Ever since we started the Roulette Blog, we’ve been asking each artist one very annoying question:
WHAT IS MUSIC?
It’s a deceptively simple question. We’ve received everything from sighs, to jokes, to mini essays. Here’s a little collection of some of the answers we’ve received:
G Lucas Crane: Music is a time binding personal expression and art form utilizing permeating waves and vibrations. There is a scale or spectrum of sound and everyone puts the threshold of what is music and what is not at a different place.
Chris Forsyth: Some combination of rhythm, melody, harmony or sound – anything you want it to be, basically.
Ben Stapp: A perfect union between the mind and heart. A myriad of energies who’s sympathetic vibrations are human emotions and thought. A visceral application of math. A way to taste and smell numbers.
Peter Evans: It can be as varied as any other human activity. I enjoy it most when it is an uninhibited explosion of human imagination and creative energy.
Sam Sowyrda / Stephe Cooper: That to which I listen.
Richard Garet: I like to think that music is the organization of sound. However, so is speech or sound art. So I would simplistically say that music is organized sound that exists in a very specific context, it is intended for listening, it emerges out of its own laws, and it functions within a series of very specific social dynamics and biological responses.
Charlie Looker: Oh come on man.
Chez Smith: To me, music is an excuse to get together with people I find really interesting. For me, that usually results in compelling sounds.
Brandon Ross: Music is the dream of humanity.
Secret Orchestra: (Yuko Fujiyama) It’s a soul saver. (David Gould) Music is a record of one’s responses to life. It’s a way of playing with aesthetics, extrapolating them into philosophies and then back into music. (Clif Jackson) Music is something that is natural for all human beings. So, for me, it is something sacred and provides a means for me to interact with people on a very human and intimate level. When both the performer(s) and audience is aware of this, beautiful things can happen and we can transcend the physical world.
Gary Lucas: The divine afflatus, and also chemical reactions in the brain.
Jenifer Stock: Music is any sound which hits the ear in a patterned format. For me that includes a wide array of traditionally non-musical sounds–highway hums, air conditioner drones, random sounds that when sampled properly take on a logic.
James Ilgenfritz: I actually think music is a pretty complex web of methods of creative expression. In the broadest sense, music is sound that someone might take the opportunity to think about. But I am interested in the broader view of the world in which music exists. What role would we ascribe to the ear of someone who is present for a concert but is not playing an instrument? Their role is pretty important. I think the act of hearing is as essential as the act of sounding. Perhaps the actual representation of sound is also relevant. Is a notated composition still music when it isn’t being played? Or a CD… we hand it to someone and say “Check out my music”, as though this object is music. And what about the written word as it pertains to music? The widely attributed quote “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” is one I find amusing and also quite prescient. I’d love to see dancing that’s about architecture…
Ben Gerstein: Music is a human wavelength, concept and memory, bodily exercise, a pleasure of relationships, atmospheres and comparisons, an essential life energy which vibrates our guts, relates to where we are and our physical alignments with history as we know it, exiting the skeleton to project back out to the earth and people from which it came. There are frequencies beyond the human body, be it on plant, animal or astral levels, which, could we tune in to them, could be “music”, or maybe something even “greater” than music… And everything is potentially music, really. But all in all, sound is actually nameless. It comes out in sound, not name. And then there are sounds which are music to some people, and complete noise to others…
Jason McMahon: The things between your ears.
Brenda Hutchinson: A subset of sound.
Andrea Centazzo: To me, Music is a language communicating through vibrations with no boundaries… more open and understandable of any other spoken or visual language. That’s why sometime it amazes me the audience reaction. Everyone perceives the vibrations in a different way and sometime you have surprises when you don’t expect it.
Dan Joseph: Pitch-centric organized sound
Mendi & Keith Obadike: Music is any sound event that we find sensual, engaging, or significant.
Betsey Biggs: Music is attention to what you hear, inside and out, and possibly reenactment of such.
Chris Harvey: >- music is magic -<
Jesse Stiles: Music is important.
Robert Dick: The communication of emotion and ideas between people (and other beings) through sound.
Maria Chavez: A controlled environment of sound.
Mary Halvorson: The most popular thing in the world, according to Donald Trump.
Steve Swell: Life.
Alessandro Bosetti: You have no idea of what you are talking about. Neither do I. Or, well, maybe on the contrary we do both have a very clear idea of what that is but we don’t know how to write about it. Music seems kind of a mute thing to me. I kept being haunted by that mutism and compelled to find ways to “say” inside of it. For along time. Working on the musicality of spoken language has always appeared to me as the most practicable and interesting option. This is what i do. To be honest a lot of music seems like a wall to me. I also often find sound hurtful. Maybe its because it does not talk with me. I have a speech fetish. I probably just rub music the wrong way and she does not want to explain anything to me. But sometimes things get smoother and its really exciting then.
