Music Presupposes Order

This post was inspired by Stravinsky’s Poetics of Music Lesson Two – The Phenomenon of Music (Amazon affiliate link)

We have our raw materials, (sound and time/memory), but we still don’t have music.  At least, not according to Stravinsky:

“…tonal elements become music only by virtue of their being organized, and that such organization presupposes a conscious human act.”

Music presupposes order, unlike the sounds of nature.

But it would be difficult to argue with someone who hears the sounds of nature, a bird’s song for example, and says, “What beautiful music!”

What about the value of art and human creation?  “Order” protects it from becoming meaningless.  After all, if everything is music, what use are human creations?

Lothar Klein wrote this:

“The question is academic, because the answer defines two different views of the world. If we believe that noise has an expressive value beyond itself, art and life become one, and there is no need to compose music since the soundscape of any city then becomes music…A negative answer to the question preserves the separateness of noise and music, divides life and art, and maintains a rationally conforming view of the world. But this is the very way of looking at things that many people today have come to distrust. Stravinsky (one infers) always wished to maintain categorical distinctions…because separating art and life is a richer way of experiencing the world. When art and life become one, everything supposedly becomes beautiful. The corollary – that when all is beautiful, nothing is beautiful – is perhaps more truthful. As joy is defined by sorrow, as love is distinct from indifference, so the meaningful experience of art only becomes possible by acknowledging the mundane.”

I also like David Braid’s line of thinking.  It bypasses Klein’s admitted academic view.  Just replace ‘jazz’ with ‘music.’

“A final thought, as such influential jazz pioneers emphasize the subjective experience of jazz, perhaps the question “What is jazz?”, is more appropriately rephrased as “What does jazz do?” This is a significant shift from a static meaning of the word jazz, to a meaning that refers to something current, active, and alive – in essence, a shift from noun to verb, perhaps reconnecting the word jazz to its original connotation as an action, and not a thing.”

Forget about order!  If certain natural sounds move the soul, why not call them music?  And if certain human creations are meaningless to an individual, why not call them noise?

Really, it would be extreme to rely exclusively on one viewpoint or the other; but it’s fun to think about!

Funny enough, this is all trivial to creating music and a bit off topic.  Creation presupposes order.  Creators are agents of order.  Natural sounds are outside the bounds of our practice and therefore, our theory.  The purpose of these posts wasn’t to ask: “What is music?”

It was to ask: “How does one create music?”

Further reading: The Zebra Finch Learns a Sophisticated Song (Link).  Be sure to listen to the audio sample too!

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