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Active and passive voice in music

Saturday 7 July, 2012

Since I know no existing methods of incorporating active and passive voice into music, I will invent a few of my own, by generalising from verbal language.

Active and passive tense can be explained in terms of subject, object, and relation. Active tense is where the author emphasises the subject of a sentence (the thing which is taking the action). Passive tense is where the object of the sentence (the thing which the action is being taken upon) is emphasised by the author. In general, to emphasise something, one places it near the beginning of the sentence: in “The player kicked the ball”, the player is emphasised; in “The ball was kicked by the player”, the ball is emphasised. Thus my first method will be to have musical subject and object ‘words’, and to place them near the start or end of the musical ‘sentence’. I will now have to invent ways of conveying subject, object, and their relationship in music.

Subject is usually something able to take an action; it is an active thing, such as a person, animal or machine. The object is not necessarily inactive, but for this exercise I will treat the object as always inactive. Action and inaction are easier concepts to convey in music, as moving or held notes (respectively). Indicating relation between musical ‘words’ will be fairly straightforward.

So that is the first, and most direct method: placement of the subject and object in the sentence. There are some others which I can think of though.

Sometimes passive voice is used because the subject of the sentence is unknown, irrelevant, or secret: “The car was driven into a post” – here, the identity of the person driving the car is diplomatically concealed. My second method will be to omit the subject of the sentence. Sometimes the subject can be implied by context – for example, if I come home and discover that my wife has hidden my playstation on the bookshelf, I may well announce, “Hello dear. It seems my playstation has been moved to the bookshelf. I wonder how that happened?” – knowing full well how it happened, and implying blame through the passive voice. I hope to somehow incorporate this idea of implied subject in my music.

Enough writing about music, time to write music!

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  1. trishworth permalink

    A 16 y.o. student of mine once wrote a poem called ‘Green’: Green should be a primary colour … green tastes like apple … green sounds like trees swaying in the wind, and lawn mowers … igreen isn’t mysterious, it’s mellow, Green is fer nerdy kids and cool kids, Green is friends with everyone.

  2. trishworth permalink

    igreen isn’t mysterious? Must be an Apple product. Green tastes like Apple.

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