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Thread: Towards a definition of music

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    Default Towards a definition of music

    A few years ago, a friend an I embarked on a journey towards a clear, concise, and complete way to define the term Music. We made excellent progress but abandoned the idea for a few years. I recently revisited that old forum to see the continued discussion and found no real progress from the users since my abandonment on the search. I did, however, recently update the most accurate definition we could come up, and you can find that definition on my blog.

    http://icecreamfruit.livejournal.com/313196.html

    I am curious to see how everyone here would define music. Keep in mind we are looking for a complete way to define music that is inclusive to any piece of music but does differentiate music from "noise" or other generic sound. I'm sure I will post my definition sooner or later for criticism, but for now, I'm more interested in hearing ideas from everyone else and perhaps playing devil's advocate.

    What does everyone think?

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    I would simply define music as this.

    Sound manipulated to provoke emotion or thought.

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    Senior Member Hexameron's Avatar
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    I wish someone would tell that to John Cage. Everytime some moron elitist pianist thinks he's poetic to play the 4'33 composition, I want to strangle someone.

    It just goes to show that even the "classical music" genre was stagnating before the really awful pop stuff came along. And now the art of music is dead... perhaps forever. Will there be one as great as Beethoven in the year 4030? Another Mozart? Maybe even a lyrical composer like Chopin? A genius like Wagner? Not if the current direction of music stays its course.

    I read your thorough journal and found it agreeable, but I like ezydriver's simple definition as well. I also think the key word, as controversial as it is to some of the modern composers, is emotion. If music was played to a plant, a rock, or the clouds... what happens?

    If you play Mozart's Requiem to a stone, nothing happens.

    If you play Beethoven's Eroica to a human being, there will be emotion or thought. So ezydriver is right with that simple definition.

    It's strange, though, when nature is considered. Birdcalls, animal howls, insect chirps, even rumbling clouds... all have a key, and beyond that, rhythm. Beethoven used nature in his 6th symphony, so nature is perfectly capable of producing music, but it's only emotion that can perceive it. I won't say humans are the only one who can be emotionally affected. I've played piano to my dog and he howls; whether it's causing pain or pleasure, it's still perceived.

    But just like Math, Gravity, Time, and many other enigmatic laws of the universe, I don't think we can ever understand what music is and how to define it. Although some of the greats have said some very convincing things about it. I already have a list of questions for my maker, and "what is music" is on the top of that list... next is actually a request to meet Beethoven... I gotta believe he's still composing in some distant realm.
    Last edited by Hexameron; Oct-08-2006 at 04:08.

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    Well hexameron, he is still decomposing, alas.

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    Senior Member Celloman's Avatar
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    Organized sound.

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    Senior Member Oneiros's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hexameron
    Everytime some moron elitist pianist thinks he's poetic to play the 4'33 composition, I want to strangle someone.
    Thank the heavens that I am not alone in such sentiments!

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    Default Playing Devil's Advocate

    Quote Originally Posted by ezydriver View Post
    I would simply define music as this.

    Sound manipulated to provoke emotion or thought.
    so anybody who says Cage's 4'33" is music is simply wrong? There is no room for ambiguity? Also, are moments of implied silence not part of music? I suppose you could argue that you are manipulating sound to not exist, but in actuality I believe implied silence is nothing more than a lack of manipulation of sound for effect. If this is true, there is a discrepancy with this abridged shorter definition.

    What about elevator music? That doesn't necessarily provoke emotion or thought, it creates an atmosphere. Is it not music? What about music that is functional, ornamentive in nature - is it not music?

    What if sound fails to provoke emotion or thought? Is it not music? If my younger brother falls asleep during the Brahms double concerto, does that make it not music because it failed to provoke emotion or thought? What does it say if it produces a different emotion or thought than intended? Is it any less musical? Is it not music? Are etudes music?

    Sometimes I will hear Nessum Dorma and I will bask in the brilliance of the music and I will be musically uplifted. Sometimes it makes me very sad and nostalgic, quite the opposite from the energetic and complete feeling that I sometimes get. Does that change the nature of the music? Who decides that it's provoked? Does a composer simply have to have the intention to provoke for it to be music? Does the listener decide?

    Does a composer not hear music in his mind? Technically, sound exists as vibrations that are then interpreted as sound. Basically you're saying the music is the actual waves, not the interpretation. So in essence, sound has to be present, so in turn we cannot internalize music?

