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Monarcheon

CMV: Music is intrinsically worthless.

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So this is a copy-style of post from Reddit called Change My View (CMV) where commenters are rewarded ∆ (delta, not major lol) for having some hand in changing the OP's mind about a certain subject. In this case, I'd like to explain myself.

The more I learn about the intricacies of art, the history of art, and the processes of art as a growing medium, the bigger the gap I see between what humans really feel inside (emotions) and the art that is produced. This goes for any art, by the way. Music, visual art, and especially literature all fall under this. I encourage you to read this essay by T. S. Eliot for a a summing up of some of my feelings towards the subject: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69400/tradition-and-the-individual-talent
In any case, even as music has had the entirety of time to develop, I don't think any person would be able to properly, 100% dictate the emotions they have within their art without some of it getting lost in the transfer process. In addition, your argument to this would be "why does this matter"... as in, even if it can't 100% convey what you feel, that's not reason enough to stop. I think it is. Basically, what's lost from the art-maker's lack of conveyance is filled in by the audience, diluting or sometimes even ruining the emotions you wanted to express. There are essentially very few cases where this has ever been the case (to make this the intention) so I see no reason why I push to express anything. I'll never cope with anything or work through things that pain me or express the happiness I feel of elation or love. 

So, please, change my view.

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I may be able to add something to your understanding here. I remember this essay from English Lit. (I was an English Major in addition to music). I even gave a presentation on it using the board to illustrate the concept of how a catalyst works for creating art and communicating about it. I think. It's been a while and I'll have to consult my notes on this, if I've kept them. In any case, give me some time and I'll get back to you. Maybe I can change your view.

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@Monarcheon

Please allow me to rephrase your question to answer it more appropriately, so do you mean:

(1) Music cannot completely reflect composer's emotion.

(2) The audience has false interpretations of music with an incomplete reflection of emotions.

-->

(3) No musical work is to express emotions.

My response:

Indeed (1) is true.  But I think the problem of (2) can be greatly improved when you can provide the experience and the corresponding feelings which motivate you to write this work. With this method, you can probably guide the audience or player to interpret the piece closer to your thoughts. But of course, when you want to keep your experience private (and thus less information is provided), the loss of emotion is considerable. 

For me, I would say I do write music to express my feelings. The loss of emotions is unpreventable but it is a form of art to record your experience and memories. Even when you create the music you may exaggerate it. However, as you create the music, often you are still influenced by the emotions. This creates a linkage between your memories and the music - no matter how the music is. And as you listen to the music again, you can still perceive the emotions presented by the piece as long as your memory is intact. So your musical work is at least meaningful to you.

As an audience, false (or inaccurate) interpretation is common. While you meant to create your own music, as there are some errors translating your emotions, you tend to discover the music. 

 

 

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Yes I dont think music is really meant to convey the feelings of the composer, as a composer myself I write music in order to be beautiful, but that beauty I think is a seperate thing from myself. It exists as a seperate beautiful thing. Like having childen I guess, yes they come from you but they quickly end up being very much their own person. As a composer you have to intrinsically love and admire the sounds of music, and want to discover more about it, but it is not part of you, it is not yours, like you somehow own it. Like a chef loves and admires food, and wants to know more about food and all its workings and combinations, but the food is not part of him, his or her creation is a seperate thing.

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5 hours ago, HoYin Cheung said:

@Monarcheon

Please allow me to rephrase your question to answer it more appropriately, so do you mean:

(1) Music cannot completely reflect composer's emotion.

(2) The audience has false interpretations of music with an incomplete reflection of emotions.

-->

(3) No musical work is to express emotions.

My response:

Indeed (1) is true.  But I think the problem of (2) can be greatly improved when you can provide the experience and the corresponding feelings which motivate you to write this work. With this method, you can probably guide the audience or player to interpret the piece closer to your thoughts. But of course, when you want to keep your experience private (and thus less information is provided), the loss of emotion is considerable. 

For me, I would say I do write music to express my feelings. The loss of emotions is unpreventable but it is a form of art to record your experience and memories. Even when you create the music you may exaggerate it. However, as you create the music, often you are still influenced by the emotions. This creates a linkage between your memories and the music - no matter how the music is. And as you listen to the music again, you can still perceive the emotions presented by the piece as long as your memory is intact. So your musical work is at least meaningful to you.

As an audience, false (or inaccurate) interpretation is common. While you meant to create your own music, as there are some errors translating your emotions, you tend to discover the music. 

 

 

 

Interesting answer but that doesn't really address the question that the notes written on the page have no more meaning than a poem does, intrinsically, meaning internally.

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3 hours ago, Mikebat321 said:

Like having childen I guess, yes they come from you but they quickly end up being very much their own person.

