We think in language. True, we can experience our senses mentally, e.g., when we “see images” or “hear sounds” in our mind, but each of these mental concepts can be thought of as symbols, codifying their own language. In short, words and symbols form the fundamental basis for all our thoughts, and by extension, they shape the way we perceive our environment. Again, we think in language. This sentence is not a difficult pill to swallow. But, what about the claim “we feel in language”? This is a strange sentence, and it seems a bit disquieting when we say it. Sure, we can attempt to express our feelings through language, but the inadequacy of the phrase suggests we can feel things which cannot be expressed by language. So, we ask
What is ineffable, which cannot be put to words or symbols, but affects the human experience?
Even this question must be deceivingly insufficient, and is in some way recursively contradicting: in using language to ask the question, we are working within the system for which we are critiquing. It is not that we might be “asking the wrong question,” but rather we could be doing the wrong thing by asking a question at all, which means we can only ever be brought further away from the thing we are trying to do, and so on. Indeed, we are requiring an assignment of linguistic attributes to our hypothetical non-linguistic thing, i.e., it “exists”, it “affects” human experience, it is an “it” which can have a question asked about it, etc. In the same way that our metaphysical understanding of reality in itself (assuming such a thing exists) is limited to that which we can perceive, our mind is limited to that which can be represented symbolically. For this reason, we use the above question not as a target, but as a direction; rather than answer the question, we let it guide discussion.
To provide some concrete devices for discourse on this question, science is an example of a framework grounded in language (i.e., logic) which is (almost by design) insufficient for describing all of existence. In contrast, I believe music is an example of a framework grounded in something other than language which cannot be comprehensively put to words, and nonetheless affects the human experience. Maybe by exploring precisely how music cannot be put to words, we might learn a bit more about the unknown from whence it came. Or, at the very least, we might enjoy the analysis itself.
what i hear
In my experience, we have the opportunity to talk about music during any one of several phases of its existence. To delineate these phases, I find it helpful and appropriate to think about a piece of music as a life form. Further, I will focus precisely on the “life form” itself, and not any analog to a cause which might have preceded it (love, happenstance, strife, relationship, or otherwise). Of course, neither love, attraction, nor the twinkle in the eye are required to create life, so we disregard these and any related notions as they are impertinent to our analogy. Thus, we list six phases here1:
- Postnatal Life
From the time a piece of music begins (roughly) as a sort of ephemeral possibility in the Ovulation phase, to the moment it is forever forgotten in its (theoretical) Death, we can talk about music. However, invariably, words will fail us. In each of these phases, we use words to describe this very ethereal element of nature, and the words fail us in different ways for each phase. I claim: the ways in which words seem to fail us for these phases may give a hint as to what music is doing which cannot be put to words. In a way, this essay is an attempt to palpate the indescribable musical existence behind the veil of language and perception.
The goal of this essay should not be to conclude with a description of this indescribable existence, of course, but instead our purpose is to explore the demarcation between that which can be put to words and that which cannot.
Before a composer2 can create a piece of music, they need to decide to create, or at least prepare themselves for the creation to begin. This could occur through activities such as planning time in the day to sit at the desk and write a piece of music. Or, one could simply have the aptitude and awareness to recognize those moments when music appears spontaneously in the mind. It may be that there are other ways one could posture themselves for music creation, but it suffices to say that music can at least be (a) premeditated, or it can be (b) fortuitously unbidden. For each of these scenarios, I’ll share my experiences and thoughts, and try to pin-point those moments when language seems especially insufficient. To be clear: the ovulation process for musical creation is roughly the “readiness period,” or staging period. In other words, ovulation is the interval of time during which a composer is able to act on musical inspiration.3
First, we have the situation whereby a composer makes plans to create music. Or, to be more clear, we focus our attention on the interval of time when a composer is actively thinking about or making arrangements for the creation of music. This time frame will vary across the different types of composers. For instance, the professional composer who writes on a regular basis will treat this time differently from the composer who writes (less frequently) on their own time, and both of their treatments will differ from that of the composer who is an unpracticed novice. As a member of the second category and a collaborator with members of the first and third, I will do my best to relay the thoughts of others while I elucidate those of my own.
A professional, or more practiced composer who writes often might think of this process as a regular protocol which dictates their work schedule. As an effect, the preparation for music composition in this case might be more honed. For example, a music educator friend of mine has an especially meticulous conceptual process: before even considering the prospect of sitting down at the keyboard, say, he makes it a point to be clear what he wants to “say” before translating it musically. And, from what I can tell, this process of his takes longer than a few hours.
As a purely independent composer, however, I find that the two most integral elements of music preparation are environment (or “vibe”), and a sense of openness (or willingness to embrace whatever happens). In this way, it seems the focus of my creative process starts with cultivating an appropriate external and internal way of things. In keeping with the theme of this essay, maybe it would be valuable to list phrases I (or friends/collaborators) would use to describe the sort of environment or inner intention we deem appropriate:
“it’s got to be just right”, “good juju”, “warm”, “the right feeling”, “calm”, etc.
It is a bit strange. As I’ll propose in the next section, a sense of curated optimization of these elements isn’t strictly needed to create a satisfactory novel musical work. No doubt, some of the music I’m most proud of came from moments where none of the above elements were given a second thought (though, that is not to say that my environment at the time was not already clandestinely appropriate). Regardless, as independent artists, we still often make such a concerted effort to cultivate them. This nonsensical, irrational trait of the premeditated ovulation process is exactly the kind of thing that leads me to question the comprehensiveness of reason when applied to something like music. In other words, why put so much effort into creating the “preferred” environment, when a completely different environment has knowingly yielded more than successful results?
Regarding the terms listed above, I’m convinced that a precise delineation of their connotation is likely nonexistent (and possibly irrelevant), i.e., you might receive several varied yet valid “definitions” for each from different individuals. Nonetheless, I think there are other ways in which they might be valuable in the context of this essay. E.g., we might not be able to describe what “warm” is, or what it means to have “the right feeling”, but we can at least attempt to describe the difference between these things and their antitheses.
For example, it is not enough to say that “the right feeling” refers to something positive, or even negative, but we can at least compare it with whatever is “not the right feeling”. We can use phrasing like “the juices aren’t flowing right now”, “I don’t have anything”, or “I’m not in the mood” to describe the opposite of a well-nurtured, proper ovulation environment. The first of these statements seems to indicate some kind of active process that is relatively out of our control. The second makes evident some kind of strict ownership the composer has over what would be to come. And, the last is apparently a very common phrase to describe both musical and non-musical phenomena alike. One might even say there is something about music which is shared among these non-musical phenomena for which we might not be “in the mood”: sex, conversation, playing a game, etc. Again, it should not be our goal to name this commonality, rather, it is my aim to identify some ostensible evidence of such a thing, and let our non-linguistically represented intuition do the rest.
