The Virtual Intern Update 3

Apologies for my reduced resolution but I am in deep thought mode, which is a bit like deep listening mode except without any music… hence less stuff gets written, researched & posted…. but other things happen in their absence. And maybe thats the point… I vaguely promised the virtual intern applicants I would be in touch with them within a “few weeks’ and those few weeks are almost at an end, so where am I at? Funny you should ask. Heres my thinking; of 19 applicants there isn’t one who isn’t worthy. So that leaves me in a quandry, who to eliminate? And how to eliminate them? And why to eliminate them? Of the 19 there are 5 who stand out, but this also presents a quandry- maybe the best one doesn’t need mentoring at all? Am I looking for the best of the 19 or the most in need of mentoring?
Anyway the Film Festival finishes this weekend so next week I have free time to resolve all this, but the main thing I wanted to say to the 19 people who applied is that I think I will find a way to mentor you all – maybe via a private forum or maybe just via this blog… I need to narrow it down as I am well aware of the problem of being spread so thin that individual worth becomes negligible, but I also appreciate that of all the stuff I do with the intern, 50% will be specific to them & their situation while the other 50% is more generalised & of value to all the interns…. So its this latter 50% I am thinking through the best means of involving everyone. Does that make sense?

Anyway I’ve got two movies to race off & see today (a Siggraph presentation and then Lars Von Triers AntiChrist!?!) but if you need something to think about in the meantime how about this: When does sound become music? Such an important question, asked on the Fwonk forum, but as with all questions asked, it begs the answer; as though there is only one answer. There is of course many, many answers, all equally valid… But whats your instinct? Go have a read…

19 thoughts on “The Virtual Intern Update 3

  1. Evan Williams

    I’m currently listening to Jonsi from Sigur Ros’ new album called ‘Riceboy Sleeps’. It’s very soundscapey – lots of found sounds and ambiences combined with very beautiful statics and ethereal string and choral sounds. As I listen and consider the question, it occurs to me that sound becomes music when it is collected and organised with an intention to communicate something emotional.

    Of course, now that I’ve said that my mind is filling up with examples that defy the definition. Like those beach ambiences you’ve been collecting, Tim. I’m guessing part of the purpose of those sounds – apart from just helping to make a scene credible – is to help the audience connect emotionally with the location..? So in a sense they communicate something emotional. But I don’t think that makes them music.

    Perhaps it’s something to do with recontextualisation as well? Creating new relationships between sounds? Or between the sound and the listener?

    Here’s my amended definition: Sound becomes music when it is collected and organised into a new context with an intention to communicate something emotional.

  2. tas

    This actually a very meaningful definition. And while academics can debate for this for hours and of course many important people (Cage, Xenakis etc) have analyzed it thoroughly ages ago, I agree that the key term is “intention”. If your intention is musical then the result should also be so, whether people like it or not.

  3. Evan

    Rene, I think I see what you mean. As I mentioned in my comment, I was influenced by the music I was listening to as I pondered the question, and my definition was biased towards collected or found sounds rather than more organic modes of music making. I think that dropping the idea of sounds needing to be ‘collected’ fixes this. As far as I can see, the rest of the definition works, whether you apply it to singing or playing any kind of instrument. You are still organising the sounds and recontextualising them – although you may be doing so subconciously – and the intention is there.

    So, better definition might be: Sound becomes music when it is organised into a new context with an intention to communicate something emotional.

  4. Vortex

    so a baby screaming is music? Organised sound communicating need, or an emotion based on need. I say organised as I recognise repeated patterns and timbre which are unique to my child.

  5. admin Post author

    Am I cheating if I just borrow Brian Eno’s phrase about art becomes art by having a frame around it? Which is really another way of saying its music if someone intends it to be heard as music. Of course every listener is entitled to their own opinion as to whether they think it is music or not….

  6. Evan Williams

    Yes – as soon as you put a frame around something you are demonstrating your intention to present it as art by recontextualising it.

    Vortex – I agree that a screaming baby is making an organised and emotional sound, but it’s intention is to be fed, or be held or similar – not to make art.

  7. Enos Desjardins

    First of all, as some of us have already mentioned, sound can be heard and felt as music if you listen to it as music. By this I mean that what to one person might just be noise to another it can convey emotion and meaning. Someone in the forums compared this question to asking “What makes a woman beautiful?” So obviously personal interpretation plays a major role and therefore there are as many answers to the question as there are people being asked.

    John Cage, the composer, believed that any sound can be music, and said, “There is no noise, only sound.” Jean-Jacques Nattiez also followed the same ideology saying, “the border between music and noise is always culturally defined—which implies that, even within a single society, this border does not always pass through the same place; in short, there is rarely a consensus…. By all accounts there is no single and intercultural universal concept defining what music might be, except that it is ‘sound through time’.”

    So I will give my answer as a personal opinion and as my point of view on the question, “When does sound become music?”

    Sound becomes music when there is a mind behind the sound(be it a creator stamping his or her meaning to a sound or a receiver interpreting his or her meaning based on personal feelings and history) and when the sum of the elements in the sound becomes larger than the individual separate parts within it. Sound becomes music when it is allowed to develop through time and space and finds a receptor who can give meaning to it. That brings up another interesting concept… Does sound actually become music or does it depend on someone to meaning to it? Are we a necessary factor to allow sound to become music?

