Sunday, July 21, 2013

Seperating Sound from the Music

I'm currently reading No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33" and in the process I have come across some interesting thoughts and ideas in the book and in my mind.

One of the first thoughts that struck me in the book was the idea of separating sounds that come from music from the music itself. That can be interpreted multiple ways, I think, but the way I think of it is disregarding and not knowingly thinking about pitches, rhythms, instruments, musicians, etc. when listening to music but rather just letting the sound waves coming from the music do the talking. In other words, reacting to the just the product rather than the producers and the product.

Many times we view music through a lens, some more than others (people who are musically inclined in some way especially) Example: I know some people that while listening to a song on the radio will exclaim, "Oooh, was that key change a half step up or a whole step?" and "Were those triplets there?" and similar. Other than being slightly annoying sometimes, it kind of puts the music behind observation glass, looking at it for its properties than going in and experiencing it for what it is. What I said above was sort of an extreme example, but people will do it subconsciously too. One thing I think everybody does subconsciously is when a favorite artist of ours pops up, we will give more credit to the sound of the music even if it is bad or not as good as the artist's other works because it feels as if we are cutting slack for an old friend. That is listening to music through a filter.

One thing should also be noted. This thought process applies more to music without lyrics as with vocal music, there is mostly two parts that determine its worth: the sound emanating from the vocalist(s) and instruments and the meaning of the words spoken. Thus, while the music can be "bad", the message can be good and vice versa.

Anyway, separating the sound from the music also applies to the properties of what we would call music. So far in the book, I have learned the John Cage was interested in making music out of what one would not usually call appropriate sounds for music (such as the piece that he is most famous for, 4'33") . He would use non-traditional music instruments in his works one of them being his famous prepared piano. Many people fix music to certain expectations such as melody, harmony, rhythm, etc. and don't believe that sound itself is music. Thus, if you detach music from sound then anything can be music. And you believe that sound can be music, than more attention will be brought to sounds in everyday life that most people ignore or don't recognize.

Do I believe that in order to achieve true musical "nirvana" one must relinquish the sound from the music? I don't think so, at least currently. I personally still have fascination in music theory and the lives and personalities of artists. I still like imagining how certain songs I hear were played or recorded and I don't listen to John Cage's work (though I think I'll make an effort to now). But, right now at least for me, I see separating sound from music as, if nothing else, an interesting thought experiment. I just wanted to get this brief thought out of my head and into text so that others may possibly think about it as well and judge whether they want to apply in one way or another into their own lives.  If nothing else, take away the power of observation of nature; beauty, and art, can take the shape of anything and that extends not just of course to music, but to all and anything that humans create.

 - Aidan

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