What Even Is Music?

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12tone : An important note: One thing my definition implies is that whether or not something is music is an inherently subjective question. That is, something can simultaneously be music to you and not music to me. However, I think this presents somewhat of a false equivalency: The experience of music and the experience of not-music are not equally meaningful. Most things we encounter are not music (for most of us) so identifying an object as such carries very little weight. However, the experience of music can be deeply profound. Thus, I tend to think that, in cases where two individuals disagree on whether or not an object is music, it's almost always best to accept that it is, even if you don't personally experience it as such. Also if you want to check out some of the pieces discussed, here's some links: Imaginary Landscapes no. 4: https://youtu.be/0GeiEjJLStA In C: https://youtu.be/yNi0bukYRnA Pendulum Music: https://youtu.be/fU6qDeJPT-w

Eric Taxxon : music is sound perceived as art

ARTiculations : This is really well done. I think a lot of these points are parallel to the question of "what even is art?" I also really like The Listener's Guide's video on 4'33 in pointing out the importance of experimental works like this as they make us aware of and challenge cultural assumptions and constructed artistic meanings about music.

XGuitarist : Music is W I G G L Y A I R

Baby G : to me a score isn't music in the same way that a recipe isn't food

hubberducky : Ah, I see we’ve entered the existentialist phase. :P

DeflatingAtheism : Something people often fail to understand about 4'33" is that the audience isn't supposed to be listening to the _silence_ , per se, they're supposed to be listening to all the sounds _around_ the silence. In a performance of Beethoven's fifth, you'd have the same sounds- people opening the doors, the rustling of programs, the sounds of your own body, &c.- but they're drowned out by the music. In 4'33", those sounds are foregrounded. Steve Reich's Pendulum Music would be closer to Beethoven's 5th in aesthetic, since in both cases, the audience's attention is drawn to the sounds explicitly scored; in 4'33", artistic intention is turned inside-out.

Natthone Cole : so we're finally talking about the elephant in the room

The Cat Never Left : This definition of music gives the phrase "Music to my ears" a very literal meaning as opposed to a metaphorical one, which is cool.

Matthew Taylor : I like your definition. That said, being too inclusive reminds me of a quote by Dash from the Incredibles: if everything is music, then nothing is (or something like that). In the end, I don't mind more restrictive definitions because they are ultimately more helpful.

Tony Lambregts : When I was a kid I would dance to the beat of our washing machine.

Jack Pepper : I would argue that Beethoven's 5th is very much not music until it is played. A score is just instructions. The same way an instruction manual on how to build an IKEA wardrobe is not a wardrobe.

Vox Potentiae : As someone who makes harsh noise soundscapes, I really like the whole "it's music if you hear it as music". There needs to be some sort of intent, maybe not on the part of the sound source, but definitely on the part of the listener. Whether the listener is the musician of the piece or just someone in the presence of the sound that they find musical is largely irrelevant. But I do believe some level of intent is required, even if that intent is created by the audience. It's like visual art (here short-formed to simply "art"). While nature can be "beautiful", it's not "art" as there is no intent. Someone taking a photograph of nature (or making a painting or whatever), however, the image becomes art because what the photographer chooses include or omit in the photo. There is clear intent, even if that intent is "100% faithful reproduction of what my eye sees". Ultimately, "music" is in your head. Its a label we use to categorize sounds we find "musical" instead of semantic or just noise (not that semantics or noise can't be used in music, just that they are distinct categories of sound organization). It's weird topic of definitions that borders on pretentious existentialism, my favourite kind of topic XD. Great video!

Pieater314 : are these videos going to get more and more philosophical until one day you end up thinking about a question that no one can answer, then stop uploading because of it?

dos gos : Should we use the word being defined in its own definition?

Sarin Dhoopati : im a simple man I see twelve-tone I press like before watching

hamymancan : Great video! Though I I do agree with your approach that music has to be experienced, I think the definition you give is a little unhelpful, since if you describe the definition of a word by using the word in the definition seems to go back on itself. But great video otherwise!

