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Author Topic: The nature of music: round 7  (Read 7954 times)
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BFW
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« on: Apr 11, 2006, 08:11AM »

I am starting a new topic so as to avoid cluttering the rap topic with a side discussion.
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« Reply #1 on: Apr 11, 2006, 08:23AM »

Quote from: "In another topic, RedHotMama"
You regard music as just notes and/or rhythms. That is *not* music, by my definition. I see nothing wrong with appreciating a set of musical notes, or indeed a set of rhythms, for their own value, but why the need to pretend that it's music?


Your statement about what I consider music is flawed.  I don't think it's "just" anything.  I don't think there is any musical work that I consider music but nobody else in the world does.

You apparently require "emotion" in order for it to be music.  What does that mean?  That you expect to have an emotional reaction?  That you expect everybody to have an emotional reaction?  That you expect the performers to feel emotional?  That you expect the composer to want to convey an emotion?  What if one or more of these isn't true?  What if none of them are true?

I don't have emotional reactions to music.  If you require that it be present, then music doesn't exist.  I write music, and I don't have any intention of conveying emotion.  If you require that, then what I wrote isn't music.  I don't feel emotional when I play.  If you require that, then anything I play isn't music.

The corner cases are difficult, as they are with any definition.  I think that people get stuck with some big-sounding, profound definition of music, and then cast out of it all sorts of things that anybody else would easily recognize as music.  I think, too, that people frequently confuse "music I like" with "music", or rather, "music I don't like" with "not music".  I don't like to do either of these things.  "Music I don't like" is vast, so I'd rather have a nice inclusive definition.
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« Reply #2 on: Apr 11, 2006, 08:23AM »

I was just listening to the Benjamin Zander commentary on Mahler 1, wherein he was talking about how hard it is to represent nature in music. Apparently Mahler was trying to represent a warm summer afternoon in the end of the first movement of the First Symphony. I hadn't thought of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense. He (Zander) also made some hay on the idea that Mahler was trying to represent a Cuckoo, but that a cuckoo sings in more or less a minor third, and Mahler used a major fourth. I'm still not sure what the point is there.

That's not what you're talking about, though, is it?
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« Reply #3 on: Apr 11, 2006, 08:29AM »

Quote from: "bickle"
how hard it is to represent nature in music


No, not quite what I meant!  Grin


Quote
Mahler was trying to represent a Cuckoo, but that a cuckoo sings in more or less a minor third, and Mahler used a major fourth.


Perfect fourth, I assume.

The fact that Mahler and a host of others were trying to represent something explicitly does not imply that one must try to represent something explicitly in order for it to be music.

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That's not what you're talking about, though, is it?


No, but it's still relevant.
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« Reply #4 on: Apr 11, 2006, 08:38AM »

Quote from: "BFW"
Perfect fourth, I assume.


Indeed yes. Quite right. Apparently the whole first movement of that symphony is built around a perfect fourth.

Quote
The fact that Mahler and a host of others were trying to represent something explicitly does not imply that one must try to represent something explicitly in order for it to be music.


That's part of the debate, though. Mahler has apparently put forth an interpretive program for the music, rescinded it, called the symphony absolute, and endorsed others' programmatic interpretations. It's not quite what you and mama are arguing about, but it certainly throws a monkey wrench into the discussion of programmatic music.
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« Reply #5 on: Apr 11, 2006, 08:40AM »

Not sure where this topic is going. If we're trying to agree on a definition of music, Wiki has an interesting comment:
Quote
There is often disagreement over what constitutes "real" music: Mozart, Stravinsky, serialism, Jazz, rap, punk rock, and electronica have all been considered non-music at various times and places.


Can the people in the forum agree on the definition of 'music'? Is it based on culture? Time frame? Emotion? How can music be limited? And what is a 'music video' anyway? 200 years from now, will people still listen to Mozart? Eminem?
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« Reply #6 on: Apr 11, 2006, 08:50AM »

Quote from: "PM"
If we're trying to agree on a definition of music, Wiki has an interesting comment:
Quote
There is often disagreement over what constitutes "real" music: Mozart, Stravinsky, serialism, Jazz, rap, punk rock, and electronica have all been considered non-music at various times and places.


