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Foreground: Endangered Species?

When taking in a sensory experience (listening to music, watching a movie, etc.), we tend to assign levels of importance to the various strands of sensory input. We relegate, consciously or not, some strands to the background, some (often one) to the foreground, and the rest to the middle. Contemporary electronic composers are adept with back- and middle grounds; this is where most groove-centric music lives. But most can’t — or don’t want to — produce inspired foreground material: layers that don’t just dovetail with the groove but stand out above it as a soaring melodic line stands out above a sequence of chords.

When music serves as an accompaniment to another medium (film, tv, dance, etc.), this other medium usually occupies the foreground. Dance music doesn’t have to worry about filling the foreground; the dancers take care of this. Likewise for tv and movie soundtracks. It’s in standalone pieces that one hungers for foreground. How many times have you heard an atmospheric piece and thought: “That would make a great soundtrack for a sci-fi movie.” If the piece had a strong foreground layer, you might not have thought of it as accompaniment, but as sufficient in itself.

The moral: If you write standalone music, you should consider investing your pieces with compelling foregrounds. If you don’t, you risk having listeners perceive them as non-self-sufficient soundtracks in search of a foreground movie to give them meaning.

Posted on December 24, 2011 at 10:20 am by rachmiel · Permalink

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  1. Written by Jazzyspoon
    on January 2, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Brilliant. I find myself using the term “a face” or “centerpiece when trying to describe this foreground.

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