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The definiton of music

46 posts in this topic

pointlessly interesting.

LOL nice terminology :)

...and funny

Hells yeh! There are some classics in here. Tilted takes the cake for funny with the first post IMO:

I think the ONLY criteria for a sound or group of sounds to be music is that it is perceived by the listener to be musical.

Mind you, as I get older, I lose my faith in other people's perception of what is musical.

Allow me to re-phrase this:

It's only music if I say it is.

Gold :)

highly intelligent people like you, BF

i think there is an error there: you have not mentioned me ;)

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So, what about if a removalist is moving a number of intruments, and drops them down a flight of stairs?

Is a piano falling down some stairs music?

What if a musician decides "I want to make a piece which is a piano falling down stairs."? Is it music now?

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We're not going to define music here, it's not possible it's a good discussion subject though. Probably because "music" means different things to all of us which is the beauty of it and maybe why people really connect with music.

Untill this thread I didn't realise how undefineable the term was. It's music, everybody knows what music is.... I don't think anyone can describe it (it's an individual thing). The subjects being covered in many books and online and from what I can see this is an age old question going back to ancient times. This site discusses some of it http://www.mfiles.co.uk/other-what-is-music.htm. I think the aspect of pattern recognition is interesting, something that's not been mentioned in this thread so far.

One thing that i find interesting is bird song.... It seems to have a lot of the elements of "music" melody, a repeated pattern, maybe even some sort of rythm (repeating of certain bits, although it changes)... It's lacking on the artistic side of things as it is just a way of communication. If I was to take a bird song and play it out on a keyboard though with exaactly the same melody and timing, but this time with some sort of beat behind it, then it would fit in to my idea of music. If I came up with pre-arranged beat and melody which I understand as music and take away the beat, then it's still music, even though it'd be very similar ot the bird-song.

I guess it all confuses me a bit, I've only just started to see how philosophical it all is!

G

Stryd, I know your going to shoot me down for saying this, but from what you've said it looks like you have a bee in your bonnet about uni students. In the same way it's wrong for someone with a degree to disregard somebody elses opinion on the grounds they don't have any uni education, the same is true the other way round. I always see quoting books on philosophical things as a pointless excercise anyway, there is no answer, only reasoning/opinion; Form your own, don't recite other peoples! You don't have to have done research or read books to have an opinion on this.

As to the definition of music, just remember this is a philosophical thing, and as such cannot be learnt or taught, either in uni or not, only discussed.

In general I would expect that somebody who has gone to uni would have done a fair bit of research/reading on their particular subject... not to say that they've done more than what somebody who hasn't been to uni and just has an interest has. This uni/none uni argument is pointless. I didn't read the comments as meaning any aggression or one upmanship towards anybody. I think we need to chill a little, this is supposed to be a nice friendly forum.  

Uni has it's good and bad sides. At work we tend to get uni students that are qualified, but haven't got a clue how to do things, as most things don't mirror exactly what they've been taught. This is kind of frustrating, but then again when something really technical comes up then their education comes in.

Generally I've never seen the point in uni, I've always seen work (experience) as being more important. I left school and carried on with my job. My friends who have just got out of uni are having problems finding jobs and are mainly working in bars. My work will fund me to do an open university course so i think i'll end up in a better position.   :D

Now can we all kiss and make up and maybe even chill out a little?

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We're not going to define music here

Maybe you aren't. I don't give up quite so easily ;D

"music" means different things to all of us

I think you're confusing definition of music with definition of emotional effect of music ;)

I think the aspect of pattern recognition is interesting, something that's not been mentioned in this thread so far.

Ooof the need for a pattern is way restrictive. I'm gonna have to read that page tomorrow. I should be in bed right now heheh

One thing that i find interesting is bird song....

Tooootally. God I could just listen for hours. Actually, I do...

It seems to have a lot of the elements of "music" melody, a repeated pattern,

maybe even some sort of rythm (repeating of certain bits, although it changes)...

Depends on the bird. Some sing the exact song over and over. Some sing the same song but change one part each time. Some sing different songs every time. Some sing patterns, some avoid them.... They're all different.

It's lacking on the artistic side of things as it is just a way of communication.

In some cases, no more so for them than for us. They use it just to express emotion, or to invoke an emotion in another bird or even another animal.

If I was to take a bird song and play it out on a keyboard though with exaactly the same melody and timing, but this time with some sort of beat behind it, then it would fit in to my idea of music.

