Author Topic: "Just Noises"  (Read 785 times)

Baxter

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"Just Noises"
« on: November 01, 2007, 01:31:56 PM »
A friend of mine who is currently finishing a music degree was expounding the reasons for his disenchantment with listening or the creation of musid because he is increasingly thinking that it is for want of a better brief description "just noises" or indeed "just telling people when to make noises".

I'd never really thought particularly deeply about the basic nature of music, I did carry the sort of basic assumption that there is something 'special' about harmonic tones that it plugged into something innate that made them sound pleasant when compared to discordant tones.

I've been exposed too and am increasingly swayed by the idea that this is merely a cultural conditioning, a prime example is the fact that the music my Iranian housemate plays sounds god-awful to me, I can hear that there is structure but I simply can't appreciate it as holding any beauty.

Rather than there being basic rules giving rise to the possibility of a universally enjoyable, is it true that all music is simply defined by relatively narrow rules appreciated only by those who have internalized said rules during their education?

NoSleep

  • feat. Keith Jarrett and his singing parrot
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Re: "Just Noises"
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2007, 02:25:32 PM »
A friend of mine who is currently finishing a music degree was expounding the reasons for his disenchantment with listening or the creation of musid because he is increasingly thinking that it is for want of a better brief description "just noises" or indeed "just telling people when to make noises".

The simplest definition of music is organised sound.

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I'd never really thought particularly deeply about the basic nature of music, I did carry the sort of basic assumption that there is something 'special' about harmonic tones that it plugged into something innate that made them sound pleasant when compared to discordant tones.

Your mind will respond to consonant harmonies in a different way to a random set of pitches played together, because harmonies do have a cleanliness to them due to the perfect ratios between the separate notes. Dissonance can be used alongside this to create differing effects.

I'd say rhythm, or at least the use of timing, is a key point of recognition in music as well, or something that separates random sound from what we call music.

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I've been exposed too and am increasingly swayed by the idea that this is merely a cultural conditioning, a prime example is the fact that the music my Iranian housemate plays sounds god-awful to me, I can hear that there is structure but I simply can't appreciate it as holding any beauty.

Western music (from the 20th Century onward) most often uses a scale that has some fairly dissonant compromises built into it. The 12 notes in the octave are all equidistant in pitch from one another in order to allow more complex explorations of melody and harmony such as changing the key within a single piece of music. The reason we don't hear these compromises as wrong is because we're used to them.
Possibly it's the musical scales employed by Iranian music that are what you're hearing as wrong, even though they may actually be shown to be closer to the perfect ratios mentioned before. You're just not used to them.

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Rather than there being basic rules giving rise to the possibility of a universally enjoyable, is it true that all music is simply defined by relatively narrow rules appreciated only by those who have internalized said rules during their education?

Music itself seems to be universal with humans. We have a point in our brains (observed, during scans, to "light up") that responds only to music. A different part responds to random sounds in our environment. You could describe us as a musical animal.
Different cultures have explored the possibilities of music in different ways. Each emphasises melody, harmony & rhythm in their own way.

Sam

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Re: "Just Noises"
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2007, 02:59:49 PM »
I recommend reading "How Musical is Man?" by John Blacking for a wonderful (and short!) musing on the nature of music, to what extent it is innate, to what extent the western classical tradition is just another "world" or "folk" music, the curious disctinction we have between musical and unmusical (not always shared in other cultures) the extent to which music is a part of life, whether its a mirror for it or is deeply ingrained in life itself, how music relates to children etc

There's some great writing on all this kinds of stuff. Having done a degree in music has certainly opened up my mind to more kinds of music and made me re-think what is actually music or musical. As has been said before, you don't want to get to the point where you are shedding a tear over the sound of a lorry reversing, but I certainly listen to Indian classical music with the same ease as western music, hearing beauty where others hear noise or dissonant. Listening to ultra-dissonant, high modernist 20th centruy classical music can also stretch your appreciation of what music is and how it can be ordered in this day and age. Birtwistle, Boulez, Ligeti, Messiaen, Stockhausen etc have all radically altered the way we perceive sound.

I also think there is a "musical quality" in a lot of non-musical things, such as movement, nature, images, painting and poetry. The lines between these all get blurred in the 20th century.

I think the idea of dissonance is slightly misleading, as one man's dissonance is another man's consonance. As Debussy said, "the dissonance of today is the consonance of tomorrow" and certainly after Beethoven many composers were writing for posterity, knowing their harmonies and sound structures were too radical for their time but may one day be appreciated.

To be any kind of organised sound is musical, whether it's Venetian Snares, Palestrina, Tom Waits, sub-Saharan pygmy music or anything really. It's all good.

alan nagsworth

  • even the bombs and scarecrows will sing
Re: "Just Noises"
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2007, 10:47:29 PM »
Your mind will respond to consonant harmonies in a different way to a random set of pitches played together, because harmonies do have a cleanliness to them due to the perfect ratios between the separate notes. Dissonance can be used alongside this to create differing effects.

