Wednesday, October 19, 2011

re: Does music need to communicate something to be considered intelligent?

     Becky-Jo recently asked a question of intelligence in music, whether music needs to communicate something to be considered intelligent.  I do not think it does.  I think that music most likely always communicates something to each individual listener, but it may be something different than the composer intended to communicate, which may have been nothing.  Yet even if nothing extraneous is communicated, the music remains.  I believe the music, if music, can stand on its own and retain its intelligence without needing to communicate something. 

personal music

     I saw an old friend this weekend that I hadn't seen in over ten years.  We were always very close, and very connected with music.  We talked about music all the time, and searched for meaning in it, and for the meaning it held for each of us.  She made me a cd of songs I hadn't heard before, and I've been listening to it a lot the past few days.  It inspired me to take a look at my cd's and search for those songs I used to pore over, the ones that got me through.  I put together a cd of these songs, and I was led through a journey of my life, and the meaning of those songs for me.  I think that experience, and this weekend, were cathartic, indeed.
     One of the songs she gave me was of a girls choir singing a popular tune.  It is so beautiful, both because it is done in a different way, and also because she gave it to me.  Those things can change the quality of a song, a personal connection, and a new performance of it.  It is an example of ascribing emotion to music, but in a different sort of way; not in saying that something is happy or sad, but that the experience of it carries with it personal emotion.

Does a personal connection to a piece of music speak to the aesthetics of that piece in any way, or merely to the listener, or the performer?

Friday, October 14, 2011

re: If one's philosophy is both debunked and aided by a single topic, does that increase or decrease the credibility of said philosophy?

     Peter's question brings the answer that perhaps the philosophy in question needs elaboration.  Any philosophy that can both prove itself, and contradict itself, is fascinating, but needs more attention.  Something like that that will receive such attention, and conflicting ideas surrounding it, perhaps can go either way.  Such a situation puts the philosophy's credibility into question, but does not discredit it entirely until further thought can be given.  The evolution of the idea may not have ended, and there may be new circumstances available to shed light on the particular philosophy.

How do we resolve the irony that music exists and is clearly recognizable, yet we find it difficult to define?


     In watching and reading this slideshow Dr. Johnson posted, I started thinking about how very affecting art is, and how it is the same for music specifically.  There were so many quotations in that slideshow that got me thinking, I cannot even choose just one to showcase here.  Creating is like an escape, and a great place to be, unlike any other.  Experiencing music and performance can be life-changing, and unlike any other experience.  It is so compelling, to create, to watch, to listen.  It is unfortunate when we are so busy that we are unable to give in to that compulsion, for we miss such wonderful opportunities in thought. 
     How creating music, or anything, stimulates and excites.... it is a passion, and like an illness, a force all its own.  Music can make you think about things in an entirely new way, or even just to think about something at all, that you may not have before.  Music does reflect our world, and how wonderful that it endures, and continues telling that story.  All that music takes in us to create, to experience; how it sustains us, and all that it gives us all, emotionally, intellectually, socially - how can it be anything but Art?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Q and A, 5

     The significance of Hamilton's desire to defend an aesthetic conception of music lies in its past and present views.  Music has historically been regarded as aesthetic, but only secondary to natural or mathematical or ethical.  These distinctions take away from the actual intention of music as a means to an aesthetic end, and Hamilton means to bring that intention to the forefront, and define music correctly.  Also, perhaps more importantly, music for aesthetic purposes has been viewed as natural, or godly, and thus outside the realm of human experience, whereas the human experience of creating music has been viewed not as an art, thus lowering its status and claiming it is not aesthetic in nature.  Hamilton means to prove that practices of craft are still aesthetic in nature, that art and aesthetics are not always synonymous.
     Yet Hamilton talks of music as being art with at least a lowercase 'a', which means to signify music's aesthetic intention.  It is important to defend this claim because music is indeed a human activity with aesthetics at its core.  As Hamilton says in his introduction, " is abstract in form, but humane in utterance - and utterance is essential."  However previously or contemporarily viewed, music is and always has been humane in utterance and experience, and that speaks directly to determining the aesthetics of music.
     And so, Hamilton's desire to articulate and defend an aesthetic conception of music is significant because this conception is actually the link between all the differing views of music, yet not always apparently, and it needs to be made apparent.

Is music merely craft?  What is the distinction between a craft or skill, and art?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

re: Do you think computers can create music?

