Something Greg Sandow says about a way to differentiate between, say, complexity in different genres of music got me thinking. Here’s a specific quote from a comment he made in response to this issue of the limitations of chord progressions in pop:
My other question would be about your comment about how limited the chord progressions are in pop and rock, and how this shows that the artistic reach of the music is limited. My thought is that pop music, in the rock era, works on very different principles, and that timbre, texture, and rhythm do more to create the art in a pop song than harmony does, as a rule. I’d cited Rob Walser’s book because it’s one of the best explications I know of how, exactly, this works in at least one pop genre, metal. So since you’ve read the book, I’d be curious to know why — after Rob’s explication, in great detail, of how metal works — you feel that limited harmony remains a paramount issue. Rob in fact has a lot to say about what he feels are subtleties in metal harmony.
I’m not sure how I see the typical four instruments in a band (guitar, bass, drums, vox) could possibly have a wider range of colors (or more of a focus on color) than, say, a ‘band’ (e.g. Orchestra) that has 65 to 100 musicians playing two or three dozen instruments.
Granted, we can argue that the color range of a Western Symphony is limited since it generally gets stuck in a 200 year rut of canonical works. Just listen to the different in color and style found between a baroque string section and a modern string section of an orchestra–or better yet, a modern string section and a modern Arabic string section.
Sure, add in the synths and post-production manipulation and you can easily create an infinite variety of colors, but I still think that as a whole the Euro-American pop industry (from the workers in the trenches to the pop Superstars) are all operating in a limited range of textures, colors and, indeed, rhythms. Just listen to the popular music from many other countries and you can easily see how those musicians can take their native traditions and musical aesthetics to inform how they approach pop in ways that betray the conceit that Euro-American pop is all the complex, relatively speaking, with regards to those structures.
It’s when these world pop artists go “international” and adopt the instrumentation, textures, colors, and rhythms of the West that we start to lose a sense of all that variety (as well as language since ‘to go international’ means effectively singing tunes in English)–take Shakira, Tarkan and Jorane as examples.