Even without defining what it means to premeditate music exactly, in talking about it, we have identified a few interesting aspects of the activity which seem to transcend language: a contradictory reasoning for doing it in the first place, and a few relatively diverse activities which share an inherent but undefined element with this process. What does this mean for premeditation in the musical ovulation process? It is difficult to put to words. Of course, we could make a few assertions:
- rationality (e.g., contradiction) should be divorced from musical creation and preparation in the first place
- sex, conversation, and games all involve some aspect of pleasure or the potential for displeasure, and a large weight is placed on focus — in fact, this focus could be directed toward cooperation or competition for all three!
- additionally, these three example activities are organic ventures which (in most cases) have an element of creativity, spontaneity, and excitement
After making such an assertion, we could take another step forward and apply some of the aspects listed to premeditated music. E.g., when we prepare to create, we are intentionally focusing on space cultivation, we must cooperate with the tools we have at our disposal, and maybe we should embrace spontaneity and excitement in our set-up process. However, over the course of this whole ordeal, we are simply waxing our attempt to apply words to something ineffable. That is, we walk toward something we see up ahead, but we are walking on a treadmill of interesting deduction, getting nowhere. In respect to the purpose of this essay, once the discovery was made that contradictions and diverse similarities (oxymoron) abound, we’ve reached the limit of our linguistic ability, and if we like, maybe intuition must do the rest.
A critique of the method above will likely involve calling out at least one of a few deviations from canonical argument. First, it seems we “stop too soon”, that we all we did was list a few terms, and discuss a subjective viewpoint of those terms in the context of premeditated musical ovulation. Maybe, we should continue our analysis, taking in opinions from others, mapping more concrete and agreeable definitions which could provide a more substantive view into the ineffable world. I posit that would be counterproductive. On the contrary, we know going in that what we are trying to describe is indescribable. We only aim to palpate that world, and any palpitation will be insufficient for a complete understanding.
Second, the whole analysis (if we can call it that) seems markedly feeble. It is as if the discussion reaches a synthetic ne plus ultra that presents as incomplete, unfounded, and lazy, as if to say “well, that’s about all I can think of right now”. But, in fact, I claim that is the point! We are trying to find that place where words start to fail us, or when it is starts to become a bit frustrating to go any further using them. If we were trying to prove a mathematical paradox, of course we cannot stop when the reasoning starts to get non-intuitive and proclaim “that’s about all I can think about right now, so it’s a paradox!”. No, the theorem would be mathematical in nature, and therefore logic is the required tool at hand, and its rules must be strictly followed. Here, logic is not the tool, it is the crutch. And, maybe the best way to break away from this crutch is to stop using it.
Finally, the whole thing might be dis/regarded as otiose, or a pure waste of time. One might say, “why even talk about this thing in the first place? Just make music and enjoy it, there’s nothing else to it.” I simply cannot argue with this. All I can say is that for some people, myself included, the analysis and questioning of such a thing is intriguing, and somehow satisfying. I cannot explain the value of this satisfaction any more than I can explain the inexplicable foundation for this essay in the first place.
In the previous sub-section, we discussed ways in which composers might set themselves up for music creation with intention. On the other hand, often enough, a composer will find themselves spontaneously, immediately creating music in a situation when the deed was absolutely unplanned and unbidden, without preparation. Maybe the event happens purely in ones mind, at the seat of a piano, or kinetically by pen and paper or audio recorder. Of course, looking back on the event is well enough, and more than likely the same words used to describe premeditated composition could be used in this latter case, in turn. But, presently and as it’s happening, how might I describe the build up to a creative event almost entirely out of my control?
On one hand, we might be describing the result of a longer process, where the primordial, amorphous building blocks for a musical idea sat brewing in our unconscious mind until eventually a form was realized, and somehow forced into consciousness. How this imminent form was realized, and what caused it to be forced into consciousness might be something completely determined by the composer herself, or it might have been affected in some way by an entity in their environment, or it could have been an interaction with something sublime. It seems we cannot know what preceded the moment a composer notices an idea has struck them, especially if there was no conscious preparation. In this scenario, it is not our intention to set the stage for music, but rather, the stage was preset unbeknownst to us.
On the other hand, it might be that a composer can in fact “set the stage” for musical creation without knowing it. This idea can be compared with the way a player in the game of Connect 4 proceeds with one strategy in mind (or none), only to find that their winning move of another latent strategy was being set up inadvertently the whole time. We might be going through our day, making various decisions for unmusical reasons, and arrive passively at a junction where those decisions manipulated our environment such that it became primed for musical idea generation.
Now, suppose we claim there is a turning point, when our “Connect 4 decisions” properly start, before which our decisions are strictly not contributing to any musical idea environment described above. If this is true, it becomes hard to accept the second proposed spontaneous ovulation process: to say that there is one particular decision that starts a chain of decisions toward an inadvertent conclusion is a bit incomplete — that first decision likely was contingent on a previous decision, and so on. This tiptoes the boundary around the notion of causality, which is already a bit slippery. In short, maybe the ovulation period for a piece of music has no beginning.
At some point, compositional intention becomes musical ideation – the “germ.” Though, let’s not get hasty: there is a moment when the musical idea is conceived, and a time frame during which the idea is realized as (molded into) some form of prenatal music.4 Here, we are focusing on the former, more subtle and ephemeral event, whereas the second will be discussed in the next section. So far, we’ve mapped out the “setting of a stage” for the creative process to begin (i.e., ovulation), and then recognize that conception is the instantaneous impetus for the creative process, namely the conception of an idea which acts as the basis for a unique but latent piece of music. I claim, carefully, that the conception phase for a piece of music is the first instantaneous event uniquely tied to its existence. It implies a single piece of music yet to come, and that music yet to come could only have existed granted that its unique conception event occurred.5
It seems to me that the idea for (and in most cases, the feeling behind) a single piece of music is much like a sort of amorphous and transient strand of DNA. The information contained within it is commensurate with a vast infinite existence, but the thing itself is so small, compact, and slippery that it cannot easily be sensed through human perception. Further, in the same way that organic conception typically requires two parties, maybe this idea is actually (as a music educator friend of mine says) the result of a communion between the composer and the sublime. I believe musical ideation comes in the form of a fleeting moment of inspiration, and it requires a musician or composer to bring it to life; musical conception is the unearthing of something essentially unbeknownst to us. But what is “it,” and where does it come from?