    Sorry to play devil's advocate, but sometimes it's about the discussion, not the answer.

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    Senior Member Hexameron's Avatar
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    Whoa utmusic... that's a lot of questions. But I'll try and answer them as best I can. Bear in mind this is my opinion and I'm on a course of musical education in college myself, so I can only answer as a thinking person, not as a learned one.
    so anybody who says Cage's 4'33" is music is simply wrong?
    Yes
    There is no room for ambiguity?
    Not when there is no music at all. Paintings, staples, baseball hats, and someone sitting at a piano bench doing nothing are not music.
    Also, are moments of implied silence not part of music?
    Silence is obviously an integral part of music, and yes, the silence itself when spaced between two notes is contributing to the music, but 4 minutes of no sound doesn't establish itself as music. If on the 34th second of those 4 minutes, Cage had the pianist hit one A note, then I think it would be music.
    I suppose you could argue that you are manipulating sound to not exist, but in actuality I believe implied silence is nothing more than a lack of manipulation of sound for effect.
    In the case of John Cage's composition, I would say it's a "lack of ideas." If John Cage put his 4'33 back in the salons of Paris in 1840, I think his complete idiocy and inferiority would be apparent when Liszt actually plays music, like an operatic fantasy and then improvises, or Kalkbrenner storms up the piano with his octaves. Those composers actually had full, rich, potential and aural ideas for music, where Mr. Cage does not.
    What about elevator music? That doesn't necessarily provoke emotion or thought, it creates an atmosphere. Is it not music?
    I've never heard elevator music actually
    What if sound fails to provoke emotion or thought? Is it not music? If my younger brother falls asleep during the Brahms double concerto, does that make it not music because it failed to provoke emotion or thought?
    No, because your brother wasn't listening. I mean, when you truly listen, you can't help but think. Some people listen to Beethoven and find it boring. Some people listen to Eminem and think the same thing. The music is still provoking thought: a thought that this is boring Both Beethoven and Eminem are music and it's not the music's fault if someone isn't listening to it. You can hear music all day and yet not really listen. I've played Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in my office while I was doing things and being busy... I heard the first opening chorus but started working on something and blacked out the music. Before I knew it, the CD stopped and I didn't even remember it was on. That's because I wasn't *listening* which I think all music requires. Without the capability to listen, then we aren't qualified to define music. Which is what I was pointing out earlier that rocks can't be affected by music because they can't listen.
    Are etudes music?
    Oh definitely. Chopin, Liszt, Henselt, Alkan, Saint-Saens, Moscheles, Hummel, Rubinstein, and Rachmaninoff are all champions of highly musical etudes. Etudes are just as much music as symphonies, operas, or piano sonatas.
    Sometimes I will hear Nessum Dorma and I will bask in the brilliance of the music and I will be musically uplifted. Sometimes it makes me very sad and nostalgic, quite the opposite from the energetic and complete feeling that I sometimes get. Does that change the nature of the music? Who decides that it's provoked? Does a composer simply have to have the intention to provoke for it to be music? Does the listener decide?
    Those are tough to answer. I was listening to the last movement of Beethoven's Op. 110 and realized how impossible it is for me not to feel sad when listening to that lamenting theme, or feel hope when the fugal material rises to a heavenly climax. How do we explain what makes music sad, happy, heroic, or exciting? That's way too over my head. And yet there is a solid answer somewhere because music can be strictly sad or abundantly happy. Beethoven's adagio sostenuto from the Hammerklavier, for instance, evokes only pain, sorrow, and a weak and hopeless hope. Mozart's Turkish March, though... is incapable of making me sad. Why is that? I just don't know.
    Does a composer not hear music in his mind? Technically, sound exists as vibrations that are then interpreted as sound. Basically you're saying the music is the actual waves, not the interpretation. So in essence, sound has to be present, so in turn we cannot internalize music?
    You're right, composers and really anybody can have memories of music, create musical notes in their head, and play music in their head. But music in the head is just not possible without memory of real sound. In essence, I think the vibrations and waves of aural music must be known to a person before they can internalize it. If someone is born deaf... there is just no chance that they can know music. The same applies to sight with someone born blind. What do blind people see in their dreams? Nothing but swirling blackness mixed with sensations of moving around and hearing noises. The brain has to experience aural music to memorize or create it.