Dario Caporuscio : I think your definition is very good. My teacher of ancient music history thinks that if you want to know when did music start you have to think about when the human brain started to be able to take sounds and abstract them and give them a musical meaning (is also very likely that music was born in a very mystical context). That's very interesting because the capacity of abstraction is something that only human can do, and music is maybe the most abstract and intangible art ever. I apologise in advance for my bad English but I'm an Italian music student and I'm still practicing my English.

Morzathoth : I only have a single nit-pick (the notation for Beethoven's 5th is not music, I agree that if you can hear the sounds in your head That is music, but the paper itself isn't) so instead I'm going to share a vaguely related anecdote. I was with a friend, waiting for public transportation home from a concert (Black Sabbath) when I hear drill in the distance, a dog starts barking and a radio starts to fuzz with static. I just sat next to my friend, listening to random chance playing music for me. It was a beautiful experience. And he had to ruin it by talking. I never really forgave him for that.

Bob_Dole : If it's sound and the creator calls it music, it's music.

Yan Figueiredo : As soon as someone creates a definition of art (or of some kind of art), they're essentially setting a goal for some artist to do something out of that definition and have it be art. I find that amusing. Also, when you started talking about speech, I thought to myself "Well your way of speaking is pretty unique and characteristic of you, it is very musical to me." When I got to the end, where you presented that definition, it felt very special as in now your speech is music... To me... According to your final definition at least.

Friedrich Hueppe : Has anyone here watched Adam Neely’s 17 minute video on what music is?

thechucknorrisofNSMB : suckerpinch's video "ARST ARSW: Star Wars sorted alphabetically" is a really really direct and literal form of "organized sound": the sound isn't just organized, it's sorted by an arbitrary metric.

Stanislav Kogan : Love that theremin!

W_rk : A combination of rhythm, harmony and melody which induces emotions in humans and holds a certain beauty and value.

Joshua Johnson : A brilliant video. The example of the washing machine you mentioned is actually very interesting; The electronic duo 'Matmos' actually produced an album called "Ultimate Care II" which is made entirely from washing machine samples. It's an example which really hits home your idea that "anything can be music".

Jacob deGroot-Maggetti : A well thought-out discussion of the topic! One thought: at around 3:50, you argue that a score or other notation is music (or at least that you can make a good case to think of it as such), even if it's not being heard at the time. Your definition, however, only accounts for sounds being experienced. Would it be reasonable to add a flip side to your definition - music is also a set of instructions meant to be interpreted as music - or are you comfortable asserting that a composition itself isn't music?

biplab : music is any sound (or lack thereof) presented as music

Anna Jull : Another counterpoint to Berio’s take: when I pick up my bass to screw around or play through tunes, it’s not because I wanted to hear that sound (intention of LISTENING to music), it’s because I wanted to feel my hands and bass making the sound. I think his definition wouldn’t call that music, but yours would.

voltlife : I like Berio’s quote, as it’s another take on my favourite Cage quote: “the music never stops; only the listening”. It not only credits the listener with being able to take a creative role, but it sidesteps the whole tedious “that’s not even music/art/a game/whatever” argument that’s more often used by self-imposed gatekeepers to shut down conversations. Being music or not isn’t a value judgement, so once you get past that question you can get to more fruitful questions about whether the music you’re listening to is interesting, beautiful, inspiring, moving and so forth. Those are still subjective and hugely culturally determined, but I think they’re more productive fields of enquiry than trying to exclude certain experiences from being music.

mauro7inf : I actually disagree on a few points, which is rare for this channel. First, is the Treatise score music? No, but neither is the score to Beethoven's 5th Symphony. They are at best instructions for creating music. Even a recording isn't music. Music is *sound*; *playing* the score or the recording creates the music. We take semantic shortcuts around this stuff and conflate the instructions with the music itself, but they're actually not the same. Second, music should be defined as expressive, not experiential. I'd argue that if I create music, you have no right to tell me that i'm wrong. To bring back 4'33", it's music because John Cage meant for it to be music, not because *you* experience it as such. You have no say in whether someone else's piece is music (well, other than understanding the composer's intention). That said, 4'33" is also not silence; it's background noise. John Cage defines the background noise as music for those four and a half-ish minutes. There's nothing stopping you from doing the same at any moment, composing your own musical experiences based on the sounds you hear. The sounds themselves aren't music, but your organization of those sounds can be if you want.