     Sean's question asks if computers can create music, and I think that's complicated because, like he said, computers only put out the programs that humans have entered.  The physical computer, that box sitting on the floor, obviously can't create anything but a surface for a modem and dust, but if you think of a computer as a human composer's tool and instrument, then maybe.  How is programming the computer to make sounds any fundamentally different than plucking out those sounds on a keyboard?  Obviously, the sound quality, and aesthetic quality will be different, but is that enough to discount the computer's sounds as music? 
     If the person programs the computer to make music, it's making music, as an instrument, but not as a creative being unto itself.  But as an object, a computer cannot create music, any more than a rock can.

Q and A, 4

     Adorno was an ultimate non-conformist, and felt music should change the world in some way, should be intelligent and decisive and independent.  I think what he loved about music was that it needn't follow society's rules, or anyone's rules.  And he found, with modern music, that music didn't even have to follow music's rules.  Being free of these confinements, music could be autonomous, and exist on its own; and the more autonomous it could be, the truer and more important, to music, it became. 
     Breaking all the rules, and seeking contradictions, produces musical dissonance, and in that sound lay reflections of society, according to Adorno.  It could make a true and profound statement.  Unrest, harsh truth, need for change - contradictions in society, as in the music.  An autonomous art reflecting social truth.
     I think this is why more conforming music was troubling and unappealing for him.  Having less autonomy, this music became less important and less skilled, and reflected only conformism.  He found that boring, and worse, it said something sad and negative about society to him, like music had let him down.

Can music affect societal change?

Is there something valid in Adorno's point that you don't even have to be paying attention to popular music to listen to it?  Is that unfortunate for us as listeners, for society, for musical culture?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

mystery of music

     There are so many different ideas about the philosophy of music, and what it is, and how it appears, and how it fits in the world.  Is there anything new to say?  Is there any way to make one person agree with another's truth?  Is there a universal truth of it?  If I think there is, there is someone to disagree with me.  What I love about philosophy is the argument, making your case, and proving something to be so.  But don't we get lost in the words, and lose sight of the real truth, which may just be what we do NOT know, and cannot prove?  In trying to find the absolute truth of it, and define it, we end up defining it away, until the thing we're defining is unrecognizable.  And in so doing, we are missing all of it, all the beauty of it.
     Whatever music is, however it appears, and however it fits, we all know what it does, and how we feel about it.  It does connect, and disconnect people; it does reflect society, and fight against society; it transforms us, and gives us so much, whether making music or listening, or being a part of it all.  Sharing music gives us joy and excitement, and we would all be the lesser without it.  Music is a beautiful, beautiful thing, and we just know that.  Are we stripping away its magic when we should be rejoicing in it?   The gloriousness of music is how it affects us as it does, and how powerful it can be in bringing us together.  Are we losing that by listening so hard for a truth that perhaps eludes us all?
     My daughter tries hard to learn the words of every song she hears, so she can sing them again and again, and ends every line on a high note.  My son likes to listen, but prefers to make up his own songs, and he has perfect pitch.  What are they getting from music, and why are they so drawn to it?  What is it in music that is so universal that connects us all in our desire for it, and each of us in our own way?  It is an irresistible beauty and a thing-you-can't-put-a-finger-on, to put it technically, and does that gall us?  Is that why we continue searching and explaining?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

value of emotion

     Zangwill stated that music does not possess emotion; that we are not hearing emotion when we listen to music, but that it is we alone who are bringing the emotion.  I get what he's saying, that music cannot be emotional in and of itself, I guess I just don't think it's that simple.  Music is created by human beings, and as much as it makes us feel something when we hear it (whether real emotion or not,) it makes us feel something when we create it, as well.  What the composer is feeling when he is composing music is relevant, and intertwined in that music in some way.  Furthermore, if we feel sad listening to something, it is very likely that our feeling that way is exactly what the composer intended, and the same for any other feeling we get from any music.  The composer arranged the music the way he did to convey emotion.
     Certainly, we can feel a way not intended by the composer when listening to something, too.  And certainly, we can feel nothing but pleasure at beautiful music, and the composer could have intended us to feel nothing but that.  But I don't think that distracts from the fact that many times music is created in such a way as to incite emotion in listeners, and that feeling is felt when creating music, and so I don't think it's so easy to simply say that music is not emotion; in many instances, I think it is intended to be, and is written as such.
     I think the emotional intention, and feeling present, when creating the music has a bigger role to play in the value of emotion in music.

Does written music need to be played or sung to be music?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Q and A, 3

     In Nick Zangwill's essay, "Music, Metaphor, and Emotion," he claims that music is not inherently emotional.  He claims that the emotion terms we use to describe music are merely metaphors for aesthetic points in the music, and not real emotions found in music.  He outlines this aesthetic metaphor thesis to explain away others' points of view as erroneous.
     In Zangwill's statement Dr. Johnson quoted, "The nature and value of music will elude us so long as we are mired in emotion," Zangwill explains that, although we relate to music in emotion terms, and may be delighted and pleasured greatly by music, music itself does not possess these emotions.  As he says, music can no more be proud or angry, than a rock is proud, or a cloud angry. These emotion terms are reflections, and our way of explaining, the aesthetic properties in the music, according to Zangwill, but not inherent in the music.

