Music or Noise?

This post is a response to the question raised in my The music of words post. The question is “If the line between the melodic music and spoken music is blurred, where does the musician draw the line between music and noise?”

You might expect me, as a young musician trained by 20th and 21st century musicians to answer this question with what seems to be the modern musical response:  any and all noise is music. However, I do not agree with this. How can music be music if it is not acknowledged as music? I believe in absolute truths, but music is not an absolute. It is a fluid art form. Art in general is not absolute. It requires a designer, a perspective, an inspiration, and an audience. I agree that we can hear music everywhere, we just need to have our ears tuned into it. Many may argue that everything is art. Life is art. Life is music. This may be true metaphorically, but it is a stretch to say life is music. It is not an audible idea. Music and art strive to make sense out of life. Life does not usually make sense out of music. As a composer, life does not hand you music; it inspires you to write music. The composer explores a concept, whether musical or philosophical or other, and pass on their exploration or conclusion. The performer then has the responsibility to figure out what the composer intended and interpret the piece. They must make it their own. This is how one piece of written music can be heard as many works of music. The audience plays an important role as they absorb the music, whether listening critically or for the sake of enjoyment. Music affects its audience, if they are conscience of it or not. Music also can support other art forms such as drama, as it has since ancient times such as in Greek theater. In this context, music does not stand alone, but it is intertwined with the art of drama. Similarly, at an art gallery, music may be playing quietly. Here, music draws attention to the visual art displayed, taking a minor position in which it does not require interpretation.

Coming back to the original question, music needs to be made to be music. It also needs to be interpreted. As musicians, we distinguish what we understand as music and what is mere noise. Context is also important as music assumes different roles when it is found in different places. Music is music because it has been created, because it has been interpreted as such, because it has a role in art and society. So if you asked me “Music is in the sounds you hear in the city or in the woods or anywhere else in the world,” I would respond saying “I can agree with that. Then, what role does it play?”

{Out of noise, musicians make music.}

If college apps were a song…

…it’d be one scary song I assure you. It would probably be a good soundtrack for a horror movie too. Fast, chaotic, never-ending, repetitive, annoying, painful. It would be written for a wind and brass ensemble. The trumpets would use mutes heavily to create the thin, sharp tone. Overall, I auralize it as being almost a series of dissonant chords with no relief until the very end where it resolves to a major chord in a high register, similar to a picardy third. The chord progression, if you could call it one, would be repetitious so the same dissonance would eventually become somewhat orderly in that it is the same dissonance as before. There would be no key signature since the chords would have many accidentals and involve odd intervals such as tritones, major 7ths, augmented 6ths, etc. The piece would have straight chords at first. As the main theme developed, it would be seen in broken chords in the bass, overlapping with staccato soprano voices. At one point in the development, the chord progression would be used as a sort of canon, call-and-response, or imitation. The same basic chord progression would be carried by different voices, staggering the progression. The main point of the piece would be to create and imitate the emotions felt by those having to complete applications, specifically college applications. Those emotions would include anger, pain, irritation, tension, expectancy, and unrest. The idea of formulaic applications is largely a modern, western idea, thus their musical form would certainly fall into the category of 21st century, Western music.

{As you may have guessed, I have been in the process of filling out applications and I find them painful. I thought the emotions my peers and I faced was one many can relate to, thus, this idea of turning objects, such as college applications, into music was born.}