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So I just recently finished a book entitled Breaking the
Sound Barrier (An Argument for Mainstream Literary Music)
by John
Winsor and there were more then just a few things I disagreed with but
the one thing that stood out the most and just rubbed me the wrong way
was his attempt to define music. He states that having a working
definition is useful to set up a criteria to determine that which is
music and that which is noise. His definition of music is much more
ridged. Winsor defines music as "the use of sound to represent
biological rhythm." He also states that music must communicate to the
listener and allow the listener to "participate vicariously in the act
of composition." He also list a few criteria as to what music should be,
but I will not really go into detail about them however.

When I look for a definition of music, I take the Edgard Varèse approach
by using the simple definition that music is organized sound. I feel
that is the most simple and open definition for me.
However most people I have talked to take the "misty-eyed" romantic
approach to defining music. Usually their definition contains phrases as
"the most expressive art form for the human emotion" or "Divine gift
from the Heavens" and such.

All this attempts to define music, though usually fruitless in any
attempts to sway public opinion on the subject, promoted me to ask the
following questions to my fellow composers on this forum:

What is YOUR working definition for music?

Is a definition of music needed or is it a personal subject?

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I will have to look that book up at some point

Chris Alpiar said:
What about:

"What is art?"

Its the same question really, and can only be a personal perspective. There is no definition other than music loosely has something to do with organization of sound vibrations in a way that is enjoyable or creates an artistic message.

So many people have so many strong opinions, and almost always those opinions are nurtured from others in life we respect and passed down. I strongly suggest a most wonderful book, by Nicolas Slonimsky, "Lexicon of Musical Invective". In this book he basically gathered many hundreds of printed reviews (and translations) of many of the 'classic great' composers. And the things we take for granted as being masterful and turning points in music, well they are often trashed with the most vehement of tongues. Here is one that I love particularly, written about LV Beethoven in a review of his 2nd symphony in Vienna in 1804:

"Beethoven's Second Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect."

Hehe, and most every composer that I have ever heard talked about in loving notions is in this book. Its good to get perspective on history and where we come from. And perspective on where we learn our own perspective and musical taste from, and how much we each let it grow over time, or stifle it in fear.
In my view, music is sound and noise. Sometimes rhythmic, sometimes arhythmic. To go all "misty eyed" as you say, is not accurate. The style of music you like or choose to listen to, now that is something altogether different.

I dont really like a lost of post minimalist, surreal, "let's put a dog barking, kicking a can, while I flatulate the theme to Bonanza" kind of music. But that is my choice. That does not mean that someone else may consider it music.

Although flatulating the theme to Bonanza would be an astonishing accomplishment in my book
You are correct, Thomas. I just forgot to place "avant garde" before the "dog barking/Bonanza fart" statement. I will say that a lot of the post minimalist stuff doesn't really float my boat, BUT, I will say that I have been proven wrong / changed my mind in the past.

For example, when I first heard Coltrane's "Ascension" I thought it was complete trash, being accustomed to the "Blue Trane", "Giant Steps" even Miles "Kind of Blue" era. I gave it a second listen a year or so later and found it to be brilliant.

I dont think I would ever like Avant Garde music, but given the appropriate (one that tickles my fancy, that is) post minimalist, I am sure I can become a "convert". One must keep an open mind, at least for the first 30 seconds of play.

Thanks for the info on your thread, Thomas. I will check it out

Thomas Green said:
Yes Chris,
You're quite right. And we are very, very sensitive to temporality - this is something not everyone considers. We can hear (and comprehend) extremely fine distinctions between one sound and the next; so much so that we can actively comprehend the blurry transition of rapidly repeated sound into pitch!

Stockhausen experimented with this effect using synthesizes - we can still test it ourselves. Using an LFO (low frequency oscillator) on any analogue-style synthesizer, we can gradually ramp up the frequency to hear this.

It shows us that there is really no difference between a low frequency pitch and rapidly repeated sounds.

I agree - sounds are much more than just X Y coordinates (either on a score or piano roll).


"I dont really like a lost of post minimalist, surreal, "let's put a dog barking, kicking a can, while I flatulate the theme to Bonanza" kind of music. But that is my choice. That does not mean that someone else may consider it music."

Regarding Albert's statement: What you're describing sounds more like avant-garde music than "post-minimal." The latter is quite penetrable, tonally oriented music.
Now THAT is quite clever!!