Support for the claim that this initial, supposedly causal impetus for a musical work is unbeknownst to us comes from the observation that musical ideation is apparently purely spontaneous — of course, it is inspired. In my experience, the musical ovulation period could last 5 minutes or 5 years, and there is absolutely no way to tell when conception begins. We could be “fiddling”6 with an instrument, or listening to some sound, until something anonymously reveals itself in our mind. This event could result in a short melody, rhythm, sequence of sounds, or a chord progression, but either way, it seems the very instant music is inspired, the composer cannot help but recognize and try to harness something out of their control.
If we were to assume otherwise (i.e., that musical inspiration is under the control of the composer), then it should also follow that a composer should at least be able to recreate an inspiration event in the future at will. Alas, this is not so easy to detect.7 To be clear, this recreation is not humming a melody that came to us in a dream, or writing down a chord progression that was inspired 27 minutes ago on the subway. We are not recreating the result of an inspiration event, rather, we are recreating the inspiration event itself, the spark that kindled the fire. Now, this makes discernment of such a recreation difficult, as the evidence for its occurrence will not be consistent. For, in the same way every “identical” egg in a clutch yields a different chick from the others, though they all come from the same hen, two “identical” inspiration events might yield different musical manifestations. In other words, even if we could recreate an inspiration event exactly, we should not be surprised to find their musical fruit to be vastly different. And, what other evidence of a musical inspiration is there besides the music? So at first glance, it is difficult to determine if a second inspiration was intentional or not.
Another way to approach this problem is to think about it from the perspective of how conception is sought (if not intentionally); it might vary from composer to composer. Some see it as a process of seeking consistent and cohesive patterns until they’re found to be pleasing. I for one see it as a necessary completion of something missing (for which there are multiple options, and it’s unclear why one option is chosen over the others). To share an example, I was asked to work on a piece with a good friend of mine, Tom Lageveen of Solid Squares. He shared with me his wonderful composition, a beautifully prepared ambient work using cassette tapes, saxophone, and pre-recorded samples. I sat at my piano, and I listened to his music. After hearing some melodic elements coalesce as they did with others, I had a sense that something was missing. Or, rather, I was unmistakably driven to take what I heard and reinterpret it in my own (or, some kind of) way.
In both of the above examples, we see evidence of something which must be sought, like patterns, namely those which support a result which sounds pleasing (at least to the composer herself). An interesting facet of seeking is it requires something external, something to be sought. Not only that, it would be a bit nonsensical for someone to seek something out which is already possessed or immediately obtainable. Further, if this to-be sought after entity were purely under the control of the seeker, it would then necessarily become immediately obtainable, which would then bring us to a situation where “seeking” is rendered nonsensical. Once musical ideation is successful (e.g., when the patterns, or otherwise, are found, as it were), we see that the music quickly takes shape, with the help of the composer. In this case, it is as if musical conception simply cannot occur without an interaction between the composer, and something external and strictly unknown from the start.
Of course, I’m sure we should see evidence of this seeking, completing, and drive in the ideation of many other creative endeavors such as writing, dancing, acting, etc. And, the same mental faculties behind these acts could also be attributed to acts seemingly less creative, such as solving a math problem, running a scientific experiment, or determining the best way to build Ikea furniture without the instructions. My claim is (a) that should not preclude the credibility of any creative pursuits, but also (b) these stereotypically more logical acts are also inherently creative in a similar way that musical ideation is.
I was recently reminded of the Jungian Collective Unconscious; an unconscious understanding of (or, even relationship with) our world that is shared among all humans (albeit, some more strongly than others). It is a primordial pool of instinctual knowledge that began with the first humans, and became ubiquitously and simultaneously accessible by all humans to come. It is not a conscious knowledge, nor does it belong to us separately/individually, but it is a strange esoteric subtle knowledge that exists as one singular entity, which we all are cooperatively linked to beyond our perceptible reach. To help illuminate why we might concern ourselves in this essay with such a thing, I pose the following question: when someone appreciates the music of another, is it because the music references something intimately shared?
Fundamentally, all humans share particular life experiences with virtually everyone else in the world: breathing, drinking water, etc. All of which are often depicted symbolically in mythology that is tied to the collective unconscious. Of course, simply put, we all have the capacity to appreciate water in essentially the same way as everyone else. Analogously, we all have the capacity to appreciate breathing in essentially the same way as everyone else. In a similar way, we all might appreciate elements of Nature in the same way as everyone else. If this is true, and if we recognize that music finds its roots in particular elements of Nature, then it is possible that some musical elements are indelibly tied to our existence as humans. To be clear, I am not limiting this claim to familiar motifs such as percussive rhythms (reminiscent of the heartbeat), or mid-range deep tones (familiar to us from our mothers’ speech while in utero). But, this might extend further; not just to the satisfying sound of high frequency “shhh” sounds as they echo the sound of prehistoric rainfall or wind, but even melodies which echo eternal bird songs, or ancient stories passed down through millennia.
In short, musical conception might simply be the unveiling of some sliver of the collective unconscious, the impetus for something that is familiar to and imminently loved by all of us.
A good friend and bandmate of mine once told me that musicians and composers should think of their art in the context of The Ship of Theseus. That once we have a conception for a piece, we should be comfortable with the idea that over time, we may replace themes, phrases, or motifs, but until we make a conscious affirmation that this is absolutely a new work from what was initially conceived, our apparent mangling is just a manifestation of the creative process. Put in another way, this particular friend also reminded me that “art is never finished, it is only abandoned”.8 I think these two ideas encapsulate the potentially infinite nature of music development. Just like any piece of art, the point at which a musical work is “done” always seems to be premature. This supposed doneness will be elaborated on in the next section on Birth, but here we’ll discuss the intervening time between ideation and realization of a musical product. We say that musical gestation is the process by which a composer yields music from an idea.
How does the idea for a piece of music transform into the music itself? How do we go from pure inspiration to something, seemingly, created from nothing? This is The Great Puzzle of Creation, “The Process,” and the amount to which it (and its fruit) varies from composer to composer makes its essence endlessly difficult to pin down. Indeed, my process might be completely different from yours, and we may come up with something (independently) very similar. Or, conversely, our processes may be indistinguishable from one another, but then the results of our separate works might be completely different. It seems the process is a creation recipe, of sorts, which consists of more than simply the steps one takes. Of course, the composer herself must represent a fundamental ingredient, as must her experiences. Indeed, a composer’s music inspired on one day, via some process, must be entirely different from another via the same process on a completely different occasion (after new experiences). In the same way, one’s environment seems to play a crucial part. A question then presents itself: is there a necessary element of the process of creating music which is independent of the composer, their experiences, the steps they take during creation, and the environment surrounding these9? If so, we must wonder if this element is dependent on the composer or some other entity.