I kind of like this analogy, but the issue is that the notes still have no internal worth. What we write down is not emotions but a showcase of our ability to manipulate sound. 

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So may I generalize and interpret the proposition as "Symbols have no intrinsical meanings"? All notes, alphabets or signs are made by humans and they all can have defined meanings. They are abstract and can have no meanings if we don't define it. But if we do define it with meanings like emotions, it does have meanings.

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30 minutes ago, HoYin Cheung said:

But if we do define it with meanings like emotions, it does have meanings.

My point is you can't.

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It seems to me, to put it harshly, that you burden human efforts first with unattainable goals and then lament that we fall short of them. Which mortal being had ever total control over how its utterances, creations and works are perceived? If we believe the statements of modern sociology, biology and communications theory, it is impossible. 

Also, I do not think that this was T.S. Eliot’s point. And our disagreement on Eliot illustrates perfectly the rôle of interpretation which makes every experience of text, pictures, music, even scenery and landscapes so individual. When Eliot stresses tradition as an important resource to create new works, he is probably also thinking of its role in ensuring common interpretations, in enabling people to share experiences due to a common vocabulary. The ultimate actualisation of a work is an individual act, but a common understanding helps to cross the chasms between the creators of an opportunity of experience – a work of art – and the audience. That is one of the reasons one needs to be familiar with culture, traditions, conventions etc. to really understand the works produced within its framework. I hear galant music differently since I become more familiar with the musical thinking of its time, with the tools at a composer’s disposal, their self-image and so forth. Still, my experience will be much different from that of a galant patron. What it will be is: Meaningful. In a purely subjective, but also in a more objective way, as there are universals of experience, meaning, emotion, intellectual thought within a broad cultural framework, steeped in tradition.

Sorry for the rambling tone, I am not used to write such texts in English. 

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I have read the T. S. Elliot piece again and while still a fascinating read, it is a Mobius Strip written on the subject of Mobius Strips. It is full of contradictions, which are intentional, of course. But it never comes to a satisfying conclusion. How could it? I would stay away from it. It’s neither a guide book nor a treatise. If someone wants to write music, the last thing they should do is read a book.

The connection between two people that are involved in the expression of art are intrinsically fallible. Yet people are drawn to express themselves because of this very weakness. But you - if I understand you correctly - want to stop creating because of this limitation? Are you really serious? You have set a benchmark of 100% for the successful transmission of an emotion. AND you want to be the final arbiter of its success. Or else. This is arbitrary and irrational. It just doesn't work that way. Your standards are too high. You expect steel to bend in your hands as if it was plastic. So, somewhere between 0 and 100% success rate is your problem. I am puzzled by this ‘doubt’ which sounds like a needless burden. So I don’t think I can help you, except to say, Why not adjust down a bit? And don’t overthink it. Try to see the weakness in artistic expression as a gift.

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Monarcheon you are wrong that 'notes' or music generally has no worth. Maybe you are speaking for yourself at the moment, which is fine, but you just cannot generalise for the rest of us that music has no worth in our own lives. It has beauty, therefore it makes us feel good. Just like colour, aromas, tastes and other aesthetic things which please us greatly. Indeed each one has its own 'therapy', which help a great many people in this world. Music-therapy is a huge thing and is actually part of many University and Conservatoire curriculum. Really anything that is created that has great depth and beauty pleases us and therefore adds value to our life,  because what is 'value' in life, other than 'happiness'? Beautiful music makes us happy, makes lovely memories, therefore adds value to the spirituality of our lives, which is really what it boils down to.

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4 minutes ago, Mikebat321 said:

Monarcheon you are wrong that 'notes' or music generally has no worth. Maybe you are speaking for yourself at the moment, which is fine, but you just cannot generalise for the rest of us that music has no worth in our own lives. It has beauty, therefore it makes us feel good. Just like colour, aromas, tastes and other aesthetic things which please us greatly. Indeed each one has its own 'therapy', which help a great many people in this world. Music-therapy is a huge thing and is actually part of many University and Conservatoire curriculum. Really anything that is created that has great depth and beauty pleases us and therefore adds value to our life,  because what is 'value' in life, other than 'happiness'? Beautiful music makes us happy, makes lovely memories, therefore adds value to the spirituality of our lives, which is really what it boils down to.

 

I've written two pieces. One of them labels the E4 as is in the title and is an experimental dadaist demonstration of the objective. The other one labels the E4 as a metaphorical concentration of all of a narrator's feelings towards someone concentrated into 4 seconds, expressively.
Now if you look at those two pieces without their titles or suggested meaning, you'll know that while the meaning is more close to "E4 held for four seconds", does not a. mean it was the piece's primary intent (it wasn't) or b. that note has any inherent value to me or you (it doesn't). They may to you; I can't do anything about that. But that doesn't mean I can't feel upset that there's still "stuff" inside me that isn't expressed in what I've written.

