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Music: Logical or Physical?

Music is a form of expression. For any music there has to be a listener, even if the listener is the musician herself or god; otherwise the act becomes only a gymnastic exercise of the body (for performance) or the mind (for composition). Music can have meaning in many different forms and layers. If we view music as a coherent assembly of proportions in time, we can go as far as describing the movements of the heavenly objects (stars, planets, molecules, and atoms) as a piece of music. Nevertheless, we think of music as an art form, and as with any other art form, music is a very subjective matter. This assumption implies that every person can have a different idea of what music is, and probably every person's idea of music is different from the other's.

In any basic communication system, information is interchanged between two (or more2.1) entities. Before any communication can be achieved, there has to exist a channel2.2upon which the information is transmitted. In the case of music, the coherence between how the two entities feel about music can create a channel. For example, peoples of the same culture may have similar ideas about music and that similarity in their minds can create a channel on which they can communicate musical ideas. If we take this issue to the deepest formal level possible, we arrive at the physical (e.g., genetic) similarities of the two entities (e.g., if they sense the auditory information in the same way). A dog is able to hear frequencies which are inaudible to humans, and music composed by a dog using those frequencies cannot even be heard by us. The physical similarity creates a relationship, and therefore a channel, between the two entities in a specific direction (which for the sake of clarity we call ``vertical''2.3). This vertical relationship is an outcome of many years of evolution.

On the other hand the subjective meaning of music can also create a relationship, and therefore a channel, between the two entities. In the mind of an idealistic musician, music is a universal language; this means that in music one could convey a feeling to another regardless of culture, race, or even species. In this case the channel is more ephemeral, since intrinsically there is very little physical history which supports this channel except other ephemeral and ideal feelings such as honesty, truth, beauty, love, or god. However, we humans attach a rather special quality to this case, since it is only through quality of work that one can pass the boundaries of history and culture, and convey a musical idea. For example, the many hours of internal and solitary work and struggle of an instrumentalist are readily apparent to any ear that chooses to listen2.4regardless of their differences in culture, style, or taste. This is the moment that one feels that the music flows, and interestingly enough in such situations the complexity of music becomes hidden.

This relationship or channel between the two entities on the aesthetic level acts on an orthogonal axis (horizontal) to the one previously explained. However, as soon as information (e.g., a musical idea) is passed through this horizontal axis (e.g., the aesthetic channel), the channel becomes vertical since the communication proves the existence of the channel and becomes part of the history and therefore creates room for evolution of that channel vertically. On the other hand, two entities that are culturally so close to each other, to the extent that they can be called identical copies, have very little to communicate to each other, even though they have a channel with enormous capacity for communication. Anytime one of them tries to be original, he needs to step away from the culture and therefore decrease the capacity of the channel. Anyone who has tried fusion of music in different cultures or even in different styles knows that this is a very difficult task, and can only be done through quality and hard work. In this case it is the vertical axis which is ``sacrificed'' to a more ephemeral channel. Any system of communication can be perceived in this manner, in which the channel becomes a plexus of orthogonal axes, where one axis can transform to another depending on how information is transmitted through the plexus.

Every musician knows the moment of total synchrony in feelings with another musician in a musical activity. This feeling can be created when listening to a performance, or, more powerfully, while one is performing. This synchrony is an unstable and paradoxical situation. Let us examine a simple and powerful instance of this situation in a case of improvisation between two performers. While performing, the sound that the performers create is not only a function of the musical structure they start with, but also a function of the instantaneous communication between them. If they both are thinking and feeling exactly the same, they have a very strong vertical channel, yet as far as the performance, one of them is superfluous since they are exactly identical. As their minds and feelings wander away from each other, they create a new entity, which is the instantaneous music being created according to the balance of their being related yet apart from each other. If they wander away too far from each other this entity disappears and they will be playing two solo pieces at the same time. Here we can think of a continuum characterizing the state of their playing. One end of this continuum is when they are exactly the same, and the other end of the continuum is when they have nothing whatsoever in common.

This continuum is not a simple linear line. First let us examine its boundary conditions. In order to reach the ends of the continuum, we have to push the concept logically and formally to its fullest extent. If we push their state of thinking and feeling so it is the same as their very physical beings, they actually become the same entity and there will not be any way of distinguishing them from each other. While being at this point of complete sameness, it will be impossible for them to move apart from each other, since, because of their sameness, one will imitate the other. If we push their state of being completely apart, they become random noise to each other, and in that case they will never be able to establish any channel between them and therefore their state of communication will never move from that end of the continuum either.

Formally speaking, this is also true for any point on this medium. As soon as we analyze the state of communication, we can factor out their common factors, thus singling out their differences and creating a local continuum. In this way, we define their state of communication as the boundaries of that local continuum. Since according to the reasoning presented above none of those points can move from their position, their communication has to stay in that mode forever. We can look at this point on a different angle as well. Any new development between the two performers has to go through a paradoxical test of a selection process. A truly original theme cannot be introduced since, due to its originality, it will not have any relation to communication and could therefore stop the performance. The original theme could be ignored by the receiver, in which case the communication has not moved from its state. The receiver could try to understand the new development, but due to the originality of the idea the receiver cannot establish a channel with the idea, and it becomes impossible to understand the new theme. Therefore, in this context, a communicable original idea is not really an original idea, and an important part of the act becomes the balance between originality and comprehensibility. If the balance is natural and uniform, it is the balance itself which becomes original and not the idea.

next up previous contents
Next: Physical and Psychological Effects Up: Sound or Music Previous: Introduction   Contents
Shahrokh Yadegari 2001-03-01