The Sound of Music

sound_waveIts not often that someone posits the question “is unorganized sound or non-traditional instrumentation “sound art” but not music?” with the idea of validating sound as art. I commend this approach. The issue I have (separating sound from music) with that is it ends up strengthening the musical reactionary’s view that music is sacred and that a line needs to be drawn as to what music is (of course with the reactionist drawing the line right?). They’re not going to take the time to think about sound as art, but will argue that not only is non-organized sound, etc., not music but that it also is not art. So now where are we?

Hence, I prefer to look at sound art as a subcategory of music. Specifically like this:

Art
Music
Sound and all genres of music

My personal view is that since art and its subcategory of music are so subjective, that music is whatever the composer wants it to be. I debated this with my father yesterday and he angrily asked, “so if I take a piss, is that music?” I replied, “sure. Its not up to me to tell the world if that was music or not, but I reserve the right to call that some of the worst music I’ve ever heard.”

We then broke down the argument, where he reserved “talent” as a key ingredient in music. I said, “so if I have no talent but play the theme for Ode to Joy on the kazoo badly (which anyone can do), are you implying that is not music?” He then refined his argument (although he didn’t realize he was being redundant) to state that “a talented performance” was a key factor in defining music. I then asked, “how much talent exactly does it take to play chopsticks?” Well then he tried to trip me up with references to some variations on chopsticks at which point I asked, “so if I play Mary Had a Little Lam with one finger, off time, is that not music?” He wisely gave up and was content to call me a crackpot which I was content with as well.

ADDENDUM:  By the way, someone playing “Mary Had a Little Lam” on one finger off time could end up as a great work.  I don’t know about pissing in a toilet (who knows if miked right), but a running stream in the middle of a forest contains quite an array of music.

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4 thoughts on “The Sound of Music

  1. It’s something I think about quite a fair bit too, though I think my parameters are defined a little differently from yours. My position stems from Feldman’s own: his impatience at composers for always seeing the glass half empty rather than half full; and that the artists he knew seemed to view the visual arts as a field containing almost limitless possibilities whereas composers tended to view what one could do as somehow finite. This of course gives rise to the competitiveness and clique-ishness and exclusivity we see in so much of new music, not to mention the defensiveness and narrow-mindedness of many composers. Feldman tells a story of an artist friend of his who saw an amazing new work by a fellow artist and commented: I’m glad that he’s done that and done it so well, now I can move on and do something else! It’s rare to find a composer who says the same thing with honesty. But that’s changing I think, and about time too! In that specific Feldmanesque sense, I do hope composers become more like artists, that music becomes, less a craft, and more an art.

    Oh boy, I really should get off my soapbox now. 🙂

    How’s it goin’ James? 🙂

    PS: I try to avoid aesthetic discussions with my dad. You’re a brave man JC Combs. 🙂

  2. Going well, thanks for commenting!

    “This of course gives rise to the competitiveness and clique-ishness and exclusivity we see in so much of new music, not to mention the defensiveness and narrow-mindedness of many composers.”

    Absolutely agree.

    50 years later…, you’d think we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  3. hey!
    I enjoyed reading, really I found things I often think about…
    we are in a turning point I think, quite some people is noticing this …
    I also would say that there is a certain coming back to question sounds, not only just “use them” for their physical characteristic but for their very meaning in a paragraph , so to say, of music.
    Many people sick of listening to “sgrdlfishhh sgrdl rmpg grlmbhbhbhbh” if it is not there for something to “say” more then the sound itself…
    Feldman is a good point: He was one of the ones who cleaned up the minds of some generations… with beauty and talent.
    I often use his phrase that Marc Chan quote here!!! thanks Marc, and thanks Mr Combs.
    My best wishes friends,

    Spiritini
    PS: I apologize for not having participated to the Frideys jet, I am having a full period of works lately (fortunately …

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