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The goal of a composition


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I am wonder what your opinions are when it comes to the purpose of compositions. Not as a whole, but individually. For example, When I listen to my preferred genre of progressive metal, I am most captivated by the instrumental proficiency and technicality of the compositions. But many people dislike a lot of my favorite parts because they "don't have any meaning or emotion". I understand the perspective because I have other favorites based on the lyrical meanings, and musical emotions put into the piece, regardless of how technical it is. But to me meaning and emotion is not a pre-requisite of a good composition.

My main question here is, do you think music has to have emotion?

It seems like a must for most main stream music, but after finding this site, and listening to some of the classical pieces, a lot of them seem purely experimental and emotionless, but still attractive. More recently i have been composing on the emotion side, but I used to be all about technicality and experimentation, using odd time signatures and such.. My girlfriend and I disagreed on one point: Sometimes i start a composition with nothing but the curiosity of using a certain time signature combination or technical scale patterns. She says that using those are fine, but only if thats how the music comes out, you shouldn't try to constrain the music to those limitations.

To me, thats when composing becomes fun and challenging. i set a challenge for myself by using unnatural time signatures or patterns, and try to write something that works well with them. It doesn't need to be emotional, it can still be a journey for the ears.

I once wrote a short metal bit completely based off of the fibbonaci sequence, and i enjoyed it as much as any other piece.

What do you think?

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Yeah, I'm gonna stir the pot as I always do in these sort of questions but it's just being honest The goal of a composition is the same of all art: To create something beautiful and great. Rivali

On the first point I am not so qualified to speak as I have not constructed, discovered and/or composed many groupings of tones into combinations that might be called music but I will say that I canno

Are you asking about real emotions of the sort you would feel apart from any musical matters? Sing a song in such a way that you feel the same emotions that you would feel if a dear friend had di

The point of music (and indeed all art) is to communicate something, usually an emotional or spiritual idea, to an audience. If I want an audience to feel warm and fuzzy, I'll create music that sounds warm and fuzzy and sentimental. If I want an audience to feel uncomfortable and churn in their seats, I'll play Rite of Spring. If I want an audience to experience love, I'll just play Mahler 3, Mov. 6 since I don't think anyone can top that.

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This is closely tied to the definition of music and art. Keep in mind that the purpose of composition isn't always to communicate an idea to other people. Sometimes you simply want to create and see that creation in a concrete form, perhaps to exercise your mind or see/remind yourself what you're capable of.

If I want an audience to feel uncomfortable and churn in their seats, I'll play Rite of Spring.

*Gasp!* But the Rite makes me feel warm and fuzzy, dancing to death aside.

If I want an audience to experience love, I'll just play Mahler 3, Mov. 6 since I don't think anyone can top that.

Mahler is too grandiose for my tastes; his love is too mushy. I prefer French or Russian musical sensibilities. How about Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe? :P

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The goal of "composition" is to manipulate as many air molecules as possible in specific patterns and force them into hearing range of people (called "audience.")

You win if you kill 50 people before the enemy team steals the yellow (not blue) flag.

Like this one, but more like a trapezoid:

YellowFlag.jpg

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I recently listened to some really old Muzak promotional record while cooking. On the back of the record they talk about their corporate philosophy and so on. The heading on the back reads:

MUZAK "Stimulus Progression"

A Unique Programming Concept

With this album you can actually experience the concept of stimulus progression. We have programmed six selections on each side for purposes of demonstration. Move the needle of your record player from one selection to the other. Listen a few seconds to each. Feel the change in mood as the stimulations increases from the first selection to the last. The effect is both psychological and physiological: proof that MUZAK is more than music.

Tokkemon's statement just reminded me so much of this :P

Not saying that's a necessarily bad thing or anything. Muzak can be quite enjoyable!

But in all honesty, the promised switching around between emotional stimuli from track to track on that record didn't exactly work out for me. At least definitely not in the way described on that record. Seems like my emotional responses weren't quite as predictable as the Muzak people thought.

Likewise, I don't think any composer is able to predict my emotional reaction to their pieces. And I'm glad for that. I don't want the composer to tell me how to feel. That's my business.

Whether composing the piece is an emotional matter for the composer is a different question.

Whether hearing something invokes emotional responses in a listener is also a different question.

Whatever I do, there's always emotion involved. Not always the big and fluffy types of emotion that can be expressed with an emoticon, but feelings, obviously. But as soon as my music is written black on white on a sheet of paper it is automatically reduced to a written structure. What happens with it AFTER that is, as I said... a different question.

That doesn't mean I never want to convey anything other than the sounds. Yes, I often desire that certain more or less abstract ideas that are fundamental to my piece manage to get through to a listener somehow. But neither should this be an absolute requisite, nor is it possible to reduce it to a single term like "emotion". And I definitely never expect my music to convey a precise and clear idea unmistakably. For me, it's often about relatively broad and abstract ideas that any listener would certainly experience in a totally different way (if at all).

