What Even Is Music?

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Try Brilliant free: http://brilliant.org/12tone/ Music means so many different things to so many different people that it seems almost pointless to try to nail down a definition, but since it's such a critical part of both my field and society at large, shouldn't we at least try? Is it just something you know when you hear it, or can we find something a little more meaningful? This is a question musicians have been asking for a long time, even in their own works, and I figure it's time to take a look at some of those answers. Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/12tonevideos Mailing List: http://eepurl.com/bCTDaj Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/12tonevideos Twitter: https://twitter.com/12tonevideos Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/12tonevideos/ Email: 12tonevideos@gmail.com Last: https://youtu.be/-husI5EuUvE Rap video: https://youtu.be/cvmm0f92L-k Graphic Scores video: https://youtu.be/hy9I-lC93gE 4'33 videos: https://youtu.be/lluvJOIBO7w, https://youtu.be/-LDX7_wSXLI SOURCES: http://johncage.org/pp/John-Cage-Work-Detail.cfm?work_ID=104 https://iris.unito.it/retrieve/handle/2318/1632393/316124/valle.pdf https://blogthehum.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/cornelius-cardews-treatise-1963-67/ https://teropa.info/blog/2017/01/23/terry-rileys-in-c.html http://www.kim-cohen.com/Assets/CourseAssets/Texts/Reich_Pendulum%20Music.pdf http://music.arts.uci.edu/dobrian/CMC2009/Liberation.pdf Script: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1D-8m6Lg3WXk-JMzdo9cVVLfytuXN4HYZHUPIUOwyCFY/edit?usp=sharing Huge thanks to our Elephant of the Month Club members: Susan Jones Jill Jones Ron Jones Howard Levine Kaylor Hodges Gabi Ghita Elaine Pratt Ken Arnold Brian Etheredge Gene Lushtak Khristofor Saraga William (Bill) Boston Duck Nicolas Mendoza Wolf Bennett RAD Donato Anton Smyk Mitchell Fund Dale Monks Len Lanphar Paul Ward Soham Panda Benjamin DeLillo Chris Prentice Jack Carlson Susan Lingenfelter Budjarn Lambeth Branden Randall Dov Zazkis Jesse Russo James Treacy Bagshaw Christopher Lucas Hendrik Payer Andrew Beals Thomas Morley Jacob Helwig Duncan Dempsey Jeff Cairns And thanks as well to Henry Reich, Eugene Bulkin, Logan Jones, Abram Thiessen, Anna Work, Oliver, Jc Bq, Adam Neely, Dialup Salesman, nico, Justin Donnell, Michael Fieseler, Rick Lees, Ben LaRose, rhandhom1, Harold Gonzales, SD, StarsServant, Dave Mayer, Thomás, Marc Himmelberger, Chris Borland, Davis Sprague, jason black, Justin Bronstein, Justin Aungst, David Roulston, Nick Olman, Dutreuilh Olivier, Daniel Gilchrist, Paul Quine, Anamol Pundle, billy roberts, Elliot Burke, Alex Atanasyan, Amlor, Greg Borenstein, Tim S., David Tocknell, Elias Simon, Jerry D. Brown, CodenaCrow, Nikolay Semyonov, blalo'u, Lauren Steely, Fabian, Revolution Harmony, Arnas, Paul Apicella, Sarah Spath, Skylar J Eckdahl, Kristian Bredenbeck, Josiah R. Hazel, Ohad Lutzky, Bate Goiko, Jon White, Eivind Vatshaug, Kurtis Commanda, James A. Thornton, Jacob Friend, Benjamin Cooper, Kevin, Joe Galetti, Aa Markus, Caroline Simpson, John Bejarano, David Barker, drunkwookiee64, Brian Dinger, Pawel Sit, Michael Alan Dorman, Adam Wurstmann, Dave Wray, Kelsey Freese, Shadow Kat, Adam Kent, Nathan Petchell, Blake Boyd, Calvin Blitman, Jan Macek, Magnus Guldbrandsen, Trevor, Michael McCormick, Stefan Strohmaier, Lilith Dawn, David Baker, Jonathan Beck, Dmitry Jemerov, Jason Foster, Ian Seymour, Charles Gaskell, Brett Haines, christian madsen, Luke Rihn, Rob Holton, Lee Rennie, Richard T. Anderson, Thomas Schryver, Angela Flierman, Matthis Knopf, Peter Wells, Kevin Hellon, Zion Suppasan, Dan Lizotte, Nervilis, Seth Keller, Mark Feaver, Tyler Lukasiewicz, Kevin Johnson, Brian McCue, Stephan Broek, Richard Walker, Wú QióngYuǎn, Elliot Jay O'Neill, George Gleeson, David Christensen, Elliot Winkler, Payden Nissen, Tom Evans, Marcøs, Brandon Lanning, Ryan Nicholls, ml cohen, Sylvain Chevalier, Yuriy Honcharuk, Darzzr, Roger Grosse, David Hardin, Rodrigo Roman, Francois LaPlante, Jeremy Zolner, Matthew Fox, Paper Coelacanth, Britt Ratliff, Patrick James Morley, Koen Hoogendoorn, Tae Wook Kim, Eddie O'Rourke, Ryan, Jon Bauman, Drew Mazurek, Jacob Luedecke, Vincent Sanders, John July, Antônio Guilherme Ferreira Viggiano, Victor L., Tommaso Ghidetti, Volker Wegert, Linus Abrahamson, Paul Koester, Danny, Matthew Kallend, Patrick Callier, JH, Joshua Gleitze, Ben Zotto, Fred Phillips, Emilio Assteves, Moises Vieira Nunes, Alex Keeny, Jeffery Aaron Lowery, Alexey Fedotov, Nicholas Lim, Patrick Pyne, Charles Hill, Harry Hume, Greg von Teig, Joshua La Macchia, John Paul Welsh, Lisa Lyons, and DSM! Your support helps make 12tone even better! Also, thanks to Jareth Arnold and Jade Tan-Holmes for proofreading the script to make sure this all makes sense hopefully!


