Suspended 

  (And now for something completely different from my previous CS posts.)

Joni Mitchell in an interview in Maclean’s:

“Q: Laws you felt needed to be broken. For example, your use of suspended chords in songs—which you say men cannot wrap their heads around. Why?
A: Men need resolution and suspended chords keep things open-ended. You go to a man if you have a problem and he tries to solve it. You go to a girlfriend and she’ll pat you on the back and say, “Oh yeah, I get it.” She doesn’t try and come up with some stupid solution.”

(So true! And a tendency I still struggle with, as a typically socialized man. Yet:)

I love suspended chords; maybe it’s because, despite (and in lifelong dissension from) my earlier Western training, I don’t think of them as suspended, as needing to be resolved into triadic chords. I hear them as legitimate entities in their own right, not as transitional things only justified in their secondary role: supporting a version of tension and release in which release is defined as triadic.

In Indian music, tension-release dynamics do exist, but not in terms of vertical harmonies (there are none; instead only horizontal, melodic note relationships in which hierarchies and statistical proportion play a major role), and in a much more context-specific outlining (via the rules of each particular raga) of precisely in what coming to a resolution consists. I think this has helped strengthen the resistance I always had to accepting the Western triad-centric view. (Quite a few ragas omit the third, or the fifth, or both, yet are still firmly centered on the tonic, the “Sa”.)



About kaimuse

Kai Matthews is a musician, composer, and philosopher-in-training (with degrees in both fields, to the extent that that means anything.) As a 12th-generation American and 8th-generation Canadian, but born as an ex-pat in Germany and feeling more European in outlook, he feels at once both a deep rootedness in and a critical reserve toward his culture. He feels most comfortable being a little out of his milieu - that is, being uncomfortable and challenged. He's a cisgendered hetero white boy who's lived in a gay neighbourhood in San Francisco, and is a middle-class WASPy anglophone living in a poor, multi-cultural immigrant 'hood where most people's first language is neither French nor English. He was a rock and roll hippie getting a classical composition degree at a jazz school, and is a perpetual beginner student of North Indian classical music, in which his Western training is less help than hindrance. In philosophy, he naïvely wonders why the perpetually feuding analytic and Continental traditions can't just get along...

3 thoughts on “Suspended 

  1. I’m not sure I understand your position here. Are you saying that as a man who doesn’t feel that dissonances (specifically, “suspensions”) need to be resolved, you feel that you are misrepresented in the quotation by Mitchell?

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