What Music Could Be
“The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre."
”Vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.”
"The hidden arithmetical exercise of a soul unconscious that it is calculating" Leibniz (a contemporary of J.S. Bach)
What Is Music? The above three definitions are outdated. Where does the border between music and sound lie? Is there something other worldly or mystical about music? Can music create altered states of perception, or the possibility of experiencing these? How is music the language of us all? What is music’s place in a rational, scientific culture? What is the value of music?
All these questions deserve some updated answers...
John Cage thought that any sound can be music: He said that,"There is no noise, only sound" in an attempt to make us aware of the musical possibilities contained in the sounds and acoustic spaces that surround us all day long.
Not least in the field of music has the computer become a ubiquitous tool. Without it, contemporary composers would not be able to make significant new music with any depth and flexibility. Composition software speeds up the process by automation, for example, in cutting and pasting just like any word processor, and allowing the composer to hear instantly the results. What Mozart would have done with notation software like Finale or Sibelius is hard to imagine.
Using software is a highly flexible and efficient application of the "old" way of getting music onto paper. In addition, music can now be written by using digitally sampled sounds. Mini music files are kept in a library and then joined up by the composer to make a piece of music. "Sequencing" is a process of joining together building bricks made of sound, each sample being akin to an acoustic Lego brick. A composer can easily record and incorporate his own sounds or music fragments into this digital work station (DAW) and manipulate the result exactly as a sound engineer would in a recording studio.
The DAW hasn't superseded the "old" way of writing down the notes but is the way of music today and into the future.
Throw in the internet and social media as ways of distributing and promoting contemporary music and you can see how the field is wide open for any individual to express themselves in this medium and make their mark known.
Modern Art's Dilemma
Art used to be so straightforward. You could look at a picture, a scene, a portrait and understand what the artist was describing. In modern times art has become as much to do with what goes on in the artist's head as what he or she sees around them. Add to this the emphasis in our culture on the individual and originality and the result is rootless, "difficult" art.
There are no general criteria any more on which to judge a specific piece of art. The universal subject - nature, life, the universe - has become particular and personal, of much more relevance to the artist than the viewer.
Modern art has more to do with shapes and patterns, rather than purpose. This is interesting because the same applies to contemporary music. Sound textures and rhythm patterns are made for their own sake. This has a kinship with oriental, spiritual philosophies of zen and the Tao where an object, the painting, the music, are what they are in themselves. They do not represent or point to anything "other".
These are restless times, musically speaking, when anything can and will happen, when definitions of what music is are changing, where the borders that lie between art forms are shifting.