Author Topic: Notes in music?  (Read 14515 times)

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Offline some guy

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Notes in music?
« on: May 30, 2019, 10:22:57 AM »
Music takes different people differently. How true that is. But one thing seems pretty standard here at GMG (and almost everywhere else, for that matter), and that is that music has emotional content. Without getting into the merits of that view, though if that happens it happens, I'm more interested in the moment in finding out if anyone at GMG listens to music itself, without having to turn it into something else. Sure, music sets all sorts of different feelings and ideas going in all sorts of listeners, but that power must surely go without saying. What it seems to have no power to do is convince anyone that it's good and fine and strong just being its own sweet self, not causing emotional reactions, not expressing emotional states, not telling complicated little stories, just sounding.

Anyway, the people who have responded to relm1's despair thread, needn't respond to this one. I already know who you are. What I'm interested in is whether there are people who just like listening to music qua music. People for whom music itself is so powerful, so sufficient, that there's never any need on their part to turn it into other things that aren't music before it becomes pleasing or understandable.

Ghost of Baron Scarpia

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2019, 10:42:09 AM »
Depends on the music. More often than not I listen to music as an abstract art form, and derive pleasure from the absolute beauty if it, which may involve appreciating a melody, the skill of the composer in interweaving independent voices into a contrapuntal fabric, transforming and combining musical themes in different ways, creating beautiful harmonies. Other times I find it interesting to imagine different emotional scenarios that are implied by the music.

Abstraction aside, it is a biological fact that sounds (including non-musical sounds) induce emotional reactions in the human mind, so there is a basis for connecting music to emotion. But that does not mean we are bound by that. For what it's worth, I don't think it can be claimed with any basis that music communicates emotion. It evokes emotion. The emotion evoked is not necessarily the emotion that the composer intended to evoke.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2019, 08:43:08 PM »

I don’t always listen to music for expressiveness, indeed very frequently any emotion expressed is ineffable and so probably an illusion, I often may be reflecting on extra musical considerations (style, intertextual relations, function, purpose, reception . .  .)
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Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2019, 01:29:30 AM »
Well. yes. Sometimes I listen to music in an analytical mood, concentrating on technical matters, and at other times I do subnerge into the music and try to be receptive to the affect (some call this emotion) I think the composer or rather the musician(s) intend(s) to express. These two ways to some extent exclude each other within one given listening.The first way of listening is governed by musicological interest, but it is the second way of listening I find the most spiritually enriching and for that reason the most interesting in the long run. I think many listeners listen in these same two ways.
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Offline amw

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2019, 06:34:57 AM »
Taking pleasure in a piece of music because it sounds beautiful is absolutely an emotional and sensual reaction, in the same way as taking pleasure in a piece of music because it makes you feel a certain way. One isn't in any way more "pure" than the other. Music is a sensual art and it's always going to stimulate our senses in some way, and that includes our emotional and intellectual senses, which are intimately tied to & draw their cues from the body itself. As such I reject the question.

Ghost of Baron Scarpia

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2019, 07:48:13 AM »
Taking pleasure in a piece of music because it sounds beautiful is absolutely an emotional and sensual reaction, in the same way as taking pleasure in a piece of music because it makes you feel a certain way. One isn't in any way more "pure" than the other. Music is a sensual art and it's always going to stimulate our senses in some way, and that includes our emotional and intellectual senses, which are intimately tied to & draw their cues from the body itself. As such I reject the question.

I agree that even appreciation of "absolute" music has an emotional and sensual component. That does not mean there is no distinction to be made between music that makes explicit reference to a non-musical program and music which does not, or between listening for an external program and listening for "technical" characteristics of music. There is no clear demarcation line, but distinctions useful in life are rarely clear cut.

Online Brian

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2019, 09:01:31 AM »
I didn't interpret the original question as being about programmatic vs. abstract music, so much as, "Do you have the ability to listen to the Brahms Fourth Symphony* analytically, for the notes and their relations and Brahms' craftmanship, without also feeling some kind of personal reaction to those notes?"

