Atonal music is music that isn't written in a key. Atonal music is often very dissonant, but in fact, it may include whole strings of rich, consonant as well, or instead. The term "atonal" tells us what a piece isn't, but it doesn't tell us what it is. Any number of very different musical styles from hideous to heavenly may be accurately described as atonal. And indeed, the real pioneers of atonal music were composer such as Wagner and Debussy. Neither of those composers followed the rules of traditional tonal harmony, but dissonant certainly wouldn't be the first choice to describe their music. Tonal music has a satisfying structural logic developed over centuries, but composers writing in atonal styles must create their own logic. When they do it badly, the results sound random or worse, but when they do it well, the results can be very compelling. It's simple really, good composers write good music.
A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina ETV Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.