Good, I use magpie song a lot :) I can communicate by mouth with magpies and crows, although they do have local dialects, so I have to hang with them for a while (10 minutes or so) to figure it out... and they do sometimes just sing to express their feelings, and they behave rather strangely if you reply. Imagine if you were on stage and did a gig, then someone from the crowd instead of cheering got on stage and played a song......

If I came up with pre-arranged beat and melody which I understand as music and take away the beat, then it's still music, even though it'd be very similar ot the bird-song.

Yeh it's still got melody then, and probably rhythm and harmony too :) Hey birds can make music too, make no mistake.

I guess it all confuses me a bit, I've only just started to see how philosophical it all is!

Well the first step to finding the definition is to ignore all the philosophy and personal feelings and opinions and deal with the facts in front of us.

Stryd, I know your going to shoot me down for saying this,

Chalk one up to the G man! ;D LOL

but from what you've said it looks like you have a bee in your bonnet about uni students.

What? I just bloody posted not one but two explanations of why that is twisting my words. What? Buh?

Dude freakin everyone I know is a uni student LOL. I'd bet that TK's a uni student and you don't have to be cluey to see how it's benefited not just him but the entire freakin planet! Could go on all day saying good stuff about universities and students. I've got no beef with university students. I Just don't think that being a university student actually means anything except where you went to school. It's what you do there, what you take away, that counts.

In the same way it's wrong for someone with a degree to disregard somebody elses opinion on the grounds they don't have any uni education, the same is true the other way round.

Exactly. And I didn't do anything of the sort. Even remotely. Where are you getting this stuff?

there is no answer, only reasoning/opinion; Form your own, don't recite other peoples! You don't have to have done research or read books to have an opinion on this.

Amen! Can I get a witness!? :D

THIS is why I had a problem with mentioning university.

As to the definition of music, just remember this is a philosophical thing, and as such cannot be learnt or taught, either in uni or not, only discussed.

Well, what defines *good* music is philosophical. What defines "music" is analytic....

In general I would expect that somebody who has gone to uni would have done a fair bit of research/reading on their particular subject

Doesn't mean they understood it, unfortunately. I imagine that the likes of BF would have, and I want to hear his understanding, not his creds. I already know them anyway.

I think we need to chill a little, this is supposed to be a nice friendly forum.  

Which is why playing education superiority games is not cool, intentionally or otherwise. Don't sweat it though, there's no love lost. BF and tilt and myself and many other dudes talk like this in the chat all the time. We don't get hurt feelings because we all know each other pretty well and we know that's not what we're about. At least, that's the way I feel about these guys, I assume it's the same in reverse :)

Uni has it's good and bad sides. At work we tend to get uni students that are qualified, but haven't got a clue how to do things, as most things don't mirror exactly what they've been taught. This is kind of frustrating, but then again when something really technical comes up then their education comes in.

OK, you're getting the ones who DID understand it. They aren't all like that unfortunately. We have a few of each ;) There's one guy, he's a freakin genius, and it wouldn't have happened without his degree... There's another... well.... They've left us now and I often wonder if they're still able to mask their lack of understanding and hold down the new job.

Generally I've never seen the point in uni, I've always seen work (experience) as being more important. I left school and carried on with my job.

That's what I did too. Trouble is, some dudes *have* to go to uni to get anywhere in their career, or they lose out on advancing their career if they don't graduate....and it's entirely because of the myth that I have such a problem with.

Heh, I feel ilke I'm gonna have to split out the university posts from the thread I split out of the prague thread ;D

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...unless you're on an ego trip, which you were....

oh there definitely seems to be an ego trip going on...

Again... quote the books!

maybe i will if you will, i've given one ref, that's enough for now, where's yours??

Then what's wrong with dissing a university without going to one?

because it is intentional ignorance.

Besides, that's not what I was doing, as I pointed out above.

so you claim now.

scroll up.

...What? I just bloody posted not one but two explanations of why that is twisting my words. What? Buh?

...

Exactly. And I didn't do anything of the sort. Even remotely. Where are you getting this stuff?

from your own words.

read them again.

try to be objective.

if you didn't mean to say what you did say, a retraction might help

Amen! Can I get a witness!? :D

THIS is why I had a problem with mentioning university.

sheesh, this is why i posted anywayz, because of your outrageous claim of nameity based on "a billion dictionaries and music theory books backing up my statement"

i settled this argument for myself over 20 years ago, and see no need to rehash it now, but i couldn't let that claim stand.

you are definitely entitled to your own opinion about it...

Which is why playing education superiority games is not cool, intentionally or otherwise.

and now you claim to know my subconscious mind...

you made a claim of originality, which i refuted.

you made a claim of nameity, which i refuted.

then you resorted to an ad hominem argument.

it is quite disappointing...

