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Musical Conformity To Images


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The other day, I was talking to my composition professor and we had an interesting and eye opening conversation. This was about how a lot of people, when hearing a piece for the first time try to conform the piece to something that it reminds them of. A lot of the time, people will say something along the lines of, "oh, that sounds like it could be in Lord of the Rings." I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but it seems that people do this almost all of the time. It's also normal for people to try to provoke some sort of image from a piece, connecting it to something relatable, such as a sunset or a nocturne  It's possible, but difficult, to listen to a piece without making some sort of relation to an image. I immediately tried to think of a piece where I haven't related it in such a way. What do you guys think? 

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Guest Ravel's Hookers
The other day, I was talking to my composition professor and we had an interesting and eye opening conversation. This was about how a lot of people, when hearing a piece for the first time try to conform the piece to something that it reminds them of. A lot of the time, people will say something along the lines of, "oh, that sounds like it could be in Lord of the Rings." I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but it seems that people do this almost all of the time. It's also normal for people to try to provoke some sort of image from a piece, connecting it to something relatable, such as a sunset or a nocturne  It's possible, but difficult, to listen to a piece without making some sort of relation to an image. I immediately tried to think of a piece where I haven't related it in such a way. What do you guys think? 

More often than not, these kinds of associations are tiring for me (and tend to reveal how dull people are), not that there is anything wrong with the music of Debussy creating images of fauns and the body of music written in the last 100 years homogenously sounding like "people getting murdered". I think people desperately try to find something that music reminds them of, as if every piece of music written needs to be something else in addition to music.

 

For me, I interpret kinds of energies from music. These energies can't really be properly explained: it's a visceral feeling.

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i get colours (instinctively, as a kind of synaesthesia) and performative gestures (learned) from music. hearing a piece for me is imagining performing it, & at times imagining the physical sensations of bow touching strings, air flowing through tubes etc—at least, if the piece is good. this tends to annoy people who sit next to me at concerts.

 

people try to explain the emotional states music suggests with ideas or pictures or stories they can relate to. they always have. (time was each classical mode was associated with a different temperament.) i think people basically don't understand or believe that pure sound alone can generate emotion, due to coming to view music as a commodity—"something to _____ to". it's not understood that music can have power and, in consequence, a lot of the popular music produced nowadays doesn't have very much power, & falls by the wayside while the classics of the 1960s and 70s remain as popular as they ever were.

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So you actually involuntarily flail your arms around at concerts?

 

not exactly. my air pianoing, etc, is kept pretty small in scale and may manifest as merely a persistent twitch of the fingers or "playing" one hand against my knee or something

 

i just realised this makes me sound like a complete weirdo, is it too late to add that i'm a well-adjusted, mentally healthy individual who has never been involuntarily confined to a straitjacket

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I mean, is it even possible to listen to a piece of music without conjuring up some sort of image?

 

I wasn't even aware that it was all that common, which I'm still not entirely convinced of. Would you include, like, an image of how it might look in performance or what the score looks like or something in what you're talking about?

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I don't know if there's any escaping that. Vision is certainly our primary sensation as adults, so images can be very powerful. We're also very symbolic and categorical thinkers, we like to organize things them and represent them in the way that makes the most sense to us, visually. That's just how we make sense of things.

I doubt you would want to remove it from the equation if you could. Whether or not you want to compose with them in mind or try to represent images through music is another question. But for the listener, it's the very thing that makes music memorable and meaningful.

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By categorizing the music with other experiences, which are typically remembered visually and symbolically; Assigning symbols facilitates organization and memory; The music is relying on this categorization and the associations that it creates in order to have meaning to a listener.  It isn't itself happy or sad or whatever your parameter is, it's only happy or sad once your brain has cross-referenced it with your memory which gives it its subjectively perceived meaning.

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Guest Ravel's Hookers
By categorizing the music with other experiences, which are typically remembered visually and symbolically; Assigning symbols facilitates organization and memory; The music is relying on this categorization and the associations that it creates in order to have meaning to a listener.  It isn't itself happy or sad or whatever your parameter is, it's only happy or sad once your brain has cross-referenced it with your memory which gives it its subjectively perceived meaning.

lol

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You definitely don't need images in relation to a piece of music, and you don't need movie-like scenarios to go with them, whether on a screen, or just in the mind. Some music lends itself to that medium ... other styles of music don't. 

 

People definitely enjoy visual stimulation with their music, though: music videos are ridiculously popular for a reason.

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So if the aim of music is to conjure up 'images' in the head of the listener, what's the point of bothering to use sound as a medium at all? Why not paint or draw or photograph instead? The entire raison d'etre of music is that it can evoke things that have no tactile form or medium, and particularly scenarios that exist temporaly, something that the visual arts (with the partial exception of cinema) cannot do. To expect music to serve as some kind of accompaniment or enhancer of another visual medium is, on the part of the composer, to fall far short of its expressive potential; and on the part of the listener, to lack the imagination neccesary to interpret ideas and schemes in a purely sonorous language.

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