The term trap is one I first heard from Richard J. Davidson, the author of many essays on modern music and a composer in the 1920s and 1930s. Davidson says that the word “trap” is an archaic word to describe the kind of composition I’m referring to: a composition that doesn’t require that the listener should know how to play it. For example, in a “crossover” composition, music is mixed together to produce a new sound, either at the beginning or the end of a particular movement. This is in contrast to the kind of composition I’m talking about, which doesn’t use any form of crossover.
Trap music is a very specific kind of composition. For example, the first time I heard the words “trap music” was in an essay by Philip Glass. In a piece called “A Hilarious Turnoff,” he described the title of a piece with a long title: “Trap music is the art of using music to create an effect.” He was talking about an effect that he called “hilarious reversal.”
I’ve seen Trap music described as something else from time to time, depending on who’s writing about it. The most famous description was by John Cage in the early 1960s, in an essay called “Trap music or Art in the Absence of Art”. This essay was a response to an essay written by his protégé, Edward Hopper. The essay discussed the difference between Cage’s “suspectly ambiguous work” and Hopper’s “vaguely artful work”.
In Cage’s essay, Cage pointed out that both he and Hopper had a sense of art, and that all they had to do was write about how different their art could be. In contrast, a classic trap work is a piece designed to fool people into thinking they’re actually hearing the music rather than hearing it as an instrument. For example, in his essay “A Hilarious Turnoff”, Cage said the phrase “a hilarious turnoff” was also a term he invented called “the gopher”. “The gopher is a sort of gopher-shaped instrument which consists of a large body of leaded water and an octave horn made to play through the water,” Cage wrote. Then he described the tone of the gopher.
“The gopher tone is the opposite of the tone that the bass plays on the bass bar. On the octave horn, the tone is the opposite of the
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