*just happens to be what I'm listening to

What I reject is the assumption here:

People for whom music itself is so powerful, so sufficient, that there's never any need on their part to turn it into other things that aren't music before it becomes pleasing or understandable.

The assumption here is that having a reaction to music is a deliberate act. I don't, like, turn on the emotion button when I listen to Tchaikovsky's Pathétique, or listen to Lennon's "Across the Universe" with the dictum You Must Think About Your Ex-Girlfriend. That just happens. That's the brain doing its thing.

So I guess my answer to some guy is: music is so powerful, so sufficient, that it can bring out lots of extramusical stuff in different listeners. Do I ever actively fight those reactions to Only Hear The Notes? Honestly, very rarely.

Ghost of Baron Scarpia

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #7 on: May 31, 2019, 09:06:18 AM »
What I reject is the assumption here:

The assumption here is that having a reaction to music is a deliberate act. I don't, like, turn on the emotion button when I listen to Tchaikovsky's Pathétique, or listen to Lennon's "Across the Universe" with the dictum You Must Think About Your Ex-Girlfriend. That just happens. That's the brain doing its thing.

So I guess my answer to some guy is: music is so powerful, so sufficient, that it can bring out lots of extramusical stuff in different listeners. Do I ever actively fight those reactions to Only Hear The Notes? Honestly, very rarely.

In my case, I can make a decision to think about extra-musical associations. One little mental game I play is to think of a piece of music as a sort of character study, to think of it as having a personality. I can listen to contrapuntus 8 from Bach's Art of the Fugue and admire the melodic and contrapuntal genius, or I can ruminate on the "personality" it manifests. Sometimes I feel like listening one way, sometimes another.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2019, 09:08:15 AM by Ghost of Baron Scarpia »

Offline some guy

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #8 on: June 01, 2019, 12:56:12 AM »
Just to clear up a couple of things. There is nothing in the OP about analysis. There is nothing in the OP to suggest that listening to music is anything but sensual. The distinction in the OP is between listeners who use music to accomplish other, non-musical, aims and listeners who let the music simply be itself, a distinction made largely if not solely in order to see if there is anyone here who falls into the latter camp.

The assumption here--"People for whom music itself is so powerful, so sufficient, that there's never any need on their part to turn it into other things that aren't music before it becomes pleasing or understandable"--is most definitely not that reacting to music is a deliberate act. I think that listening to music can indeed be deliberate, but that's not what I was saying in the sentence Brian quoted. My claim there is that music is a thing, itself, with its own characteristics and that it doesn't need to be turned into something else (turning it into something else seems much more like a deliberate act, to me) in order to have value or to be enjoyed.

Maybe a little analogy would be appropriate here. Take a tree. A tree is a thing. It doesn't have to be turned into something that's not a tree in order to be appreciated. It can also be used to make other things, things that aren't trees, and what I see most often in conversations about music is the idea that trees only have value if they are turned into chairs or houses.

Offline Madiel

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #9 on: June 01, 2019, 02:43:47 AM »
I'm sure you've asked this absurd question before.

If you try to listen to "music" without any emotional content, you are simply listening to a series of noises. You might as well sit somewhere and make a list of the sounds that you're hearing. Currently, I can hear the clacking of my fingers on my computer keyboard, the hum of my computer's fan, the more distant hum of my heating system. Also the tinnitus I've had for nearly 30 years now. And some of my own breathing now that I think of it.

If I listened to music in that fashion, then I might as well not bother. I have sufficient environmental noise in my life already.

You might as well ask whether people regard the Mona Lisa as a piece of paint much the same as they regard the paint on their kitchen ceiling, utterly disregarding the difference in the paint's function. Or whether they treat a novel as a series of squiggles on a page rather than something that involves letters and words and sentences that were decided upon in order to communicate meaning. You're attempting to ask people to ignore the entire PURPOSE of planning, which is to create an effect and therefore to elicit a reaction. Even if that reaction is primarily "wow, this is so cunningly constructed", that's still a reaction.

