Thursday, December 12, 2002

What is Music? Part II

This one’s not so much a continuation of my other thoughts so much as a different direction, a different way to look at the same question. It’s something that has been on my mind for a very long time, as a musician and a recordist.

What is music is a tough one to do. It’s a tricky definition.

See, I’ve heard many people say, “That rap stuff isn’t music at ALL!” My dad and I used to constantly argue over whether or not rock was music. I never was able to pin him down as to WHY rock got excluded, but I was never able to convince him otherwise, either.

Some claim that rap isn’t music because it’s got no melody. I disagree. I think rap has a very musical melody, but you just can’t notate it. Speech can be very musical, so rap can as well.

Normally, I hate it when writers refer back to the dictionary, and I hate it worse when speakers do it. It’s a sure thing that it’s gonna be dull. But this time, it really sets up what I’m thinking about.

There’s a whole bunch of different definitions in this dictionary, but there are two thoughts that I really liked:

One said, “The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.”

And the other said, “An aesthetically pleasing or harmonious sound or combination of sounds: the music of the wind in the pines.”

I really like the words “The art of arranging sounds in time.” I think that’s the best possible definition.

Music IS art, as any creative endeavor. And the palette is sound and the canvas is time.

What kinds of sounds qualify for the palette? Well, that’s where the debate starts. For some, that means beautiful choral voices and violins. For others that means pounding drums and crashing cymbals. For others that means shouting, and for others it means loud distorted guitars. What classifies as a “musical” sound changes over time.

There are many for whom the sounds around us, such as my keys clacking rhythmically as I type, can be music. This is musica concrete, the style of taking samples and recordings of “real world” sounds and arranging them in time as a musical work. The wind in the pines, as mentioned above

Or the tree falling in the woods…

I find the whole endeavor very exciting to explore. And while I don’t enjoy all of the results of everyone else’s explorations (as I’m sure they don’t all enjoy mine), I’ll grant them the benefit of still calling it music.

After all, in Psalm 66, it says to make “a joyful noise”. It doesn’t say anything about music…

Mark Hansen

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