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How would you define music?


We all seem to have a common bond through music, so I'm here to ask everyone several questions about what role music plays in their lives.  Later, we can use our answers to help us shape our philosophy on music.  You don't need to answer every one of them in a single answer, just whatever question you have something to say about.


1.  What is it? 

2.  What purpose does it serve? 

3.   Where does it come from? 

4.  How does it "fit" in contemporary society and culture?


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Music. Personally, it serves as a sort of theraputic device. Both the creation and passive enjoyment of music allow for a bit of an escape.

What is it? A bunch of tones, usually. Vibrations. Depending on the individual, these vibrations act in a positive of negative way.

Where does it come from? In a larger sense, I really can't tell you. I'm reading about bilogical reasons for determinism right now, so I could give a half-baked answer about how it has positive effects on humans and thus was a trait found to be beneficial to the species, but that's not a really useful answer (I don't think).

How does it fit? For some people -- it doesn't. There appear to be people that are just as satisified to receive market-tested music, as none at all. That fact leads me to believe that music is not particularly important to everyone, and may at times only fit in niche categories of our culture. It's a tough call though.
9/1/2003 4:34:31 PM
name not provided
There is an inscription over the stage in Corson Auditorium at Interlochen Arts Academy that reads "Music is the Universal Language." Below the inscription are four tall windows that look out on the sparkling surface of Green Lake (nature's music).9/2/2003 1:30:35 PM
music, for me, is an addiction. I'm a willing and aware addict, though...9/4/2003 8:19:39 AM
...or is it the duality between "discipline" and "indiscipline?"9/4/2003 8:20:38 AM
Nice posting you really think music is the universal language? I would argue that it is not. All cultures have music, but the use of music as a function of communication is where we run into differences. Music as a means of communication is the least understood and most confusing function of music. If music is a language, then why is it that we cannot always understand each other's music?9/7/2003 12:16:10 AM
Heh. Well, I'm finishing a Mathematics degree, and harmonics realte to math pretty directly, so I could probably argue ahalf-assed argument that it is the universal language. But no, I don't think I really believe that.

And, re: language and music. I think you pretty much said it in your question. We (or at least I) cannot understand immediately all languages, thus if music is a language, I have no hope of understanding all music.

I think though, in terms of accessibility, music is much more accessible than other aspects of culture. There are certain themes and harmonies that run across all musics (and languages), which can make them more or less palatable to different cultures.

And, to divert the topic one last time. Personally, I would like to think there is a sort of universal language. It pervades aot of what I do. I'm not sure I always buy all the theories on what makes something universally understandable (my own included), but I think it's an effort worth persuing.

And, you know. I'm re-re-reading that last post and it makes me curious as to what you see being the function of music. If it's not solely for communication -- what is it?
9/8/2003 2:11:55 AM
name not provided
Okay, music is probably not THE universal language, nor is it really a language at all. But it does contain some universal elements (i.e. rhythm, dynamics, harmonics, etc.). These elements are used in different cultures much the way that different spices are used in cooking (which is another "universal language.")

Music theory can be considered as an analog to grammar. Not in a strict sense: a song does not "say" things like a person, a novel, or a grocery list does.

Ravi Shankar says of music "that which colors the mind is rasa [rasa literally = "juice"]."

So, I think when people refer to music as a language, they are referring to it in the sense that it conveys emotional data, not necessarily informational data like written or spoken language does.

That being said, I think that both linguistic and musical "grammar" can be used descriptively to great success...

9/9/2003 11:24:59 AM
Music could be the universal language, where each of the styles, attributes, rhythm, etc are dialects?9/12/2003 9:43:41 AM
I think that's a good point. No matter how widely divergent a culture is, the music IS recognizable as music. Other cultural "noises" like traffic, construction, jousting, etc. are not regarded as music, whether the listener is from within or without that culture.9/12/2003 3:25:44 PM
So then, how does one categorise music that absorbs such sounds as the environment around them? Does that then qualify as 'universal'? I can think of quite a few examples (one I listened to this afternoon) that qualify. And, I think in the way that such sounds are being restructured, whether they originated from traditional instruments or not, it is definitely recognisable as music.

See: Dettinger, Vladislav Delay, snd, Pole, et al.
9/16/2003 11:39:51 PM
name not provided
Louis beat me to the punch.

The rise of of portable digital recording devices has lead to two interesting types of music: environmental ambient music and click hop side of experimental techno.

9/17/2003 9:26:18 AM
Additionally, recording software such as pro tools, Acid, etc. has allowed musicians to take atmospheric noises and create snips of them, reorganized into beats and blips.

Check out SomaFM's cliqhop streaming channel.

9/17/2003 9:28:46 AM
Oo! Abelton Live is pretty neat too. I used that recently. It does some pretty sweet groove-matching with samples. Like Acid, but for live performances.

