Harmolodics

Aged 13, free jazz was something I couldn’t understand. It sounded to me like Iggy Pop’s description of punk rock: it sounded to me like “a load of trashy old noise”.

I hadn’t realised that it was in fact “the brilliant music of a genius”.

That genius, Ornette Coleman, is one of the key proponents of free jazz and the inventor of harmolodics, a music theory associated with the avant-garde music scene, dedicated to freeing composers and performers from the rigid structures and rules prevalent in the western tradition.

It is a theory employed in rock music too. Yes, this is about Royal Trux. Talking about harmolodics, Neil Hagerty says:

“harmolodics is not a comprehensive controlling or rigid philosophy (at least not to rock and roll) but almost a substitute for that language and efforts to control music (which is an entirely abstract thing) and make a metaphor of it. It returns the composition back to the musician and allows each musician to select functions for their labours rather than solicit a class of intervention because of the misconceptions that always arise when music meets commerce.”

Harmolodics, together with jazz as a whole, deserves recognition as one of the great gifts America has given to the world. It’s about music without the rules, and it sounds all the better for it. For me, its influence on Royal Trux’s music is magnificent: they forced me to listen to music in a new way. I still find it hard to completely understand it, but harmolodic theory lies behind some of my favourite music. So let’s hear it for Ornette Coleman and harmolodics!

3 thoughts on “Harmolodics

  1. Ornette Coleman is great. I have no clue about music theory, but it was the hard bob, be bop and free jazz periods that turned me on to jazz. Free jazz-wise some Coltrane on impulse like Giant Steps is pretty good, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry on to later Miles Davis before he reclused in the 70s and came back with crappy 80s jazz. Free jazz isn’t the easiest thing to listen to, but it’s refreshingly non-structured. I guess that’s what I like about it. Now Zorn delves into free jazz, but there’s nothing like the originals. By the way, what’s a good Royal Trux album?

  2. There’s some interesting stuff on harmolodics out there, and some people who really explain the theory far better than I ever could. It’s fascinating in that way that you think maybe your head will explode or you’ll go mad before you fully understand it. Well, that’s how it makes me feel. Far more interesting than politics 😉

    Royal Trux: their albums are (of course) all good but in different ways. Twin Infinitives is a classic, but I’d probably recommend the compilation Singles Live & Unreleased as it has a nice mix of older stuff, covers, Peel sessions and more ‘rock’ sounding rock songs.

    Apart from that, I adore Accelerator and Sweet Sixteen and Thank You which (in reverse order) trace the history of rock music from the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.

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