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How Can Music Be "Organic"?


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Come on in and have some fun debating this...

I often hear some members of the forum elude to this idea that music is or can be "organic." What does that mean, gang?

A composition professor of mine argued that it is the condition of traditional music that we organize sound around metrics (4/4 meter, 4-bar phrases, etc) and that this ignores the "organic" form of sound. He argued strongly for the idea that contemporary music is more "organic" or escapes this imposition of metrics and other structural components of traditional music forms. Instead of a 4-bar phrase of melodic material, he argued that I should focus in on what the music -does- and try to move away from imposing structural aspects on my music ideas so the "organic quality" of the musical idea or gesture is less modified and more authentic.

But it leaves me wondering if there is such an "organic" aspect to music. Our minds don't always recognize this quality in sound, so are we to assume that music exists in something like highway traffic or the clamor of a restaurant kitchen if we simply escape the totality of structure on music? If we call the sounds we hear in a restaurant kitchen -organic music- or sound in a -natural- form, what are we really doing but redefining our sense of what sound is and subsequently rationalizing music's place in the world of total sound? What do we say about silence at that point? Does silence even exist if sound of some form is ever-present?

Let's avoid that last question for a moment just to get to the meat and bones of the discussion point. If sound is "organic" or "natural", how do we know? For me, I find it rather pedantic to call sound "natural" if we are applying our own subjective analysis and appreciation to the sound world. In effect, we all hear sounds but not all of us hear "music" in those sounds. Is that because we are imposing our own needs for structure onto sound or, in the opposite extreme, trying to escape from structure when hearing the world of sound? Either way, we're applying or attempting to negate a cognitive awareness of structure in music to what we hear/observe in the world of sound. So, how can sound be "natural" or even "organic" to us at all?

Please, keep discussion friendly and try to maintain an open mind to the ideas of others. I'm hoping for a nice, friendly debate here to spark interest and give us all something to do as we're just getting used to the updated forum.

Most of all, try to have fun with this topic if it interests you.

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Interesting, I've never really thought to call music "organic." It seems like the term is redundant since music inherently pertains to or affects our bodily organs (but that's only based on one definition of the term). If "organic" is synonymous with "natural" then we could easily sit here all day and debate about what that means. So organic can describe free-flowing music that defies a particular meter or form... This is funny because on the other hand music could be organic if it has growth (goals, forms) and unity related to the form.

Here's a semi-interesting link:

http://www.schenkerguide.com/organicism.html

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Is music based on bird singing then organic? Is the birdsong itself organic?

????

Right... that's the question. How Can Music Be "Organic"?

Or are you implying that I'm posting a duplicate thread? If so, oops. :blink:

Contrary to what your professor says, I would consider structured music organic, because that's what the damn word means.

:lol: This is funny.

As in, a whole piece subdivided into smaller parts, or organs. Thus the term organized. Mozart organized his music into 4 bar phrases in 4/4 so his music was organic. Ives didn't, so his music ISN'T as organic.

:huh: Ives might disagree with you. Elliot Carter might, too.

Interesting, I've never really thought to call music "organic." It seems like the term is redundant since music inherently pertains to or affects our bodily organs (but that's only based on one definition of the term). If "organic" is synonymous with "natural" then we could easily sit here all day and debate about what that means. So organic can describe free-flowing music that defies a particular meter or form... This is funny because on the other hand music could be organic if it has growth (goals, forms) and unity related to the form.

Here's a semi-interesting link:

http://www.schenkerg...organicism.html

I'm surprised you never saw some of the members (like Ferkungamaboo, for instance) refer to music as "organic" or "inorganic". That kind of prompted me to post out of curiosity.

Also, Schenker is a really interesting conundrum in his own right. His theory actually builds from Bach figured bass, Fux counterpoint, and Rameau's theoretical discussion of music and nature. It's not semi-interesting, it's quite interesting and relevant to the discussion.

Schenker sides with Rameau and his greek predecessors that the triad is a chord -of nature- that all music (of his time, at least) is built around. From this, Rameau argued that in more -natural- works of music, the tonic triad was this "womb" from which an entire piece would gestate and inevitably emerge. This emergence (from the womb, so to speak) occurred in various ways in tonal music, often in stepwise linear movement up a scale or by intervallic leap, but the piece would always come to rest or -end- with an ursatz or a "fundamental decent" that could be identified through the linear motion of an irline (pronounced er lee nee).

