Thursday, May 20, 2010

Music, mine or yours, what is it?

Earlier this week I had a discussion about what constitutes "music". I was surprised to find, as I have been with others, that there is a disagreement on what it is.

How hard can it be, right? Music. But, what is it?

As a focal point, we picked old school Rap, as it was when it first came out. I really didn't like it. I didn't understand it. I liked music. Worse still, I mostly preferred guitar heavy music, instrumentals. Not just hard rock or "metal" but as I played guitar, I just understood that instrument best. I wasn't that hot on vocals and seldom could tell what they were singing about anyway. But, Rap. Rap was pure rhythm. Arguably, nearly percussion. More a blend. But, I liked "music".

Back when Rap first hit records, I had arguments with its fans that it wasn't really music. I said, until they add melody, it would remain a fringe genre and never make it big. It simply was not "music".

And so, when they did finally start to add melody to rap, only then did it explode commercially. I even started to like some of it. Some original rap was good, but much of it was just bad, still trying to find its form and a niche.

So the question is, can spoken word be considered "music"? I've always argued, N0. That's why its always been called, up until Rap, spoken word.

Consider some songs that have come out, even before Rap, where the "singer" isn't singing. Think, William Shatner in the 60s and plenty of exploitation songs\albums by the famous who can't really sing, but are such big stars their "songs" and albums sell anyway; some even made it big. Regardless, is THAT music? Now that IS a debate, I'll grant you that. But, when you have no singing voice, no melody, where's the concept of it being "music" come in?

Well, it doesn't.

I think part of the problem is in the definitions. One has to use words as they are generally defined and understood. That's what language is. We can't arbitrarily make up meanings. Although, we can specify definitions of words within a lexicon related to a specific field, your still can't simply just decide what a word means and expect others to know that.

Definition of "Music" from WordNet at Princeton University:

--an artistic form of auditory communication incorporating instrumental or vocal
tones in a structured and continuous manner

--any agreeable (pleasing and harmonious) sounds; "he fell asleep to the music of
the wind chimes"

--musical activity (singing or whistling etc.); "his music was his central

--(music) the sounds produced by singers or musical instruments (or reproductions
of such sounds)


And so, my argument came to an impasse. We basically agreed to disagree.

After this unsatisfactory ending to my argument, where my noble opponent thought music was pretty much anything anyone thinks it is, up against my definition it requiring melody, I then spoke with another who brought up two salient points.

One, that we need to define "melody" which I mistakenly assumed that everyone just intrinsically knows; and two, that this argument of mine had a lot to do with specificity and generalness; AND, definitions. Maybe, I wasn't in the right. But still I have a gut instinct, that I am.

So, what's music to YOU?

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