Excellent comment, thanks for pointing it out.

Quote
Can the people in the forum agree on the definition of 'music'?


Unequivocally no!  Grin  But we do like to debate it from time to time.
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« Reply #7 on: Apr 11, 2006, 08:51AM »

Quote from: "BFW"
 I don't have emotional reactions to music.  If you require that it be present, then music doesn't exist.  I write music, and I don't have any intention of conveying emotion.  If you require that, then what I wrote isn't music.  I don't feel emotional when I play.  If you require that, then anything I play isn't music.


Yes, I personally do require melody, harmony and emotion to be present in music, or at least, what comes under my definition of music. So, if these are not present in what you write or play, then IMO what you write is *not* music, but simply a set of mathematical progressions, and what you play is the equivalent of what is produced by a synthesiser. But hey, you like maths, so what's wrong with that?
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« Reply #8 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:02AM »

So then how do you define "melody" and "harmony"?
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« Reply #9 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:05AM »

Quote from: "RedHotMama"
Yes, I do require melody, harmony and emotion to be present in music. So, if these are not present in what you write or play, then IMO it is *not* music, but simply a set of mathematical progressions.


"Be present" how?  If you find yourself emotionally moved by something I wrote, is it music?  If I play something and you are moved but I am not, is it music?  What if I wrote something expecting you to find it happy but you find it sad, is it music?

And how do you determine that it is a set of mathematical progressions, rather than merely music?

Regarding melody and harmony, what about those other examples I gave that have neither melody nor harmony?  If harmony is required, is a person singing a song music?
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Brian

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« Reply #10 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:05AM »

Brian,  This is something I've wanted to discuss with you agian.  I think my requirement of emotion is music has been effectively rebuffed Grin .  After all, there are no little molecules of emotion floating around waiting to be captured and codified by music notation.

but what about meaning in music? - specifically vocal music, but also by extension non-vocal music.
Words have strong conceptual meaning.  Rhythm can emphasize that meaning. Harmony and melody can further enhance and intensify (or obscure) that meaning.  But how so if there is nothing in the music other than the physics and math?
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« Reply #11 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:10AM »

Quote from: "BFW"
       If harmony is required, is a person singing a song music?


When I hear someone singing a song, my mind automatically provides harmony. Anyone who is required to improvise alongside a melody when they play or sing themselves will be doing that all the time.
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« Reply #12 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:13AM »

Quote from: "Dennis K."
   But how so if there is nothing in the music other than the physics and math?


If there is nothing in the "music" other than physics and maths, then that's what it is. Physics and maths. NOT music.
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« Reply #13 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:16AM »

So wait, monophony and heterophony are now not considered music?

They don't have harmony and it would not be either of these anymore if harmony was added.
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« Reply #14 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:19AM »

Is this music?
sqrt(b*b-4ac)/2a
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Dennis K.
« Reply #15 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:23AM »

Quote from: "RedHotMama"
Quote from: "Dennis K."
   But how so if there is nothing in the music other than the physics and math?


If there is nothing in the "music" other than physics and maths, then that's what it is. Physics and maths. NOT music.

Precisely!  Brian tends to see things from a mathematical point of view.  His view of music appears to be about the physical and mathematical properties of music.  His definition doesnt work for me, mine doesn't work for him.  so where do we find common ground?

PS - frequently, single line music implies a harmony - be it tonal or atonal.  I think RHM's definition would include implied harmony.  A chant implies harmony.  That low buzz from an electric transformer or the sound of a bus does not imply harmony.  Therefore, chant is music, a bus is not.  although a bus could be treated in a musical manner, in which case the bus would not have a fixed definition with regard to music, but instead depends on context
REVELATION!!! - that is the key! - context.
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Dennis K.
« Reply #16 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:27AM »

Quote from: "PM"
Is this music?
sqrt(b*b-4ac)/2a

In the context of this forum, no.  Can you provide a musical treatment of that formula?
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Frank B
« Reply #17 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:29AM »

Quote from: "Dennis K."
PS - frequently, single line music implies a harmony - be it tonal or atonal.


