Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is There Truth in Music?

Is one song truly better than another? Is 'Strawberry Fields' truly better than 'Who Let the Dogs Out'? Is Mozart truly better than Lady Gaga? If intelligent life developed independently on ten remote planets, would their music all converge around the same "good" sounds and musical concepts? Is there some otherworldly Platonic form that defines good music and some artists connect to it more than others?

Or is good music purely subjective, depending only on the ear of the beholder?

Is music subjective or objective? It's interesting that those of us who say objective give pause when considering the differences in music over cultures and time, while those of us that say subjective often turn around instinctively and call a song "bad".

This question fascinates us at BandSoup and we want to know what you think!

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FrankA23 said...

Of course it's subjective!!

Anonymous said...

What defines "music"? Webster's defines it as "the art of combining tones into a composition having structure and continuity", but that seems awfully biased towards Western music. There is some non-Western and experimental stuff that follows no discernable form. What about John Cage's "4 minutes, 33 seconds" which is an orchestrated musical composition of absolute silence? So to me, the very defintion of music is subjective, so it is hard to progress from there.

If we are talking exclusively Western non-experimental music, then I think it is both subjective and objective. Subjective because one of the primary functions of music (or any sensory enhancer) is emotional. People will use it as a tool to get fired up for a game, get lost after a hard day at work, etc. What creates "tastes" in music and helps inspire the emotion in the individual are individual experiences, and these will vary from person to person. Music that inspires one person might be regarded as just noise by another. So in this way, music is subjective.

That said, there are no doubt pieces art, music, literature that stand the test of time in our culture. Art that for whatever reason is viewed as exceptional in it's genre. Whether you choose to listen to Mozart or Miles Davis or The Beatles is up to the individual (subjective), but all these artists are viewed as exceptional in their genre (objective) due to non-emotional/individualistic factors such as longetivity and breaking ground as an artist, composer, etc.

But isn't a musical compositon of 4' 3" of silence groundbreaking? Isn't that subjective???

We're back to what defines "music"...

As an aside, I have often thought about how differently I listen to music today than when I was growing up. When I hear music now, as an older struggling musician, I tend to over-analyze everything -- structure, lyrics, phrasing, progressions, how it was probably recorded, what is layered and where, etc. Gone are the days when music is just music. Did I go from subjective to objective? I am getting an ice cream headache...

Anonymous said...

Music is a subjective concept that is viewed objectively over time.

Guitar Man J said...

A lot of people are unable to grasp the concept that Steve Morse or Isaac Newton are smarter than they are. People who really know about music composition are going to do better in this debate. A really good song writer trumps an uneducated dip shit. THAT is objective, not subjective.

Also, one person's personal tastes doesn't mean jack. What really counts is if one person has knowledge that applies to millions.

Anthony Milas said...

Subjective. I simply don't believe in an objective reality and rely on the extensive and somewhat alarming discoveries of quantum physicists to support this claim. Everything perceived (or observed) is coloured by the observer - on the macro scale this is their personal history, genetics, prior experiences - you can show two people the same thing (eg a piece of music) and each can have a completely different interpretation of what that "thing" is. At the quantum scale this is also fundamentally true, the act of observation alters that which is observed. If what we, and everything, are/is made of at the most basic and fundamental scale is of any relevance, then this concept is a fundamental truth of the universe. Or at least it is - to me... ;)

Personally, I've come to completely disavow the idea of objective reality. And wonder if this simple idea, "objectivity", a quirk of the human analytical mind perhaps, could actually be the root of all human suffering. It's ludicrous when you think about it. If there really is something "out there" that exists independent of our perceptions of it, simply mathematically, that thing must be SO much bigger than our feeble brains, how could we ever hope to contain it within one? We can simply only ever see and perceive one tiny part of it... ever. Never the whole thing (though we can sometimes delude ourselves that this is possible). Ie, even if objective reality exists - it is far beyond the scope of our brains to have any hope of wrangling. So I'll stick with subjective, thanks...

A quote from Hamlet sums it up well perhaps: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

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