WTF is music, anyway?


When me and the Mrs were courting I spent a lot of time round her flat which she shared with a friend. Her friend came home one afternoon whilst I was quite loudly listening to Live Salvage by Russell Haswell. She said, “that’s not music, that’s just noise!”.
I said, “what do you mean, just?”

Subjective innit.


Me pooping in the toilet, though it may occasionally resemble a crescendo, is pretty nonmusical. However, while doing such activity, I often enjoy listening to the elusive, ever-changing rhythms of the ceiling vent fan. One day I’m gonna sample that fan. While pooping.

On a more serious note I think a big part of what music “is” is the subjective perception of sounds or vibrations as a pattern of some kind over a span of time, whether organized or nonorganized.

I often wonder how animals perceive music, if they just hear it as noise or if they sense or feel some kind of different quality about it.

If music is playing in the woods, and only a bear is there to hear it, is it music?


Tones, Drones and Arpeggios: The Magic of Minimalism, Series 1: 1. California: via @bbciplayer
Tones, Drones and Arpeggios: The Magic of Minimalism, Series 1: 2. New York: via @bbciplayer

Just seemed kind of relevant… a bit… oh, I don’t know… make you your own minds.


I know exactly what I want - not in terms of the actual musical style, as that’s the thing I’m exploring right now, but I have a new process, which covers everything from concept to release. It’s going to take some time to get comfortable with it all, and start getting the best out of it, but that’s fine.

Also, I’m not entirely sure than one needs an audience to create music.


Thanks :slight_smile:


My reference to an audience as a necessity was specific to the John Cage piece.

Good luck with it, it sounds exciting.


Music is the highest language bro, just make sure you’re saying something when you’re saying it, no matter the phrasing/syntax/vocab you use. :slight_smile:

PS: enjoyed reading your article.


The conditions for sound exist on other planets for sure - some same atmospheric traits that encourage life.

If we think it’s probable there is intelligent life somewhere out there, isn’t it likely there is music also?



Cheers, yeah, in the context of the John Cage piece, it is obviously necessary. To be honest, that piece strikes me as more of a meta statement about art rather than a piece of music. Like, you could call it a piece of music, but only for the sake of demonstrating the concept of the piece. Obviously that’s the beauty of it, and it challenges your view of what music is because of that.


Regarding John Cage, I was recording plucking a wire fence in Iceland and it took exactly 4’33" for my arm to go completely dead because I was listening so hard I hadn’t realized it was electrified. Cage knew stuff :slight_smile:


Cage is extremely interesting when he speaks, mostly bc of his sense of humor, but his music to me is terribly boring and musically unimaginative! His music has many great qualities but only few of them are of any artistical musical value. To me!


Subjective innit.


The most intriguing :thinking: part of this is imo that different species look “designed” to have build in steep notch filters. There is a insane spectrum of frequency waves around us that bump into our molecules or even resonate with them. The lowest of them which we can’t feel nor hear, next feel and :ear: , then a lot of waves i am not sure (like radio, microwaves, 3G/4G networks and stuff) and then the waves with the speed of light which we experience as Pictures. Some species have different filters and are able to hear way beyond 22.000 hz or see infrared. Music for me are the waves that travel into my ears and being translated to something which draws my attention. Good music for me are the waves that make me wanna focus on a conscious or subconscious level and simultaneously resonate with me to enhance or change my feelings on that particular moment in time.
In short music is porn for the :ear:, medicine for the moment, escape from reality in the reality it’s in, eargasm when properly done :crazy_face:


whilst they might not perceive it as music. animals are definitely in possession of what we might call “musicality” and at a really basic level.

I hope am I recalling it correctly, as it is a while since I read this but…

There’s a (pretty bizarre) experiment referenced in this book:

in which they play some Bach through an Owl’s brain with some electrodes and it (I hope I am remembering this right) prove that it’s not even being translated into some other kind of information, it’s just recognised as the tones and passed straight through the owl’s brain to the extent you can use it to play the Bach out again at the other end…

tldr: the basic point being that animals evolved to recognise pattens in sound and relationships between tones a LONG time aqo, and if anything it’s likely that that’s why humans started trying to organise sound in the first place, because it interacts with a very basic part of our psychology in a way that makes us feel good in a really primeval way.


I knew i’d have it slightly wrong - it was “The Blue Danube”, not Bach at all


Petr [Janata] placed electrodes in the inferior colliculus of the barn owl, part of its auditory system. Then, he played the owls a version of Strauss’s “The Blue Danube Waltz” […] Petr sent the output of these electrodes to a small amplifier, and played back the sound of the owl’s neurons through a loudspeaker. What he heard was astonishing; the melody of “The Blue Danube Waltz” sang clearly from the loudspeakers… — Dan Levitin.


Perhaps you just find the poop non-musical because of the associated context? Definitely with you on the vent music though.

On some level I think everything is music as the universe can be taken to be electromagnetic waves interacting in a complex ‘symphony’.

On the level of human perception I think music is the act of listening to something as though it were music. This doesn’t necessarily involve our hearing system converting compression & rarefaction of sound waves into electrical signals for the brain as we all know what it’s like to hear music within our heads with no external stimuli.

Some interesting thoughts in non-human animal perception of music in this vid:


Therein lies the rub. There have been “many attempts to explain the Fermi paradox,[12][13] primarily either suggesting that intelligent extraterrestrial beings are extremely rare or proposing other reasons that such civilizations have not contacted or visited Earth.”
I’m not a total pessimist, more of a cynic, but I am not holding out hope for alien civilizations that are desperately in need of noisy electronic music. More reason to make as much music as you can before we turn back into star dust or are invaded by little green men that want to enslave us for our natural resources and then destroy our galaxy.


I like his philosophy and concepts more than his music, so I concur, definitely. But his thinking amongst others on the topic of music is priceless.


what i love about talking about music nowadays is that no one cares about music, but everyone cares about putting moar noise and other conventionally non-musical stuff under „music“ umbrella.

very interesting phenomenon.


As it should be