I'm not talking about western eurpoean "music" in all it's stuffiness and warped history.

I am specificially talking about two types of music found throughout the word throughout the ages. These two types are "classified" in our structure as monophony and heterophony. They involve no harmony, nor is it implied. If it is involved or even implied then it is no longer that type of music or classification (at least, in the head of the person implying the harmony). Your example of chant- in the early history of chant they did not have harmony- impied or otherwise- and it wasn't until the advent of organum that this happened. Chant does NOT imply harmony.
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Dennis K.
« Reply #18 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:35AM »

Quote from: "Frank B"
Quote from: "Dennis K."
PS - frequently, single line music implies a harmony - be it tonal or atonal.


I'm not talking about western eurpoean "music" in all it's stuffiness and warped history.

I am specificially talking about two types of music found throughout the word throughout the ages.


For example, mongolian throat singing?  Harmony can be implied in many way beyond western common practice.  Provide some examples, I'll provide a harmony.  Granted, it will be influenced by my western stuffiness, but I could probably infer some type of tonal center, as a basis for harmony.
Also, my quote was not intended to be limited to only diatonic euro-melodies.  I'll be mroe clear next time.
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« Reply #19 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:35AM »

Quote from: "Frank B"
  These two types are "classified" in our structure as monophony and heterophony. They involve no harmony, nor is it implied.


OK, there's no harmony in these two formats (although I would still probably try to insert some, if I heard it). But they still require melody, yes? And I, personally, feel that they would undoubtedly be improved by the player(s) putting some feeling into the music, rather than their playing like machines.

So, perhaps I don't require melody, harmony AND emotion. But I certainly require at least two of these factors to be present before I call it music.
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« Reply #20 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:35AM »

Quote from: "Dennis K."
but what about meaning in music? - specifically vocal music, but also by extension non-vocal music.  Words have strong conceptual meaning.  Rhythm can emphasize that meaning. Harmony and melody can further enhance and intensify (or obscure) that meaning.


I agree that words have meaning, and I agree that composers can use musical techniques to help emphasize that meaning.  I've done it, I hear when other people do it.  There are musical conventions that go well with certain kinds of texts, that are interpreted by many as being in a particular mood, so they get used.  Some conventions may have different associations with different people, though, or in different cultures, so I think it's appropriate to say that the emotional content is not in the music itself but in the associations.

As for rhythm, I agree wholeheartedly; sentences have inflections and accents, and using rhythm to highlight these things is an important technique in composition, or at the least in text underlay.

However, saying that composers can use these techniques with texted music is not at all the same thing as saying that they must use these techniques.  Plenty of Renaissance polyphonic music was written as interesting counterpoint first, then the composer looked around for a useful text to give the performers something to sing.  Or perhaps the composer had a text in mind, wrote some music, then figured out where the text should go.  Plenty of songs were written as music, then given to a lyricist to figure out what words go well.

Quote
But how so if there is nothing in the music other than the physics and math?


I don't understand why RHM and you seem to reduce my views to this kind of statement.  It's preposterous.

My view on what constitutes music is broad so as to include a lot of things.  That's a minimal definition.  It doesn't mean that there is nothing else in most examples, or in the best examples.  A portrait is a flat facial picture, whether it's a rough figure drawn by a four-year-old or a brilliant oil painting by Rembrandt.  Does that mean there is nothing more in the Rembrandt than a facial picture?

Most music provokes emotional reactions in most people.  Most people have similar emotional reactions to the same music most of the time.  Most music is rhythmic, has melody, has harmony.  Most composed music has some intention of evocation of emotion.  Not all, though, and that's the problem.

