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 Definition of Music
Author: Roxann 
Date:   2019-03-03 08:49

I just returned home after attending a university senior's composition recital AND a clarinet doctoral candidate's recital. I went into the two with my own idea of what "music" is and left wondering exactly WHAT it is! I asked one of the senior university students on the way out what his definition of music was and he replied, "Performance." I heard music by Mandat, Christopher Mitchell (amplified clarinet), and Anders Hillborg (written for Martin Frost) as well as music written for a trombone and flute and one written for euphonium and piano. Most of it was quite unlike anything I've heard before. With some of the pieces, my ears never did detect a sort of "melody," which didn't sit well with me. With the Mandat piece, anything and everything a clarinet(ist) could possibly do were included. Some of the pieces I thoroughly enjoyed and some couldn't have come to a finish soon enough.
I left wondering, "What IS the definition of MUSIC, anyway?" Is it similar to "Art is in the eye of the beholder?"
If nothing else, the evening sure got me to thinking!
P.S. The clarinet playing by Jeremy Ruth (Arizona State) was out of this world!
So...Just what is YOUR definition of MUSIC?

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2019-03-03 13:00

A lot of contemporary classical music (maybe not as much today as 30 years ago though) has emphasized aleatoric elements to challenge our concept of steady rhythms and repetitious melodic ideas.


I recall (to keep this clarinety) Leon Russianoff used to say all music is either a song or a dance, and thus should be played that way.


"Performance" is too "millennial" for me. I would say it is whatever sounds you choose for sitting down to relax, unwind or contemplate, or for getting up and moving.


Right now I'm listening to a 2009 remix of "The White Album" to evaluate headphones for the purpose of mixing. And that's another use for "sound" or if you prefer, music.




................Paul Aviles



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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Philip Caron 
Date:   2019-03-03 19:12

Definitions are hard; even the definition of definition is tricky. Instead, here's a description.

Music is a three-stage thing:

First, a more or less vague or precise group of ideas in the mind of a composer, then,

A vague to precise interpretation of what is wanted, which appears in the mind(s) of one or more performers (unless it's mechanism performed, and in a way, even then), and finally,

A more or less vague bunch of impressions of what was heard in the minds and memories of listeners.

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: brycon 
Date:   2019-03-03 21:03

Quote:

"What IS the definition of MUSIC, anyway?" Is it similar to "Art is in the eye of the beholder?"


This question seems to be asked more in the discipline of literature than in music (though with music, it's often asked by way of music itself--think John Cage).

With literature, there seems to be a clear difference between literary writing, such as a poem, and non-literary writing, like a grocery list. But music doesn't provide a clear analogy (Bernstein, however, tries to make one with pieces of music versus technical exercises). And to complicate things, over time, non-literary pieces of writing like ancient almanacs have become accepted as pieces of literature. In a circular kind of argument, then, literature and music are whatever people who "do" literature and music say they are.

For a more grounded approach, what literary theorists like Terry Eagleton promote--and what I think works well for thinking about music vs non-music--is Wittgenstein's family resemblance argument. In short, if you showed up at a family reunion, there would be no single trait you could point to that would be possessed by every single member. Many, but not all, for instance, might have brown eyes, big feet, bad eye sight, or stinky body odor. But out of those four traits, every member might possess one or more, resulting in "a complicated network of similarities overlapping and crisscrossing."

As soon as you attempt to bound music by a single trait--say, composed, notated, expressive, etc.--I can point to something that falls outside that trait. But perhaps there is a group of traits from which every piece of music obtains of at least one.

Quote:

Music is a three-stage thing:

First, a more or less vague or precise group of ideas in the mind of a composer, then,

A vague to precise interpretation of what is wanted, which appears in the mind(s) of one or more performers (unless it's mechanism performed, and in a way, even then), and finally,

A more or less vague bunch of impressions of what was heard in the minds and memories of listeners.


These three-stages are more the semiotics of music, that is, they're a description of how "meaning" arises. Jean-Jaques Nattiez's book Music and Discourse fully explores these stages.



