I am finally getting around to the topic of aesthetics, opinion, and in fact (partly) how I classify music and what I personally think constitutes music. Caveat: it would be worth tempering the following article with the phrase “in my opinion”, as I may indeed disagree with what I write in some time, however, as it stands this is largely what I believe and how I observe music; this is not a sermon, just a collection of my personal thoughts.
Firstly, music is such an abstract notion that even my fairly abstract title does little to address; in a post-modern era that is. We are confronted by so many situations in which disparate sounds, programmed and sampled sounds are considered music, that we should wonder “what is music?” How can one argue for, or against the validity of any source sound which has been so-called music, no matter how it was created? Well, in order that we keep a measure of our standard and maintain critical faculties we really must be able to make this distinction, but it is about as abstract as the music itself. It is not good enough to say that anything is music, in my opinion, as this totally disrespects those who diligently learn, practice, perform and improve their art form.
To take the sound of a pneumatic drill and to class that as music would be absurd, yet worse things have been done! At the base of it I do not disagree with the principle that anything can be classed as music as we also produce the fundamental vibrations which make sound on our own instruments. What I argue is that for music to be so, it must have intent behind it. Intent greater than that of being modern or post-modern, as this is a total fallacy and disharmonious to what I believe music to be. To simply be contrary for the sake of creating something must be the most base form of art, yet one must argue that someone may indeed enjoy this creation. It then begs the question “Does the experience of the listener (observer) change what is and what is not music?” I know my opinions may create seeming contradiction in my own arguments, but ultimately the listener does not alter the idiom or the composition by observation, therefore simply enjoying a sound does not make it music; it then prompts the repetition of the question “what is music?”
I am afraid that I cannot answer this question acceptably for all people, but I can surely define what I believe music to be, and I shall point out a few flaws in the subject/object argument. If the people sitting beside me would talk more quietly that is; there is nothing like the spoken word to jam the process of writing.
Firstly, to bring perspective and a personal element to this debate (between myself and… my computer?) it should be agreed that everyone is different, and to enjoy music or an organised collection of sounds is not to be looked down upon for any reason (unless it is country “music”… I jest!). Enjoying sound and music is little to do with philosophy, and so it seems pointless to write this small article, however, it has been pestering me and like that fly which keeps me awake at night, for my own sake, I will kill it. Or try to. So to speak.
Personally, anything which calls itself “music” but is written without any intent, consideration or care (like half of my undergraduate compositions) is certainly not what I consider music. There is no intent from the conception of the composition; there is no attempt to be anything, there is nothing besides notes spattered on the page. This is nothing. This is not music. This could be heard to be music by anyone besides myself, and it invokes the subject/object clash, and however little I think of this composition, others may consider it music; maybe due to the fact that it is performed on instruments, maybe just due to an urge, or a lack of knowledge, but it is certainly not music. At the most it is an attempt to cover a decent, clean page with nonsense. Any time I think I hear this form of “music” I am instantly suspicious of the intent behind it. You sometimes can hear this in performers. You can sometimes hear when a performer is playing for the cheque. You can sometimes see when a teacher is clocking through for pay day. You can sometimes hear when a composer is writing nonsense, some of my thoughts on the reasons for this in a following article. Granted your opinion is not fool proof (hence my prostitution of the word “sometimes”), but you have nothing else to go on usually, which is a good reason to constantly improve our critical faculties.
During my degree course we were taught that music isn’t about emotion, that emotion was a very small subset of what music was; it was an assault of post-modern ideology and fallacy. Granted we did learn valuable things, but that is not for discussion right now. If music affected nothing in our lives, what separates it from an angle grinder, besides sheer volume (sometimes)?
What can be affected by music?
Music is powerful, in my experience. Music can alter mood and emotion so powerfully, it can paint pictures, accompany scenes of opera, it can be wonderful! In my position I cannot fathom how someone would contrive to compose music which was not this! What else is there to be manipulated by music? Bowel movements? The notion that music has nothing to do with emotion and should be treated almost clinically is about the most offensive ideal that I can imagine concerning this subject, yet there are so many instances of this happening. It disgusts me! Besides the corporate side of music, which is inevitable, why have people decided to create nothingness for the sake of it? Is it a general lack of skill, a nationwide dumbing-down of the average “musician or composer”? It is this stage which I really get stuck at. I cannot see why people would do this to such a beautiful art form, but I also cannot understand the hatred and evil people hold for each other; the general willingness to do ill. Moving back from the precipice of comparing genuine evil to that of composers and musicians who don’t share my ideals; this is clearly not what I think, but a harsh comparison to hopefully illicit some response. I am going to write about why I think people compose and play nothingness, so without giving up the ghost I will say that we all have our separate motivations to do what we do, all I ask is that you think about what these are, and why they exist.
For those who are wondering how this is going to end, I am not going to compare intent VS. Post-modern accident music by referring to the title; we aren’t school children! No, I am going to inform you that my cat, Lily, is offering piano lessons at a competitive rate. Let me know.