Music indeed has rules and guidelines of what makes it sound "good," and we are, indeed, responding to those various musical rules when we find beauty in a piece of music, just as the composer strove to find the beauty in those guidelines while creating the music.  But does that mean that all we are hearing, as listeners, are those aesthetic qualities?  Do we not hear the composer's emotional feeling that he may be trying to convey?  Do we not feel real emotion when we listen?

Monday, September 26, 2011

re: ...What does poetry lack, that makes it unqualified to be considered music?

     The answer to Becky-Jo's question might be as simple as saying that poetry, with all of its beautiful rhythms and melodies, remains written word, or spoken word, as opposed to written words with musical notes ascribed to them, or sung words.  Just as a letter to someone, or a novel, can appear poetic, yet is not truly poetry, so can poetry appear musical, and yet not be music.

Why is singing a series of notes different from playing that same series of notes on another instrument, and not singing?

Q and A, 2

     The problem with defining music as merely organized sound, is that it is too broad a definition, just as "The Philosophy of Music" article states.  That definition encompasses sounds that are not musical, like poetry, speech, sound art, and machine and animal sounds.  I think my definition is a working start, to find a way to simply define music, but as I am not a professional philosopher, I am sure it is lacking in some way: notes intentionally joined together in an organized and meaningful way.  Is it enough to say notes instead of sound?  I am not sure.  I think Becky-Jo's idea of a musical toolkit is interesting, in that perhaps we need to be explicit in the parameters we set to define what makes sounds musical.  Perhaps the definition cannot be as simple as we want it to be.
     Some of the philosophers outlined in the article suggest that what makes sounds music is that its intention is to create an experience through engaging with the sounds, or to suggest that only pure music can be music.  I find these suggestions problematic, since I don't think either of these things need be true for something to be musical.  A song is surely music, and certainly something can be music without there being an audience to hear it.  As well, it cannot be sound that is merely expressive, as there are other expressive sounds that are not musical.
    The only prospect I find in defining music as simply organized sound, is that this definition ensures that no music will be left out, such as song, or pot-banging, or as the article mentions, untuned symphonic percussion.

Is it really this complicated, to define music, or are we just getting lost in the words and the thinking? 
Do we intrinsically know music, and how to create it?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

music in real time.

     I've been thinking more about what music I am surrounded by, and how it's changed what music is for me these days.  It used to be very cathartic, music: heavy emotion, high ups and downs, joyful, sad, transforming, inspiring, etc...  Now, it's cartoon jingles, goodnight songs, nursery rhymes, and made-up tunes to sing to my children.  Simplified and positive; while not wholly fulfilling, I enjoy it all.  I do manage to squeeze in some grown-up good stuff now and then, and even got my son hooked on some of it, but all that amazing music out there that I was once surrounded by, is no longer the soundtrack of my life.  And it seems that when I have a chance to be alone, I embrace the quiet.
      I have found, when I do see a show, a concert, or listen to music at home, that I enjoy it fully.  It's pleasurable, and positive.  I can still be transported by an amazing piece of music, or awed by something new, or entranced in a song, but it is not all-consuming. There is comfort, too, in that the music hasn't changed; I have.  Music is amazing in how it affects us, how our memories impact how we hear something, or perform something.  When I sing "Rock-a-bye Baby," I am affected only by the joy it gives my daughter; when I sing her something from my past, or my childhood, it is emotional and moving for me, but then the song is over, and I'm right back to nursery rhyme mood.  It's nice. There is a lot to be said for being completely immersed in a thing, and the benefit of that can be great and amazing, but a little perspective and a "Rock-a-bye Baby" can go a long way.

A piece of music is always open for interpretation in many different ways; is it possible to get away from our perceptions and simply hear or play the music, or are we constantly interpreting it?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

re: Does the definition of nature limit music to a product of humans?

     I think this answer to Becky-Jo's question depends on our definition of music, too.  I always feel arrogant supposing that humans are the only beings that can do something, even if it's true, because I feel like I'm being elitist, or excluding other valuable beings.  But, truthfully, actions and sounds made by beings and things in nature (excluding humans) are dictated by instinct and survival alone; they are not creative expressions of purposefully organized sound.
     Perhaps we do need to eliminate human action from our definition of nature, as Becky-Jo found, for this purpose.  We make sounds and actions instinctively, too, but not in music.  We may sing or hum reflexively, but we've learned to do that in certain instances, and I think that is very different from the purpose and instinct of a birdsong.  We may use music as a way to communicate something, but it is not the same instinctive reflex as say, yelling if you are afraid, or in pain, is a way to communicate.
     For these reasons, I think music (by our working definition) is indeed a product of humans alone, and as all art, not made by beings and things in nature.

