A model of musical dialogue

One way to frame a genre is as a common set of musical ideas that tie together a group of musical works. A genre starts with a period of innovation, wherein one or more musicians introduce enough new ideas to a genre that they take on a new life, separate from the base genre. An example would be William Bevan, better known as Burial, whose atomospheric approach to dubstep went on to define the genre of future garage.

When they come on the scene, the ideas that characterize a new genre are usually rough and only partially realized. As the genre gains a larger body of work, different players contribute new music, which refines the genre and its core ideas. Eventually, this reaches a peak where the core ideas of the genre have been fully refined and solidified. The most sophisticated and fully realized examples of a genre usually emerge from this time. Carlo Gesualdo, for example, did not invent the Italian madrigal, but he arguably wrote some of the best of the period, because he had a whole century’s worth of material behind him. Between his mastery of counterpoint and harmony of the time and his deep understanding of the form, he was able to bring this genre to new heights near the end of its relevancy.

Carlo Gesualdo hanging out with the guy from the album art of Untrue by Burial

Once a genre reaches this decadent stage, its core ideas have played out, and there’s not really new ground to cover with them. At this point, the genre dies, or some new ideas come along and keep it going, possibly spawning off new genres. In any case, the genre’s core ideas tend to go dormant. New music may reference them, but in a backwards-looking way, not developing them further.

I’ve focused on the genre, this progression of innovation & refinement leading to decadence is also a genral model of musical dialogue. The same process happens all the time in music, independent of genres, on the micro and macro level. It’s the lifecycle of any musical idea that is shared between musicians.

What do you think of this model? Do you have any good examples of an early innovator in a genre? What about an example of high perfection near the decadent stage? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​ctrl-c.club.