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What? I just bloody posted not one but two explanations of why that is twisting my words. What? Buh?

Dude freakin everyone I know is a uni student LOL. I'd bet that TK's a uni student and you don't have to be cluey to see how it's benefited not just him but the entire freakin planet! Could go on all day saying good stuff about universities and students. I've got no beef with university students. I Just don't think that being a university student actually means anything except where you went to school. It's what you do there, what you take away, that counts.

It's just the way it appeared to me as a reader of this forum. I'm not saying it's intentional in the slightest. BF just said that's what he learnt at uni, not that he's been to uni and that you hadn't so your opinion is invalid. From my angle it looks like you were trying to nip something in the bud (from maybe bad experiences of people who think they know everything due to uni education, we all know some people like that, which is why I laugh at some of my uni-graduated mates as they serve me a pint in the pub  ;D) but from my perspective BF wasn't trying to quash your opinion, only stating how he formed his.

It's probably not my place to get involved but I'm just trying to explain how it looks from my view. Not disagreeing with the whole elitist education thing, just saying that i don't think that's the case.

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So, what about if a removalist is moving a number of intruments, and drops them down a flight of stairs?

Is a piano falling down some stairs music?

What if a musician decides "I want to make a piece which is a piano falling down stairs."? Is it music now?

yes.

in fact you are too late, it's been done.

well pushed into the orchestra pit anywayz...

needless to say, that piece is not performed often.

that's not to say that doing it again would not also be music.

probably has been already.

great artists steal, etc

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jeez, like 5 pages of unreads weren't bad enough...

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Stryd, you know I love ya, but you're being a dick, mate.

Is a piano falling down some stairs music?

If I can dig through my back copies of Viz, there's a Ravey Davey Gravey cartoon that answers this exact question :D

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Stryd, you know I love ya, but you're being a dick, mate.

oh no,

i realize this is some of that good ol' aussie humour, and we

won't be hearing about your grizzly murder on bbc world news, but...

we all know s1 has made great contributions to the forum

and i want to make it clear that i appreciate that.

and find that cartoon...

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I think we've all come to an agreement that the place where you learn something is insignificant compared to what you learn, and what you experience.

For my own, I've seen some pretty pedestrian musician/composers come out of university, and I've seen some amazing ones. I think that, at least as important as the lectures, etc. (or probably more important) are the contacts you make through institutionalised learning. Contacts with like-minded artists. The fundamental lack of these like-minded folk is the number one reason that I have TWICE walked out on tertiary study.

It is unfortunate that prospective employers will often shortlist based on tertiary qualification or lack thereof, but hey, it's also unfortunate that you need money to buy food and pay rent, and that wars keep happening over mineral deposits. It's shit, but it seems to be a fact of life. You can go with it, you can rage against it, or you can try to do something about it.

Stryd, be honest. Firstly I figure you don't have a billion music text books (even a billion books total), as I would probably be able to see the pile from my house!!

Come to think of it, a billion university text books and dictionaries all stored at one house, would probably put a wobble in the Earth's axial rotation...  :P

Now, did you really truly get the books out to quote them in the forum with that definition, or did you (like most of us probably did) simply say how you really feel about music, what your own inherent definition is? The definition which just jumps directly to your mind, the moment someone says "music"? Just the same as you don't have to get out a dictionary to define the word "table", or "bucket". My first definition came only from experience, I certainly didn't go looking for lecture notes for it. Some things are just direct memory access, a mainline into the subconcious. A definition just waiting for a conversation...

You asked for us (well, me and BF actually) to back up a statement/s we made. We simply mentioned that we had spent a lot of time working on this stuff. OK so we both mentioned that this time was also spent in a university. We have both also said that it doesn't matter how or where you learn these things, what matters is the immersion in the subject matter, the fact that you've given it thought before.

But that's enough of that shit, again. It doesn't help the discussion along, it's what Brian Eno and/or Michael Stavrou (or maybe someone else... can't recall) refer to as "screwdriver mode". Like when you sit down to make music, and spend the whole time trying to change something in your setup, or to get that new synth patch just so. By the time you've worked out the nitty-gritty, the muse has left you, or the discussion in this case is getting lost to the semantics.

So, anyway:

I recognise that the piano down the stairs trick has been done.

There are a lot of questions regarding music, and other art forms, which could almost be treated as koans.

ie, they don't neccessarily need an answer.

I've asked this question of a number of people (recently and previously) and it's always interesting to hear the different answers. It always works very well as a conversation starter.