In the last section, we suggested that a musical discovery (gestation) may involve the use of tools outside of human perception. Consequentially, we suggest there is something ineffable, beyond the realm of human understanding, which is not only involved in the discovery of a piece of music (which, I think follows directly from granting the existence of an ineffable, sublime realm), but is used by the composer in their process.
Anecdotally, and without claiming some inductive proof of the matter, a particular indication of extra-perceptual intervention is the paradoxical chronology of some composers’ intentional actions in the musical development process. For example, my process involves making musical decisions which are informed by the aural result of prior musical decisions. Rarely (if ever) will I write a piece of music from beginning to end without hearing (through my ear, not my mind) a single note. One could describe my personal compositional process as “organized improvisation”; I play a note/chord or two, record a part or two, and decide what else will sound “good” or “right” (if anything). Sure, music savvy readers will recognize that any combination of notes and textures10 defines a framework or “color palate”, such that some further musical decisions are more “pleasing” than others. But given a color palate of notes and textures, we cannot forget that even among the available pleasing decisions to follow, there are infinitely many options to choose from.
By contrast, a good friend of mine explained he first needs to conceptualize a message he wants to communicate, and then he makes an effort to create a full piece of music which communicates that message11 (maybe, this has something to do with his experience with formalized compositional motifs). We are both successfully creating music, but our intention does not need to precede the creation — the “chicken or the egg” problem seems to apply.
It seems to me there is something about the musical creation process that is (in a sense) unintentional, or more specifically, out of our control as humans. The reason compositional intention could occur before or after notes are written may be because intention itself is insufficient for creating music. In fact, intention might be completely antithetical to or at least in direct conflict with musical creation — meaning to do a thing can interfere with letting it happen.
Importantly, artists are called to pour themselves into their work. Creating music forces the composer to communicate something uniquely theirs which cannot be put to words. And, as we’ve stated at the beginning of this essay, this means that employing only thoughts in this endeavor will not be of help; the composer must use their feelings. Now, to use ones feelings is not as simple as using something in the physical world, like a hammer or a computer. As with using anything else, to use ones feelings requires a person to understand their feelings, to be able to recognize different aspects of their feelings, and to harness those aspects. This can be difficult. When we simply interface with our feelings (let alone use them), we are being vulnerable, and at times this is not a welcome, comfortable experience. On the other hand, this can be a therapeutic, cathartic experience. In the same way that therapy allows us to understand ourselves a bit better, to learn to live with our true essence in a healthy way, exploring and embracing our feelings during the process of music creation can do the same. No matter the sentiment, music holds the essence of its composer: that which makes them a unique being. In so doing, musical gestation creates an indelible bond between composer, composition, and music.
Even after all this, the music must be transferable. I.e., others need to have the potential to enjoy it. So, we have thought to help create a conduit between our singular feelings and others’. This is where a composer concerns themselves with decisions about chord progressions, key signatures, whether something is right or “wrong”, how to place a melody, music theory itself, harmonic expression, etc. In other words, these symbolically representable concepts reflect the effable, “linguistic” aspect of musical creation, and they serve to complement the aforementioned ineffable, “sublime” aspect of musical creation.
Often, musician-composers will pick up an instrument and play. Sometimes, they play a piece of music that was written by some other composer, or one written by themselves. But other times, they will play something that (as far as they know) has never been played before, be it a novel rendition of a pre-written piece, or something completely unrecognizable. In any of these cases, when the playing is spontaneous, I’d venture to call the activity “fiddling”, a.k.a. “messing around”, “jamming”, etc.
Playing music can be simply that: playing. When we play, we needn’t have a reason for the things we do; we simply do them for fun. By extension, we need not concern ourselves with an end goal when we engage in playful activity — indeed, there is no clear end goal, as the result of play is completely independent and unrelated to the play itself. Spontaneity, idiosyncrasy, nonsense, all for the sake of enjoyable fleeting feelings is the essence of play. This notion extends to playfulness in music, and it is especially apparent in the act of fiddling.
When we fiddle, we are simply having fun. In some cases, any formal musical composition which comes from such a session is nothing more than inadvertent, and whether or not it is remembered or recorded is typically of no consequence. This, then, is an occurrence of making music purely for the sake of making music, and nothing more. I for one find it to be respectable, selfless behavior — a sign of unadulterated artistry.
All the stages of musical existence discussed in this essay can occur within a single fiddling session. A piece of music could be born, live, and die before the session is over. But, any fiddling session could also be the precursor to or manifestation of any of the stages whatsoever. For example, a “jam session” could be a laboratory experiment intended to inspire musical conception and gestation. Given that it is such a distilled form of music for the sake of music, and that it is clearly not meant to be structured in any way, any attempt to concretely place fiddling in the paradigm herein is misguided. Instead, I like to think of fiddling (or jamming, what have you) as an environment as much as an activity, within which musical stages may occur or be drawn.
Working with others on a piece of music can come in the form of jam sessions like the ones discussed above, but it could also come in the form of intentional discussion and work, progressing through the stages mentioned in this essay in order, as a group. In either case, the question of compositional attribution becomes an interesting one. Here, we investigate three flavors of collaboration:
- Ex Nihilo
The first of these involves a primary composer, supported by secondary contributors. In cases such as these, we typically say that the music is already “written”. But, the meaning of this word could range from a situation where the primary composer has a loose idea for how they want the work to sound, to a situation where every sound to be made is strictly and completely transcribed in sheet music to be handed out to the contributors. In the case of the former, where the music is only loosely written, two different groups of contributors will certainly yield different manifestations of the music, even with the primary composer directing both sessions. Analogously, in the case of the latter, if the writing is strict enough, so long as the contributors are capable of playing the parts, two different groups could yield manifestations of the music that are virtually indistinguishable.
The interesting case in directed collaboration is the looser form, because when the writing is strict, contributors become players and “collaboration” becomes essentially null. However, when the writing is loose, contributors in a directed collaboration session become part of the music composition process. Barring the theoretical person who can act completely independent of their environment, any direction given by the primary composer is surely influenced by inspiration gathered from others in the room. It could be as subtle as how someone plays a part, to something as simple as someone’s being in the room at all. The contributors to a directed session are a catalyst for the direction itself. So, a (sufficiently) directed collaboration session is not immune from the unexpected and uncontrollable elements of musical gestation. Something intangible must happen to inspire the direction of the primary composer, otherwise it is not directed collaboration.
The second flavor of collaboration is composition by way of (usually) verbal conversation, agreement, and veto. This kind of collaboration happens when every aspect of a musical work is contingent on the agreement of all co-composers involved. It is an interesting one, and (in my experience) only rarely does it ever result in a situation where all co-composers are completely happy about the outcome — at least one co-composer must be required to make unwanted concessions. Every co-composer comes to the piece with their own life experiences, their own musical tastes, preferences, and their own Self. So much of musical creation, as we’ve seen, is derived from the Self, which is completely unique from anyone else’s, and likely contains aspects which are at odds with the Self of another. Since the Self influences writing so much, we have to assume someone will suggest something at odds with the preferences of another, whether they voice their concern or not. In this way, the final product of democratic collaboration typically ends up being a hodgepodge of musical essences. But, when it is done well, the final product ends up being rich with intrigue.