I poke at this because there are huge assumptions and over-simplifications.  RHM's "emotion must be present" is an example.  Is it assumed that the composer's intent, the performer's evocations, and the listener's associations will all line up and be the same?

I believe I mentioned working with Robert Shaw, the greatest choral conductor who ever lived, and anybody who says otherwise should meet me in a dark alley.   Grin  He quite explicitly cautioned against getting carried away with the music; we were supposed to present the music, perhaps causing emotional reactions in others, but avoid feeling it ourselves.  "Fire in your voice, ice water in your veins," he said.  He was brilliant.  I have never worked with anyone who was so exacting and effective in simply doing a long crescendo.

I happen to like the mathematical underpinnings of music, particularly form and counterpoint and structure.  That's what interests me.  It's present in all music that I like.  It's less present, even absent, in music I don't like.  Does that mean that these are the only aspects present in the music?  Of course not!  It would as silly for me to say that as it would be for someone else to deny the form and structure and counterpoint.  But many people don't give a crap about the counterpoint, and only care about some other things; the opposite is true for me.

The difference comes, perhaps, when faced with something devoid of characteristics I like.  I call it "music I don't like," while some others are so bold as to call it "not music."  I don't make that leap.  One reason I don't is because I don't like to insult other people's tastes, and call some of their music, perhaps music that is their favorite, "not music."  There is music that I enjoy that others might be tempted to call "not music," and I would ask for the same courtesy that I extend.
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« Reply #21 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:37AM »

Quote from: "PM"
Is this music?
sqrt(b*b-4ac)/2a


I wrote a setting of A^2+B^2=C^2 for four part chorus (with divisi) and piano.
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« Reply #22 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:48AM »

I have learnt not to describe music that other people like as "crap". Even if it IS modern jazz.... :-P

I won't accept (at least, not yet) that I can't describe certain forms of audio-expression as not being music.

But I *do* reserve the right to say that 4.33 minutes of silence is *not* music, and that anyone who thinks it is must be regarded as completely gullible.
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« Reply #23 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:53AM »

Quote from: "RedHotMama"
But I *do* reserve the right to say that 4.33 minutes of silence is *not* music, and that anyone who thinks it is must be regarded as completely gullible.

Yay, I'm completely gullible!

Quote from: "BFW"
The difference comes, perhaps, when faced with something devoid of characteristics I like. I call it "music I don't like," while some others are so bold as to call it "not music." I don't make that leap. One reason I don't is because I don't like to insult other people's tastes, and call some of their music, perhaps music that is their favorite, "not music." There is music that I enjoy that others might be tempted to call "not music," and I would ask for the same courtesy that I extend.

Perfectly said!  Good!
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« Reply #24 on: Apr 11, 2006, 09:54AM »

Quote from: "Dennis K."
For example, mongolian throat singing?


....In which they often sing two pitches at the same time, so no.

Harmony can be implied in many other these things, through western practice or other means. Whether or not that is rightfully a part of the music is a completely different thing. In these styles, often harmony is NOT implied or inteded at all so I really wonder how you think you can show implied harmony that is rightfully there. However since I have neither the approperiate sound files at hand nor the user space to put them on the internet, I will have to leave that justification to you.

Melody also does not necessary need to be present. Take Avro Part's Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten for example. There is an increadible amount of suspensions and harmony in this piece, but no real definable melody. Another example would be tibetian buddist chanting. I heard an interesting recording a while back of simply chanting on a low low B- fo 45 minutes. No melody at all.

Is Qu'ranic chant music? It has a melody, rhythm, comes from a tradition that does have some harmony. Yet it's not considered music at all.
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« Reply #25 on: Apr 11, 2006, 10:17AM »

Quote from: "mwpfoot"
Yay, I'm completely gullible!


Let's have an "I'm either completely gullible or a whole lot smarter than you" party. I'll make brats if you bring chips.
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« Reply #26 on: Apr 11, 2006, 10:20AM »

Quote from: "bickle"
Let's have an "I'm either completely gullible or a whole lot smarter than you" party. I'll make brats if you bring chips.

