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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Instapundit links to a discussion of modulation in pop music. I'm a classical musician, so I was unfamiliar with the term "truck driver's gear change," but I'm quite happy to adopt it: It captures perfectly the vastly overworked and formulaic -- not to mention cheap -- nature of the device.

For those who don't understand the term, well, it's not like words are going to help. "A deceptive cadence is used to modulate upward a half-step, the tonic, as the pivot tone, becoming the leading tone in the new key." Not much enlightenment there, is there? Those who would understand the description wouldn't need it. If we were listening to music together, I could point it out when it happens, and it would be obvious what we were talking about. If the discussion linked by Instapundit doesn't help, though, here's an example, though I don't know how helpful it will be. For those who remember watching the Carol Burnett Show, way back when, and the tired medleys she and Vicki Lawrence were always singing: The bridge between one song and the next was almost invariably accomplished with the "truck driver's gear change," along with the two of them swooping like idiots into a new pose.

(As a counterweight, try "Pirate Jenny," from Weill's Der Dreigroschenoper. Weill pulls off what sounds like a gear change with each new verse, but it's actually the same key: The fourth and fifth lines in each verse contain a well-hidden modulation down a half step, so everything cancels out.)

Yes, it is grossly overworked. Yes, I am thoroughly tired of hearing it, to the point that it is a detraction from any piece in which it occurs. But so much else in popular music fits that description as well. If the subject is "musical devices that have been flogged to death," well, what about those ubiquitous fade-outs? When was the last time anyone wrote songs that actually ended? Granted, codas are the most difficult part of composition; still, one would think there would be a few out there who might start thinking, fade-outs have been worn to tatters. As annoying as gear shifts are, I find it a lot more annoying that everyone has forgotten about the brakes.

-- posted by Clayton 8/18/2003 03:01:00 PM

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