Reductive analysis intrigues me quite a bit. I believe I understand music much, MUCH better when reducing it to view it as a whole than I do when I look at something like a harmonic progression or a neighbor group in counterpoint. Many of my classmates seemed to agree with me that the best way for musicians to 'begin' studying music theory is by learning Schenkerian Analysis first, then filling in the gaps with more detailed analytical techniques.

Fascinating. :thumbsup:

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i don't know. i have this strange feeling that 'organic' means something that one feels to be naturally flowing within one's system of taste/play of cognitive faculties (i know, kant is long dead). as to what could be analyzed from that, i don't know. i was once told that my music is unorganic and it made me fume, because it felt like my most organic work to date (to me). again, to me the most organic/natural music is supersilent, which, some people told me here, lacks a natural flow. and etc. and so on.

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i was once told that my music is unorganic and it made me fume, because it felt like my most organic work to date (to me). again, to me the most organic/natural music is supersilent, which, some people told me here, lacks a natural flow. and etc. and so on.

Define "supersilent" for me.

I'm also quite interested in why you fumed when someone told you your music was inorganic. Why is this offensive to you?

After all, I don't view anything we do as composers to be 'natural' or 'organic', whether it's a classical symphony or a 70 minute spectral piece. To me, anything we do that manipulates sound into a form that is intended to be heard or performed is not a 'natural' or 'organic' sound experience. But, then again, if we are even 'listening' for music in the world of sound, how does our interpretation/subjectivization of music in sound 'natural' or 'organic' at all?

I suppose I'm intrigued by your reaction in light of my interpretation.

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Fat for the fire:

To me, organic is an intangible quality - I can't see or taste or smell it...I can't even "hear" it. I can't show it to you in a score, and something may be "organic" to me, but not for someone else. Hell, I may change my own opinion from one day to the next.

Organic is FELT....it's the SOUL and BODY of music. It's that feeling you get when you hear it - and go "YEaaaahhh!!!"

It's DEEP GROOVE...

It's all pocket and spirit.

But again, it's all subjective... SO... away I go.

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'definition' of supersilent

:)

i was irritated because being young and trying as hard as i could to do something 'organic' - at that time 'natural' and 'organic' were like equal to 'good' to my friends, i suppose - i was told it was not 'organic', but then it became very obvious that i know scraggy about what natural and organic is beyond being felt as pleasurable quite instantly.

of course lots of time passed and i'm rather anti-organicist and anti-naturalist in all matters regarding truth procedures (yeah, i know, i can't define it for you in a post here, but just let me say, anything that seems to matter to me is not natural, organic or orgasmatic in a sense that they could refer to some underlying structure filling which one could produce any satisfactory model - artistic, political, amorous), so to me, labeling something as natural and organic, besides some poethical justice and play, is really just, you know, though i scored pretty high on labeling natural boobs from plastically modified :)

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So you were referring to the band/group I saw on Google/Youtube. I thought you were using some obscure terminology I'd never used or heard of before.

When someone says my music sounds 'natural' or 'unnatural', as a general rule of thumb, I generally ask what they mean by it so I get a more contextual idea of what they think, if nothing more than to understand in more detail what they might 'hear' and what they don't.

I'm in the process of rewriting a piece at the moment that I wrote 11 years ago... and I'm trying to do some different things with it that I might have wanted to do had I known what I know today. It's an interesting exercise, actually. Well, I asked a non-musician who had heard the piece (and likes it more than any other works of mine) what they thought of the revision. She told me the end was different. Of course it was different, but it didn't tell me either way how it sounded.

So, I probed with questions like, "How does it sound different?" "How do you think this difference compares to what I wrote before?" and so forth. Then I got the answer I needed from her, because the section I had originally was a more complete musical thought than the one I wrote in revision. An aspect of the piece that I thought might be more time-consuming and unnecessary turned out to be quite critical to her because of the time needed to build into the moment she liked most in the piece.

Anyways, has less to do with "organics" or "nature" in music. Back to the topic at hand...