  8. Evan Williams

    That’s an interesting perspective, Enos. I have to admit though, I don’t find John Cage’s music to be terribly satisfying, so that colours my appreciation of his ideas, although I do accept the value of his contribution. I guess that’s more an issue of personal taste than definitions.

    I like the way your definition makes a distinction between the intention of the creator and the intention of the listener.

    Regarding the question: Does sound actually become music or does it depend on someone to [give] meaning to it? Are we a necessary factor to allow sound to become music?

    Well, without ears to receive and a brain to interpret the data, sound is just a bunch of air molecules colliding together, so I would say that neither sound nor music exists without a listener to interpret it as such.

    I’m enjoying this conversation. Very stimulating. Thanks for hosting, Tim!

  9. Vortex

    Very Zen. Like the tree falling in the forest. To qualify your last paragraph. I think we can say sound exists perceived or not, as it is a simple physical function of kinetic energy introduced into a medium be it gas liquid or solid,. it could be measured remotely by the transducer of your choice.
    I agree music requires cognition. Perhaps the simplest and truest definition of when sound is music is when someone perceives it as such. It might not actually require a sentient creator.

  10. Enos Desjardins

    I agree that music does not need a creator. But if there is no creator it needs a receptor. If there is no receptor, it needs a creator. Otherwise, it will just be noise or sound. Music implies humanity…sound or noise do not.

  11. Evan Williams

    I disagree with the statement “…sound exists perceived or not..” If there is no receptor, then kintetic energy in a medium is just that – kinetic energy. It is not sound unless it is perceived. Likewise – a transducer measures energy which we interpret as sound. Without cognition, it is just another form of energy.

    I also don’t agree that music can exist without a sentient creator. Sounds that occur naturally can be pleasant, or even ‘musical’, but they don’t actually become music until someone (composer OR listener) reframes them as such. Which brings us back to Tim’s Brian Eno quote.

  12. Enos Desjardins

    I agree with that Evan.I share your POV on this issue! This whole debate is quite interesting! I shared it with my girlfriend and she got worried I was losing it :p I probably should have kept it to myself ! Haha!

    Anyhow…this conversation has just made me want to go out and create some more music from sound!

  13. vortex

    Actually the perception of sound does not require higher function cognition. interpreting it does. Therefore the brain stem can hear sound but not as music. Even the ear as our first order transducer reacts actively and independently to sound c.f otoacoustic emissions.

    Would you say sound does not exist until heard by human with an awake functioning brain? What about a mouse hearing a “sound”, or an insect? Does the semantic leap from energy to sound require homo sapiens?

    On the same tack I presume then that light is not light until it is seen.

    As in any good debate we may have to agree to disagree. Thanks for your interesting points and all the best.

  14. borja

    hi everybody,

    I’m no musician, but I would say that to make music one uses the sounds one feels more appropriate. When they’re used for that purpose, they become PART of the music. In that instance sound carries the music along.
    Anyways, I must add that I find the question somewhat suspicious… is music sound’s highest achievement or ambition?
    just adding some more fire to the discussion…

  15. borja

    no, that was badly explained (sound carries the music along, in any instance)

    and since I’m writing again, I will add that music is an idea expressed/ perceived through sound, and thus, music becomes sound. not the other way around.

  16. Enos Desjardins

    I don’t agree with that Borja! Music is music, sound is sound. Music speaks through sound but sound not always speaks through music. Thus the question, WHEN does sound become music!

    I will twist a quote from David Yewdall when he said “Music is organized sound effects, sound effects are disorganized music”. Obviously we are not talking about sound effects, but simply sound. But we can still apply this quote in stating that music is organized sound and sound is disorganized music. I am implying that music is organized sound and therefore sound could never be music unless it is organized. Look at it as you want, sound needs organization in any form, be it on a personal level from even one member of the audience. Sound or a combination of sounds could be music, even if for only one person on the planet! However, this would probably imply that for that one person, those sounds have found a pattern or organized form.

  17. borja

    OK, I didn’t answer the question. my answer is never.
    what I gather from the replies are ways to use sound in music or ways sound is used to make music, not WHEN does sound become music.
    There is a clear definition of what sound is. you can look it up in a dictionary, music is not mentioned there.
    the way you think about sound or the way it makes you feel may differ, but sound doesn’t become something else.
    Now, what you think music is or should be does differ. It does differ because it’s an abstract idea. And for us to hear it you must voice it, it must be shaped as sound. must become sound.
    music is ONE WAY to organize sounds. organized sound can be refer to as music or not, that’s open to interpretations, but sound remains being sound.
    but coming back to the question, if you believe that sound become music, WHEN does this happen? what change does sound experience to be called music?
    If I’m drumming, there will be sound coming out of that action. You might think it’s music. That’s an idea you have about my drumming, but either way sound will remain the same. so when does the sound of me drumming become music if it’s the same sound? it’s already organized by me, as I’m drumming, and you might think of it as musical, so when does this change happen?

    PS: it’s great to be able to exchange ideas. thanks Tim for sharing your space with us. you are on to something here.

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