The third of these flavors refers to the weird phenomenon where music just happens, and we can’t say who wrote what, or where it came from. As the name implies, ex nihilo collaboration describes a situation where music written with a group seems to come “out of nothing”. These typically require collaborators to actually play music together. If they don’t, and writing is communicated and agreed upon physically in some way, the session will regress to one of the former two flavors. In this way, ex nihilo collaboration very closely resembles writing with a single composer. It is as if each part perfectly contributes to a cohesive whole, miraculously defined by the collaborators in the room. That is, the collaborators and their playing become the collective “hive mind” of a meta-composer. Ex nihilo collaboration creates a phenomenon where the unexplainable essence of a piece of music is channeled through multiple people at once, lending itself to a sort of shared amorphous existence.
At some point, a composer might make the decision to share a piece of music with other people. Within our framework, we define birth to be the instant a composer decides their music may be played or experienced by anyone. Notice first that musical birth depends on more than simply the composer alone; true, the composer must relinquish creative agency over the piece, but further there must be an individual to play or hear the music.12 Secondly, note there is no constraint on who may experience this music, nor are there rules on how it must be done. Indeed, anyone who has the capacity to sense the music could experience it, if only given the opportunity. Since musical appreciation is completely subjective, all that one needs to properly experience a piece of music is the ability to sense it, aurally, mentally, visually, through vibrations, or what have you. These two observations imply that music is immediately and universally accessible once it is born.
Here, we address the following questions regarding music at birth:
- Exactly when is music “done” or “complete”?
- To whom does a piece of music belong, if anyone?
- Is music “music” before it is born, or is it something else with different parameters?
Creating music is a very intimate endeavor, and releasing a piece of music can be daunting as it causes us to detach with something which has been carefully crafted to match a particularly personal idea. Appropriately, the word we often use to describe the birth of a piece of music is “release.” We can release a rehabilitated animal into the wild, a bird into the sky, a prisoner from bondage, a yoga pose, or a deep breath. There is a letting go in these actions, and in many cases there is a sense of risk. Furthermore, we are never completely sure if we are ready to release something, but we know that it must happen: the animal cannot be rehabilitated forever, the bird must fly, the prisoner must either die or be freed, and so on. The decision to let go of a piece of music surely is risky because it is so uncertain.
So, apparently, there is a difference between calling a composition “done” and “completely ready to be shared with the world”, though of course, I’m sure there are those who might say they are the same. Nevertheless, here, I’ll make a distinction between the two. Further, I’ll use these two descriptions of musical birth to understand the notion a bit more, particularly to investigate the question: how do we know when a piece of music is born?
In my mind, “done” must be attributed to some finite process (we grant the possibility for theoretical infinite processes which are never done), and conversely any finite process should have the potential to be done. Explicitly: the moment a process is done, it is impossible for it to continue further. Maybe a process can repeat, but then we must define whether each iteration is its own process, or whether the series of repeated sub-processes is the process. When it comes to music, the process in question is of course that of creation (or, in our framework, conception and gestation), and we want to pinpoint the moment that particular process cannot be continued any further. The difficulty here is that it is not strange to imagine that the creative process for a single piece of music can continue ad infinitum. Or, it is conceivable to imagine an imminent piece of music that exists eternally in the “creation” stage — “it’s not done yet”. Maybe we need to reframe the way we think of “music” as an entity.
Suppose we think of music not as a sharable thing which anyone can experience, but as a latent existence which is instantiated by each individual experience. Musical birth, then, is concerned with the very first musical experience, where the musical experience is defined as a pairing between the music and the entity who experiences it. Once music is experienced, that experience cannot be undone, and the music associated with that experience cannot be rewritten or continued — in this sense, the music associated with that first experience is complete. Notice that the musical experience is dependent on the entity which experiences it, and there can be many. I claim that birth doesn’t necessarily occur when the first musical experience is complete, no, this is simply the point that particular musical iteration is “complete.” Again, birth occurs when the composer decides their music is ready for all possible experiences at once. The decision precludes the possibilities.
I am not convinced music can be owned. In the same manner some say land cannot be owned, because we do not have the authority or primacy to attribute ownership of said land, music does not seem to be ownable. Ownership is quite a slippery idea, because we cannot pin down what it depends on or what it means. Is it based on temporal primacy? Is “being first” necessary for ownership, or at least enough to pass it on to another? Or, is ownership deemed by authority or right: that is, if I win a game, or if I am born into status, or if I defeat you in some contest (physical or otherwise), am I entitled to decide the ownership of something? Or, is ownership defined by agreement? If you agree (or some governed party agrees) to give me something by some contract we make, or even as a gift, does that make me the “rightful” owner of that thing? Is any contract strictly binding and unbreakable? The list goes on, and one can easily expand it further when we think about something so subjective as art.
Sure, it seems perfectly agreeable to consider the notion of owning a singular musical experience. My musical experience with a piece of music is mine because I am the one who experienced it. If there is anything that we can easily attribute ownership to, it is our mind, body, or soul. Once we experience a piece of music, it seems that experience becomes a part of us, and therefore ownership follows immediately. Music though, as we’ve seen, seems to transcend the human being, much like land does. It is not feasible to attribute full and complete ownership of a piece of music to a person or physical entity, at least because the music’s existence is dependent on something more than the physical world we perceive.
.“music” before music.
Something I’ve been struggling with as I write this essay is the designation we give “music” (?) before it is born. When I am sitting with my bass on my right leg, trying to figure out what the next few notes are to be, what am I manifesting? Should I say that it is not music, but it is something else altogether? This all seems very disagreeable, since the only word we have to describe an intentional string of sounds is “music.”
I conclude that music is music before, during, and after its creation. This comes off as contradictory given the term, because (supposedly) something cannot come from nothing, and something cannot exist before it exists. But, imbued in these stipulations is our human sense for logic, and specifically our linear sense of time, cause, and effect. Make no mistake, these are human artifacts, so when discussing something as esoteric and sublime as music, which transcends humanity, we need to leave room for the possibility that its existence is not bound by these notions.