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Just not anything confusing... it has to fit the piece and the sounds need to fit your intention. If for example, my piece Hurricane Abigale, had a slow happy sounding part...it wouldn't make sense. It wouldn't be organic. If there is a piece about strange jungle things...then weird chords and harmonies would be organic and make sense. And predictable chords and harmonies would not be organic

Also maybe it could printed be on recycled paper :P

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Just not anything confusing... it has to fit the piece and the sounds need to fit your intention. If for example, my piece Hurricane Abigale, had a slow happy sounding part...it wouldn't make sense. It wouldn't be organic. If there is a piece about strange jungle things...then weird chords and harmonies would be organic and make sense. And predictable chords and harmonies would not be organic

Wouldn't it be more explanatory to use words like "appropriateness" or "cohesion of ideas" in looking at whether or not a piece "makes sense?" I understand how you're applying "organic" here, at least in the context of your post, but I wouldn't have a clue what you meant by -organic- without your explanation of what it means to you.

Also maybe it could printed be on recycled paper :P

:lol:

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Man I had this whole post and stuff and I hit back or something.

I mean, quickest things quickest: silence is one of those words that is like "cold," it doesn't exist except in degrees.

I can think of inorganic sounds, but not music. I can't think of an archetypal "organic" sound. I don't know what sound generic biomass makes.

"Organic" is just another in a long list of words that people use when either they're being philosophical or they're just filling space.

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I believe asking what is 'organic' is like asking somebody what food tastes good. There will be many various replies, and so I think an organic piece of music is going to vary from person to person. Most of what others have already said in this post are, in my opinion, fairly good ideas. I guess for me, personally, an organic piece of music would be a work where all the musical aspects follow a lineage from a single source. For instance, maybe there is one main melody, and from that melody there are 5 other melodies that are very organic to the first melody, possibly even sharing all of the same notes, just in a different sequence. It's a very subjective question, I think, but an interesting one to ask.

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In another topic, I read that electronic or synthesized music is inorganic in comparison to acoustic music. I don't agree. If by 'organic' we mean 'natural' (I am still not sure how to understand 'organic'), then electronic music is as natural or as unnatural as that produced by acoustic instruments, because we can say that the working of synthesizers boils down to electronic circuits and movement of electrons due to presence of electric field, which follow physical laws (those of electricity) just as acoustic instruments do, boiling down to resonance and string motion. So there's nothing inorganic in electronic music. Not to mention that synthesizers, when used with knowledge, skill and taste, can be as expressive as acoustic instruments. I've heard numerous times people to say that electronic music in general is cold, which is laughable, because it all depends on the way the musician uses the synthesizer. Whoever claims such nonsense basically shows limited experience with electronic music and/or lack of technical knowledge and skills.

If by 'natural' one means something that is created by nature, solely by natural laws, and immediately felt, I would suggest to think over if human beings (and consciousness) are not part of nature.

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Organic is to me one of those adjectives which are very pleasing but communicate very little. Usually it is a synonym for cohesive.

Nevertheless, many people impose their own structure upon music. Case in point is the Clarinet Variation I posted. Many people allowed my title to guide them in understanding the structure. of the piece. However some made the mistake to think the variations were on the Intro. They were not. The Variations were on a short segment of a Bach Chorale theme, the Intro was written a year before the Variations.

Why this happened may be that composers congregate to a preferred set of musical materials (be it a set of motivic cells, rhythmic patterns or dramatic arches) which we call style. So, there may be certain proclivities I have firmly established to have what we call "style" which gave this piece its "organic" quality (if imperfect). And often we prefer a composer who returns and reexamines their proclivities because they help the listener out in hearing the music as "organic". End result is the listener imposes their own needs for structure. We do try to escape structures we have known for a long time and grown bored with. That is why you may have classical composers who know Bradenburg Concertos inside out but rarely listen to them for their pleasure - usually they may prefer Black Sabbath, The Magnetic Zeroes, Mario Davidovsky and Sufi music on their playlist.

Beethoven near the end of his life was quite cognizant of this - I believe he said that thinking over his whole output he considered he only scratched the surface in his musical explorations.

Finally, as humans we must remind ourselves how the familiarity bred from our limited perception of the world is both quite liberating and confining.

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I always understood the notion of 'organic music' in relation to how something is gradually developed from a small idea into a great whole which is entirely related to the starting material. The later works of Sibelius, in particular, are often analysed with this principle in mind, but it's something that actually informs the whole of the concert music tradition, the classical period in particular. The reason why the word 'organic' is used is because this process is analogous to the process of growth in nature, the way a seed develops into a tree through a replication and variation of the material in the seed - minimalism being another example of a style which uses this principle. There's a great book entitled 'Brahms and the Principle of Developing Variation' which I wish I had at hand in this debate, as it explains with examples what I have tried to outline above. I think this approach to composition has a very widespread application in whatever style one is writing, for it provides not only cohesion and unity but some kind of structural direction for the piece based on moving out from a small but rich starting point.