Orlando Byron : How’s about defining music as sound organised with an aesthetic dimension?

Cyan Light : I agree and want to point out that "music" like any form of art isn't actually a thing that exists in the universe, it's a concept humans apply to their perceptions of things. You can't ask "what is music" in the same way you'd ask "what is a tree" since they're such fundamentally different things, trees actually exist as independent things in reality* but music doesn't. So at its very essence music is "any sound, or lack of sound, that someone regards as music." It's circular but that isn't an issue since it's been artificially conceived as circular. *Ok, trees don't actually exist either and are another form of perceptual concept derived from large groups of very small particles but that's another can of worms that has very little to do with the main topic and would only serve to muddy the explanatory waters. My philosophy degree wouldn't let me submit this without the addendum though, pulled the perceptual concept of a knife on me and everything.

AMaliciousMoose : I must say that I'm firmly in the "everything is music" camp, or at least, believe that all sound is musical. I don't make much of a distinction between regular human speech and rap, for instance. Certainly one can be "more musical" than the other, but I don't see any line to be drawn between them that's not arbitrary. In short, I think of sounds as having different degrees of musicality, rather than thinking of them as either musical or "unmusical".

Ghiaman1334 : I agree mostly with this video, but I would like to spitball a bit about 4,33. I know, how original. At (6:21), I thought: "True, you have to know what music is, but does that mean you have to think that this is music? Surely you can go into a performance, knowing what music is but expecting performance art, and have the same experience as someone expecting music. Someone purposefully playing air guitar to a song you can't hear as a performance would be, in my opinion, a performance art piece or a dance. It would not, however, be music, even though it's almost the same as 4,33. This isn't to bring down your definition, in fact it backs up the experience ideas and the subjective nature. I'm just still debating whether that particular piece fits personally. Also Steve Reich is awesome, his train pieces are the best.

Mara K : I am convinced that Treatise, and the radio thing, and other scores that generate different musical experiences every time they are played, are more like some kind of quasimusical assembly code. I think that means that my definition of music includes replicability, or at least an expectation of replicability. There’s only so much interpretation you can do of something where all the notes and dynamics are written down precisely; and the more control is given to player and conductor idiosyncrasy, or instruments with unpredictable outputs (like AM radio, or the coughs and squeaks of the audience of 4’33”), the less musical it is. Where I’m having trouble is drawing a line. I can describe pieces on either side of it as either music or music-assembly-code, but the division between them is more like a gradient.

Neill Herbert : Your videos bring up a lot of helpful, thought-provoking points. At the same time, your definition of music is eating itself. But I'm the kind of guy who thinks cannibalism is objectively bad, so maybe the inevitably ensuing discussion is an exercise in the sort of human futility which the great YouTube mirror is ultimately meant to show us. But, hey, change my mind. Or, don't.

Александр Евстюгов : Executive summary: "Look up USSC Justice Potter Stewart". I shall not today attempt to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within the shorthand description "music", and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I hear it, and 4'33'' is not that.

Ric Phillips : Philosophers noticed a while back that it isn’t music, (or numbers, or life, etc) that is hard to define. It is the word ‘is’ that throws everything up in the air. Surprisingly difficult to nail the whole what counts as ‘is’ question down. Still no consensus.

Poro Puri : music is anything any creator (not all music creators are musicians, there are drummers out there lol) says it's music, it doesn't matter if it sounds chaotic, random or simply bad, if the creator says it is music, it is. if a creator composes the most beautiful song in the world, and says it isn't music, it's just noise, then it is just noise. art is whatever the artist says it is, there isn't anything, anywhere saying art should be good, or follow any specific set of rules, in fact, most art out there sucks and the greatest works of art, break the "rules" all the time, that's why they're called vanguard.