    I'm with you in your skepticism, curiousity and yearning to know all the nuances about the phenomena of music. But I think our simple academic definitions are all we're going to be able to content ourselves with for now. Just like the meaning of life and the reason for dreams, I think music is one of those things we will never be able to analyze scientifically or even logically.

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    Junior Member Mahler Maniac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by utmusic View Post
    A few years ago, a friend an I embarked on a journey towards a clear, concise, and complete way to define the term Music. We made excellent progress but abandoned the idea for a few years. I recently revisited that old forum to see the continued discussion and found no real progress from the users since my abandonment on the search. I did, however, recently update the most accurate definition we could come up, and you can find that definition on my blog.

    http://icecreamfruit.livejournal.com/313196.html

    I am curious to see how everyone here would define music. Keep in mind we are looking for a complete way to define music that is inclusive to any piece of music but does differentiate music from "noise" or other generic sound. I'm sure I will post my definition sooner or later for criticism, but for now, I'm more interested in hearing ideas from everyone else and perhaps playing devil's advocate.

    What does everyone think?
    This sounds like it would be a great Documentary....quizing a variety of musicians and other artists about the definition of music....Hmmmm....maybe on to something.....

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    What about elevator music? That doesn't necessarily provoke emotion or thought, it creates an atmosphere.
    For me it provokes a thought.

    "This is crap, get me out of here."

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    But 4'33" isn't necessarily about silence. Silence doesn't exist. It's implied silence. And it's the sounds of the audience. Like it or not, sounds (and implied silence) are occuring that COULD be interpreted as music. It's aleatoric music at its extreme. If you say 4'33" cannot be music because of the arrangement of implied silence to create atmospheric sound, then there is a lot of 20th century music that cannot be music because it employs a traditional musical instrument to do the same thing.

    And lots of music doesn't mean a lot of ideas. His idea was to challenge human perception by presenting a "work". It's really an amazing idea. The medium he used to employ was something of performance art, but it doesn't mean he had a lack of an idea. It was just dramatically different in comparison to that of Lizst or Mahler or Bach because they had different agendas with music.

    My brother doesn't have an attention span for orchestral music. I know he tries, but he just doesn't really understand or appreciate the process. He perceives it as music, of course, but not as music that he identifies with or moves him emotionally. I believe you can really try to listen to music and not be moved by it.

    Is Hanon music? Is a whole note scale music? You listed a lot of etudes that are performed on a somewhat frequent basis. Bring it down a notch, or several. At what point does it drop off of being music? I argue that it varies from individual to individual. But why does it vary? I argue it's because of a set of learned, culturual, and intuitive standards we develop as we age. Music to a 12 year old is interpreted much differently than that of a 40 year old professional musician. Music is defined substantially differently now than it was 300 years ago. And of course, there are elements which exist in all music and transcend. This is the basis for my academic, cultural, and archetypal standards section of my definition.

    There's no doubt about it that music can evoke emotion. The question at hand was is it necessary to invoke emotion to be music. My argument is that it is not emotion that we define music by, but smaller, wholistic concepts. Social standards, archetypal standards, and academic standards. I think emotion is a standard that some people might judge by, but I don't necessarily think evoked emotion is universal, and therefore can't be used in defining music.

    And yes, I agree, that if you are born with no concept of sound and cannot interpret sound, you cannot hear music. However, sound is defined by vibrations that are interpreted as sound. Implied sound is simply an internal mimicking of the interpetation of vibrations. I think my point was that music is not defined by sound, because music can be defined by implied sound as well.

    With that being said, I agree that there will always be ambiguity. But we should strive for as accurate of a definition as possible. It's human nature to be in conflict (that's another discussion!), but I don't feel "organized sound" or "sound that evokes emotion" capture the essense of music, who defines it, or why it's music and not sound.

    Now, a definition is correct until it is proven otherwise. "Music is organized sound" is correct until you can cite an example that does not line up within those parameters, which I can. "Music is sound that evokes emotion" would be correct, except there are examples that do not define themselves by evoked emotion. I suppose that's really my biggest thoughts. I want an example of music to contradict my argument. Music as organized sound, music that evokes emotion are well defined within the definition I've come up with, and now I'm looking for examples of music that does not fit within these paramters, so I can address and further work towards an (unreachable possibly, but that's part of the fun) ultimate goal.

    Music is authentic or implied sound/silence that is interpreted by a listener as purposefully organized based on cultural, academic, and archetypal standards.