And then there's the whole question about the ancient topic of beauty and whether and how it relates to a particular composer's aims. So in order not to sidetrack too much, let me just keep it for now at:

"I like to write beautiful music."

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Interesting ideas.

I guess with emotion, it is impossible for a piece to universal evoke an emotion, but some pieces are made with an emotional goal regardless of how the audience percieves it. People compose pieces with the goal of evoking certain feelings, they may never be 100% successful, but that was still the goal regardless of the results.

What im curious about are the pieces that are composed with no initial emotional goals. Sometimes I try to look for non-musical patterns and try to structure a composition around it. For example, i once came across a form of poetry called the "tanka" which are 5 line poems in the syllable structure 5-7-5-7-7. I decided to change the syllables into time signatures, 5/8, 7/8, 5/8, 7/8, 7/8. I enjoyed trying to fit music to that structure in a way that flowed well, and i really liked what i came up with, though i never ran with the idea. There was no emotional goal when i started writing it, and there wouldnt have been if i had finished. Does that mean that the piece would not have been written the way music should be written?

Obviously with my musical interests, my opinion is supporting the idea that music doesn't have to come from feelings or emotions.

Do many others ever try composing music in this way? Or is emotional input generally a common theme?

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i don't think you can evoke emotion from technicality, technique is by definition not music.

you can compose a technical exercise which will sound like musical technique. but it still won't be music, unless you are so musical in nature that you write stuff like the well tempered calvia(which was an exercise for his wife).

my musical life is full of techniques, even emotional technique-which is called "drama" :blink: , none of them count as music.

the fact is that alot of people are impressed with speed and complexity, and circus stunts, but that doesn't make it music, it makes it a good show for the eyes and ears.

good music can vibrate to anyone it will make you react to it. of course you'll need a good performer that can translate the neuances to the preferred era(old school jazz, modern classical, old classical etc etc).

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Sure using pure dry technique isn't very musical (but with the ongoing "definitions of music" thread, maybe it is), people can go up and down a scale in various patterns all day and they will never sound much different. And anyone can tap out odd time signatures. But when you take those techniques and make something that flows with layers coordinated on top of each other that harmonize with one another despite the unusual structure, that must be music. I didnt just take the tanka rythm of 5-7-5-7-7 and tap a drum in accordance with those beats. I searched for the combination of notes that seemed to belong with that structure. I wanted it to sound like that was the way it should be.

I just want to be clear that im not focusing at all on the end results of these pieces. Because the pieces that start out as purely technical, usually end up evoking some sort of feeling or emotion out of the listener, the point is whether or not that has to be the origin of inspiration for the piece. The technical aspects of Dream Theater when they go into their instrumental technical sections always give me positive feelings of awe and inspiration, and sometimes emotional reactions. But looking at some of the structures it is clear they were inspired by something other than feeling or emotion, though it still evokes that in their fans.

A car crash can evoke emotion, but i dont consider it music. But take the sounds of a car and edit them into a complex pattern of rhythm and tones, i would consider that music regardless of whether or not it evokes emotion. It has been done before, and it seems the goal of these projects are not to capture an emotion, but the goal is to succeed in using non musical sounds to produce musical sounds.

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I think a lot of the stuff was addressed in the other thread. Just writing patterns is music as is hearing a car crash. Who can really stop it from being music to someone?

Likewise when I hear Mahler my first instinct is to projectile vomit, which is quite unlike any definition of love I would go by.

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To be honest I agree with John Cage's belief that music isn't just a form of communication there must be something more because if it was merely communication we'd use that as a primary way to communicate with each other what makes music different to normal speech.

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To be honest I agree with John Cage's belief that music isn't just a form of communication there must be something more because if it was merely communication we'd use that as a primary way to communicate with each other what makes music different to normal speech.

In the words of Hans Christian Andersen: "Where words fail, music speaks."

Music is meant to convey what is impossible to convey in words. Otherwise music would have no purpose outside of a composer's private reasons.

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In the words of Hans Christian Andersen: "Where words fail, music speaks."

Music is meant to convey what is impossible to convey in words. Otherwise music would have no purpose outside of a composer's private reasons.

Wait... there's a purpose other than my own selfish reasons? Man I missed that class or something...

And I take offense to the thought that there is anything impossible to convey in words. Languages have been around longer than the music of the Culture...

But I forgot, Spengler says music is the West's highest form of art, so writing is secondary to that, architecture, and sculpture...

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The question is complex to answer, because I think there are different ideas and "goals" behind every composition. Some are just exercises where the goal is to have learned something, some are meant to provoke and/or change our view on something, some pieces are meant as a projection of feelings, most have more goals and ideas than one, and so on. I have pieces I wrote to pass on an emotion I experienced, some as meant as a sort of meditation, some for the sake of changing my view on what music is or can be. And the more pieces you write, the longer you can go on about your goals and ideas.

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I'm sure Og meant to talk to someone when he banged a stick on a log repetitively. They couldn't have had a better way to discuss the afternoon hunt...