If I ever get myself re-oriented here, I should be able to give some examples of things that I've done in this vein. My transmission just died, so I'll probably be home for a bit this week at least.
9/17/2003 10:25:02 PM
name not provided
Do you mean sampling from sources that are not traditionally regarded as musical? These are usually arranged (consciously or otherwise) following "traditional" musical methods, so I'd say they still fall into the cultural mileau of "recognizable as music." Like Hrvatski's washing machine samples, or Matmos' surgery samples -- it's not so much the sounds as the organization of those sounds that makes something music.

Or is it intent? I was on a landscaping job once where, for nearly a minute, shovels, hammers, etc. all synced up into an unintentional jam. I could hardly contain the laughter that welled up in me (especially since our crappy FM radio was playing a Billy Squier song that fit right into the groove at the same time), but decided not to share my experience with my meat-potatos-and-football loving fellow landscapers. Was it music? It can't be reproduced (without time travel), so there's no way to get a second on that one.

It's all in the ear of the beholder.

9/18/2003 1:39:24 PM
Ya know, my eye scanned this last post, and I read: "It's all in the ear of the blender." And, for some reason, I find that a good description.

And strangely, although I really dig some of the stuff Hrvastki has done (excellent shows), it would have to be the organisation of the sounds, and not the samples themselves. At least, the cut-up stuff. It is otherwise unrecognisable as anything but a random sound. I did however, see a show with him and Greg Davis, put on as a sort of ambient listening space sort of thing, wherein the entire objective was the sound. They took random toys and such, sampled them, and modified those sounds. There was very little structure.

And regarding landscaping sounds, of course, I think there is music in everything. Although I would agree to an extent that music is in the ear of the beholder, I can't help but liken that to the statement 'Art of Art's sake', which is something I really don't believe in. It hearkens of a lack of soul backing the work.
9/19/2003 8:39:30 PM
name not provided
I guess I can see that, in the sort of flippancy of the statement. It tends to dismiss further investigation. We have a great tendency as children of modern media to want to reduce things into easily digestible cliches.

I think that we make choices, as both performers and receivers of music. How often have you heard someone say, "that's not music -- that's noise!" They say this even though what they are referring to is coming out of a stereo speaker and is obviously meant to be interpreted in the context of performance. I think that's a choice that listener made, to not evaluate those performances as musical expression.

So, that begs the question, "could a road crew be enjoyed/regarded/evaluated as music?" Without manipulation? I suppose that it could be, depending on the choices made by the specific listener, but it should be noted that a road crew is not taking part in a performance (unless the foreman is nearby, heh heh).

9/20/2003 2:10:43 PM
Hehe...usually what I hear from my family is something along the lines of: "Could you turn that off!? What is this?" Certainly they are more tolerant than most, but I still hear it.l

Heh. I kind of like the idea of the road crew.

I made a really poor joke today to a friend, suggesting that the original cast of Star Wars make a remake of the exact same movie (we were talking about Harrison Ford, for some reason). And, that got me to thinking about the Beegees (sp?) and whatever, and the reunion tour. So, I was trying to picture the cast of Star War just kind of standing there, on a stage, doing not much of anything. Similarly, I think I'd like to see just a road crew standing around on stage!

I dunno. In all seriousness, I can't say that mass audiences have come very far from John Cage's time. It still seems there needs to be an underlying purpose, that is not self-reflective for people to enjoy a piece of music. That's just broad generalising on my part though.
9/23/2003 2:17:52 AM
name not provided
I think we are starting to distill all the gray areas at work here. Music appreciation is a very subjective, uh, subject. But you are on to something with underlying purposes. I mentioned Matmos above, but the more I think about it, although they used surgical (not made in a musical context) samples, they set out to form their sampling into music. It was predestined to be recognizable as music. In fact, it is in a smaller, recognizable subset of "dance" music, and adheres pretty closely to its intentions.9/23/2003 4:36:10 AM
I think we've got the makings of a thesis here. =-)

Peter, I'll give your landscaping co-workers rhythm, timbre, and possibly even harmony. But we start to have problems when we try to arrange the sounds in a unifed manner. They might be accidentally continuous or fall into sync momentarily, but they don't create a composition as a whole.

We run into some problems with some artists that make atmospheric sounds but label it as music. Randomness does not always make a composition. The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.

9/23/2003 11:43:53 PM
Uhh, Nick, you seem to have missed the critical point that the landscapers were synced with BILLY SQUIER. "Lonely is the Night," the big drum intro, I think...

Seriously, though, I agree that randomness does not necessarily produce music, just like metronomic rhythm does not ensure musicality. That being said, J.S. Bach is said to have spattered staff paper with black paint, then drawn tails on the black spots so that they resembled sheet music. Then, he would play it. From reports, the resultant "music" was not only listenable, but often harmonious and inventive.

It seems that the most successful music combines expected ("traditional") aspects with unexpected ("random" or at least "unconventional") aspects.

9/24/2003 1:36:05 AM
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