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Music Does Not Exist

From the "Mastering Chaos" series:  

As a violinist and composer the music I create appears from within me barely half-formed. In truth it's very hard indeed to say how the ideas turn into something as solid as the marks on the musical score they will eventually become. When the musical ideas are subsequently performed it is quite hard to connect the performance with its creation.

What I can confidently say is that when ideas begin to appear they are definitely connected to my state of mind at the time they originate.  As the ideas begin to coalesce, feelings and emotions around their creation say something about not only my current state of mind but also my personal history; of how I got to be there at that moment creating this 'thing', whatever it turns out to be.

Music unlike Art produces nothing concrete. I accept that it creates MP3s, CDs and other forms of re-playable media. What I mean is that Art mostly produces some kind of object, a painting, a carving, a sculpture. Musical creations disappear the moment they are heard. Musical creations are functions of mind's ability to make connections between past, present and future in the form of sounds. But what exists is only those vibrations which exist at that moment. In this sense music only exists, if it exists at all, within the mind and nowhere else.

This does cause problems especially with regard to musicians making a living from what they produce. Artists sell the objects they create. In effect musicians, especially composers sell vibrations in the air. As you can see there is a 'difference' between the object an artist creates and the non-object which emanates from the composer of music. Whatever exists in the artist's mind becomes the made object. The artist may release the art by selling it but even with its new owner the 'art' stays with the object.  The musician's art, if it exists at all, exists 'always-and-everywhere'. The music, once played, is 'out there' for anyone to possess.

The act of creating music works therefore in rather strange ways, one of which is the inevitable desire to actually make an 'object' of the music.  Certainly in the last 100 years or so music has indeed made an 'object' of itself in the form of various different recording and replaying mechanisms. 

Prior to the advent of recording, getting the manuscript published was another fete of objectifying music. Whether in print or as an mp3 this has a further effect in that it tends to cause the music to become defined, even quite fixed, as an entity. Once it has gone through the publishing process it is much harder to revise the 'great work'.  The print edition becomes the definitive 'tome' over which many performers ponder what the great man meant or intended (it was usually a man who got published).   One often has to remind oneself that the printed material is not the music. It is in fact merely the recipe.

Place the printed music in front of a group of musicians and one begins to sense something happening. Many musicians look at the marks on the paper for the answers they seek as if this is the only place the true performance is to be understood. They miss the truth which is that, in the main, the nature of the performance actually lies within themselves.  In this commonly observed situation one sees a further divide between what constitutes the music and the actual performance.

Taking things a stage further, some argue that to understand music it isn't necessary to place it in the context of the historical period from which it came.  Neither is it necessary to make a connection between the composer's music and the psychological state of mind of the composer at the time the music was created. Indeed some state that the music can be entirely understood on its own as if divorced from the person who wrote it.

There is a real problem with this point-of-view because it can only be true if music has somehow become a real entity which I argue is impossible.  It can only be true if music exists separately from the human mind.

Humans have made sounds for hundreds of thousands of years. As our use of sound has developed humans have learned to make use of sound in incredibly sophisticated ways. The origins of the use of sound within humans we can only guess at, but anthropologists point to this skill as being one of humanity's great survival traits. In some ways we are much better than wolves in being able to act together in packs for the good of the whole group. We as individuals are quite weak in comparison with other species but as an 'empathic' pack on planet Earth we are invincible.

Sounds have subsequently morphed towards words as symbols for objects. These symbols are the tools we use as part of humanity's incredible capacity for 'empathy'. We want, even need, to know how the other is thinking and feeling.  It helps us answer the questions "Are you safe?", "Will you help?".

Tribal patterns of sound enable us to recognise other members of the tribe even when we can't see them.  Great tribal gatherings have always involved tribal chanting and dancing. Over history we have used singing as a means of remembering the thoughts, ideas and values of past generations who have long-since died.

In family circumstances, the sounds a child makes tells the parent many things. Equally for the baby parental sounds are a source of comfort. Parents can help very young children feel safe just by their tone. In this way 'tone' carries meaning.

For generations we have refined and re-refined our ability to organise sound until it has become 'music'. But each time we compose or make up a piece of music we follow the same process. We allow a musical idea to appear, we play with it, we bounce it around, we share it with others. Eventually, in our gatherings we'll bring it into being. It will say something to us. It will represent our current present-day 'values' that we want to express either as a message to others or to ourselves or both. The patterns become more solid and because we like it we do it again, and again... and again. Humans like repetition. Over time the piece carries more than it did originally. It becomes a statement of feelings we want to engender. It also carries memories too. Eventually it seems as if through repetition that it becomes 'real'. But it has to be remembered that it is no more real than it ever was. What is 'real' in many ways is what it makes us feel. Indeed in changing our consciousness, our state, it quite literally changes our reality.

Changing our reality changes many things. We act differently because our state of mind has changed. We create things not only individually but even more so when we co-operate as a 'pack' so to speak.

As has been stated earlier, music isn't a thing in and of itself. It is the state it engenders within us and the consequences of our actions motivated by that state.  There may be a number reasons for building great medieval cathedrals but it's hard to imagine them being possible without music.  Music changes us in many ways so let's not beat about the bush: Armies have always needed bands of musicians to take us to war so music helps us kill more efficiently.  Many acts of community are motivated by music. Bringing in the harvest, pressing the grapes, and digging railway tunnels are far easier to do with a song. Music creates community and has done since time began.

Music is not an object.  It can be mistaken for a 'thing' especially with our technological gifts. But music is in essence gossamer floating on the breeze: a pulse of air lasting just a  moment or two. 

But its presence is vital to us. It is our greatest survival tool. Music represents the human state of mind and as such is immensely important to us.  It brings us together. It enables us to work as a team to develop trust and communal values. Further still, the human musical state of mind enables us to work closely with others. We can understand & trust team members who are in another part of the world.  Music crosses huge divides to even those, dare I say it, who are no longer with us.  It enables us also to project our values far out into the future towards generations yet to be.

 This is the reality of music: That which appears not to exist carries great power.

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