What Dictates “Music”?

What Dictates “Music”?

John Cage’s “Experimental Music”, and Milton Babbitt’s “The Composer [as] Specialist” are articles which reflect their opinions on various musical ideologies. Babbitt and Cage challenge many pre-existing ideas of music; how it is structured and formed, how the composer writes music, and for whom does the composer perform for. Cage forms an intellectual opinion on these ideas which are in tune with nature, and which are influenced by his personal life experiences. Babbitt takes a more scientific approach to evaluating these ideas and compares the evolution of ‘traditional to contemporary music’, to that of the evolution of theoretical physics.

Regarding the semantics of the genre ‘experimental music’, I think that the word ‘experimental’ is incorrectly labeling the genre of music to which it refers. Cage creates a valid point about the ‘experiments’ which were conducted by experimental composers having occurred prior to the finished work. We classify musical genre by the characteristics of the finished worked and not the methods by which the sound was produced or documented. Therefore, referring to the aforementioned genre by a single part of a process which merely contributes to its creation is unnecessary and against the unwritten criteria of genre classification. To move on from the criteria which dictates genre, one may question if this ‘experimental music’ is even music at all. Music is a subjective term and means different things to different people. I think it is desirable to achieve a standardized understanding of the definition of music, but it is likely that it is something which will never be agreed upon, and therefore remains at the mercy of the listener to define.
Babbitt suggests that music is definitive; a truth, a static term, and not subjective. He states that “music is music” and the term not be dynamic as the ever so popular modern ideology of many people who think that sound which they enjoy be music, and sounds which they do not, not be music. He suggests that the composer find professional achievement from within, and not compose for any specific audience and base his achievement off of listener satisfaction. For the simple reason that electronic music is so widely undesirable is what brings these philosophical minds like Babbitt and Cage to question the core principles of what music is, and what role the composer plays if he doesn’t strictly exist to create music which is desirable to others.

Personally, I define music as sounds which have either an organized chord progression or melody, with a simultaneous rhythm. Further technical analyzation would require one to define the words ‘melody’, ‘organized’, ‘progression’ and ‘rhythm’, which are beyond the scope, and word count of this writing. Philosophically speaking, music is an art, and something that one must a have a great passion, understanding, and devotion for to create something truly magical that can trigger a specific desired emotion from a human being. Mathematics is a definitive science with only truths, and things which exist, and things which do not; much unlike music. Experimental music relates closely to mathematics in the sense that the pitches, rhythms, and beats are often determined by chance, at random, or by some determining formula. These mathematical composers of experimental music put forth futile effort to abide by the compositional rules which have been set before their time. As I observe how experimental music is created with its random determinants, and what appears to utilize no skill or structured practice which the composer possess, I find it difficult to even classify these musical artists as composers underneath my definition. For instance, one might consider myself a composer by merely tapping my finger onto a table-top. Nothing exists to be incorrect with ideology, other than that I believe it to bring disrespect to those who put forth a significantly greater amount of effort in creating a sound which is desirable to many, and can be enjoyed by many. I would also disagree with Babbitt that the composer seek to find his professional achievement within himself. While nothing exists to be incorrect with finding sense of achievement in one’s own work, I believe a critical role of the composer to be the task of specifically pleasing the audience with the work(s) he or she produces. If this not be done by means other than to please oneself, then I believe that it exists for little purpose in the universe. I think the greatest thing that a composer may offer is simply to allow others to enjoy their music.


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