What is Music?
Music has many elements – pitch, rhythm, texture, dynamics – but what exactly is music? Having studied and taught music I know the standard answer to be ‘an order of sounds’. In other words, take a few different sounds – any sounds – arrange them into an order of your pleasing, and you have, at least by one definition, a piece of music. As an example think of the following sounds:
- A lever on an old-style cash register being pressed.
- A lever on an old-style cash register being released.
- The cash register’s bell ringing.
- Money jingling.
- Paper tearing.
- Some noises produced by tape effects.
This, although not what we might consider to be music in the conventional sense, can still be regarded as music. After repeating the above sequence of sounds two or three times I could start to expand the composition by adding other sounds, such as a bass and electric guitar, for example, followed by drums. However, at this point it’s likely that I would be sued by the original composer. (The music described here is the track ‘Money’ from Pink Floyd’s classic 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon.)
I recently saw an interview with the renowned minimalist composer Philip Glass (pictured left), on the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ programme, who defined music as
“…the most eloquent language that human beings use to communicate with each other.”
He did go on to concede that an artist might equally use this definition for art, and a poet for poetry, before revealing another enlightened definition:
“Music is a place, and it’s as real as Chicago or Indianapolis, or the city you live in. It’s an absolute place, and once you know where that place is, you can go there.”
You can choose for yourself which definition you think is closest to the truth, but maybe they are all true.