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These are all great responses so far. I'm learning a variety of perspectives on this topic as a result. If I may take a moment to synthesize and perhaps motivate further discussion on the topic...

There appear to be as many as three different perspectives on what composers might call "organic" music. Here they are:

Reiterative Approach

This is to restate the argument of my professor that "organic" music is sound that is observed and reproduced as close as possible to how it was observed. In other words, organic music in this sense is simply an approach that captures sound which already exists without manipulating it to, in a sense, preserve the integrity of the sound itself.

Cohesive Approach

This is the approach that many of you seem to believe about music. In this context, music is "organic" when the various -parts- of a given work operate cohesively to produce an extra-sonic experience, more than simply observing the sound as it otherwise occurs to us. This is perhaps more of a manipulation, in contrast to a Reiteration, of sound.

Cultural Approach

This is the approach that, unlike either Reiteration or Cohesion, music that we might call "organic" or "natural" is tied directly to cultural trends in music. In contrast to Cohesion, music that is culturally "organic" is the closest representation of the audience's "taste" in music (regardless of 'how' structured the work is), which is always invariably going to change over time. Somewhat like Reiteration, Cultural music that is considered "organic" reproduces musical elements that appeal to trends of the culture in the time period instead of reproducing the sound as the composer might originally hear it.

So, maybe I can draw a few preliminary conclusions from this... tell me what you think.

  • The Reiterative approach is like that of a researcher who attempts to observe and report facts and data in the most accurate and compelling way.
  • A Cohesive approach is much like an architect or engineer who seeks to design a self-sustaining structure or machine that requires no external support.
  • The Cultural approach is similar to the anthropologist who seeks to study, observe, participate in, and understand the trends and social make-up of a culture.

Here are some further questions for discussion if you're still interested.
  • Do you agree with these comparisons to the approaches of other professions? If not, why?
  • Do any of these insights help you think about how you approach music or how others might approach music?
  • Does anyone fully subscribe to -one- of these approaches or perhaps represent all three?

Really, I feel that all three are quite interesting approaches to music. I'm quite grounded in both Cultural and Cohesive approaches to music. I've attempted to approach music from a Reiterative approach, but I'm just not very satisfied with what I produce. It's interesting to see how we might approach music in different ways, but it still leaves the penultimate question up in the air.

Is there such a thing as "organic" music? In other words, does some -objective- phenomenon exist that might tell us what is genuinely "organic" and what is not? If not, why do we even use this word, "organic," if only to describe -our- approach to music? Why don't we just say, "I approach music like this..." instead of using words like organic?

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think....that sometimes music wants to go somewhere that you don't see immediately. Sometimes one may hear a piece that does something that is just......right. I'm not sure it can be exactly explained and labeled as a universal concept (ie. - THIS makes the piece organic - THIS doesn't work)

Just a thought. More when I'm more aware of what's going on...

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Organic, as I've always understood it, is when the piece itself from start to finish functions and sounds solely as a whole. When one idea flows evenly into another - whether contrasting or non-contrasting - the composition is organic. My first teachers always used to use the term 'musicality' as a synonym for organic. It wasn't until I received private composition lessons that I first heard the term itself.

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The idea of my original post here was to point out the fact that I really don't think this kind of thing is worth the effort. It's like saying, How can music be "Cold?" Or how can music be "Yellow?" It's purely an opinion thing and while that may be interesting on its own (who knows?) the point is that trying to think too much about it brings nothing.

I mean just because people use a word to describe music, it doesn't mean there's some underlying super-truth behind it. There may be, but in this case I doubt it. After all I can describe my music as "automobile" and then have AA say:

Is there such a thing as "Automobile" music? In other words, does some -objective- phenomenon exist that might tell us what is genuinely "Automobile" and what is not? If not, why do we even use this word, "Automobile," if only to describe -our- approach to music? Why don't we just say, "I approach music like this..." instead of using words like automobile?