You are, in short, asking people whether they ever listen to music while completely missing the point of doing so. Because the notes in music have no other function if you insist of stripping them of the purpose of causing a reaction in listeners.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2019, 02:54:26 AM by Madiel »
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2019, 03:18:55 AM »
I don’t know how relevant this is.

I’m not very interested in music. I am interested in interpretation. So my focus is never really on “letting the music speak”, it’s on understanding what these singers and instrumentalists are doing and trying to form a hypothesis about  why.

Indeed I don’t really know how anyone could let the music speak, apart maybe (and that’s a big maybe) from reading the score. I suspect, though I’ve not thought about this much so I’m happy to be shown to be wrong, that people who say “I let the music speak for itself” are either not listening or deluding themselves.

You may be able to “let the interpretation speak”, though to me it seems imbalanced, and it would be a sort of anti-intellectual inverted snobbery to think this is a good way to treat music, as if people are ashamed of their intellectual side and want to stuff it in the closet, or not feel substandard if they’re not up to much from an intellectual point of view.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2019, 03:44:51 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline amw

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2019, 03:48:05 AM »
The distinction in the OP is between listeners who use music to accomplish other, non-musical, aims and listeners who let the music simply be itself
There is no such thing as "the music itself" because music is not an autonomous object the way a tree is; music is a social relationship between performer and listener (who may be the same person). Music by its very nature "accomplishes non-musical aims" such as providing various forms of pleasure to a listener, physical exercise for a performer, and the possibility for intellectual stimulation of some kind. The idea of pieces of music, or works of art more generally, as noumena, hypothetically existing in some pure state unaffected by any of the messiness of human perception, is nonsense. People create and listen to music for entertainment specifically, and social/cultural connection more generally, it's not something that hangs in the aether waiting for a talented genius to peel back the fabric of the universe to reveal, and which can only truly be detected by those who abandon such crass emotional responses as "wow, this sounds really pretty". Nice idea though, I'll have some DMT if you're selling.

(edit: ok I'll note that I occasionally say things like "XXX's interpretation of the Ferneyhough Symphony in F major is ok but the music calls out for more urgency and faster tempi" but that's just a more objective-appearing way of saying "I would prefer if the music, etc")
« Last Edit: June 01, 2019, 03:51:27 AM by amw »

Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2019, 04:05:13 AM »

Indeed I don’t really know how anyone could let the music speak, apart maybe (and that’s a big maybe) from reading the score. I suspect, though I’ve not thought about this much so I’m happy to be shown to be wrong, that people who say “I let the music speak for itself” are either not listening or deluding themselves.


Even score reading inevitably includes the readers individual interpretation, at least if he reads the score to let the music speak (or sound) in his inner ear - in contrast to the more neutral musicological motivated score reading, which on the other hand doesn't result in music as such.
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2019, 04:09:30 AM »
Even score reading inevitably includes the readers individual interpretation, at least if he reads the score to let the music speak (or sound) in his inner ear - in contrast to the more neutral musicological motivated score reading, which on the other hand doesn't result in music as such.

Yes I think that's right.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2019, 04:28:48 AM »
The idea of pieces of music, or works of art more generally, as noumena, hypothetically existing in some pure state unaffected by any of the messiness of human perception, is nonsense.

This. The attempted comparison between music and trees falls down utterly because people don't create trees. People can plant trees, and trim and shape them, but this a totally different category from bringing music into being.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2019, 04:30:36 AM by Madiel »
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Offline San Antone

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #15 on: June 01, 2019, 04:29:23 AM »
Quote
I’m not very interested in music. I am interested in interpretation. So my focus is never really on “letting the music speak”, it’s on understanding what these singers and instrumentalists are doing and trying to form a hypothesis about  why.

It seems we are polar opposites.  I listen exclusively to the work; almost any performance will do. I couldn't care less why the performers choose to play it a certain way - as long as they are competent musicians - I enjoy experiencing the composition.