I'd say rhythm, or at least the use of timing, is a key point of recognition in music as well, or something that separates random sound from what we call music.

But there are people who enjoy music that is random sound, and definitely people who enjoy freeform out-of-tune all over the place jazz music. What does that make these people, based on your theory? Does it make them smarter people for acknowledging the 'other side' of music, something the majority of people cannot comprehend? It's sometimes difficult to criticise peoples "simple" musical tastes if you're (not you specifically) a guy who likes spazzed out breakcore, improv jazz metal and avant garde classical music. And the same vice versa I would think, unless either party were stuck-up cunts, which in most cases they are, which means it'd just end in an argument.

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Possibly it's the musical scales employed by Iranian music that are what you're hearing as wrong, even though they may actually be shown to be closer to the perfect ratios mentioned before. You're just not used to them.

I definitely think that not understanding Iranian music is because you don't understand the cultural upbringings etc of the country. When I say "don't understand" I mean being born and raised into a typical Iranian family and all that.

NoSleep

  • feat. Keith Jarrett and his singing parrot
    • Space Is The Place
Re: "Just Noises"
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2007, 11:44:29 PM »
But there are people who enjoy music that is random sound, and definitely people who enjoy freeform out-of-tune all over the place jazz music.
But I said "a random set of pitches played together", which is different to random sound. I meant that the ear (& brain) can clearly recognize the difference between a consonant harmony and dissonance (and then went on to say both had a place in a musical whole).

I definitely think that not understanding Iranian music is because you don't understand the cultural upbringings etc of the country. When I say "don't understand" I mean being born and raised into a typical Iranian family and all that.

But it's possible to approach music from other cultures without necessarily understanding them, and enjoy the experience. Perhaps the approach path is different for each person - one person might find an attraction to the rhythm of a new music - or, as it was for me, the recognition of the pitches in the scales differing from what I was used to, sounding like something exciting & new (my favourite thing to look for in music).

There is definitely a connection between our perception of music and the language (& dialect) that the people around us speak. As small children we know how somebody feels even before we learn what it is they are uttering, but the pattern of speech in different languages can vary widely - even an accent can be enough - see how an american accent will stick out of a crowd of english people speaking together: there's a completely different way of engaging the same apparatus. Think how different German sounds to Japanese etc. These form the basis for creating an emotional language of expression that will be reflected in the music connected with each language and culture. This doesn't discount the possibility of appreciating music from another culture, but you may be getting an entirely different emotional response from it than was originally intended.

Here's a little audio test that explores how we all hear differently...

It's called the tritone paradox and you will hear four pairs of notes played. For each pair you have to say whether you hear the second pitch as going up or down from the first.

http://philomel.com/musical_illusions/wav/Tritone_paradox.wav

I hear up, up, up, down. If others try this (and post their result) you will see that the result may vary from person to person. In larger test groups it was found that people that came from the same region tended to agree with one another more often. This is believed to be connected with the learned response to the voices of the people they grew up amongst. But you can also see how this connects to the perception of music as well. How can we all agree on liking the same music if we can't agree on the intervals between 4 pairs of notes?

alan nagsworth

  • even the bombs and scarecrows will sing
Re: "Just Noises"
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2007, 12:04:53 PM »
But I said "a random set of pitches played together", which is different to random sound. I meant that the ear (& brain) can clearly recognize the difference between a consonant harmony and dissonance (and then went on to say both had a place in a musical whole).

Ah yes, but you are quoted saying "random sound" and saying that it is separate from "what we call music" which I found interesting. I know it might just be a generalisation obviously, and I know you're saying noise has a place in the musis scene, but obviously you're not a noise fan yourself or you wouldn't've said it was separate from what we call music. Personally I'm gonna be a cunt and say that Maldoror is not music. I can't exactly back this up with some hardcore facts because basically I know I'm wrong. Music is just appreciating certain noises more than others, at what point these noises occur in a song is important and what they sound like is crucial. Calling them "just noises" means that in theory anything can have a home in what we call music, seeing as Maldoror really does sound like someone throwing noises into a bowl and listening to them collide with each other and swish about.

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But it's possible to approach music from other cultures without necessarily understanding them, and enjoy the experience. Perhaps the approach path is different for each person - one person might find an attraction to the rhythm of a new music - or, as it was for me, the recognition of the pitches in the scales differing from what I was used to, sounding like something exciting & new (my favourite thing to look for in music).

There is definitely a connection between our perception of music and the language (& dialect) that the people around us speak. As small children we know how somebody feels even before we learn what it is they are uttering, but the pattern of speech in different languages can vary widely - even an accent can be enough - see how an american accent will stick out of a crowd of english people speaking together: there's a completely different way of engaging the same apparatus. Think how different German sounds to Japanese etc. These form the basis for creating an emotional language of expression that will be reflected in the music connected with each language and culture. This doesn't discount the possibility of appreciating music from another culture, but you may be getting an entirely different emotional response from it than was originally intended.


