The Echoes of the Mind (76) Music


Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. ~ Plato

Sound turns into music when the mind recognizes a pattern. Mere repetition of sound patterns can turn environmental noise into music. Constructively, music is the language of emotively evocative sound.

Music is the universal language. ~ American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Humans are not the only composers of music. Other animals, notably songbirds, design ditties that please them.

Some birds prefer to sway rather than sing. Parrots are particularly fond of dancing to rhythmic beats.

The emotional resonance of music transcends culture. Though music’s cultural diversity is vast, many elements of music strike the same emotive chords.

Musical language, like verbal language, is heuristic in the sense that its forms predetermine for us certain modes of observation and interpretation. ~ American composer and musicologist Leonard Meyer, channeling Edward Sapir

Music becomes more accessible as it is filled with easily identified patterns; but only to a degree. Music of simple, entirely predictable patterns is dismissed as childish, and is unsatisfying as excessively conforming to mental expectations.

The best music is characterized by a plethora of seemingly fortuitous patterns spiced with sprinkles of noise. Such confection slightly defies expectations while still rendering their satisfaction.

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The true goal of music – its proper enterprise – is melody. ~ German composer Johann Kirnberger

There are 2 essential facets of music: melody and rhythm. A melody comprises tonal patterns: a series of musical notes perceived as integral. A tone is a sound with a certain dominant pitch and resonance. Pitch is frequency. Resonance is vibrational quality.

Rhythm is the percussive equivalent of melody: the pattern which comprises beat or pulse. Rhythmic instruments invariably produce sound at a certain pitch, and so contribute a melodic element to music, just as the notes of melodic instruments appear within a rhythmic structure.

The notes used in musical compositions, particularly simple ones, are all arranged into particular pitch intervals, called keys. A key refers to the dominant (tonic) note of the scale used.

The relation (harmonic) of other notes in a key creates varying degrees of tension or resolution with the tonic. The earliest-recorded employment of harmony in western European music was in the 9th century.

Musical works are built from tonal tensions through time, often at different volumes. Temporal tension works in 3 ways: tempo (fast/slow), movement (smooth/jerky), and phrasing (staccato/legato, which is: disconnected/connected notes).

Single tones are commonly combined into chords of 3 or more notes, with each put at a specific interval from the primary pitch. The notes of chords form harmony. While chords of all sorts are frequently employed in many forms of music, notably those influenced by European culture, they are absent in other cultures.

Melodic line is considered the horizontal stream of music. Harmony is its vertical aspect. This is readily apparent in written (sheet) music.

That music is inexorably biologically bound is shown by the simple fact of universal expectations that notes follow particular patterns. The delight of music comes in the combination of confounding and satisfying expectations.

A consonance is a tonal interval that sounds stable in the key: either a dominant or subdominant chord, whereas a dissonance sounds transitional. To the mind’s ear, a consonance is pleasant unto itself, while a dissonance begs for resolution to a consonance. By combinations of consonances and dissonances emerges tonal melodies. This is the musical equivalent of storytelling, which necessarily relies upon conflict, tension, and ultimately, resolution of some sort.

Keys (scales) may be major or minor. Whereas major keys play largely with happy consonance, 4–3 and 8–7 transitions excepted, minor keys reek of dissonance.

Styles in music are basically complex systems of probability relationships. ~ Leonard Meyer

Owing to its patterned nature, musical language is often considered to have mathematical qualities. The various regularities found to be musical in different genres adhere to certain formulas.

Basic ordered patterns emerge in music using the same statistical mechanics that describes emergent order across phase transitions in physical systems. ~ American physicist Jesse Berezovsky

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By vitalizing various basic terms expressing different emotions, and juxtaposing them in an ordered pattern, making some of them fundamental, persistent, and finally victorious, and others subsidiary, intermittent, and finally vanquished, a composer can express an unambiguous moral attitude toward life. ~ English musicologist Deryck Cooke

Whereas traditional music reveled in melodies and form, music’s progress into the industrial age became that of breakage. Modern music moved toward noise, with increasingly obscure rhythms and prolonged passages of atonality. This trend peaked in the latter part of the 20th century, with “progressive” rock and jazz, as well as classical compositions that often sounded more like the scratchings and howls of caged animals than music in the traditional sense. It was a culmination in the cultural evolution of a species that had confined itself into urban jungles and suburban boxes, and had become disgruntled pieces in bureaucratic machines, disoriented from Nature.

Artistically, shock was always the simplest path to novelty. After all, writing gorgeous melodies time and again is damned difficult. It’s much easier to jumble sounds, or simply rap to a bass-laden beat that any imbecile could follow; whence what passes for music today.

Despite lyrics that often insult the intelligence and sense of civility, there is a crude savviness to rap music: heavy bass makes its listeners feel powerful, which explains why it is so popular among the underclass.

Bass sound and voice are associated with dominance. ~ Chinese American sociologist Dennis Hsu

Western classical composers began the march that would morph into tonal commotion. In searching for new avenues of expression, they ratcheted the tension: toying with suspension of consonance, exploring the force of dissonance. In doing so, compositions came to turn musical tension on its head. Whereas once consonance was king as a constant touchstone, it now sits on a largely silent throne, watching the pawns of dissonance skitter about, fruitlessly seeking release.

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Music is what feelings sound like. ~ Anonymous

Music is such a powerful emotive force because the mind is a pattern processor, and biology dictates that emotions associate with attention affinity.

Sight involves discerning objects via edge detection and contrasts. Vision’s patterns of recognition are largely subconscious, and not amenable to conscious entrainment. The product of sight comprises static, spatially related symbols; perhaps pleasing, but seldom enthralling.

In contrast, music is a stream which forms patterns via continued attention. The stimulation of ascertaining, suspending, and resolving the patterns may be a rapt captivation that is emotionally engaging.

When listening to music, humans apply cognitive processes that are capable of dealing with long-distance dependencies resulting from hierarchically organized syntactic structures. ~ German psychologist Stefan Koelsch et al

Whereas music is immediately, aesthetically visceral in its patterns, emotional access to graphic art is a symbolic step away, relying upon meaning by analogy.

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. ~ English philosopher Aldous Huxley