Using 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.
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