Salvador Alvarez : So is the Schrödingers tune, it's, at the same time music and not music until someone perceives it and experiences as music.

Protoka : For some reason I want to see a pianist try playing 4.33 for 4 minutes, accidentally hammer out a C major chord and just curse and become agitated that he messed up 4.33 right at the end. Then he restarts the piece.

Quinta : One time I said a thing in a recording and then on listening back I realized one particular sentence I had said had a really cool rhythm to it. So I did the only rational thing, I looped it and made that the core beat to a song.

Aldric Giacomoni : The quote from Berio is "Cercare di definire la musica è un po’ come cercare di definire la poesia: si tratta cioè di un’operazione felicemente impossibile. La musica è tutto quello che si ascolta con l’intenzione di ascoltare musica: la ricerca di un confine che viene continuamente rimosso»" -- which means "Trying to define music is a little like trying to define poetry: that is, it's a happily impossible task. Music is everything that one listens to with the intent of listening to music: the research of a boundary that is continually pushed back."

Simon Van Riel : I wonder whether this is relevant but saying something like a written score isn't music as it contains only instructions to play the music seems unnecessarily reductive to me. Especially when audition is factored in. Music doesn't have to be played to be heard. Experienced musicians can train themselves to hear that music in their head. I like the experiential take on this, where music is anything the listener considers music, but I wonder if this disregards the composer or the performer and what they consider music. I also think that the intent of the composer can be modified by the performer; the music is now performed according to the performer's intent and its meaning is changed. Again the listener might have a different experience of it. I would argue that all three of those aspects are involved in music but they are all very different. But I'm not an expert and I would very much like to be disagreed with. I just wanted to see what other people thought of this.

PiaNoONE : ...did you just define music recursively?

Paul Anthony : I understand now that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so.

Daniel Anderson : About your point about John Cage being performance art where you said it has to be viewed as music to work, I would say that framing it as such is part of the performance, and that framing something in one way does not automatically classify it as that thing. An interesting analogue is Bo Burnham's "A World on Fire" which is set up as a song but is just a second of him screaming and mashing the keyboard. So is it a song as it was framed or a joke? (although theres more of an argument here for it being music as it does actually invoke a scene)

Matthew Taylor : I’ve been thinking quite a bit about your definition of ‘music,’ and I wanted to write my thoughts down before they faded. I may be old school (i.e., old), but I have trouble with definitions that seem too inclusive. In my mind, there is a distinction between ‘music’ and ‘musical.’ If the washing machine inspires you to sway, as if to dance, then I would say that what you hear is musical, not music. I think your definition of music (it’s music if perceived/experienced as such) is more my definition of musical (a superset of music). So, what then is my definition of music? I’m not completely sure, but I think it’s one that includes the usual suspects: melody (a sequence of reproducible pitches) and rhythm (organized relative to time). I would love to include harmony (or even implied harmony), but I think that’s too exclusive. I do think ‘perception as music’ is still important. That suggests music is consequential, not just intentional. Obviously, my definition frames Rap differently than yours (as it does 4’33”). For me, some (most) Rap is music, some Rap is merely musical, and some Rap (I can’t give any specific examples) may be neither as it does not have melody and rhythm and I (or other people) may not perceive it as musical. This is not intended to denigrate Rap. I am just not of a mind to use music as a criterion to legitimize Rap as an artform. Rap is an significant artform whether it’s defined as music or not. Because music is closely tied to specific races, cultures, nationalities, even artists and their lifestyles, deciding what’s included in ‘music’ has implications beyond sound. Unintentionally, I can’t help but feel patronizing or ignorant no matter how I might define it. I love your videos, they are amazing!

Justin O'Brien : How about "music is sound that gives at least one person ASMR"?