Language-related stuff should be treated as such, since this has nothing to do with music really. Say for example this is a coffee machine forum, where we discuss things concerning coffee machines. Then AA's question would still work just fine, like so:

Is there such a thing as "organic" coffee machines? In other words, does some -objective- phenomenon exist that might tell us what is genuinely "organic" and what is not? If not, why do we even use this word, "organic," if only to describe -our- approach to coffee machines? Why don't we just say, "I approach coffee machines like this..." instead of using words like organic?

So I'd say that the reason people don't just say "I approach coffee ma-- err, music like this..." is because it takes longer, or they think using a word that has no definition in musical terms when talking about music is "cool" or makes them sound like they know something. To be honest this is one of the reasons I hate it when composers/musicians/artists/?! give critique but start using words like these, since they mean jack scraggy to me. How am I supposed to know what the hell you mean with "Organic?" For that matter, any other word that doesn't have an explicit meaning requires explanations and I wonder if it may not be just shorter to stop using them altogether.

I mean, if you asked for someone's opinion on a piece of music and all they told you is that it felt "Organic" to them, what did they actually tell you with that without clearing up what they meant? Nothing, of course.

Of course if you HAVE to use the word, for some unknown reason, giving it a context makes it less annoying, but it still means next to nothing. But I'll give an example of how I would use it:

I like Serial music when it feels "organic" to me. That is to say, when I listen to it I get the feeling that it's less about the numbers and more about gut intuition. Say for example Stockhausen Klavierstuck X and Boulez' Notations vs Boulez' sonatas. The former I think is "more organic" to me than the latter.

But there in lies the problem with the whole thing: Unless I keep using "Organic" within the same conversation to describe other music or whatever, that one-off use is retarded. Compare:

I like Serial music when I get the feeling that it's less about the numbers and more about gut intuition. Say for example Stockhausen Klavierstuck X and Boulez' Notations vs Boulez' sonatas.

Much better.

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Hmm.

I think for a lot of people, there's an unspoken agreement that music should go somewhere. There are an infinite different ways to hear every piece of music, and so different people may have different standards, but I think the general consensus is that music should travel somewhere, even if it winds up back where it started.

That said, to me it involves properly preparing musical events to where they don't sound out of place, or out of intent.

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Hmm.

I think for a lot of people, there's an unspoken agreement that music should go somewhere. There are an infinite different ways to hear every piece of music, and so different people may have different standards, but I think the general consensus is that music should travel somewhere, even if it winds up back where it started.

That said, to me it involves properly preparing musical events to where they don't sound out of place, or out of intent.

Same problem with what I was talking about with "organic," how can there be an unspoken agreement on something that we don't know what it means until each individual explicitly explains what they mean?

I mean to me music doesn't need to "go somewhere," and honestly I don't even know what that means. If it involves stuff that doesn't sound out of place how does it follow that this means "going somewhere?" Maybe it if involved movement of some sort, like rhythm or some concept of tempo, but see that's just me trying to make sense out of that (travel = movement???)

But whatever, I rather not use terms/expressions like these PRECISELY because I have to spend more time clearing them up than actually saying what I meant to say all along.

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Same problem with what I was talking about with "organic," how can there be an unspoken agreement on something that we don't know what it means until each individual explicitly explains what they mean?

I mean to me music doesn't need to "go somewhere," and honestly I don't even know what that means. If it involves stuff that doesn't sound out of place how does it follow that this means "going somewhere?" Maybe it if involved movement of some sort, like rhythm or some concept of tempo, but see that's just me trying to make sense out of that (travel = movement???)

But whatever, I rather not use terms/expressions like these PRECISELY because I have to spend more time clearing them up than actually saying what I meant to say all along.

I don't think most people can explicitly state what they expect from anything in a manner that others can understand.

I imagine that you not feeling that music needs to 'go somewhere' in order to obtain some sort of artistic fulfillment means that you're quite in the minority.

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I don't think most people can explicitly state what they expect from anything in a manner that others can understand.

I imagine that you not feeling that music needs to 'go somewhere' in order to obtain some sort of artistic fulfillment means that you're quite in the minority.

Yeah because you totally made it 100% clear what you mean with "going somewhere" in music, eh? If I don't know what you mean, I can't either agree or disagree. I know I don't use that expression, so obviously I can't apply it to myself since to me it means nothing.

And if I'm in the minority for not knowing what you mean with your own expression, I guess everyone in the world except you is also in that minority until you explain it.

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