That's the perfect theme, because it includes everyone! I am a uniter, not a divider.

Um... taking inventory: I think raps, chants, humming, lectures, talking, mosquitoes in the ear, blessed silence, and the sounds of a waterfall in the jungle are all musical components, so they are music. I think a white canvas and an empty room are art, if presented as such. I don't think I can be persuaded to not think this.
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« Reply #27 on: Apr 11, 2006, 10:31AM »

If you listen to this as written, it will most likely not inspire an emotion.



But what if it is put into the context of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto? (including the Carinthian Folk Song and the Bach Chorale at the end)  Could that inspire emotion? It does for me! Is that music? I say yes!
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« Reply #28 on: Apr 11, 2006, 11:35AM »

I get very nervous about trying to list a bunch of elements that "must be present" in order to have music.  It's much more accurate to say "Music that I like will have this and that."  So perhaps RHM could say "Music that I like shall have melody, harmony, rhythm, and emotion," whereas BFW might say, "Music that I like shall have melody, rhythm, and counterpoint."  This is not to exclude other things from being music.

The problem arises when one person insists that element x must be present for something to be called music, when what they really mean is that element x must be present in order for me to enjoy something as music.

Let's take an example that most of us can agree on (it's easy to argue the extremes--not so much the middle ground): How about a Bach fugue.  Pick one.  It doesn't matter.  Most of us, I think, agree that it is music.  Think of some ways you could experience this piece:

1. You can look at the score and admire the interplay of the lines and dots.  Some argument could be made that the score itself is a work of art.
2. You could, from a theoretical standpoint, analyze the score for melody, harmony, rhythm, and counterpoint.
3. You could listen to a performance of the piece and analyze it for melody, harmony, rhythm, and counterpoint.
4. You could listen to a performance of the piece and be moved by it emotionally.
5.You could listen to a performance of the piece and analyze it by its acoustic properties alone.
6. You could play the piece and boil it down to a series of fingerings.

There are many, many more ways you could experience a Bach fugue, but the point is, you don't have to do all 6 to know that it is music.  You don't even have to be aware of all 6.  While all 6 are related, they are not necessary to the enjoyment of the piece.  In fact, you don't even need all 6 for it to be considered music.  1, 2, and 6 can be accomplished without ever hearing the piece played.  Likewise, 3, 4, and 5 can be accomplished without ever seeing a score.  And yet any one of the 6 is a valid experience and can stand alone.

I can take Berg's 3 Pieces and do the same things--and whether I like it or not has absolutely no bearing on whether it is music.  And emotianal response, whether intended or coincidental, is inconsequential to the argument.  As is any factor, taken alone.

Music is far too complex a concept to be boiled down to a list of required elements.  It is everywhere, if only you have the ears to hear it.  Too often, our ears are conditioned to hear only what we want to hear.  Like the idea of a melody implying harmony-- of course, to our conditioned ears, single voice melodies imply harmony.  But they don't need harmony!  The whole point of serialism was to do away with implied tonality.  Whether it succeeded is open to debate-- the more conditioned our ear, the more we "hear" tonic, even if there is none.
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« Reply #29 on: Apr 11, 2006, 11:37AM »

I still maintain that all the back-and-forth about all this is distracting from what music is really about. Music, like any other art form, means something different to everybody.

A great example is 4'33", I take it as a simple reminder that music is all around us if we just stop and listen. Trees blowing in the wind, wind, rustling leaves, crickets, car alarms, whatever. But like so many other things, music snobs everywhere have taken it and bickered about its meaning for so long that they are now ALL missing the point, or at least what I consider to be the point. Only John Cage knew exactly what it was supposed to mean, all we can do is guess. However, he once said that

"I have spent many pleasant hours in the woods conducting performances of my silent piece... for an audience of myself, since they were much longer than the popular length which I have published. At one performance... the second movement was extremely dramatic, beginning with the sounds of a buck and a doe leaping up to within ten feet of my rocky podium."

