Members of the ‘radical’ C-Major musicians movement are reportedly in uproar this week. They are angry at having their notes described as ‘White’.
“I find the term “white” simply offensive, explained one member of the movement, Sissy Scale, speaking outside the annual #RadMaj2013 conference in London.
“Describing our notes as “white” implies that half tones are just normal and alternative sounds”, she added, eyes blazing in anger.
“Our notes are just normal. Normal things don’t need adjectives to describe them.”
“Calling my friend G ‘white’ is like implying that her black neighbours are equally valid.”
“It’s as bad as calling non-homosexuals ‘heterosexual’ or calling non-trans people ‘cis-gender’.
The argument over what’s normal and not normal in terms of pitch is not new. Historians cite Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” (1722) as the touchstone for a movement among progressive musicians, intent on proving that scales based on notes other than ‘C’ were capable of performing the same tunes.
The fashion for basing music on these other scales also gave rise to a movement among black notes, seeking genuine equality.
This was no minor issue. The arguments struck many chords.
As society became more aware of tonal diversity, people even became more accepting of transposers … those who change from the white to the black notes, either permanently or part of the time.
“Tone is not simply a binary”, explains historian and campaigner Ebony Keys.
“The idea that a tune is born in C-Major (say) and that that is their destiny is clearly old hat”.
“So is the idea that white notes should only blend with their own kind”, she adds.
“The musical is political”.
“The seventies were a big time for discovery and experimentation in the musical liberation movement … synthesisers and the rediscovery of ethnic music, such as in India, opened a vista in which notes could change themselves … white into black, black into white, or indeed places in-between”.
Not all musicians felt comfortable with the vista opened up by the equality movement in the seventies though. Some formed breakaway factions insisting the very opposite of what the evidence suggested.
Among these were the ‘radical’ C-major movement, who claimed to want to overthrow the oppressiveness of conventional keyboards but were uncomfortable with some of the implications.
Notes that had gone flat were ejected from the movement, sparking divisions that still continue.
The C-Majors were very influential for decades … their thinking was embraced by many respected musical commentators without challenging the ambiguities.
Generations have enjoyed the products of black notes and minor keys, whilst still tacitly regarding them as ‘other’ or inferior.
Progression has been slow and many sharp notes are still struck abusively.
However, the days of the C-Majors are thought to be numbered now, with many reasonable audiophiles having turned their backs, appalled by the discordant notes struck in their name.
For now, however, the clashes between neighbouring notes seem likely to persist.
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