Fredrick zinos said:
Albert, you may be aware of this:

There was a young farter from Sparta,
A really magnificent farter,
On the strength of one bean
He'd fart "God Save the Queen,"
And Beethoven's Seventh Sonata.

He could vary, with proper persuasion,
His fart to suit any occasion.
He could fart like a flute,
Like a lark, like a lute,
This highly fartistic Caucasian.

He could whistle, could warble and hum,
By constricting the hole in his bum,
And make animal sounds,
Or fire artillery rounds,
With the force of a field cannon gun.

The fabulous farter from Sparta,
Performed at command by Royal Charter,
Did Brahms, Grieg and Mozart,
For "Piano and Fart,"
And for an encore he did Bach's Toccata.

His repertoire ranged from classics to jazz,
He achieved new effects with bubbles of gas.
With a good dose of salts
He could fart a waltz
Or swing it in razzamatazz.

He's accompanied Oasis and Blur,
And done backing music for Cher,
Though his style is obscene,
It's been used on big screen,
In sound effects on the movie Ben Hur.

He'd fart a gavotte for a starter,
And whiffle a fine serenata.
He could play on his anus
The Coriolanus:
Ood, boom, er-tum, tootle, yum tah-dah!

His basso profundo with timbre so rare
He rendered quite often, with power to spare.
But his great work of art,
His fortissimo fart,
He saved for the Marche Militaire.

When Sparta's farter was truly on form,
His asshole could outplay a French horn,
He'd give all day recitals,
With the air from his vitals,
After a large plate of leeks and some corn.

This sparkling young farter from Sparta,
His fart for no money would barter.
He could roar from his rear
Any scene from Shakespeare
Or Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado.

He could imitate jets supersonic,
Or play compositions symphonic,
He played Handel's Messiah,
He reached top C and higher,
But only after a mammoth colonic.

A family size can of baked beans,
Could fuel the main movie themes,
Star Wars and some westerns,
Were most often requested,
Though the odour was somewhat obscene.

Spurred on by a very high wager
With an envious German named Bager,
He'd proceeded to fart
The complete oboe part
Of a Haydn Octet in B Major.

He could play Holst's Mars and Uranus,
By expelling the air from his anus,
He did Copacabana,
But his Carmina Burana,
Was proclaimed a cantus profanus.

This man with the musical arsehole,
Was asked to perform at a castle,
He ignited his gas,
Near exploded his ass,
And the Count cried out "Once more, you rascal!"

One day he was dared to perform
The William Tell Overture Storm,
But naught could dishearten
Our spirited Spartan,
For his fart was in wonderful form.

The Count hosted the concert with style,
And the queue to get in was a mile,
The farter ate leeks,
Lived on beans for two weeks,
Knowing his farts were on trial.

He practised by farting some tunes,
Till his arsehole made sounds like bassoons,
Symphonies, sonatas,
Serenades and cantatas,
And the theme from The Mouse on the Moon.

He played The Ride of The Valkyries,
And brought the whole crowd to their knees,
Women fainted and screamed,
At The Dambusters theme,
And The Flight of the Bumblebee.

He farted on feeling quite merry,
Did the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies,
His farts echoed and swelled,
(And so did the smell),
And his face went as red as a cherry.

With a smell like a heap of manure,
He began the William Tell Overture,
They gasped as it started,
Cheered the farter from Sparta,
And soon they were screaming for more.

It went off in capital style,
As he farted it through with a smile,
Then, feeling quite jolly,
He reached the Finale,
Blowing double-stopped farts all the while.

The selection was tough, I admit,
But it did not dismay him one bit,
Then, with arse thrown aloft
He suddenly coughed . . .
And collapsed in a shower of shit.

One mammoth turd blocked up his arse,
Around it no fart could be passed,
His bowel filled with farts,
From his arse to his heart,
And inflated his belly with gas.

All at once the poor farter exploded,
His expanding bowel overloaded,
The room filled with screams,
As gas-filled intestines,
Rose up to the ceiling and floated,

Like a string of long brown balloons,
His innards were strung round the room,
The odour was ripe,
So the Count lit his pipe,
And the whole place went up with a BOOM!

His bunghole was blown back to Sparta,
Where they buried the rest of our farter,
With a gravestone of turds
Inscribed with these words:
"To the Fine Art of Farting, A Martyr."


Albert De La Vega said:
In my view, music is sound and noise. Sometimes rhythmic, sometimes arhythmic. To go all "misty eyed" as you say, is not accurate. The style of music you like or choose to listen to, now that is something altogether different.