Post Edited (2019-03-03 21:23)

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2019-03-04 06:44

That's an easy question for me. I learned in university that music is simply organized sound. Good examples of this occurred in the Electronic Music course I took. "Dripsody"--various types of recordings of a dripping faucet pieced together.
A more "practical" definition for ME would be organized pitches in a piece that I enjoy. But, that is so subjective....When I was 22 and working as a security guard as a college job, being the Music Major, I was asked to mediate an ongoing discussion between fellow guards Barry (20) and Willie (46). One a fan of Chicago, the other of the Big Band era. I told them--well it's both music, based on the same diatonic scales we are all used to since equal temperament began with the well tempered clavier of Bach's time, centuries ago. They didn't like that.
We've long passed the time where we could for all intents compose anything we want, given the computer age. Think that happened around 1972.
What PLEASES me is obviously clarinet music, orchestral, band and jazz to a degree (I play "at" jazz). With pop music I liked most of the stuff of the 1980s, and of course DISCO (only thing I could dance to).
What I can't stand is Hip Hop and Rap. I need stuff that has actual nicely pitched notes and a nice melody as well as more then ONE chord (or even 2) throughout.
I'm not crazy about most other pop music past maybe 1987, but some of it does fit MY loose definition of music.

The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--Austin Macauley Publishers
tomheimer.ampbk.com/
austinmacauley.com/author/heimer-tom (PDF samples here)


Post Edited (2019-03-04 06:48)

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Roxann 
Date:   2019-03-04 07:15

'I need stuff that has actual nicely pitched notes and a nice melody as well as more then ONE chord (or even 2) throughout." I think that's what I was listening for at particularly the clarinet concert...and just couldn't find it! It left me feeling quite disoriented.

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2019-03-04 09:43

I go with the definition that my 80 years old acoustics teacher used back at school (roughly translating): "Sound organized in space". "Space" means "time" in this case.
I guess the question is what does "organized" mean... and maybe more accurate to say "with intent"... sort of. Music an happen "by accident".

>> I need stuff that has actual nicely pitched notes and a nice melody as well as more then ONE chord (or even 2) throughout. <<

Any person's needs is something very different than the definition of music. Anyone can define what music they like if they want.

Another separate thing to the definition of music or whether anyone likes any types of music, is whether it's good or not. You might think some music is very good but don't like it and vise versa.
I would define good music as having an inner logic of its own world (could be different between different types of music).
Some music actually doesn't really have it, but is still good in the sense that you can hear it is "research"... looking for that inner logic.

Melody, harmony/chords, pitch, are just some of the "tools" used to create certain types of music.



Post Edited (2019-03-04 09:44)

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-03-04 10:57

Tom H- there is a difference between "well-tempered" and equal temperament. You can read an interesting survey of various theories about the tuning here: https://www.recercat.cat/bitstream/handle/2072/179649/Treball%20de%20recerca.pdf?sequence=1

Back to the OT, how about the idea that music be defined by the listener? If I listen with intent to the rhythmic sequence of my floorboards creaking, then that has become music to me. One the other hand, a composed work by Brian Ferneyhough may not be comprehensible as music to many people.

Personally I like looking at it this way because then I don't have to accept everything as music just because a "composer" says it is :-)

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: clarinetwife 
Date:   2019-03-05 07:17

It has been a long time since I posted here! Liquorice has isolated the real challenge here, sorting out intent of the artist/composer/one who creates from the experience of the listener.


>Personally I like looking at it this way because then I don't have to accept everything as music just because a "composer" says it is :-) < (Licquorice)

This works really well for "music I like" versus "sounds I don't like or that aren't accessible to me". This also can work for "This is good music, but that isn't particularly good music". But, the question still remains, is there a point where it actually *isn't* music? I think that's where Roxann is headed, and I can't really articulate an answer! I do think the answer probably does involve the listener,



Post Edited (2019-03-05 07:18)

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: clarinetwife 
Date:   2019-03-05 08:45

One question implied in Roxann's post is whether accessibility to or engagement with the listener is part of the definition of music. I would actually say no, that is a different dimension. I can't really make my way through the language of James Joyce and frankly am not really motivated to work that hard. That doesn't mean his writing isn't literature.

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-03-05 10:43

What I am proposing is that what defines music can change for each person and each context. What is music to me may not be music to you.

A car driving past my mother's funeral blaring very loud music by Metallica is noise. But if I'm at a live Metallica concert head-banging with the rest of them, then it's music.

It's the same with food. There are many things that you COULD eat but don't. Other people in other cultures may even eat some of these things. So just because someone serves it on a plate doesn't mean it's food to me.