I don't buy the "music as language" argument on a few fronts, and maybe it's because of my complete lack of reading in the area, but it kinda rolls like this:

Music is art, and as art is freed from the necessity for someone in the social group to even begin to comprehend. You can have a blank canvas and, if presented as such, it is art. In the same way, the "moment of silence," though often a meaningful act, is only communicating something when there's an expectation. It is not the "words" -- the sound itself -- that provides meaning, as in language, but in the interpretation of the sounds.

But not only that, music hasn't evolved as language. Where language is relatively easy, even in highly modernistic -- even nonsense -- uses, to find the root language; deriving unspoken roots and where certain concepts come from is so much more muddled. My go-to example is Jazz -- where is swing from? The Clave? Not exactly. African rythyms? Unlikely in truth. I don't see the same lack of clarity in language, which also and possibly as a result doesn't have the stresses of a stock of forms.

I bookend this with the fact that the only linguistics I've ever read was a short Chomsky essay and that my neuroscience knowledge is all but nil. So prove me wrong -- mak mi lern gud.

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I think the question of language/semantics and music and how they relate to each other is much too big to be put aside with a simple "music is language" (or a "they have nothing in common", for that matter), at least without offering a well-considered explanation. Just throwing out statements like that isn't likely to lead to a very constructive debate.

But methinks this is not really the thread for "a well-considered explanation" on this matter, so it might be better to steer clear of that topic for now.

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Well this is a well tread discussion. We ought to pick the best of the music and its meaning threads and post it in a section in a forum called

"Worn out topics we forbid you to start another thread (unless you have extremely high quality research or anthropological experience to offer)" Then add a note: If you do choose to start a thread you have the choice to be banned for 3 weeks from YC or arrange Madonna's "Like A Virgin" for bagpipe and string orchestra to submit to the ASCAP Morton Gould Award.

Composition is a self-centered art - all creative acts are self-centered activities. Some of the worst compositions are those that try too selflessly to depict shall we say the "urtext" of an experience.

PS. Note that as humans we are smart enough(?) NOT to write compositions the "touch" the emotions of say a beetle, cockroach, cat, dog or pelican. In fact you realize the silliness of the entire discussion about music/emotion when you put this in consideration. At best other humans and animals may engage their attention when we play a piece of Human music - my birds did that when I was playing the late D major Mozart Sonata a week ago.

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I've yet to see an anthropological treatise that has out right said language came before music. Perhaps you mean the recording of language (alphabet, writing, etc.) came before for the recording of music (notation systems). Even that is a point of controversy in the anthropological community - there are ancient musical carvings throughout the world (albeit rudimentary and extremely hard to understand).

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The goal of composition is whatever you choose it to be.

As for the relation of music with language/semantics, people point it out since I remember myself. But music is also related to acoustics and mathematics, if not much more. A composer here wrote a theoretical treatise on how musical form is related to mathematical sets, which is not far from thought.

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I've yet to see an anthropological treatise that has out right said language came before music. Perhaps you mean the recording of language (alphabet, writing, etc.) came before for the recording of music (notation systems). Even that is a point of controversy in the anthropological community - there are ancient musical carvings throughout the world (albeit rudimentary and extremely hard to understand).

FYI, there is an enormous overlap between the language centers and the centers that have to do with music in the brain. There's only a slight difference on which hemisphere they lean slightly on, but otherwise there are a lot of borrowed mechanisms. I trust you've have already read all the papers I posted here a while back, since they dive into this deeper.

So really people treat music as a type of "language," at least cognitively. This is why experiments like an African tribe recognizing basic emotions in western music they were never exposed to yield a significant result that is not accountable to random chance alone. There is also a very strong link between the way we process language syntax and the way the brain works when we hear music.

I recommend looking at all that literature and then the references, there's a LOT of material out there (scientific papers) published on the topic.

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Agreed SSC - that's not what I'm referring to though. The statement was that humanity began using language before music - which is fallacy, really. There's evidence to suggest otherwise AND the evidence such as you point out suggests that music aided in humanity developing the capacity to have a vocal language. So, really... we're in agreement SSC :D

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The goal of "composition" is to manipulate as many air molecules as possible in specific patterns and force them into hearing range of people (called "audience.")

You win if you kill 50 people before the enemy team steals the yellow (not blue) flag.

Like this one, but more like a trapezoid:

YellowFlag.jpg

This, I agree, is the ultimate goal of a musical composition :D

as frank zappa once said....

"A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians."

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lol zappa also said, that music is making something out of nothing.

goalish compositions meh, i think the purest goal of music is when your emotion is so strong the music just bursts out of you. in my country there is a famous folk/rock singer who was a math teacher all his life, and at the age of 50 the lyrics and songs just came out of him, lyrics and all, and yes he still teaches math.

the compositions i'm most proud of, but also very shy of, are those that just came without any "goal to compose" need, it was just an emotional response to what i was feeling.

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