Offline Florestan

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #16 on: June 01, 2019, 04:47:44 AM »
I'm sure you've asked this absurd question before.

If you try to listen to "music" without any emotional content, you are simply listening to a series of noises. You might as well sit somewhere and make a list of the sounds that you're hearing. Currently, I can hear the clacking of my fingers on my computer keyboard, the hum of my computer's fan, the more distant hum of my heating system. Also the tinnitus I've had for nearly 30 years now. And some of my own breathing now that I think of it.

If I listened to music in that fashion, then I might as well not bother. I have sufficient environmental noise in my life already.

You might as well ask whether people regard the Mona Lisa as a piece of paint much the same as they regard the paint on their kitchen ceiling, utterly disregarding the difference in the paint's function. Or whether they treat a novel as a series of squiggles on a page rather than something that involves letters and words and sentences that were decided upon in order to communicate meaning. You're attempting to ask people to ignore the entire PURPOSE of planning, which is to create an effect and therefore to elicit a reaction. Even if that reaction is primarily "wow, this is so cunningly constructed", that's still a reaction.

You are, in short, asking people whether they ever listen to music while completely missing the point of doing so. Because the notes in music have no other function if you insist of stripping them of the purpose of causing a reaction in listeners.

+ 1 to all of the above, particularly the highlighted point.

There is no such thing as "the music itself" because music is not an autonomous object the way a tree is; music is a social relationship between performer and listener (who may be the same person). Music by its very nature "accomplishes non-musical aims" such as providing various forms of pleasure to a listener, physical exercise for a performer, and the possibility for intellectual stimulation of some kind. The idea of pieces of music, or works of art more generally, as noumena, hypothetically existing in some pure state unaffected by any of the messiness of human perception, is nonsense. People create and listen to music for entertainment specifically, and social/cultural connection more generally, it's not something that hangs in the aether waiting for a talented genius to peel back the fabric of the universe to reveal, and which can only truly be detected by those who abandon such crass emotional responses as "wow, this sounds really pretty". Nice idea though, I'll have some DMT if you're selling.

(edit: ok I'll note that I occasionally say things like "XXX's interpretation of the Ferneyhough Symphony in F major is ok but the music calls out for more urgency and faster tempi" but that's just a more objective-appearing way of saying "I would prefer if the music, etc")

Ditto.

I listen exclusively to the work; almost any performance will do. I couldn't care less why the performers choose to play it a certain way - as long as they are competent musicians - I enjoy experiencing the composition.

Ditto.

Amen, sister and brothers, amen!

« Last Edit: June 01, 2019, 05:00:00 AM by Florestan »
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Offline Florestan

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #17 on: June 01, 2019, 04:53:17 AM »
This. The attempted comparison between music and trees falls down utterly because people don't create trees. People can plant trees, and trim and shape them, but this a totally different category from bringing music into being.

Of course. Besides, the OP keeps harping on "turning music into something that's not music" but he never ever specifies what this "something" is. What is the equivalent of "chairs and houses" in the case of "music as tree" analogy, I wonder?
"Melody is the essence of music." - Mozart

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Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #18 on: June 01, 2019, 05:22:54 AM »
I listen exclusively to the work; almost any performance will do. I couldn't care less why the performers choose to play it a certain way - as long as they are competent musicians - I enjoy experiencing the composition.

The composition is represented by the score, but it does not become music until it is performed, and every performance includes interpretation of the score. For that reason you are not listening to the composition, but to some performers interpretation of it. Think of the fact that two performers interpretation of the same score may differ so much as to sound like two different pieces of music. I guess this is the reason why Mandryka writes, that he is interested in performance, because this is what music essentially is.

An old subject of debate, which I thought was dead since long.  :)
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Notes in music?
« Reply #19 on: June 01, 2019, 05:25:57 AM »
I guess this is the reason why Mandryka writes, that he is interested in performance, because this is what music essentially is.



Yes that, and just as a matter of contingent fact I find this intersection between score and performer, and performance and listener, a fascinating one.

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