in recent months, a large part of my endless musings that occupy me while i perform repetitive tasks such as driving, walking, housework and translation have been devoted to what i would term the philosophy of music, a kind of tentative prolegomena to a fundamental aesthetic and ontology of music, or, in less reprehensibly multisyllabic terms, to answering questions such as
what is music?
why do we like what we like, dislike what we dislike, and disregard what we disregard in the field of music?
what makes a good listener and what makes a good musician?
what makes a poor listener and a poor musician?
and, as heidegger may well have asked before me, why is there music at all and why is there not silence instead?
the whole thing got inspired by the semi-regular youtube sessions we have with a friend
he is actually a musician in that most venerable sense: he makes a living out of composing, recording and playing live
this is his band's site, and here you can see him plying his trade
for the last couple-few years this has been the routine: i visit him, we partake of illegal substances that we never partake of, and then shove pieces of music at each other on youtube - our latest finds
the thing is, though, although we get along like a house (a small house) on fire and have pretty similar outlooks on life and even respect each other as musicians, quite often we are baffled by the other's selections: while most of the time nothing seems offensive or crap, quite often we don't see what the big deal is about the offerings of the other and only rarely do we hit on something we both consider to be a true gem
and then a while back i went and showed him New Shoes by Paolo Nutini (which i thought was certainly not very serious, certainly terribly pop, but still a great deal of fun, the artless self-confidence of a young Jagger married to considerable vocal and compositional talent)
and he told me to get the fuck out of there with that tingly-tangly anglo-pop shite
for a few weeks, i was just plain offended and hurt, then i started thinking
eventually i came to the realisation that within the very broad field of what gets called music by someone or another, there are two basic, very different conceptions of music at work (though often both at the same time, in variable proportions), one in all likelyhood very old, the other comparatively recent, and that our experience was actually the result of a sort of tension or conflict between those two ways of experiencing and understanding music as such
for the old approach, music, the body of music that the musician and the listener both draw upon in order to get to grips with the experience of listening to music, is a part of the commons of a community (which could be as narrow as a single tribe or as wide, these days, as humanity entire) - individual musicians rely on that body of music and occasionally (or even frequently, these days) they may also add to it, but they conceive of music as a community project with a long history
for the more recent approach, creating music is a form of (individual or small group, but still) self-expression, a way of communicating a message (which can range from the rather vague "this is what i'm like when i strut my stuff" to pretty specific things such as "stop the war" or "tax the churches"), a way of letting a personality (or a few) shine through the sounds
my friend belongs in the former school of thought
i am firmly planted in the latter
hence the disagreements about what's great
all this, of course, has interesting repercussions for the other questions i listed at the top
i would be honoured to read your views
also, i realise that similar lines of thought must have been entertained by a large number of people before me - so i'd also be grateful for any interesting resources