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Luuk 2017
Date:   2019-03-05 12:55

Regarding the inclusion of 'sound' in the definition of music: please note that there are special 'concerts' for deaf people. Heavy bass and percussion amplified at high levels can be felt physically, as we all know. Totally deaf people can dance on those occasions.
The audience does not hear anything, but they nevertheless call the experience 'music'. The sense of sound is not involved.

I tend to define music as 'vibrations creating emotions'. In the traditional sense a 'producer' (composer/creator/performer, further called 'composer') is involved, and an audience. Please note that music is also possible when only one person is involved: the role of composer and listener may be combined. Also aleatoric sounds, or sounds from nature (bird songs) may create emotions in listeners (no composer involved).

In the traditional setting the feelings and emotions felt by the audience are those intended by the composer. This is a form of communication, and thus a social or cultural construct. For this to work there needs to be some common ground. If composer and audience share the same culture this may work very well. But if the only thing they have in common is that they are both human, than the emotions created may not be what the composer intended.

Anger or confusion are feelings that may be intended by the composer, but may also arise from a lack of common ground between composer and listener.

Not all listeners are the same. There is no need to appreciate all 'vibrations' a composer may come up with. The question is if a composition creates the intended emotions only in a few (or no) people, has this composition then failed? Or has it not found the 'right' audience yet?

Regards,

Luuk
Philips Symphonic Band
The Netherlands

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Philip Caron 
Date:   2019-03-05 18:52

I like that, "vibrations creating emotions". It sort of focuses on the process, and not so much on roles or context or content. Thanks Luuk.

I remember attending Carnival in St. Thomas one year, and there was an outdoor concert in a huge parking lot. The speaker system was immense beyond any reason. I had earplugs folded double and jammed into my ears, and stood way back, and it was still too loud. And yes, my flesh jiggled to the beat. Audience members conversed by screaming directly into each other's ears. I **think** it was music, but who's intentions were served is a question.

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Roxann 
Date:   2019-03-05 19:52

"Vibrations creating emotions" is perfect. If the composer of the pieces I listened to at the concert mentioned above intended for me to leave questioning "What the heck IS music?" s/he succeeded beautifully!
The emotions I felt upon leaving the concert were disturbing. This evening, I will be able to talk with some of the music majors that attended the concert and find out their reactions. I'm very curious to hear how different people responded.

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: brycon 
Date:   2019-03-05 21:15

Quote:

I like that, "vibrations creating emotions". It sort of focuses on the process, and not so much on roles or context or content.


But notions of what is and isn't art are always contextual--again, they're more or less agreed on by the people who participate in the process (artists, critics, readers, listeners, etc.). A train whistle, for instance, is noise. When it's spliced together with other sounds produced by trains and then played in a museum or concert hall, however, it becomes a piece of music (Pierre Schaeffer's Etude aux chemins de fer).

I don't think this process of train noise becoming music says much of anything about a composer's intentions. Rather it says something about the way we listen to sounds in particular spaces. That is, because a concert hall or museum is a place where art is made and interpreted, we listen in a different way, looking for things like organization, expression, etc. when we hear the train sounds in these new contexts. The problem with abstract definitions of music (e.g. "sound producing emotions") is that they also abstract the artform, make it a thing (what philosophers call reification). Art, however, cannot be abstracted or severed from its time, place, politics, and so forth. It makes for a far messier definition of art, but so be it.

And again, when you try to bind art to a single trait, exceptions immediately arise. My cat meowing for its food, for example, is a sound vibration (with a distinct pitch no less) created with intention (the cat is hungry) and creating an emotion (annoyance) in me. But it ain't music.



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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: clarinetwife 
Date:   2019-03-06 07:34

brycon wrote:


> But notions of what is and isn't art are always
> contextual--again, they're more or less agreed on by the people
> who participate in the process (artists, critics, readers,
> listeners, etc.).

This thought got me thinking about --- aliens. Now bear with me, it isn't completely off topic. If we encounter aliens and their music, there is a good chance we won't experience it as music. In fact, depending on the sensory capabilities and experiences of the aliens, their music could be either undetectable or painful for us. Our experiences with their music will not be shaped by whatever cultural understanding they have about what music is or isn't, but by the realities of our own cultures and bodies.

