sábado, 10 de abril de 2010

What makes music music ? (A break from composing "Stanza Suara")

That question can be easily answered usually on the first day of your theory class at a music conservatory, but perhaps it's not so clear for the laymen. So, I'll tell you now what we were taught : music is called music because it consists of these 5 elements : pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony and the instrument by which it is produced (which can be applied to human voice as well). Nowadays it is certain (through lots of researches) that music is something that belongs exclusively to human beings : animals, given any regular rhythms, cannot syncronize. And you don't call the singing of the birds or the whales "music", first because they cannot "make music together": synchronize the rhythm or melody of its companion or its human trainer, and second for the reason that I will tell you in the next paragraph. In any case, their "music" is a lower level communication, just like human beings using sign languages or words (yes, words are lower level communication! It is music that is the higher level, since music, as Victor Hugo had said, expresses those that cannot be expressed by words.)
"Good" music (this definition of "good" certainly differs in every humans) acts on the brain in increasing serotonin levels to produce endorphine hormones which gives you the feeling of pleasure. How it works is still a mystery, since music is something intangible. A tangible element that causes the same effect but through chemical process is chocolate. Yes, chocolate. Perhaps that explains those Mozart chocolates from Austria ... you listen to M's music or eat chocolate would make you feel like entering heaven he he ... And perhaps it also explains why Hitler so desperately needs Wagner's music : it must have given him a good feeling after killing all those Jews! So, now you understand why whales and birds don't make music, although you do feel peaceful when you listen to them, but it doesn't trigger your endorphine stuff inside you.
But is it true that music has to consist of those 5 elements above? I think our conservatory professors missed some points. For example, what about African drummings, which only consist of rhythms and instruments, no melodies let alone harmonies? And what about those Sundanese flutists from West Java and also Bali when they are improvising endless melodies without any clear rhythms? So as you can see, music can consist of only a few elements from those 5 mentioned. And this is the point that I wanna make when I am making my music "Stanza Suara", on poems of Hasan Aspahani for the opening of the ITB International Choir Festival next July that I wrote about here last month. I wanna start my music with only sounds, as stated in his poem. No music, just sounds. The problem is, once two singers or two instruments play together, they make a harmony. Once they play two notes consecutively, they make a melody (yes, 2 notes can make a good melody! Just listen to the opening of Beethoven's 5th!). So, how do you make any of those 5 elements inexistent in a piece of "music" ?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in my music. Now you just have to reconsider calling it music.