Food for thought, eh?

As I said, that's one example. If you like rap or electronica or experimental music or an infant banging on a dinner plate, that's great, you've found something you enjoy. I find that incessantly arguing about what composer is the best or what instrument is the best or why rap sucks or why Bach was better than Beethoven or anything else like that is distracting us from just enjoying music.

To me, the most exciting thing about a piece of music is how it is played. Maybe the conductor takes it a little faster than the performers are prepared for, maybe the flutes miss an entrance, maybe somebody's stand falls over. There's a tangible excitement at a live performance like watching a trapeze artist: much of the beauty is because the performers could "fall" at any moment, the whole house of cards could come crashing down around them, but it was still a sight to behold while it lasted.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Feel free to argue about it, I'm off to go enjoy some music.
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« Reply #30 on: Apr 11, 2006, 12:40PM »

Quote from: "AdamK"
I find that incessantly arguing about what composer is the best or what instrument is the best or why rap sucks or why Bach was better than Beethoven or anything else like that is distracting us from just enjoying music.


But that's one way to enjoy music.  :shuffle:
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« Reply #31 on: Apr 12, 2006, 08:20AM »

Another related thought: Is calling something "music" a compliment?  I say no, it's merely a description.  I get the impression that some people do consider it a compliment, and are thus reluctant to use the term to refer to things they don't care for.
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« Reply #32 on: Apr 12, 2006, 08:57AM »

I think it's more an insult to call something "not music". I agree that "music" or "art" is descriptive mainly, but there is some degree of value judgement involved as well. Even if that is a broad value judgement. By calling 4'33" "music", I have made the value judgement based on my definition of music that Cage had the intent of ordering sound for aesthetic purposes. By calling it "music", though, I don't think I've taken the extra step of saying I like it or don't like it, whether I think it's "good music" or "bad music" or "pure charlatanism" or anything like that.

Hm.

Good music that I don't like=French Impressionism. I can't stand Debussy. I aknowledge his contribution to the art form.

Bad music that I like=the Dead Milkmen. Absolutely awful in form, derivative, compositionally vapid and uninspired, poorly performed, all of that possibly deliberately... a lot of fun, though.

Still... both are music.
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« Reply #33 on: Apr 12, 2006, 09:17AM »

I was thinking of usage like "you're just playing the notes, you have to turn it into music" or "let's stop fooling around, guys, and let's make some music out there."  I suppose both of these are indirect ways of referring to something else as "not music," though.
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Dennis K.
« Reply #34 on: Apr 12, 2006, 09:25AM »

OhhOOOhh OOOOhhh!!!!

Here's a thought:

With a piece of music, there is the "before the music" time and the "after the music" time.  That time serves a fucntion like a frame for a painting.  What is the role of this frame in music?  Is a frame essential?  What about that never-ending internet piece that is supposedly going on - Is that "frameless" music?  Can there be "frames" other than time - like boundaries - perhaps the internet is the frame for that piece?  What about other boundaries?





sorry about that...... I think i just vomited a stream of consciousness...... :shuffle:
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« Reply #35 on: Apr 12, 2006, 10:01AM »

Your comment is not the first time I've heard that "frame" concept discussed; I suppose the first time was indirectly from a clarinet instructor.  But I agree that the frame is there; moreover, it can be manipulated depending on the circumstances.

Playing in a situation where people are unaware that there is going to be music is essentially frameless, at least at the beginning.  At a formal concert, though, there is this official "beginning", and distorting that is, er, disconcerting.

I recall doing a work (an intriguing a cappella choral piece mostly with unsynchronized speaking and glisses and arbitrary tone clusters) that asked that the chorus start without the audience knowing.  We started when the conductor bowed, during the applause.  The conductor took the podium, arranged her music, and the audience started getting the idea that something was going on.  Really cool, seeing their reaction.  The expectation, that there would be a preparation and a start, was thwarted; the frame was changed.
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