Intertextuality of Culture in Music: Sounds of the Blues

The dialogic contexts within music have hybridized over the course of history. Each defined genre of music has been shaped by past musical compositions as well as present cultural influences. Especially within blues, bebop and rock and roll, there has been a shift that can be identified through works of music by a variety of artists. As mentioned in my last blog, genres have molded and remixed each other. Culture and history are ways of life as well as traditions that are imperative in effecting the meaning of music today. Many times the basic for an artists’ work has to do with the echoes of the past.

Delving into the depths of blues and rock and roll, there are distinct values and combinatorial vocabularies that allow the music to emerge as a unique mix, or a hybrid. This continuum of ongoing hybridization within blues is shown within the breakthrough album, “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Two songs that really stick out to me are “Flamenco Sketches” and “Freddie Freeloader.” I touched upon this album last week, but de-black boxing the meaning within these pieces will allow for further investigation on the formation of a different kind of blues. A blues that set the stage for experimentation and the creation of rock and roll.

To de-black box, “Flamenco Sketches,” is opening a door to the basis for rock and roll.  The layered artefacts of Miles Davis and his “Kind of Blue” album dig deep into the roots as well as present day influences of music. What’s so great about this piece is that it doesn’t have a real written melody. This is also a time period when more often than not, individuals would record their music all in one shot without cuts or sectional takes. The melody to this particular song is not prominent throughout the piece. So then how is this piece defined and deciphered?

This piece is defined by sets of chord changes within the song. But, these chord changes are improved. As mentioned last week, the chords are hovered over using modes of the major scales in various tonalities. Each musician separately chose the number of bars for each of the modal passages in his solo dependent on the key of the song at the present moment. Different “modes” or forms of the sounds within the song, are listed below:

C Ionian (natural major scale)
A♭ Mixolydian (Major with a minor 7th)
B♭ Ionian
G Harmonic Minor over D Phrygian Dominant (alternates over bass notes D and E♭)
G Dorian


Hear Flamenco Sketches Here

In the introduction, there was a slow rhythm of base notes as well as sound of the piano from Evans that sounds like chords from “Peace Piece.” The tone of the introduction is filled with low frequency sounds as well as slower tempos.

Throughout the piece the song structures a feeling of interconnectedness and flow between chords, measures and scales. The saxophone, piano, and trumpet are the three instruments that frame this “jazz” piece, and are mixed between parts. Each part has it’s own shining moment. Over the course of the song the main instrument changes from:

Trumpet – Saxophone – Saxophone – Piano – Trumpet.

Obviously these don’t go without the help of other instruments. The measures within each instrumental change throughout the song, but usually remain between combinations of measures of four and eight (an overall constant of 4/4 time is maintained). Each soloist plays a different number of bars between each mode, but there is one pattern of five modes repeated in the same order throughout the piece.

The dynamics of crescendos and decrescendos also accentuate the dynamic of this song from beginning to end. It starts with a softer sound, leading into something rising in power, and back down again by the end. Not to mention, the variation of dynamic within each instrumental as well. Lastly, the timbre is of a more gentle, rounded, flowing sound. The instruments in the background are played pianissimo while others are played mezzo-forte.

After the make of blues, and the beginnings of rock and roll, Hip hop DJs started literally remixing music in the late sixties. They took beat-mixing and turned it into beat juggling, looping and repeating sounds on two different turntables to create a unique piece. This began the literal are of appropriation through culture. As the technology grew, so did the music (and in a short time period). This began the literal copy and paste of repetitions and representations of other works of music and tweaking them a little.

This is now a prominent trait of a bulk of music created today. The repetition and representation became a common attribute of modernism, post-modernism and new media (not just music!) (Attali). This recycled use of music is what I’ve noticed to be a similar idea to the looping of bebop except across different genres. At first composers in bebop would constantly loop the same sound in a song (even some rappers are constantly doing that today). But more so now than ever, we are sampling – what seems to me an amplified form of looping – and repeating samples from renowned artists. In this way, some artists can create a unique sound by tweaking what was once a unique sound. I feel as though Davis and Evans were the stars in creating this experimental atmosphere (see Coltrane in “Giant Steps” post-Davis’ album).

The domestication of this noise and remix has moved across media so quickly due to our rapid consumption and obsession with musical intertextuality. We are now not only just remixing types of music, but by doing this we realize it is a mix of art, media, and especially culture. What we consider “Jamaican” versus what we consider “Jazz” or the sound of what society has deemed “Latino” music is all being remixed in combinatorial ways with other forms of culture and the appropriation of the noise and music of those cultures’ pasts. In essence, it’s important to pinpoint where remix started to rapidly increase and come out of it’s comfort zone, a comfort zone Davis and Evans expanded into the next musical era.

Works Cited

“” N.p., 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <>.

“Listening Guide for Miles Davis.” Listening Guide for Miles Davis. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <>.

“Musical Elements.” Musical Elements. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014. <>.