Back to the piano thing...

Does it make a difference, whether there is an assembled audience for the dropped piano, or a recording device to capture the sound?

It is only music if it intended to be heard by an audience?

Go VIZ. Viz rawks.

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Stryd, you know I love ya, but you're being a dick, mate.

Fuck you all. If you're going to apply whatever meaning you see fit, regardless of what I actually say, there's no point typing.

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Fuck you all. If you're going to apply whatever meaning you see fit, regardless of what I actually say, there's no point typing.

FUCK ME??? 

Do you want to................FUCK ME?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co3uqNkmzww

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Now now.

Go easy.

There's no need for name calling.

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I would like to add to this discussion, by saying that there is no definition of music.

There have been many attempts by composers, musicians, philisophers and laypeople. No definitions have met with any acceptance.

Some may argue that at least it is sound. This is not the case, as in between the sounds are silences which are as much part of the 'music' as the sound(s). There does not have to be more than one sound (see plainsong), there does not have to be any sound (as in the score to a musical work that has never been played).

This has led to the modernists, like Cage, pushing the boundaries, as if they are doing something new.

But the point is, music is entirely subjective, as is all art, so that the statement "the definition of music", does not even satisfy the definition of the word 'definition'.

There are two types of definitions:

A descriptive definition provides to a term a meaning which is in general use.

A stipulative definition of a term carries a meaning which a speaker wants it to convey for the purpose of his or her discourse. Thus, the term may be new, or a stipulative definition may prescribe a new meaning to a term which is already in use.

A descriptive definition can be shown to be "right" or "wrong" by comparison to usage, but a stipulative definition cannot.

Neither type of definition is satisfactory in this instance, and would raise an argument when an attempt is made to associate one or the other type with music, so that the debate about 'the definition of music' would never get started.

Clearly, music cannot be defined.

Hey, but it's fun trying!

bassman

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Some may argue that at least it is sound. This is not the case, as in between the sounds are silences which are as much part of the 'music' as the sound(s).

Try telling this to the Guiness World Record people.

In 2000-and-something (can't remember, but somewhere between 2003 and 2007) there was a Guinness World Record attempt for longest continuous jazz concert. The attempt was made in Melbourne, out the front of the Victorian Arts Centre. A twin stage set-up was used to ensure there were no breaks between acts.

While myself and three others were playing, we got a bit "experimental" (for want of a better term) and started throwing in little rests, up to a whopping 3 or maybe 4 beats...

No dice. Apparently we blew the record attempt because of these rests. It should be noted that we never "stopped playing", but that the rests were about as silent as you can get on a live stage.

The Guinness adjudicator dismissed the record attempt, apparently.

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Oh sorry, I didn't know that the Guinness World Record people were the bastions of definitions. ;)

I wonder why they chose Jazz Music for their contest?

But I see you are in the 'descriptive definition' camp. Good luck with that! :)

Anyway I deliberately didn't use the word 'rests'.

bassman

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Some of my random thoughts on the subject - it started as a reply, then just grew.

There is a probably apocryphal story that, when in exile in London, the late Hailie Selassie, (or Ras Tafari if you prefer), was taken to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Upon being asled which piece he liked the most, he said 'The first one', a few other questions revealed that he was referring to the orchestra tuning up.

Perhaps amongst our joint book stack, some of us have a copy of Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance", in which he discusses retrospectively a man who attacked the amazingly thorny question of whether 'Quality' is subjective or objective. The book's character eventually suffers a nervous breakdown, when he breaks through the main question into the more difficult territory of our sheeplike acceptance of Aristotelian logic as a model for discussion of concepts.

That's a major snag with a lot of institutional learning: things have to be cut up and partitioned. This is one such problem. I remember reading Van Vogts 'Null-A' series at school a long time ago, but unlike most readers, then going off and digging into general semantics, to find that I agreed with most of it.

There are few absolutes here, (I know - that's self referencing already).

Perhaps a beginning definition is "assembly of one or more sounds"

We could even go EBNF and get    music ::= sound { sound }

We can't even define as 'arrangment', because, for instance, a stochastic compostion might have the same sounds in varying order each performance, yet in other areas, arrangement of sounds is everything, ( you can play a Bach score on most pitched imstruments, change the order and it's not Bach any more).

This will even encompass Cage's famous (or notorious - your call), 4' 33", because it was intended to get the listener to focus on the sounds around them, This link is, in my opinion, a good article on the subject and similar things: "The Sounds of Silence"

This hits another interesting point. 'musical sounds', are not only subjective, but contextual. the contextual bit is kind of important. A lot of dance music is perfect in it's environment, bass shaking your body, lights going, the heady atmosphere of excited moving bodies. Listened to on overspill from a car sound system it can be genuinely irritating, (especially when you're having a quiet 3.00am coding session).

