than other bands, of any era, may explain why their music continues to resonate. This paper will be illustrated by many examples, especially Beatles songs.

Craig begins with a discussion of the way the Beatles’ more unusual musical decisions (e.g. 7 bar phrases in Yesterday) often provide embedded meaning, enhancing the lyric (giving the example of the lyric immediately after bar 7 ‘suddenly’). He then provides a list of scholars (Dominic Pedler and many others) who have cited the way lyrics and music are analytically inseparable in The Beatles’ music.

PopMAC day 1: Incredible Regularity & Fast Evolution in the Beatles’ Harmonic Progressions. Philippe Cathé, Sorbonne #popmac

RainPopMAC day 1: Incredible Regularity & Fast Evolution in the Beatles’ Harmonic Progressions. Philippe Cathé, Sorbonne.


Does pop music really display its complexity in timbre and texture rather than in melody, harmony or form, as the ‘call for papers’ reads? Is this really the case for the Beatles? This paper addresses the questions through harmonic analysis, focusing on harmonic vectors, a theory based on a novel type of classification of harmonic root progressions. I will deal with all the songs written and sung by the Beatles. I will show that their harmonic practice bears greater similarity with that of composers of the late Renaissance rather than with Classical music. The evolution of the Beatles, year after year, indicates that their music bears even closer similarities with the music of Gabriel Fauré. A slight change in the percentages, from the middle of their career, suggests that we reconsider the impact on their music by vaudeville, jazz, comic songs and western ballads, especially during the second half of the sixties. Further results indicate the extraordinarily regular evolution of the virtual pop-rock side of their style, and highlight the strong influence they excerted on all subsequent pop music. Finally, my paper will explore the harmonic logic underlying their creative evolution, and suggest that harmonic analysis of pop music needs to go beyond the usual frame of tonality. In conclusion, I will make a case for ‘harmonic vectors’ as a general tool, above and beyond the Beatles.

Philippe Cathé is a reader in musicology at Paris-Sorbonne University. He is both a music theorist focusing on harmonic music from the end of Renaissance until the present time and a musicologist, specialist of the composers Charles Koechlin and Claude Terrasse and, more generally, of French music from the end of the nineteenth to the first half of the twentieth century. He works on developing Nicolas Meeùs’ theory of harmonic vectors. Besides this, he saves a part of his time to analyse the importance of sound in films. He has recently co- directed a book, “Charles Koechlin, compositeur et humaniste”, and he has just completed a work entitled “500 Years of Harmonic Music”.

Philippe opens with a discussion of the oft-stated negative views of popular musicology – that it is unworthy of harjmonic analysis because of its simplicity. He shoots down this argument by a hypothetical critique of Lichtenstein, who was not criticised (at least, not by art history) for using primary colours.