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?
In my opinion, John Cage said it best: "Music is intended noise."
In a simplified form maybe, but there's loads of cool stuff going on.
Like, music is really any set of noises that the brain can pull it's pattern recognition/Starbuck's pebbles bullshit on. A lot of that is down to cultural learning and tradition but there are *sort of* constraints on what CAN be considered music. For example, the number of notes in an octave isn't entirely arbitrary, well, it's a arbitrary, but basically, if you divide an octave up into a small number of tones then the number of interesting melodies you can make is severely limited. At the other end it starts to get too complex for your head to relate it to whatever musical tradition you happed to be steeped in. Most natural musical traditions divide the octave up into between 7 and 20 tones, microtonal scales exist in theory far more than practice, the majority of traditions that use microtones use them in much the same way that the blues uses bent notes, as grace notes largely. This is pretty much why the music of people like Harry Paartch sounds kinda, well... like ass, but there is cool science too! Yay:
What makes a good musician?
TRADITION! No really.. Ok quick disclaimer, this next sentence may or may not sound like bollocks: The brain organises it's interpretation of tone in a similar way to colour. They did some cool experiments where they played people a tone that would slowly increase in pitch (let's say E to F for ease), basically there is a point somewhere inbetween those two tones where brains go "this isn't a sharp E anymore, this is a flat F". That's part of why (probably) listening to music which uses different intervals than the ones we're used to can be quite unpleasant, because the tones and harmonies created conflict with the way the brain has taught itself that tones and harmonies are SUPPOSED to happen.
Why music and not silence?
There's some spurious evolutionary psychology claiming that music is the basis of language, it evolved as our original form of communication... I said spurious didn't I?
Marginally less spurious is the claim that music is/was useful for regulating group emotions (fairly sure there is actually a study on that...) thus improving group cohesion.
Mostly, music is fucking awesome.