But… Is It Music?

Interesting, but… is it music? I often get reactions like this to my work.

What can I say? I generally reply that if it is made on purpose from sounds (including silence) by somebody with the intention to make music, then I call it music – whether I like it or not has nothing to do with it.

See, many people seem to say things like this is not music when they really mean I don’t like it. If they had said I don’t call this “music” or I don’t hear it as music, then I couldn’t argue.

Wikipedia has a substantial article about the definition of music (the page will open in a new window) with many links to articles on related issues – well worth reading, in my opinion, but way too much to analyze in any great detail here. Edgar Varèse’s simple description sums it all up for me: He looks at music as “organized sound”. It seems pretty much in line with my own feelings about it, if “organized” implies deliberation and intent… and as I think about it: doesn’t “organized” in this context mean pretty much the same as “composed”?

Here is my favourite example of “music” as opposed to “not music”, and it is the most extreme case I can think of: Say, You are listening to the birds singing. By almost anybody’s standards, that’s a very musical sound, yet, I wouldn’t call it music. It has not been deliberately organized, or composed, with the intent of making music. Now, you activate your field recorder, record a minute or two of it, play it back to me and say that this is some music you just made. I’d have no problem with that.

What the “bird song” actually means, now… that is a different story all together. I imagine that if I could understand it, I’d be hearing things like “one step closer to my nest, and I’ll peck out your eyes” …  ;)

Anyway, I rest my case for now – but but I shall have a lot more to say on this highly controversial topic.
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4 Responses to But… Is It Music?

  1. Paul McDonald says:

    My direct experience of this is one where Gunther had collected a number of sounds made from my car, a 1991 Mercedes 190 E. Sounds like the engine starting, doors closing, horn sounding and possibly a number of others. Those sounds were then converted into digital instruments and from these an arrangement was then created.

    The response of my ears to this tune was one of delight. My personal opinion is that there is no doubt that this is music, of course it is music. This tune may very well be one of the very earliest Cork City Gamelan productions although I cannot confirm that just now. I hope this tune will appear in the music downloads section in due course and I believe that it will be extremely popular.

    • Berkus says:

      Paul, I was thinking about that tune yesterday evening when I tested music uploads to the site. I reckon I am going to call it “The Grandfather of the Cork City Gamelan”. I’ll certainly upload it. It will be the first piece of music here.

      Hey, and thanks for your help with the code. While I “speak” pretty fluent HTML, PHP is a foreign language to me.

      • Richard Waters says:

        There is something about the collective, the band, the group that comes together to put sounds together at the same time that transcends most art forms that I know.
        There is a point where the collective action and the listening of that in real time excite an emotion that I have not found elsewhere. It is in fact what draws me back again and again to play, to improvise and join with others to create a new music of that time.

        • Yuhang says:

          I love the sounds and rthhyms of the gamelan, which has a very nice earthy and natural feel to them. Some similarity to the other percussion and wind instruments like the angklungs (also from Indonesia). At Asian Civilisations Museum, there is a performing arts gallery on level 3 where a few 19th century gamelan sets take centrestage.