00. Panda Eats Leaves
In the fall of 2021 I came up with a simple method of composition.
1) Pick sounds memory for framework
2) Pick notes that create harmonies that defy the dominant/tonic relationship
3) Make it sound good
I thought this was the simplest and most direct form of counter hegemony in music theory because it would deconstruct the power structure of the dominant/tonic cadence, the cornerstone of Western harmony. I thought that the process of deconstruction would not be simply a void but a creation of new relationships, new sounds. I used fragmented sounds from my memory and “liberated” them from their original meaning.
I took a melody from The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” and broke the rule of dominant/tonic cadence. The song is in the key of D-flat major. The melody of the chorus, “Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda,” are [A-flat, G-flat, E-flat, A-flat] and [A-flat, F, D-flat, A-flat]:
The chord progression here is textbook dominant/tonic, A-flat 7 to D-flat. I got rid of repeated notes from the melody and converted the spelling of the pitches [A-flat, G-flat, E-flat] to their enharmonic equivalents [G-sharp, F-sharp, D-sharp] and [A-flat, F, D-flat] to [G-sharp, F, D-flat]. I arpeggiated the melody as a part of a pianistic gesture that has little harmonic rule, far from the original key of D-flat major. This got rid of the key signature and the time signature:
The result is neither “Don’t help me Rhonda” nor “Rhonda is not helpful,” not even “Rhonda needs help.” It’s something detached from the original meaning, something more like “Panda eats leaves.”
I numbered this piece “0” because I needed this clunky panda to start digging myself out of the theory hole I’ve been in since I learned tonal harmony through melody and accompaniment. I never finished the piece because I myself couldn’t fully buy into the conceptualization. My self-critique is that the piece is not truly built on counter hegemony. Its theory, negation of the dominant/tonic and denial of key and time signatures, forces it to exist as only an opposition. It confirms the existence of the ruling power. Can the subaltern speak? It will take me a few more compositions to work through the idea of counter hegemony in music, to grow from a cramped rebellion within a power system into expansive creativity.
I recorded the below improvisatory version (Panda 2.0) without strictly keeping the melodic pitches of the original Beach Boys song.