Is singing, humming, playing an instrument (even an invented one,) in any small way, natural?  How do we make the distinction between what is music and what is instinctive amongst humans?  If we speculate that music is a human activity, is it even important for us to make this distinction?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

re: Can an artwork really be considered art if it does not [meet our aesthetic expectations]?

     To answer Sean's question, I would say, first, that what is aesthetically pleasing to one, is not to another, and vice versa.  Aesthetics, while a philosophical discipline and field of study, is an emotional response, making it very subjective.
     Art is a creative expression, whatever form that may take, and all such expressions may not meet our aesthetic expectations.  However, because they are creatively expressed, I do not think they can be discounted, and therefore should be considered art.

With all the subjectivity and emotion of art, can there be a real objective truth in aesthetics, or a true beauty, or are the subjective truths all true?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

notes and music

     Music isn't just notes.  Notes are notes.  I would say that music is notes intentionally joined together, by someone or something, in an organized and meaningful way.  A person can yell, and its sound is a particular note, or several notes, but it is not music.  A cat mewing, or even a pot hitting the stove can sound a note, yet it is not music.  And wind through the trees may sound beautiful, but I would deny that it is music.
     Music is intentional, and not an accident.  If a pianist is improvising and playing random notes, and stumbles upon some combination he or she likes, and decides to play them again, that choice would give the notes intention, and make music.  Likewise if I am intentionally randomly humming a made-up tune, it is music.  And if a child strikes a pot several times and several different ways, and means it to be music, then it is.

Is a birdsong music, or language? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

emotion transforming, yet retaining, the music.

     Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony almost 200 years ago.  He conducted only the tempo of the piece, as he was deaf, for its first performance, and shared the directing with another conductor.  It was the first choral symphony ever to be written.  I wonder how what he wrote was altered that evening by these facts.  The second conductor, Beethoven's deafness, the chorus, the soloists, the orchestra, and the audience - their emotions, moods, and energies all changed, even in a small way, this piece of music forever.  And each time the ninth symphony has been conducted, played, sung, and listened to in all these years since, more small changes and alterations occurred.
     The music belongs to each participant, in a way, and their reactions to the music make their experiences different, or the same.  But I would maintain that the music of this symphony, however gently altered in so many ways and so many countless times, retains its original beauty and intent.  Those things are at the heart of the music, and do not alter; each participant experiences them, however uniquely.

 Is music inherently emotional?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Q and A, 1

     An epistemological claim in "Aesthetics", by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, might be, "For one can describe works of art, often enough, in terms which relate primarily to the emotional and mental life of human beings.", found on page 2. This claim shows the nature of our knowledge of art, and how we come to know art.   
     An ontological or metaphysical claim, in seeking what art is and how it works, might be, "Pure beauty, in other words, simply holds our mind's attention: we have no further concern than contemplating the object itself.", found on page 1.
     Suggesting that art's value is subjective, an axiological claim might be, "...'Aida' and 'The Sound of Music' have equal value for their respective audiences.", found on page 2.

     An example of intellectual courage is found as well on page 2, where George Dickie argues, "... the artwork as a thing in itself.", concluding that the aesthetic attitude "reduced to just close attention to whatever holds one's mind in an artwork, against the tradition which believed it had a certain psychological quality," etc... This courage continued on pages 5 and 6, where the nature of creativity was explored, and all the players involved in any one artwork, and getting at the heart of what it means to create art.  These ideas are put forth in the face of what others had previously thought, and perhaps in more depth.
     A critical thinking example is on page 3, where Timothy Binkley talks about imitations of art resembling the original art, but being very differently perceived because of each piece's individual history, and that of its artist.  This is building on others thoughts, but questioning deeper.
     A judgment is made on page 5, declaring that, "unless we believe that fictions are real, how can we, for instance, be moved by the fate of Anna Karenina?", and Radford's, "'the paradox of emotional response to fiction' was unsolvable."

     A deductive argument is found on page 3, where the author talks about David Best, "Task sports have less 'art' in them, since they are not as creative as the purposive ones."
     An inductive argument might be where the author echoes Kant, saying, "The shared enjoyment of a sunset or a beach shows there is harmony between us all, and the world."

1. If someone says they like or dislike an artwork, does that tell you anything about the artwork?
2. Can the art of an artwork be separate from the emotion of the audience, or the artist?