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

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

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

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.

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

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.

pieater31415 : 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?

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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".

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.

John Ohno : You had an excellent opportunity to mention Matmos's Ultimate Care IV, an album that is literally a recording of a washing machine (and is also really fantastic). If you haven't heard it, I strongly recommend it!

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.

Stanislav Kogan : Love that theremin!

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?

Eric Taxxon : music is sound perceived as art

Xplayer007 : Your definition reminds me of the end of Ratatouille where *spoilers* Anton Ego says "Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

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.

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."

Forrest Weintraub : This reminds me of a definition from my philosophy class-truth being defined as "justified true belief." It at first sounds like a non-answer, but like your definition, I think it goes to illustrate just how hard it is to pin down the definition and how intuitive our understanding of the word is. Great and informative video as always.

dobrophonic : While what makes something musical is ultimately subjective, certain physical properties of sound can make it more likely to be classified as music by a majority of people. The range of the soundwave frequencies (span of the intervals between notes), the relative duration of the frequencies (note lengths), the relative amplitude of the frequencies over time (volume changes), the regularity of higher amplitude frequencies, and the duration of pauses between frequencies (rhythm) all contribute to whether or not a given period of sound will be perceived as music. With enough pyscho-acoustic research, a probabilistic mathematical model of musicality could be constructed. (See my TL;DR comment below for more on why I feel this way if you're interested) The same is true for all art, and other factors can come into play as well. For example, a parent might be far more likely to accept their toddler randomly beating on a drum as music than a stranger would be. Subjective human judgments are essentially impossible to understand perfectly because they only exist inside the brain of the perceiver, however we can use our knowledge and intuitions to generate and test hypotheses regarding what will and will not be considered 'art' by the majority of a population. As far as I know this hasn't yet been done in a scientifically rigorous way for music, primarily because it's an extremely complex multi-factorial problem, and possibly because it hasn't been that lucrative (but more likely because all the factors that go into creating a hit song or a classic piece of music are so complex that even gifted humans are only able to do it once in awhile). However, computer algorithms are getting better at composing music all the time, so I won't be surprised if we will have a more detailed theory of music at some point in the near future.

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

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.

faselblaDer3te : Irrelevant. The question is: But does it djent?

Niels Bakx : Totally agree, and I think your philosophy applies to art in general. Great stuff!

RonnocFroop : This may be the first video on this topic that's given me much to think about.  Most videos just end up talking about 4:33, which I strongly don't consider to be music, since it means that any vibrations, and potentially even a lack of vibrations, are music, which is such uselessly broad definition that it's like calling any collection of molecules a car. I'm of the opinion that something can be musical without being music.  That narrows the definition of music that I'm constructing from what you've come up with, though it's on a similar track. I also don't consider that radio thing to be music, even though it can contain music.  Similar to how a movie isn't music. Lastly, I'm still considering whether the microphone pendulums are music.  I'm currently leaning towards yes, so long as rhythmic patterns are intended.  If they're not, then I have to lean towards no, that they're musical without being music, such as crickets chirping.

Ganjiblob Flankis : What is X? It is a thing with the property of being X. Ahh great, glad to have that cleared up then.

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.

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

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

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.

Erica Savage : Fascinating discussion. Love this kind of thing. 😁❤

TheRev : Funny, I remember something: That piece, 4:33, is mirrored by (or the inspiration of) some experimental cinema in Infinite Jest, where the audience is shown a live feed of themselves, and the 'movie' was over when every member of the audience got frustrated or bored enough to leave. Obviously, given the book is (mostly) a comedy, it was meant to be a funny little aside, but it made me wonder a lot about what counts as 'film' or 'cinema' in almost the exact same way you're analyzing 4:33. Just thought that was interesting. Promise it wasn't me just trying to be pseudo-intellectual, referencing DF Wallace's Hipster Bible for internet points!

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!

KandaPanda : "Do you even music, bro?"

redapplefour : ok i like this definition the most. my one before was "if you can make a sound into music, then it is music", but yours is a lot truer because you be, say, shopping and hearing the radio and not really focusing on it. it's not really music to you then because you're not really experiencing it. cool definition.