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Andrew Chester writes (emphasis mine):

Western classical music is the apodigm of the extensional form of musical construction. Theme and variations, counterpoint, tonality (as used in classical composition) are all devices that build diachronically and synchronically outwards from basic musical atoms. The complex is created by combination of the simple, which remains discrete and unchanged in the complex unity...If those critics who maintain the greater complexity of classical music specified that they had in mind this extensional development, they would be quite correct...Rock however follows, like many non-European musics, the path of intensional development. In this mode of construction, the basic musical units (played/sung notes) are not combined through space and time as simple elements into complex structures. The simple entity is that constituted by the parameters of melody, harmony, and beat, while the complex is built up by modulation of the basic notes, and by inflexion of the basic beat. All existing genres and sub-types of the Afro-American tradition show various forms of combined intensional and extensional development.

I'm not sure I understand this. Does he mean that classical music is constructed by adding together a variety of small building blocks, while rock, blues, etc are constructed by taking an existing song and changing its details?

How does this relate, then, to classical music forms such as the fugue, sonata, concerto, etc?

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It appears that he's saying that classical music takes certain small building blocks and builds complex structures with them, whereas rock doesn't build anything with its small building blocks so much as just repeat those basic elements. Certainly not taking existing songs and altering them. –  Matthew Read Dec 8 '12 at 6:23
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And the writer has obviously never listened to any prog. –  Joe McMahon Dec 8 '12 at 10:08
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The person you quote may very well be a skilled listener but I'm not sure whether he is a skilled explainer. The passage seems likely to confuse even the most adept reader and musician, so it's not surprising you are confused.

Hopefully some concrete examples immediately followed, if he is not to be accused of obfuscation. To illustrate the point he is making (though maybe not exactly answer a question about "construction in rock"), I offer a series of compare-and-contrast listening examples (which all too easily can become invidious comparisons).

"Hellhound On My Trail" and Bach's C Major Prelude from Book I both use an economy of notes and take up almost exactly two and a half minutes.

In the Bach example, a single, simple melodic idea (the arpeggio) is repeated with only the slightest variation at the end. But this one idea is sustained through other means of harmonic motion and changes of register and contour. This may be an example of a single expressive idea "extended" over time to make a unified whole. The dynamic level (i.e. volume) almost never changes, and indeed, the keyboards Bach was writing for made such changes almost impossible (however, a gifted musician like Gould brings a huge amount of expressivity to something without a single notated dynamic).

In the Robert Johnson example, there are relatively few notes used, and there is a good deal of repetition as well, but the thing that is always changing slightly is his inflection (American spelling) and phrasing. Each note he sings rises and falls ever so subtly in volume, range and intensity. This could be an example of the kind of "intensional" development is talking about (Robert Johnson was such a gifted musician, however, that we almost don't notice that there is much "extensionally" interesting about this as well).

"Theory of rock music" is a developing branch in academia, and certainly praiseworthy in its attempt to treat seriously something many people take very seriously. But the language in this passage seems aimed at a graduate level, already-in-the-know rock theory audience.

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Who knows what he's saying. In my opinion, the harmony of rock is the same as the harmony of pre-late-1800s classical music. Both use tonality and both use the same progressions to move into and out of the tonic chords. From a harmony perspective, it's pretty much the same.

The late-1800s saw the arrival of a more complex theory of harmony and this became evident in the composers from that point forward.

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