Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You've got to be

As I mentioned before, I'm reading Norman Lebrecht's "Companion to 20th century music".
Besides having no reference to Spike Jones or P.D.Q. Bach, the entry for the word "humor" has the following amazing statement; "music and humor are essentially incompatable"
Music is an essential and integral part of life, and life is, as we all know from our own personal trials and tribulations, pretty much a cheap joke.
Thanks god!
Beethoven's bombastic fist wavings are always worth a chuckle. He did, if you remember properly, feel himself superior to the aristocracy because he believed in "equality".
That word is a joke in itself.
Mozart's childish analities could provide a years worth of SNL material.
Haydn purposely wrote humor.
And that is just surface of the classical.
The romantic period was just plain silly, as romance always is, and therefore qualifies as humor. If you can't find a chuckle in Wagner's ring cycle, you have my sympathy.
As for the 20th century, I'll agree that the first half was not very funny, largely due to a serious infection of academicism.
And, of course, the concept of reducing music to some little mathamatical formula is worth a supercilious snort if anything is.
Once Rock'n'Roll bloomed, however, music came alive again.
Because it was funny.
Because music is life.
And life is a joke.

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Blogger butch said...

I guess old pal Norm Lebrecht is just another stuffed shirt, some old prune who needs an enima. Spike Jones and his band, yes P.D.Q. Bach, hell even Kay Keyser and the college of musical knowledge, starring Ish Kabibble --this is all music. I think there is even a subset or section in all music stores for "Humorous Music". What poppycock, sir!

HUMOR: 1. A normal functioning bodily semifluid or fluid (Ie: blood, lymph, or vitreous humor). 2.That quality which appeals to the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous. 3. Something that is designed to be comical or amusing. 4. Prone to whimsy (ie:a fanciful device, object, or creation, esp. in writing or the arts).
LUDICROUS: Amusing or laughable through obvious absurdity, incongruity, exaggeration, or scorn as something absurd, false, or foolish.


Objects, or situations to evoke feelings of amusement in other people. The term encompasses a form of entertainment or human communication which evokes such feelings, or which makes people laugh or feel happy. The origin of the term derives from the humoral medicine of the ancient Greeks, which stated that a mix of fluids known as humours (Greek: χυμός, chymos, literally: juice or sap, metaphorically: flavour) controlled human health and emotion.

A sense of humour is the ability to experience humour, a quality which all people share, although the extent to which an individual will personally find something humorous depends on a host of absolute and relative variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, and context. For example, young children (of any background) particularly favour slapstick, such as Punch and Judy puppet shows. Satire may rely more on understanding the target of the humour, and thus tends to appeal to more mature audiences.

Understanding humour
Some claim that humour cannot or should not be explained. Author E. B. White once said that "Humour can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." However, attempts to do just that have been made.

The term "humour" as formerly applied in comedy, referred to the interpretation of the sublime and the ridiculous. In this context, humour is often a subjective experience as it depends on a special mood or perspective from its audience to be effective. Arthur Schopenhauer lamented the misuse of the term (the German loanword from English) to mean any type of comedy.

Language is an approximation of thoughts through symbolic manipulation, and the gap between the expectations inherent in those symbols and the breaking of those expectations leads to emotions such as laughter.[citation needed]. Irony is explicitly this form of comedy, whereas slapstick takes more passive social norms relating to physicality and plays with them[citation needed]. In other words, comedy is a sign of a 'bug' in the symbolic make-up of language, as well as a self-correcting mechanism for such bugs[citation needed]. Once the problem in meaning has been described through a joke, people immediately begin correcting their impressions of the symbols that have been mocked. This is one explanation why jokes are often funny only when told the first time.

Another explanation is that humour frequently contains an unexpected, often sudden, shift in perspective. Nearly anything can be the object of this perspective twist. This, however, does not explain why people being humiliated and verbally abused, without it being unexpected or a shift in perspective, is considered funny - ref. "The Office".

Another explanation is that the essence of humour lies in two ingredients; the relevance factor and the surprise factor. First, something familiar (or relevant) to the audience is presented. (However, the relevant situation may be so familiar to the audience that it doesn't always have to be presented, as occurs in absurd humour, for example). From there, they may think they know the natural follow-through thoughts or conclusion. The next principal ingredient is the presentation of something different from the audience's expectations, or else the natural result of interpreting the original situation in a different, less common way (see twist or surprise factor). For example:

“ A man speaks to his doctor after an operation. He says, "Doc, now that the surgery is done, will I be able to play the piano?" The doctor replies, "Of course!" The man says, "Good, because I couldn't before!" ”

The Simpsons is noted for using this technique many times to evoke humour. Former show runner David Mirkin often refers to it as the “screw-you-audience” joke. A prime example is in the episode "And Maggie Makes Three", wherein Patty and Selma are about to expose the secret of Marge's pregnancy:

Selma: (Looking at the very beginning of the phonebook) "Hi Mr. Aaronson, I'd like to inform you that Marge Simpson is pregnant."

Selma: (Looking exhausted at the very end of the phonebook) "Just thought you'd like to know, Mr. Zackowski. There! Aaronson and Zackowski are the town's biggest gossips. Within an hour, everyone will know.

