Horizontal vs Vertical Development: Part 6

A few days ago I watched Mike Verta's Theminator course. It's filled with great practical info and tips (and I'm only half way through). There was an idea he presented that inspired me to write this: Horizontal vs Vertical development.

To simplify, think of the vertical qualities of music like harmony and tone color (timbre). These qualities are independent of time. Notes that describe harmony are simultaneous and tone color is a qualitative (not quantitative) quality.

But horizontal qualities are completely time dependent. Melody, Rhythm, things that you develop in a time frame are horizontal. (just like a Cartesian y = mx + b graph). It's worth pointing out (and Mike does) that horizontal musical development is how music has been made since the beginning of time. Even before we wrote it down! Rhythm probably came first (according to Copland in his book What To Listen For In Music). Those primal patterns are burned deep in our primate brains. Melody probably came next.

Tone color and harmony are more recent sophistications of music.

I'd say melody and tone color are the qualities I've spent most of my life attempting to improve in my music. Melody, more so lately. I'm still poking around with my main motif:

The reason this topic fascinates me ties into my previous post on preservation. These traditional ideas, the ones that are deep in our brains – these are the ideas that we composers are ignoring. It's not that they're under attack, but they're not connecting with audiences like they used to. At least, not in any circles I spend time in. Studios are asking us to focus more on these vertical qualities and less on the horizontal. And my suspicion is the reason this technique is effective is because audiences don't stick around for long-form horizontal development. Even if it's amazing music.

We've heard the trailer music that focuses nearly all of its effort on vertical development. The DAW sessions with 97 tracks of orchestral instruments stacked on top of each other performing at the same time. This is not a criticism, I'm describing what it is. And on a side note, I'm sick of the predictable ivory-tower finger-wagging (borderline classism) at composers that pursue trailer music for a living. To each their own; we're all in this together. And it's worth pointing out that trailers are novellas, so of course there's not going to be long-form horizontal development.

But I'd like to propose a hypothesis for why vertical music is so effective today: we, as a culture are developing shorter attention spans (at least when we sit in front of computers and cellphones all day which is where we're consuming our content). We think in McNugget time.

It's been said by many (and it's true) that traditional thematic development in music leaves listeners feeling like what they're hearing is old-fashioned. Not just in music for media, but even classical music is feeling that fear.

Anyway, I'm completely unsure where musical taste is headed. I don't care that much. But I'd like to preserve the efforts of those that came before me – that I've benefited from in so many ways.

Mike, if you're reading this, please don't be pissed that I shared a few of your bullet points. These are things I've thought and read about a lot. But I've never seen them presented in a modern musical context like you presented in your masterclass.

This was longer than I intended, but it's a dense important topic. I really just came here to post the latest development of my simple motif for violas:

I love the way violas sound in the their lower register.

p.s. a bonus logic pro tip I learned this week and wanted to share:

Kyle Preston