My long ago sampled pile driver made for intense bass percussion in a dance track, but would be real noise to those in the neighbourhood, after a long afternoon of it.

Some forms of musical experience are inseparable from their performance, other, perhaps more pure ones, stand alone. Certain, possibly better informed  musicians differentiate between live recorded and studio recorded works. Robert Fripp Diary entry on the subject

Some music can only exist as recordings, especially some early synth work, computer composition, and most 'concrete' forms, it's no less musical for being recorded only.

Music evolves. Not many people would consider the 'Rite of Spring' at all rock and roll or radical, yet it's first attempted performance ended prematurely in a riot. Does this make Igor Stravinsky the spiritual father of punk? Face it, the Pistols only managed to get their act banned, I never heard of them starting a real live riot in the hall, (and remember Altamont had more to do with Hells Angels than the 'Stones). Some of the more avante-garde composers are probably just steps in the chain, and will be forgotten as composers, whereas some of their ideas may live on in greater works. The Mannheim School are a classical example, experimenting with advanced orchestration and composition, and were very famous in their day. Nobody really gives concerts by Stamitz or Filtz or Holzbauer any more, but a certain Mr Mozart, who visited Mannheim, did rather better. Latterly IRCAM poured millions of Francs into electronic music, but the most obvious contribution so far is in core digital synth design, and 'Max'. Lots of interesting noises, but no standout composition. The 'R' for research in the name being the key, I think. My personal take on Cage is a negligible composer, but an important contributor to the evolution of music. The real posers being the fanboys. Stockhausen anyone?

Some kinds of music I actually find mildly repellent. I would, of choice, stay out of somewhere it was being played. A subjective analysis could thereby classify it as noise, but it could easily pass many textbook definitions of music. It's still passing the  'emotional impact' test too, just providing a negative one.

We are in one of the evolutionary transition phases now. For a long time a composer could only provide a map of his ideas, as a score, or earlier still, by teaching it to someone else. Now a musician can give an exact rendition of his ideas, and even that can be edited or remixed or sampled.

Back to the General Semantics, (which is a core idea behind NLP for those interested). The score is not the performance,  the map is not the terrain. Music, like light, can be defined in more than one way, sometimes an objective definition will be good, sometimes a subjective one. We have a great nebulous definition cloud, with probably as many parameters as a modular synth. Thinking of the modular for a moment, it can probably be proven that the number of patches that will produce no sound at all, is greater than that which will make noise, (consider all other patches multiplied by the parameters "Volume=0" or "output not connected" if you really need to dig into that one). Musical definition clouds are probably the same. A very hard at the core, and vapourously thin at the edges, depending upon which parameters you have set. There will be many more "sounds-which-are-not-music", than sounds which are, but in the overlap zone things get pretty hazy

At the end of the day, I'm kind of there with Hailie Selassie. Last year, on a summer Saturday afternoon, whilst unloading the Roissy kit at the Barn where it's kept, Howard our driver, an ex-RAF engineer, hearing a small sound in the distance said "Spitfire!". We looked up, in time to see a lone Spitfire, on it's way back from an air display fly directly over the farmyard. It was low enough to see details, and the loud snarly roar of the Merlin engine was definitely music to my ears. The whole thing a small impromptu performance, with it's own emotional charge. Thereby hangs another point too - that emotional charge was partly due the knowledge of what it was, and what that meant.

Like the miners say, "Gold is where you find it".

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Perhaps amongst our joint book stack, some of us have a copy of Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance", in which he discusses retrospectively a man who attacked the amazingly thorny question of whether 'Quality' is subjective or objective. The book's character eventually suffers a nervous breakdown, when he breaks through the main question into the more difficult territory of our sheeplike acceptance of Aristotelian logic as a model for discussion of concepts.

I would reccomend the lecture of the second/latest Pirsig s book: Lila.

So far The Prof has been the most interesting, you can do better bitches ;)

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How did I know that the Prof would be in to Fripp?

Nice one the Prof. , bassman.

You guys have probably heard enough from me for a while.

Anyone else?

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[me=nILS Podewski]farts[/me]

Smelly music for crusty people. (which happens to be the Title of an LP by "Across The Border", some german folk-punk band. Go listen to that now (if you can find a copy somewhere))

Ha! There's even something on youtube. :-)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHPjlHYYvog

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