Both explanations can be put under the general heading of "failed expectations". In language, or a situation with a relevance factor, or even a sublime setting, an audience has a certain expectation. If these expectations fail in a way that has some credulity, humour results. It has been postulated that the laughter/feel good element of humour is a biological function that helps one deal with the new, expanded point of view: a lawyer thinks differently than a priest or rabbi (below), a banana peel on the floor could be dangerous. This is why some link of credulity is important rather than any random line being a punchline.

For this reason, many jokes work in threes. For instance, a class of jokes exists beginning with the formulaic line "A priest, a rabbi, and a lawyer are sitting in a bar..." (or close variations on this). Typically, the priest will make a remark, the rabbi will continue in the same vein, and then the lawyer will make a third point that forms a sharp break from the established pattern, but nonetheless forms a logical (or at least stereotypical) response. Example of a variation:

“ A gardener, an architect, and a lawyer are discussing which of their vocations is the most ancient. The gardener comments, "My vocation goes back to the Garden of Eden, when God told Adam to tend the garden." The architect comments, "My vocation goes back to the creation, when God created the world itself from primordial chaos." They both look curiously at the lawyer, who asks, "And who do you think created the primordial chaos?" ”

In this vein of thought, knowing a punch line in advance, or some situation which would spoil the delivery of the punchline, can destroy the surprise factor, and in turn destroy the entertainment value or amusement the joke may have otherwise provided. Conversely, a person previously holding the same unexpected conclusions or secret perspectives as a comedian could derive amusement from hearing those same thoughts expressed and elaborated. That there is commonality, unity of thought, and an ability to openly analyse and express these (where secrecy and inhibited exploration was previously thought necessary) can be both the relevance and the surprise factors in these situations. This phenomenon explains much of the success of comedians who deal with same-gender and same-culture audiences on gender conflicts and cultural topics, respectively.

Notable studies of humour have come from the pens of Aristotle in The Poetics (Part V) and of Schopenhauer.

There also exist linguistic and psycholinguistic studies of humour, irony, parody and pretence. Prominent theoreticians in this field include Raymond Gibbs, Herbert Clark, Michael Billig, Willibald Ruch, Victor Raskin, Eliot Oring, and Salvatore Attardo. Although many writers have emphasised the positive or cathartic effects of humour some, notably Billig, have emphasised the potential of humour for cruelty and its involvement with social control and regulation.

A number of science fiction writers have explored the theory of humour. In Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein proposes that humour comes from pain, and that laughter is a mechanism to keep us from crying. Isaac Asimov, on the other hand, proposes (in his first jokebook, Treasury of Humor) that the essence of humour is anticlimax: an abrupt change in point of view, in which trivial matters are suddenly elevated in importance above those that would normally be far more important.

Approaches to a general theory of humour have generally referred to analogy or some kind of analogical process of mapping structure from one domain of experience onto another. An early precursor of this approach would be Arthur Koestler, who identified humour as one of three areas of human creativity (science and art being the other two) that use structure mapping (then termed "bisociation" by Koestler) to create novel meanings[1]. Tony Veale, who is taking a more formalised computational approach than Koestler did, has written on the role of metaphor and metonymy in humour[2][3][4], using inspiration from Koestler as well as from Dedre Gentner´s theory of structure-mapping, George Lakoff´s and Mark Johnson´s theory of conceptual metaphor and Mark Turner´s and Gilles Fauconnier´s theory of conceptual blending.

Humour evolution
As any form of art, humour techniques evolve through time. Perception of humour varies greatly among social demographics and indeed from person to person. Throughout history comedy has been used as a form of entertainment all over the world, whether in the courts of the kings or the villages of the far east. Both a social etiquette and a certain intelligence can be displayed through forms of wit and sarcasm.18th-century German author Georg Lichtenberg said that "the more you know humour, the more you become demanding in fineness."

When I was an actor, and we worked with comic actors, sometimes called comedians, of all sorts --they all said, "Dying is easy, Comedy is hard." The proof is in the pudding. Most comedians can do dramatic parts (Robin Williams, Jackie Gleason, Steve Martin), but very few "dramatic" actors have much in the way of comic timing.

Your last paragraph is poetic to me:

And, of course,
the concept of reducing music
to some little mathmatical
is worth a supercilous snort;
if anything is.

Once Rock'n'Roll bloomed,
music came alive again.
Because it was funny.
Because music is life,
and life is a joke.

A great rant, sir, and probably pregnant with a lot more than I gleaned from it in one swoop. I need to read it again.


12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great blog!
But, the early 20th century did produce some comic musictheater, including R.Strauss' "Rosenkavalier" and Prokofiev's "Love of three Oranges".

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

S'pazztutto! fei l'auticlla. ocrotta la spumoni! Mei fennitti la spinissa!
Molto fabricato, molta venpicatte!
"Notre Dam de camille" Spazzutsia!!
Victor Emmanuel Regni D'Italia!!!!!

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pidgeon-Italian contribution by someone misusing my "moniker" of "Anonymous" is NOT by me, "Anonomann"!!

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Thanks for identifying pop/rock music as at least a part-time antidote to the anti-humor establishment. Cool post. I'm working my way back to find out what happened with the Symphony after having been directed here from Ann Cummings site; trying to adapt to this form of communication feels a bit voyeuristic. Have enjoyed your music at the Composers Salon.

11:53 AM  

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