Dennis Palmer (Shaking Ray Levis): What that ol’ Boy, Girl and Lung Terrier sang…
Jessica Pavone: A vibration, many vibrations
Eric Eigner: Music is one way of being timeless. It is a way of exploring territories deep within ourselves, problem solving in a highly introspective manor. It is a type of active meditation that has the potential to bring about change for the individual and those in contact with his/her sounds, spreading out into collective society via the ripple effect.
Mike MicGinnis: The answer to this is very personal and subjective. Some things I can say I feel for sure about music. It requires sonic vibration of something. It seems to require a listener.
A great teacher I had in college said that music sounds how feelings feel and I’ve always liked that.
Some personal things for me that music is:
A reminder and teacher that life is mysterious and that there is always more happening around us than our senses can detect. It’s also a companion, a salve, a motivator, a relaxer and entertainer. It’s a chance to engage in something that has the potential to transcend what we think life is and to nourish the part of ourselves that is only accessible through the artistic medium. It’s a living place where people who are living now and people of the past can co-exist. When you play a Beethoven symphony I think it brings a part of him back to life. Music can act as a type of time capsule. I also believe that it’s possible for what you could call “objective music” to exist. Music that exists almost as a natural force. Music that could have a physical force like an opera singer breaking a glass or music that could assist people with various illnesses. I’m very interested this but I haven’t studied about it very much up to this point.
Samuel Vriezen: It’s the exploration through sound of coexistence in time.
Okkyung Lee: Whatever you want it to be.
Tom Hamilton: A hole in the atmosphere in which you throw money.
Bruce Eisenbeil: Music is a poetry of circulating sound. Great music breaks rules.
Joel Kennedy: WELL, I think it’s something that exists on an intuitive level, and thus can’t be fully explained. An active element within us. For me, whether it’s complicated or excited by systematic things like theory, music is an expression of feeling. Regardless of what it is, it continues.
In terms of time, music reflects who we were, who we are and who we’re becoming. In high school I fantasized about hermitage and I wondered if I would create music of some kind in isolation, with myself as the only human around. I’m still not sure, and have no current plans to withdraw from society. But I believe communication with any kind of life (and/or in connection with the earth) can be or is. a way of being musical. Communication for us applies especially to playing music with other humans, I suppose, and not with a gerbil (although that sounds fun, and plausible). The collective communication of crickets and dragonflies are especially poignant examples of animal music. I’ve also come to understand music as organically linked with our own and other bodies (including our heart and blood especially) – something that can be natural and healthy in that way. Inward and out, a symbiotic phenomenon.
I think different human musical expressions, or genres, if you will, reflect our desires, who we will ourselves to be, and who we understand ourselves to be throughout our lives. For me, avant-garde music is a largely esoteric process (although significantly, its community holds a wonderful and caring wealth of collaborators and friends); at another extreme, pop music works by its nature on a much broader and often exoteric scale.
In an eastward direction, I’ve also thought about the essence of music through my participation and interest in p’ungmul (traditional Korean drumming). P’ungmul is very organic to play; it is taught and experienced as collective; it’s communally experienced and enjoyed (while there is also the important concept of inner spirit). It is linked with different rituals, especially ones of agricultural labor. With p’ungmul, at best, rhythmic experience is symbiotic with an experience of nature, labor, community and harmony. I am in the ongoing process of partaking in and experiencing those truths, and of integrating/relating them to the also beautiful, but very different, Western and personal paradigm of individualism and self-sufficiency.
Lisle Ellis: Music is sound that can transport us, or at least point our thoughts and feeling towards something beyond ourselves. Music could be just about anything: any sound you listen into with a particular kind of attention or it could even be a play of light: reflections, shadows, and movement that could be a kind of visual music. A basic array of sounds, of music, may take the hard edges off our emotions and sooth us in someway temporarily. Yet, in its most sublime state, music can be transcendental and inspire us to cultivate the capacities of our being. A phrase that I often ponder as a definition of music, and possibly artistic process in general, is by Jean Genet: “exulting love at the edge of the abyss.”
Benton-C Bainbridge: Aural Music is noise and silence organized in time and space. Visual Music is light pollution and shadows organized in time and space.
Berangere Maximin: I’m not quite comfortable with what I’m going to say, but for me the production of a musical piece is like making a Frankenstein. A very odd idea arises, then, with patience, experience and a lot of hope, you create a piece that has its own life. Music is the essence: pure thoughts and emotions. Turning on the radio is like inviting someone home, you must receive your guest well and give him all the attention he deserves.
Matthew Ostrowski: If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be trying to make any.
Clifton Hyde: “Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.” — Frank Zappa
Saco Yasuma: Music is the powerful entity that every single person has in their system. It is expression and communication before the words. It’s stimulative and theraputic, and makes you creative. Most people don’t know they have it in them. But they know they can’t live without it!