[Jandek] music theory and early Jandek

Matthew Gordon mlgordon75 at yahoo.com
Sun May 22 12:50:21 PDT 2005

I discovered Jandek via the Irwin Chusid book, "Songs in the Key of Z."  For a while, the one track included on the accompanying CD, which is "They Told Me I Was a Fool," really spooked me out.  Quite quickly, though, I grew to really like it, nothing sounded like it anywhere that I had heard.  One of the reasons think people have such an aversion to a lot of the music on especially the first two albums, and others here and there, is that Jandek, through his idiosyncratic tuning, has arrived at the tritone interval, also known as the devil chord (or devil's chord) or for those of you well-versed in music theory, a diminished fifth (or augmented fourth, depending upon your preference.) This interval is the one unusable interval in traditional Western musical part-writing, meaning that through the centuries, up until probably the advent of serialism, atonalism and 12-tone music in the early 20th century, this interval never made an appearance because of how distant it is to the Western
 ear, and the normal scales and modes that we as a culture are accustomed to hearing.  You will often hear it in sirens because it signals "Something's Wrong!"  A more popular example of the modern use of the tritone can be found in the beginning of Metallica's "Frayed Ends of Sanity," you know, the old "O-Wee-O" bit that they took from the Wicked Witch's guards marching tune in "The Wizard of Oz."  In the film, the interval was actually a perfect fifth, perhaps C to G or something.  Metallica dropped the second a half-step, thus making it a diminished fifth, or, a tritone.  Now it sounds extra evil.    You can bet Bach and and Haydn steered clear of it.  Now, I distinctly hear in the mess of those crazy chords that Jandek plays on, for instance, "They Told Me About You," an E or two, a B flat, and what sounds like it is trying to be an F. So, it appears that, while not being perfectly tuned to these notes, as well all know well that they are not, there is, three E's, which seems to
 be the somewhat stabilizing tonic, an A, a B flat and an F.  While there is a tritone between Bflat and E, the F right above it seems to want to make it an even Perfect Fifth.  But, that F is less than perfectly tuned, and it sounds as if it is trying to become an E, but Jandek won't let it!  Hah hah!  There's also a tritone between E and B flat, and the A put in that is a particularly muddling effect.  When I was in college we had to anayze chords and intervals in all kinds of music, and I'm surprised no one has discussed Jandek's music in terms of music theory.  I am no expert, far from it, I haven't studied it avidly in quite a few years, but I remember enough and continue to work with quite a bit of what I learned back then.  Anyone else have any thoughts about this?   Jandek strays from this tuning quite a bit, but it seems that quite a bit of his foundational work, especially the first two albums (excluding European Jewel)  has this tritone element, though not completely tuned
 to concert-master perfection. 
Matt Gordon
Columbus, Indiana 

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