The postnatal life phase is probably going to be the longest interval of time for the development of a musical work. Once the piece is born, it is released into the world for people to experience. Some will hear it for the first time, and never think of it again. Some will love it, and listen to it every day for weeks. Maybe, it goes “out of fashion” for a time, but then has a resurgence after years of being ignored. It could be a work of art, written on staff paper for orchestras to play periodically over centuries. Or, it could be as simple as a rhythmic sequence that catches on, and in some way finds itself eternalized in the daily lives of humanity as they tap it on doors and furniture, for millennia. Further, not only will the music be played and heard, but among other things, it can also be absorbed into the essence of those experiencing it, and transubstantiated into something which can be talked about (e.g., music can make us cry, and it can make us do things that make others cry). There are countless ways a piece of music might live it’s postnatal life, but either way, the postnatal phase of music’s development is simply the interval of time between birth and death. Here, I will discuss three types of postnatal life: active, passive, and dormant. I’ll also talk for a moment about the relationship between the life of a piece of music and the life of its creator.
Before continuing on, we should address the idea that a piece of music can evolve (i.e., the manner in which people experience music may change over time), or even procreate (i.e., music created by artists inspired by another piece of music may be considered children of the first instantiation). As for the former, this “evolution” must be a result of society and not of the music itself. Otherwise, we must attribute some element of a song’s being to those who experience it, which could cause into question the purpose of the composer. Further, music will necessarily affect society, but it is likely not the consequence of a single piece of music that its experience changes with time. For this reason, we exclude musical evolution from this essay. Similarly, regarding the latter, one might question whether a piece of music which lives on in its progeny might be considered a separate phase of life. Given that this phenomenon is potentially ubiquitous in all music (especially, that any piece of music could be the progeny of another), we will limit our discussion to the phases which are strictly attributed to a piece of music itself and not its lineage.
.active postnatal life.
The active version of musical postnatal life is likely the most familiar: attending performance, listening to a recording of a performance, or reading the score for a piece of music. In short, the active aspect of musical postnatal life includes all instances where experiencing music is intentional.
Whenever we have an experience, especially one that is intentional or one to which we are paying close attention, we gain the ability to talk about that experience. We are able (and usually willing) to share our opinions, and our feelings on it. Conversely, much of our conversations and social interactions are consequences of previous experiences which we have had, or those which we intend to have. So, of course we talk about music we’ve actively experienced, and importantly, those conversations give the music one more breath of air. In sharing a musical experience with another, we increase the likelihood that piece of music lives on in another consciousness. Whether the recipient of the shared experience eventually goes on to experience the discussed music themselves, or just retains a sort of second hand, approximated experience from the interaction, the music itself directly affects how they go about the rest of their day. In some cases, the simple act of listening to someone else talk about a piece of music can have the power to change how someone thinks (however latent or minute) — let alone the effect which comes from experiencing the music first hand. So, regardless of the most ubiquitous way of thinking within a society, music (like many other art forms) can slowly change the society’s collective mentality, one member at a time. It is unclear exactly what the result of this change will be, but it is clear that an active postnatal musical experience has the potential to spark its manifestation.
There is a natural development of people through lives and generations: our perception changes over the course of our lives, so of course the way we experience music (or anything else) will change in turn. On the other hand, a piece of music itself doesn’t quite change in the same way. In fact, if we consider any rearrangement (or, “cover”) of a piece of music a completely new piece, then a musical work, once born, does not change at all.13 Either way, there is something intriguing about the relationship between music and how it is (intentionally) experienced over time. For example, there are plenty of examples of musical works that gain global acclaim only after its being publicly lauded by an especially influential figure. This might not be what makes a piece of music “good” or particularly “touching” for any individual, but it can be what gives it a platform (or, a perceived credibility) sufficient enough to affect large swathes of listeners with potent outcomes. Given how strongly music can affect the decisions of an individual (e.g., some claim music has thwarted suicide), if the right person shares it with the world, music has the power to completely shift the collective mentality of a population.
Alternatively, sometimes it just takes a while for a society to learn to appreciate a musical piece of art. A great portion of the most influential music was rejected (or, intentionally not experienced) by the majority of the community in which it was wrought, not to be accepted until years later after a shift in the collective mentality of those who may experience it. In other words, sometimes the world just isn’t ready. Some argue this is what separates good music from great music. Of course this claim is completely subjective, but it does seem consistent with history, in that “great” here often correlates with “influential”.
.passive postnatal life.
First, I’d like to establish the fact that musical composers do not need to be human — we are not that special. The question remains whether musical composers need to be sentient beings. Further, humans are not the only entities who can experience music. These facts, coupled with the enigmatic nature of the unconscious mind, are what make for the subtlety of the passive postnatal life of music.
Opposing the active postnatal life, the passive version of musical postnatal life includes all instances where experiencing music is unintentional. Importantly, “unintentional” here simply means without intention, and “intention” here is referring to the conscious, premeditated intention with which we are most familiar as humans (assuming our will is free). Of course, a conscious being can act without intention, but there are also entities in this world that do not have the capacity for intention (e.g., stones, or wheat), so they too can act without intention by default. This means if we grant that musical experience is the act of sensing a piece of music, and if we allow that intention is not needed for the ability to sense (e.g., a plant’s affinity toward the direction of the sun), then it must be that entities such as plants have the ability to experience music without intention. So, here we establish that both humans and non-humans may have the capacity to take part in the passive postnatal life of music.
On a related note, when we similarly establish that music can be composed by non-human entities such as birds, rain forests, or ocean tides, we should want to consider the difference between how a human will intentionally experience music composed by another human vs. how they might intentionally experience music composed by a non-human. That is to say, in general, music composed by humans is going to have a better chance of being actively (intentionally) appreciated than music composed by non-humans. Whereas, music composed by non-humans is more likely to be ignored, relegated to background noise, living a primarily passive postnatal life in the human world. This is not to say that the sounds of trees rustling, or beach waves are never experienced actively and intentionally by humans appreciating the music of such sounds, because they are. But, non-human compositions such as these tend not to be a main focal point of our human attention, as human music usually is.
The goal of ambient music is supposedly to become the aural complement for and component of an environment. Bird song, leaves rustling, and a sea breeze can attain this state just as much as elevator music, jazz in a restaurant, or minimalist music in an art gallery can. When music such as this is composed, in some cases, the whole purpose of the music is to live a passive postnatal life. I.e., the composers that create such music want it to become “part of the background.” But, music that was intended to be heard may also live such a life. When we are conversing at a party, eating in a restaurant, or whenever we are engaged in something other than the active appreciation of the music around us, it then becomes passively appreciated.
These passive postnatal musical backdrops have a measurable effect on all sensing beings, conscious and unconscious. There is a tangible difference between a party with music, and a commensurate party with no music, as much as there is a difference between reading on the beach, and reading on the same beach with earplugs in. However, no matter how much we may try to study this difference, to apply scientific method to understanding the difference, we will never be able to put it to words exactly. For any logical explanation for the effect of passive postnatal music on our unconscious mind (let alone our conscious mind), there will always be an individual who is dissatisfied. There will always be someone who is unable to reconcile the gap between what they felt, what they cannot put to words, and the explicit structure of the scientific report. This dissatisfaction alone is sufficient to cast doubt on the comprehensiveness of logical explanation in music.
