Friday, June 10, 2005

Of Trope, Melisma, and Ray Harryhausen (Part 2)

(Continued from Part One)

I've spent a bit of time trying to figure out why I'm so fond of the work of Ray Harryhausen, and come to the conclusion that it's because he was an original talent. He didn't invent stop-motion animation -- George Méliès probably did that -- but Harryhausen took an existing technology, combined it with a sculptor's artistic skill, and achieved that wonderful synthesis that can only be described as, "like nothing you've ever seen before." Sure, his movies could be remade now with better scripts, better acting, and modern CGI effects, but why? Harryhausen rarely repeated himself. Wouldn't it be better homage to do as Nick Park has done, and strive to create something equally new and original?

The more I think about this, the more I realize that this has been a recurring theme throughout my life. I started classical piano lessons at age 7, and by age 14 was bored out of my mind with Beethoven. Sure, it's lovely music, and I enjoy listening to it, but why labor to re-perform some 200-year-old klaviersonate when there are so many other people out there who are already eager, willing, and able to do it? Wouldn't it be better to write new music?

My interest in music was not rekindled again until I was in college, and was surprised to learn that there were such things as living composers, and such a thing as modern music (besides jazz and rock), and that "serious" music was not some fossil form that was trapped in amber sometime in the early 19th century. I got the same kind of thrill from listening to Edgard Varese, Karlheinz Stockhausen, or Igor Stravinsky as I did from catching an old Harryhausen film -- it was "like nothing I'd ever heard before" -- and in many ways my entire career ever since can be described as having begun the moment I first laid my hands on an ARP 2600. (Although I will freely admit that listening to Krzysztov Penderecki still sets my teeth on edge and my contempt for Walter/Wendy Carlos knows no bounds, but those are topics for another time.)

More importantly, it was in the course of all my music history and theory classes that I finally realized my general dissastisfaction had an identifiable source, and it could be summarized in two words: trope and melisma. To provide extremely concise and not entirely accurate definitions:

- A trope is a common form or a familiar structure.

- Melisma (not to be mistaken for miasma) is the process of creating "new" material by working over, polishing, embellishing, or otherwise spinning out tiny variations on already well-established tropes.

Which in an extremely roundabout way brings us back to the literature of the fantastic, which is the ostensible subject of this blog.

...To be continued...