I thought this essay was rather interesting, if not a little cumbersome to read.
There were a few things the author wrote about that I disagreed with. First, he talked about how the idea of literature is very linear with no repetition, and this contrasts with music which has quite a lot of repetition. While I don’t dispute that literature is generally linear, I think the idea that written pieces don’t feature purposeful repetition is a fallacy. When writing, authors often repeat important points to place emphasis on their arguments. In fiction, authors will repeatedly allude to important events (that either happened or have yet to occur), and allegory might be considered a way of repeating with variation.
In the above examples, one might argue that the repetition in literature is not exact, whereas in music it often is. However, later on in his essay the author speaks about how good musicians should interpret the repeats slightly differently, and these subtle differences should come out in their musicality. I think the way which an author phrases something is no different that the way a musician subtly alters their performance. In both cases, the message (so to speak) is exactly the same, just with a different feeling.
This essay also touches on the idea that patterns in music are a type of grammar, and without this grammar some music simply wouldn’t exist (especially with older music). The author talks about how the structure of a sonata is essential because it is the structure that defines what a sonata is in the first place. I had never formally thought about this before, despite it being completely true and fairly obvious.
I liked the example of the computer creating sound vs. the kaleidoscope making visuals, the difference between the two being that “the former presents itself as a direct emanation of an artistically creative spirit, while the latter is no more than a mechanically ingenious plaything.” This notion of intention being what defines music (as opposed to just sound) was a point that I really liked from our first reading.
I also completely agree with the idea that repetition in music allows you the opportunity for discovery and reinterpretation. I can think of many examples where I’ve felt differently about a piece of music once I’ve heard it a few times, and often the more familiar I become with a song the more my opinions regarding it change.
Perhaps a little unrelated, but my favorite quote in this essay was from Plato:
For we are conscious of being enchanted by such poetry ourselves; though it would be a sin to betray what seems to use the cause of truth.
I love this early illusion to guilty pleasures, because it represents a similarity among people in the past and people in the present, despite the passing of time.
While bringing up some interesting points, I think the main purpose of this article was to refute that the appeal of repetition could not be explained if music was considered literary or evolving (like an organism), but only if it were considered to be merely sonic wallpaper. The author spent much of his essay speaking to why music isn’t like wallpaper, and I found that to be tiresome. I think most people these days would not make the case that music is simply background noise, and if they did I doubt there would be any swaying them from their beliefs; in any case, they are certainly in the minority.
- meghanhoke posted this