.dormant postnatal life.
Finally, dormant postnatal life represents the time intervening, when a musical work is not being experienced anywhere at all, but it has the potential to be experienced in the future. During this time, recordings or scores of a piece of music may be extant somewhere in the world, but the music itself is not being heard, anywhere. Musical dormancy can be defined universally, globally, or it can defined within a neighborhood. That is, a piece of music can be dormant in one locale (say, a city like Hong Kong), but perfectly lively in another locale (e.g., the U.S.).
The dormant period is an interesting time for music, or rather, it is an interesting time for those who have experienced it. In the same way that our behavior is affected by meaningful experiences, music can drive us to act in ways we might otherwise not have, had we not experienced it. During a musical work’s dormant postnatal life, people and other sensing beings interact with their environment in such a way that the music, in some implicit way, lives on. For example, quite simply, before I heard Tchaikovsky’s 7th Symphony, I never knew a piece of music could affect me in the way that piece did. Now that I have heard it, I know the effect music like that can have, so I live my life at least slightly differently because of it. After someone (or something) experiences one of the prior two forms of music, their lives are changed, and they may do something which is influenced by music now dormant. So, during the dormant phase of a piece of music’s postnatal life, society as a whole moves with the echo of the music which precedes it.
.posthumous music, etc.
There is something to be said about how each of these varieties of musical life can change when the composer has died. When someone becomes a musical legend, their music is memorialized, and it could then be given a platform for proliferation which did not exist before. When an artist creates music without any significant public knowledge of its existence, that music can easily go dormant for long after they die, only to be rediscovered and reborn as a brilliant work of art eventually to be heard far and wide. Or, when we are introduced to the music of a (potentially famous) composer who we know has just recently passed away, our experience with it will be different than it would have been had the composer still been alive. In fact, in each of these examples, we present a situation in which our experience of a piece of music is necessarily affected by the mortality of its creator. It is difficult to say exactly how our experience differs, but we know that it must, because if it did not, we would certainly not have the musical legends and idols that we do.
The death of a musical work must be purely theoretical. To see this, I define “death” in this context as the moment after which recall of a piece of music is completely and infinitely impossible. In other words, once a piece of music is “dead”, it can never be read, played, heard, or experienced ever again; it is if the music never existed in the first place (this is a defining quality of musical death over organic death). When a piece of music reaches this stage, it is, by definition, no longer possible to talk about it, play it, or experience it in any way; for there is no evidence of its existence at all. Further, save for the contraction of some form of amnesia, this stage requires the death of the composer. For instance, the best a composer can do is talk (or, not talk or even think) about their music in relation to this stage. Namely, if done so at all, one can talk about their music in relation to this stage in the form of at least two questions:
- In what manner do we care about the death of our musical work, if at all?
- How long will it take our work to get to this stage, or will it never?
(Note that there is a subtle difference between musical death and dormant postnatal life. That is, when music is dormant it has the potential to be experienced again, but when it is dead, that potential is void. As a very simple example, we can imagine a tragic hermit songwriter who writes a piece of music completely in their head, sings it alone in their soundproof basement where nobody hears, and then dies immediately afterward. This music is dead, as it does not retain the potential to be experienced again, by anyone (assuming we cannot access the memories of the dead). If the songwriter had simply written the song down on paper, the music would then be dormant, as it would then have the potential to be experienced again.)
.significance of musical death.
More than likely, a composer will not consider the death of their musical work. That is, we don’t usually ask questions like, “I wonder who will be the last person to listen to this music?”, or “if no one ever uses this sheet music, will it disintegrate into the earth before anyone has the chance to play it?” To ask these kinds of questions is to reflect specifically on the end of a creation. I imagine that parents do not make it a habit think on exactly how their child will die, and similarly one would be hard-pressed to find a composer concerned with how their music will spend its last moments. This in itself is not surprising, but it does say something about how creators probably think of and value their work. Maybe a composer is more likely to think of their music as something eternal, rather than something with an expiration date.
If one does reflect on the death of their music, even if it is just hypothetical or purely for the sake of conjecture, we might expect that reflection to have an effect on the outcome of the music itself. If I were asked to write a piece of music for a film, I for one expect I would do my job differently if I were told that the score would be carved into 50 copies of titanium tablets to be memorialized around the world, and 50 further copies to be launched into space. In contrast, if I had no hope my music would ever escape the confines of the tape it was recorded on, I might treat its compositional process differently than if I knew it would be heard by generations to come. Of course, we cannot say for certain that these thoughts affect how music is written; on the contrary, it might have no effect at all! The mentality behind writing music for the sake of music can be independent of the nature of its death. On the other hand, the possibility that these thoughts can affect how a piece of music is written is non-negligible, and it lends itself to the significance of musical death on any musical composition.
.time to musical death.
As composers, we can consider what it means for others to listen to our music after we are dead. Here, we are contemplating the life of our music in the context of our legacy. In the same way parents may feel led to pass on their knowledge to their progeny, somehow allowing them to “live on” through the lives of their children, we can consider a similar phenomenon happening when we project ourselves into our music. The music a composer writes is an extension of their Self. So, to consider the life of our music after we die is to implicitly consider the life of an artificial version of ourselves, which extends past our death. Inevitably, this line of thinking leads to questions about how we (or, our music) will be received after we die. Some artists will find this conjecture stimulating, and maybe even helpful for the creative process, and others might not consider it at all (intentionally or otherwise). Regardless, the whole business of conjecture about our music post mortem can never extend beyond conjecture, because it applies to a future we can never see.
As a listener, notice that there are no examples of dead music, otherwise it would not be dead (i.e., we would then be able to talk about it here). The fact that there are not and never will be examples of dead music causes us to question not only how musical death occurs, but whether musical death can even occur in the first place. This is what makes the idea purely theoretical. Until musical death has officially occurred, music is either being enjoyed actively or passively, or it will be at some point in the future. We can only ever do the former, or look forward to the latter.