I dont really like a lost of post minimalist, surreal, "let's put a dog barking, kicking a can, while I flatulate the theme to Bonanza" kind of music. But that is my choice. That does not mean that someone else may consider it music.

Although flatulating the theme to Bonanza would be an astonishing accomplishment in my book
You know that there really is a heavy metal / death metal band that uses a dog barking as its lead singer...

Thomas Green said:
"One must keep an open mind, at least for the first 30 seconds of play."

Ha ha... now THAT is why the first 30 seconds are so darn important :)

I'm not fussed on avant-garde type things either,.... it just doesn't seem to be the right era for perplexing (or downright peeving) your audience. Although a bit of spontaneous theater can be handy for when you haven't prepared enough music and have to make up some time in a set :)
If there was a triangle, the pointS of which were pitch, timbre and rhythm. A purely tonal piece could be played on any pitched instrument and with any rhythm and retain its meaning and would be defined as a point at the extreme of the pitch corner. A rhythmic piece where all of it's meaning could be realised with clicks would be at the rhythm corner.Where the meaning is contained in the character of the sound, the timbre corner.

Does this allow all 'works of created sound' to be plotted, somewhat subjectively within the triangle as points. Could then each persons definition of music be drawn as a containing boundary shape (or set of shapes) within the triangle?
music is something that is composed. music is not something that just happens. a piece of music is ether composed by a single person or is a creation of a communal progress (such as improvisation in a group, a 'compositional progress' over generations (folk music) or composing with a partner). it is deliberately made as a piece of music, although it may happen unconsciously.

the sound of a stream of water is not music. a lions roar is not music. a birds singing is not music (you don't find birds making new tunes just to express them selves better, do you?).

but if i were to build a device that directs the water stream in a specific way to express my musical ideas, then it would be music. if i trained the lion to roar to my musical idea, then that would be music. if i trained the bird to express my ideas musically then that too would be music .
you can use what ever you have to express your ideas musically, but it has to be deliberate to really be music.

of course this is just my opinion, but I think it works pretty well.

Organised sound is good for me. Sound that someone has wanted to be played/sung/performed/shown/whatever in an attempt to make music. And by organised I include anything unorganised, too, like aleatoric music or avant-garde improvisation. Behind that all there's still an organised idea. And I also include silence, like in John Cage's 4'33".

Most music still covers some of the musical elements:

  • melody
  • harmony
  • rhythm
  • timbre
  • dynamics
  • structure

Some of the elements might be in focus, some might be missing. But any sound might include anything from the list above, without being music. If a blackbird sings in the woods and no human is there listening to it, is it music? In my opinion it can only be called music, if a human really finds musical values in it. The bird itself doesn't care about musical values.

What birds exactly? I mentioned the Blackbird (Turdus Merula) because that's my favourite. The song of the Blackbird sounds improvised, whereas its cousin the Song Thrush (Turdus Philomela) seems to be repeating mostly the same or very similar phrases. The mechanisms that make the bird song evolve lead to a great variety among species and even if some "sing" very beautifully, a human ear is still needed to put musical value in it. The female bird is nothing but sexually attracted to the song. (Um... yes, there are some resemblance to human behaviour.)

Not only is the Blackbird song more improvised. I also like the timbre of the song. Sometimes it sounds like a wooden traverso flute. But it's not more music than the song of the Song Thrush. The Song Thrush kind of keeps its song more minimalistic. All that said, I still don't really consider it music. Though I could record it and use it in some composition consisting solely of bird song recordings.

One can define what is music analogously to attempts to define sciences. E.g., a science called "Artificial Intelligence" can be defined in two ways: 1) It is modeling of human intelligence (but no one knows what is human intelligence); 2) It is a collection of 8-10 specific disciplines (Computer Vision, Pattern Recognition, Knowledge Representation etc).

 

I think method 2 can be applied here. Music is a discipline that includes 8-10 (or more) specific sub-disciplines: performance, composition, theory of the form, harmony, notation conventions, genres, aesthetics etc. You can expand this list according to actual activities of the musicians, listeners and music businessmen. So I think the definition by Johan Halmén is in this style.

Tyler. I agree with you and Varese! Get your money back for the book. It annoys the crap ( there is a lot in me!) out of me when I make a piece of sound art and people refuse to consider it some sort of music.
Tyler. I agree with you and Varese! Get your money back for the book. It annoys the crap ( there is a lot in me!) out of me when I make a piece of sound art and people refuse to consider it some sort of music.

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