(And what isn’t)
Probably one of the greatest questions of all times. Especially for someone like me who has been in a loving relationship with music for about a decade now. A question which, in reality, rarely comes up. But when asked about it, no logical answer springs to my mind.
Is music only what an artist decides to call so? Is music really a universal language? Is it redundant to still address it as music, and not eventually as “just” art?
Well, [to me] music is an universal language. I listen to music actively, to understand it, to feel it. Music speaks to us without the need for any translation.
Probably the roughest and most intricate of arts. Music is raw and powerful. It can stimulate your brain as nothing else can (well, maybe VR and 3D visuals can go that far, but let’s not take such a tangent just yet).
Sound is an entity which we can’t seem to perceive. It exists without a form and it carries meaning well beyond the scope of its notation.
“When I hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking. And talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships. But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic — here on Sixth Avenue, for instance — I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I love the activity of sound.. .I don’t need sound to talk to me.” (Cage, 1991) (1)
The composer as the ultimate sonoric artist.
I believe there should not be a formal distinction between music and art. The boundaries between the two have been crossed so many times that is it rather ingenuous to think of music as separate from art.
Sure — artistically, sound has its own cluster within which it flourishes and develops. But its creation and execution merge so seamlessly into other works of art — be it visual, stimulatory, etc. — that we should begin to look at sound just like we do with “art” itself.
But if everything can be music — What isn’t music?
When discussing about such a primitive and personal matter as that of music everyone’s personal taste influences a possible critical reflection about the boundaries of the existence of music itself.
To be called music, a sonoric event arguably has to possess some well-agreed characteristics. Music needs to develop over time, and present measurable frequencies — which can either translate into perceived or symbolic pitches. So, following these standards, noise and silence cannot be called music. But if these two elements are indeed a crucial component of music, why their presence alone should not be considered musical?
What I consider to be music — be it a musical preference of mine or not — is, most probably, different than what other individuals think as music.
It is also for this reasons that the threshold below which music can’t be considered as such anymore is still to be delineated. And it is why the question in the main title above will never find an answer we would all agree with.
- Quote of Cage, in an interview with Miroslav Sebestik, 1991; in Listen, documentary by Miroslav Sebestik. ARTE France Développement, 2003.
Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.