I agree 100% with this. That's how I tried to convey it but you put it a lot better hehe. So, when you say the approach path to music is different for each person, do you think that peoples tastes are defined by how open-minded they choose to be, (ignorance can lead you to believe that you actually dislike something when you never took the time to acknowledge it) or just different chemical reactions in our brains which make us all like different things? I'm going back again to what I said about criticising peoples tastes, because the first time I played SebastiAn's 'Ross Ross Ross' to my mates they all hated it, but after about three or four listens on separate occasions, now they all love it, and I think it can be the same for anyone with any music, you just need to sit and acknowledge what may have inspired the artist to make the music, how it really makes you feel etc.

That's why I think it all comes down to open-mindedness, because to put it simply, you don't have to like it to understand and acknowledge it, yet so many people forcefully choose not to do that, which is quite sad.

Quote
http://philomel.com/musical_illusions/wav/Tritone_paradox.wav

I hear up, up, up, down. If others try this (and post their result) you will see that the result may vary from person to person. In larger test groups it was found that people that came from the same region tended to agree with one another more often. This is believed to be connected with the learned response to the voices of the people they grew up amongst. But you can also see how this connects to the perception of music as well. How can we all agree on liking the same music if we can't agree on the intervals between 4 pairs of notes?

I heard up, up, up, down the first time, but I listened again and heard up, up, down, down. There's another tone/frequency (i don't know the technical terms) in that second note of the third pair, if you listen close enough I'm sure it actually goes down and not up. But then, I might be wrong about the others, or indeed that particular pair of notes, but the point is I went for a second listen and picked up something I initially missed, which is just the start of the process of understanding music which so many people willfully toss aside. Sometimes I just think those people are freeloaders, jumping on the pop culture bandwagon, and I'm probably right, but I don't want to end up a self-righteous cunt so I think I'll end this post here.

NoSleep

  • feat. Keith Jarrett and his singing parrot
    • Space Is The Place
Re: "Just Noises"
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2007, 12:45:07 PM »
Ah yes, but you are quoted saying "random sound" and saying that it is separate from "what we call music" which I found interesting. I know it might just be a generalisation obviously, and I know you're saying noise has a place in the musis scene, but obviously you're not a noise fan yourself or you wouldn't've said it was separate from what we call music. Personally I'm gonna be a cunt and say that Maldoror is not music. I can't exactly back this up with some hardcore facts because basically I know I'm wrong. Music is just appreciating certain noises more than others, at what point these noises occur in a song is important and what they sound like is crucial. Calling them "just noises" means that in theory anything can have a home in what we call music, seeing as Maldoror really does sound like someone throwing noises into a bowl and listening to them collide with each other and swish about.

You obviously have me completely wrong if you think "what we call music" was being exclusive in any way. That's why I opened my first post with the definition of music as organised sound. I will happily listen to Derek Bailey, Wolf Eyes, AMM and many other artists that others might regard as noise. And I was only distinguishing between "music" and "random sound" inasmuch as the human brain responds in different parts to one or the other. What I meant by random sound is what drifts in through the window, the background sound to life. You can actually concentrate on these sounds and appreciate them as a kind of music, but we generally block them out with our minds. I would imagine the act of regarding these sounds as music would move the activity of the brain to the music place, and would take a little concentration, at least at first.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2007, 01:34:15 PM by NoSleep »

alan nagsworth

  • even the bombs and scarecrows will sing
Re: "Just Noises"
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2007, 01:10:53 PM »
Yeah, after I read my post I thought I'd explained myself badly. In fact I think my whole first paragraph is pretty confusing. Me saying Maldoror isn't music is close-minded, yet I'm complaining about pop culture freaks not being open-minded. I see my ignorance on a much smaller scale than that of people who fail to acknowledge (note: acknowledge, not enjoy) even the less comples aspects of jazz and breakcore. But then that whole assumption is based on me being very slightly ignorant. I still accept Maldoror as music because other people will hear it and say it's an amazing composition of sounds, thus if one person thinks that it becomes music in my eyes. I mean really, what is music? Noises can have no structure, no given path, no instantly recognisable melodies and no foot-tapping beat whatsoever, yet someone could instantly fall in love with something of that description.

Also, some songs have introductions that are "just noises", anything from the three seconds of feedback before the intro guitar riff, to some quirky ten-second synth noodling before some killer electro beat kicks in, and these things are sometimes considered essential to introducing the song, yet a full song of these noises would annoy people. What's the difference? Is it because the noise makes people wait that extra few seconds for their favourite tune to kick in, and people enjoy a bit of suspense? If that's the case then it would seem intentional, and with that in mind can you imagine the artist putting that noise in just for a laugh, a bit of suspense to keep the listener listening? Because personally I don't think every artist who does could be quite so tongue-in-cheek. Whaddya make of all this, NoSleep?