Lastly, I claim that no single piece of music is any more likely to live longer than any other piece of music. E.g., the most famous piece of music today could be completely overshadowed by a dormant piece of music that is yet to be discovered. The resilience of a piece of music then is not entirely affected by its fame at any given moment. Its resilience is instead ephemerally tied to the strength of its reception within subpopulations of society, through time. But, human behavior is so complex and unpredictable that the nature of any subpopulation at any time has no limits; so, any piece of music has the capacity to be fully appreciated by some latent subpopulation(s) yet to be seen. This fact creates a chaotic and infinitely growing network of possibilities which decide the fate of any piece of music, rendering it impossible to predict. This should give us pause. It should lead us to question the value of musical fame and fortune, of public acclaim, and of the mass of musical reception. From both composers’ and listeners’ perspectives alike, musical value is undefined within any span of time. Musical beauty exists in itself and in the one experiencing it in the moment.
a note on linearity
It is difficult for humans to perceive time as anything other than linear. This is not to say there are not many other descriptions and theories of the nature of time, indeed a quick Google search of the phrase will yield myriad results. But, our ability to truly experience time in any of these nonlinear forms is improbable, if not impossible. Now, just as I’ve listed and developed the stages above as happening one after the other, in a very linear fashion, music takes its place as one among the linearly manifested. Its tempo, rhythm, melody-line, beginning, middle, and end all presuppose an inseparable linear aspect to music’s very being. What does this say? Is our linear experience of music a consequence of our linear experience of time? Or, is it possible to experience music non-linearly?14 Does our restricted experience of time hinder a complete understanding of music, and therefore whatever ineffable element with which it intertwines? I do not want to answer these questions. On the contrary, I think questions such as these should sustain a boundary between the knowable and unknowable.
I say all of this to couch a comment on the (im)possibility of a nonlinear version of the six stages listed above. Sure, it may be that these steps can happen in a different order somehow, but that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for me to conceive at least. The mere fact that we can only see these steps as happening in order is a testament to the confinement we face when trying to fully understand the nature of music and the ineffable world.
There is more to the human experience than that which can be expressed by language. Music serves as a particularly convenient example of such a thing. Throughout the stages of its development, we see evidence of something sublime which evades our understanding, but yet is inexorably tied to the musical experience. Music shares an ethereal quality with many other aspects of the human experience: love, feelings, the soul, etc. Further, most music (I have interacted with, at least) tends to be a tribute to one of these other ethereal qualities, or something related to one. In other words, artists with the ability to create tend have a proclivity to write music that is based on an idea as sublime and subtle as music itself. Rather, it is not the case that we expect artists to be writing music about the shape of watermelons or 37° angles. Of course, songs like these are written, but we do not expect them given a random selection from the pool of musical options. This says something about the nature of music, poetry, and other art forms that lends itself to the claim that these activities are indelibly intertwined with a sublime world. That they seem to have an unyielding connection with something we can only fail to put to words.
I can only hope it comes as no surprise that Phase 5 is strangely named, as it is a bit difficult to pin down. Here, I’m trying to reduce “the-time-between-birth-and-death” to one simple term. At first glance, “Life” seems appropriate, but there is a very familiar and compelling argument for this word’s encompassing time prior to birth, rendering it imprecise. “Development” is close, but it could surely encompass all six of these phases. “Self” and “Independence” seem fitting words for this phase, but the Self (at least, the Jungian variety) is abstract, infinite, and notably amorphous. On the other hand, “Independence” neglects the fact that one could be in this phase, but wholly dependent on another (e.g., someone in a coma). Put simply, “Postnatal Life” is the best I can do at the moment. ↩︎
Over the course of this essay, I use the word “composer” to denote the creator of music. This could be interchangeable with the term “artist” or “songwriter”, and often this person is also a “musician”, etc. ↩︎
It is worth noting here, the composer may not be willing to act on this inspiration. ↩︎
Sure, this sort of “prenatal” music, maybe “fiddling”, is music in its own right. I believe that our discussion here in this essay may well apply to those instances as well, possibly in a more compact and maybe less organized form. It might also be worth making clear that this instantiation of music formation within another music’s formation is outside the scope of the essay. I.e., we are concerned with the creation of music as an imminent entity, and in some cases, we have the creation of another instantiation of music which is inspired by the former. As they are both separate instantiations of music, there is no loss of generalization to focus on just one. Maybe to account for this contingency, one can draw connections between the settings described in the previous section and the ones inherent in the section to follow. ↩︎
Mathematically, there exists a one-to-one bijection mapping between all pieces of music and their corresponding conception events. ↩︎
This is the second time we’ve broached the issue of “fiddling”. We’ll discuss it a bit more in the next section, but for now it is enough to say that fiddling is a playful activity which can occur during any of the phases in the life of a musical work. ↩︎
One might find this discussion redundant, as we are taking time to argue against the intentionality of inspiration, which is an oxymoron. But what exactly does it mean that inspiration cannot be intentional? Inspiration itself is a channel to/from an ineffable, unreachable realm; possibly related to Jung’s Collective Unconscious. Again, the purpose of this essay is to explore the ineffable, using music as a device. So, this section is an attempt to investigate this notion of “inspiration” a bit further than the rote connotation it is typically given. ↩︎
It turns out this quote is often attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, but who really knows who said it first? Is fame or primacy a suitable measure for independent quote attribution? ↩︎
It seems I should clarify the difference between the environment surrounding the creative process and a composer’s experiences. That is, someone might argue the former is simply the present acquisition of the latter. Or, that “the experience of being in the environment surrounding the creative process” is a redundant phrase. I should define experience as the accumulation of all events and states in which the composer has taken part prior to their being placed in the creative environment in question (e.g., at the piano). ↩︎
Here, I’m roughly defining “texture” as the aspect of a sound which cannot be given a pitch. E.g., A-440 is a specific pitch (an exact 440Hz sine wave), but the same note can be played on different instruments, with different flavors of feeling, accompanied by different sounds, etc. These other aspects, among others I’m sure, give the A-440 its texture. ↩︎
An extreme version of this strategy may be seen in a famed classical composer, writing a full orchestral score using pen and paper without (aurally) hearing a single note. ↩︎
Of course, this could be the same person! Even in the case where Beethoven is the only person in the universe, if he writes a piece of music, and decides to play it on piano (or in his head!), the music is born because he has the freedom to play it or hear it in its decidedly final form. ↩︎
To be clear, the playing of a piece of music exactly as it was intended upon its birth, but on a different instrument (or set of instruments) from the original is not considered to be a rearrangement, and therefore it does not constitute a new piece of music. True, a change in instrumentation is a creative choice, and I would argue it must yield a different emotional response than the original, but it is not a new piece of music: it is the same piece of music with a different voice.
Note: once any element of a piece of music is changed other than its instrumentation, a new arrangement/cover is created, and we then have a new piece of music. ↩︎
Here, one might be thinking of aleatoric compositions. But, by definition, any aleatoric composition is simply one that depends on chance for its realization. The final product of such a composition is still experienced linearly, again, with a beginning, middle, and an end. One might decide to play the middle part first, and the first part last, but then their experience will just be different: still linear, but different. ↩︎