Behind The Music Definition

Posted on February 3, 2012


Don’t read the next paragraph

My first idea for this post was to write about the science of music. I was hoping to discuss the physics of sound and its’ relation to everything else, like the idea that the same equations de model sound also appear in different areas of science, it was supposed to bring a holistic idea to the plot, but then I realized that it required to much work and research to make it easy to understand. Even though I plan on doing that sometime in the near future I decided it would be best to start with something more basic.

If you feel like some kind of rebel that doesn’t follow orders and read the last paragraph you should feel silly because the last paragraph contained no useful or interesting information, unless you care about the future of this blog, if that is the case tell me so I can know that I have a follower to my blog ;o. You can continue reading now. (oh… and you shouldn’t have read this paragraph either)

So I will start with something simple in theory but much harder to accomplish then one might think. That is, I am going to start with the definition of music. That sounds pretty dull and straight forward. One might think that music is what we know as music, namely western music, that is, an organized sequence of harmonious (or dischordious) sounds that are played with a specific rhythm, pitch and timbre. That of course is a very crude definition of western music, since it has evolved into very complex forms. More recent definitions might be a lot more general as those found in contemporary music and most avant-garde streams. When asking a modern musician what is music, one might hear him saying that it is any sound that you can enjoy or he could go even further and say that it could be any sound that can evoke specific emotions (we could extend it little bit more to include the silences found in music or even John Cage’s Silent Opus 4’33’’ where “the music” is composed totally by silence).

Music is popularly used in a hedonistic way. One could contrast that to the use that the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea use for music. They see music as a mean of communication with the dead. This may sound kind of somber to us but many other uses of music can be quite foreign to us. Music exist in many forms and not all music is meant for enjoyment, and I’m not saying that there is music meant for torture, even though certain genres might feel like it (old people normally think that modern music sounds like “noise”, while other people adept to “alternative” genres might be driven crazy by pop music, I personally dislike repetitive rhythms and music with no time signature what so ever).  There might not be music specifically made with the idea of torture in mind, but we seem to think that some kinds of music are meant to be listened when we are sad, which is kind of the self loathing process that most people “like” to experiment (that is what I like to call emotional masochism), the whole process is enhanced by the music. Don’t believe me? Just think a little about how much people used to like that one Radio head song, freak.

Different cultures of the world use music in ways we are not accustomed to see (and by “see” I mean hear/experience). We might be familiar with ceremonial music which we use in some occasions (like church hymns). The music is meant to create a certain mood, but we are not used to the idea that music can be seen only this way; there are cultures that see music as props for their ceremonies and as nothing else. Others see music and dance as an inseparable thing, the Igbo people of Nigeria uses the same word for music and dance. Here we can bring the idea that dance is the music of the body and at the same time say that music is the dance of sounds. That probably sounds silly. That is because it is silly, definitions of synergistic relations often tend to be self-referential. Ethnomusicologists have encountered that in the world music might be used to express emotion, to induce pleasure, validate rituals and institutions and to promote social stability. In some African cultures the “protest song” is used and tolerated as way to express political opinions that are not allowed to be expressed in normal speech o written. Another famous example of music we are not used to listen or don’t understand are the African Talking drums, which can be used to communicate specific messages, the musician might even make a joke and everyone would laugh, except you of course.

In conclusion music can’t really be defined in a formal way without leaving some kind of music out of the picture. However we can think of music as an auditory (vibrations for deaf people) stimulus that is capable of affecting our minds and feelings. That kind of includes your annoying neighbors who make noise all night as music. So it would be wiser to specify further as auditory stimulus made intentionally, your neighbor’s intent to annoy you doesn’t count. So one can think of it as organized sound(s) that are sequenced to evoke certain feelings or moods to the listener. And I don’t need to tell that the mood evoked is also dependant on the culture and experience of music of the listener, since like all arts the feeling conveyed are subjective.

If anyone finds that what I have stated here is a load of crap, please make a comment. I love hate-mail:) I shall print it and put it up on my wall with gold letters as trophies on the grand art of annoying people. But seriously, if you have any definition you would like to share please comment.

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