    Comments, thoughts?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hexameron View Post
    Whoa utmusic... that's a lot of questions. But I'll try and answer them as best I can. Bear in mind this is my opinion and I'm on a course of musical education in college myself, so I can only answer as a thinking person, not as a learned one.

    Yes

    Not when there is no music at all. Paintings, staples, baseball hats, and someone sitting at a piano bench doing nothing are not music.

    Silence is obviously an integral part of music, and yes, the silence itself when spaced between two notes is contributing to the music, but 4 minutes of no sound doesn't establish itself as music. If on the 34th second of those 4 minutes, Cage had the pianist hit one A note, then I think it would be music.

    In the case of John Cage's composition, I would say it's a "lack of ideas." If John Cage put his 4'33 back in the salons of Paris in 1840, I think his complete idiocy and inferiority would be apparent when Liszt actually plays music, like an operatic fantasy and then improvises, or Kalkbrenner storms up the piano with his octaves. Those composers actually had full, rich, potential and aural ideas for music, where Mr. Cage does not.

    I've never heard elevator music actually

    No, because your brother wasn't listening. I mean, when you truly listen, you can't help but think. Some people listen to Beethoven and find it boring. Some people listen to Eminem and think the same thing. The music is still provoking thought: a thought that this is boring Both Beethoven and Eminem are music and it's not the music's fault if someone isn't listening to it. You can hear music all day and yet not really listen. I've played Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in my office while I was doing things and being busy... I heard the first opening chorus but started working on something and blacked out the music. Before I knew it, the CD stopped and I didn't even remember it was on. That's because I wasn't *listening* which I think all music requires. Without the capability to listen, then we aren't qualified to define music. Which is what I was pointing out earlier that rocks can't be affected by music because they can't listen.

    Oh definitely. Chopin, Liszt, Henselt, Alkan, Saint-Saens, Moscheles, Hummel, Rubinstein, and Rachmaninoff are all champions of highly musical etudes. Etudes are just as much music as symphonies, operas, or piano sonatas.

    Those are tough to answer. I was listening to the last movement of Beethoven's Op. 110 and realized how impossible it is for me not to feel sad when listening to that lamenting theme, or feel hope when the fugal material rises to a heavenly climax. How do we explain what makes music sad, happy, heroic, or exciting? That's way too over my head. And yet there is a solid answer somewhere because music can be strictly sad or abundantly happy. Beethoven's adagio sostenuto from the Hammerklavier, for instance, evokes only pain, sorrow, and a weak and hopeless hope. Mozart's Turkish March, though... is incapable of making me sad. Why is that? I just don't know.

    You're right, composers and really anybody can have memories of music, create musical notes in their head, and play music in their head. But music in the head is just not possible without memory of real sound. In essence, I think the vibrations and waves of aural music must be known to a person before they can internalize it. If someone is born deaf... there is just no chance that they can know music. The same applies to sight with someone born blind. What do blind people see in their dreams? Nothing but swirling blackness mixed with sensations of moving around and hearing noises. The brain has to experience aural music to memorize or create it.

    I'm with you in your skepticism, curiousity and yearning to know all the nuances about the phenomena of music. But I think our simple academic definitions are all we're going to be able to content ourselves with for now. Just like the meaning of life and the reason for dreams, I think music is one of those things we will never be able to analyze scientifically or even logically.

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    Senior Member rojo's Avatar
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    Maybe music can, or should have more than one definition...although I think yours does seem to cover all the bases, utmusic. Very interesting discussion. I tend to feel as Hexameron (and ezydriver?) do; the element of emotion, for me personally, is the most important thing. But as you have explained, I don`t think one can put that into the 'definitive' definition. Unfortunately. But can I keep it in my definition?
    omnia vincit amor - Virgil

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    Quote Originally Posted by ezydriver View Post
    I would simply define music as this.

    Sound manipulated to provoke emotion or thought.
    Quote Originally Posted by Celloman View Post
    Organized sound.
    This does not differ enough from "Language".

    I know that one should never use the term itself within a definition, but with music it is very difficult... so how about:

    Sounds organized in such a way that they are perceived by the listener as "music".

    I know, this is weak and by no means definitive. Please chalk it up to brainstorming.

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    Senior Member linz's Avatar
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    Music?

    Sound Psychology?

    Auditory attempt at emotional or intellectual intrigue?

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