I have a son who is a rapper and a pretty amazing poet, really. My journey through adolescence with him involved a micro version of what I describe above with me being white and classically trained and him being an African American youth exploring who he is through music. It ended up being one of the pivotal experiences of parenting for me, something I have learned from and through him.



Post Edited (2019-03-06 07:35)

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: clarnibass 
Date:   2019-03-06 09:12

>> Regarding the inclusion of 'sound' in the definition of music: please note that there are special 'concerts' for deaf people. <<

Since I included sound... sure. There are also frequencies beyond some or all humans' hearing. The example you describe of the concert for death people exactly matches the definition of "sound organized in space".

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Luuk 2017
Date:   2019-03-06 18:02

So, an important question appears to be whether the presence of a human intention is a necessary condition for something to be called music. When music is limited to the domain of art, which seems plausible, I tend to agree. Also, thinking about the argument of the meowing cat, more seems necessary because I would like to exclude the crying baby from the domain too, and also normal spoken language. It appears to me now that my definition of music, given above, is not complete and something more is necessary, but I have to think more about this to point is out.

Regarding the possibility of alien music. According to Pinker (1997) music is an emergent phenomenon, appearing because of other (biological) phenomena important for the evolutionary succes of mankind. Language is seen as important for social structures, so it is evolutionary advantageous. Language involves rhythm and melody, and music would be an unnecessary by-product of those cognitive skills. However, this reasoning can be reversed so that language is the result of feeling for rhythm and melody. Anyway: music seems to have biological and evolutionary roots.

Experts (I'm certainly not one) still struggle with this matter. However, it seems clear that some characteristics typical for humans and thus the result of more than 4 billion years of evolution are necessary for music to exist. Why would aliens have evolved the same characteristics?

Reference (only available in Dutch, I'm afraid): https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/243611

Regards,

Luuk
Philips Symphonic Band
The Netherlands

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: EaubeauHorn 
Date:   2019-03-06 19:58

I just had a short conversation with a new friend about this. Neither of us is young any more. I said to me, the sounds may be "interesting" but they are not "music" unless they stir the soul. He said, "You are preaching to the choir."

We have to remember that culture changes as new generations come along; I believe the first performance of the Tchaikowski violin concerto produced a riot, and a few things since then. But I like a lot of what produced riots in the past and do consider them music to MY ears. So....it's what is music to your ears that is the definition. I don't like a lot of the ultra modern things I hear and have stopped going to many recitals because I know I won't hear anything I enjoy. It doesn't have to be war horses either, just my definition of musical. Much is still being written that IS musical, but the cultural focus seems to be on "what is the hardest and weirdest thing I can play that will allow me to compete with my contemporaries."

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: shmuelyosef 
Date:   2019-03-08 03:58

A pair of clarinet joints cleaned up (i.e. most of the hardware removed) and sawn to the appropriate length make a very resonant and convincing clave sound. Is this also clarinet music. (yes...I've done this)

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Fuzzy 
Date:   2019-03-08 04:36

I'm reading through a short book by Jim Thornton, and in it, ran across an interesting (and concise) statement which could double as a definition for the word "music":

"...purposeful combinations of pitches and rhythms..."

Fuzzy

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Morrigan 
Date:   2019-03-08 19:16

To me it’s very simple. Music is sound organised in time.

_______________________________________________
Principal Clarinet, Central Band of the Royal Air Force, London
Masters Student, Royal College of Music, London
https://soundcloud.com/tieraci

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: brycon 
Date:   2019-03-08 20:23

Quote:

To me it’s very simple. Music is sound organised in time.


By your definition, then, speech, subway horns, even my dad's after-dinner flatulence are all music. (But James Joyce, at the end of the Sirens episode of Ulysses, has the the main character's after-dinner flatulence stand in for a fugal tonic pedal, so maybe it isn't so far off... :)).

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 Re: Definition of Music
Author: Mark Charette 2017
Date:   2019-03-08 20:36

Morrigan wrote:

> To me it’s very simple. Music is sound organised in time.
>

So, some of these compositions might not be music in your definition since many parts are not strictly organised in time:

https://www.newsounds.org/story/4077-musical-works-based-found-sound/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPU3NefyktQ

I'm not saying you're right or wrong, either. It's just that the definition of music seems to be incredibly flexible ...

https://www.m-magazine.co.uk/features/found-sound-noise-art/

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