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2 hours ago, Ken320 said:

I have read the T. S. Elliot piece again and while still a fascinating read, it is a Mobius Strip written on the subject of Mobius Strips. It is full of contradictions, which are intentional, of course. But it never comes to a satisfying conclusion. How could it? I would stay away from it. It’s neither a guide book nor a treatise. If someone wants to write music, the last thing they should do is read a book.

The connection between two people that are involved in the expression of art are intrinsically fallible. Yet people are drawn to express themselves because of this very weakness. But you - if I understand you correctly - want to stop creating because of this limitation? Are you really serious? You have set a benchmark of 100% for the successful transmission of an emotion. AND you want to be the final arbiter of its success. Or else. This is arbitrary and irrational. It just doesn't work that way. Your standards are too high. You expect steel to bend in your hands as if it was plastic. So, somewhere between 0 and 100% success rate is your problem. I am puzzled by this ‘doubt’ which sounds like a needless burden. So I don’t think I can help you, except to say, Why not adjust down a bit? And don’t overthink it. Try to see the weakness in artistic expression as a gift.

 

I suppose it's a push on my own inability? I write music and can attest to Eliot's thesis of not being a proper transfer of the emotion I "want" to put in it. That, on top of being an analytical formalist, has rendered my view of music very technical, and "open ended" to a point where the answer doesn't matter. 

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5 hours ago, Willibald said:

It seems to me, to put it harshly, that you burden human efforts first with unattainable goals and then lament that we fall short of them. Which mortal being had ever total control over how its utterances, creations and works are perceived? If we believe the statements of modern sociology, biology and communications theory, it is impossible. 

Also, I do not think that this was T.S. Eliot’s point. And our disagreement on Eliot illustrates perfectly the rôle of interpretation which makes every experience of text, pictures, music, even scenery and landscapes so individual. When Eliot stresses tradition as an important resource to create new works, he is probably also thinking of its role in ensuring common interpretations, in enabling people to share experiences due to a common vocabulary. The ultimate actualisation of a work is an individual act, but a common understanding helps to cross the chasms between the creators of an opportunity of experience – a work of art – and the audience. That is one of the reasons one needs to be familiar with culture, traditions, conventions etc. to really understand the works produced within its framework. I hear galant music differently since I become more familiar with the musical thinking of its time, with the tools at a composer’s disposal, their self-image and so forth. Still, my experience will be much different from that of a galant patron. What it will be is: Meaningful. In a purely subjective, but also in a more objective way, as there are universals of experience, meaning, emotion, intellectual thought within a broad cultural framework, steeped in tradition.

Sorry for the rambling tone, I am not used to write such texts in English. 

 

Of course the traditions of the past matter when producing art today, but do you really think and absolute piece of music by Haydn is any better or worse than a program piece of music by Strauss? Their value comes in, at least to me, the technical aspects of their writing, since this question of emotion is so incredibly open ended to the point where discussing it is pointless.

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9 hours ago, Monarcheon said:

I've written two pieces. One of them labels the E4 as is in the title and is an experimental dadaist demonstration of the objective. The other one labels the E4 as a metaphorical concentration of all of a narrator's feelings towards someone concentrated into 4 seconds, expressively.
Now if you look at those two pieces without their titles or suggested meaning, you'll know that while the meaning is more close to "E4 held for four seconds", does not a. mean it was the piece's primary intent (it wasn't) or b. that note has any inherent value to me or you (it doesn't). They may to you; I can't do anything about that. But that doesn't mean I can't feel upset that there's still "stuff" inside me that isn't expressed in what I've written.

 

 

"Music is the space between the notes"

Claude Debussy

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46 minutes ago, Maarten Bauer said:

So , why would we then compose music?

 

I do it now because I'm relatively proficient at it. Occasionally I'll find myself wanting to "express" something, but it never comes out that way for me.

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On 9.3.2018 at 2:59 AM, Monarcheon said:

Of course the traditions of the past matter when producing art today, but do you really think and absolute piece of music by Haydn is any better or worse than a program piece of music by Strauss? Their value comes in, at least to me, the technical aspects of their writing, since this question of emotion is so incredibly open ended to the point where discussing it is pointless.

 

If something has meaning is a different discussion from ranking works of art according to which of them is better than the other one. Therefore, one needs criteria what constitutes a good work and what shows it is better than another one. 

I read some literature on music theory in Renaissance and Baroque, and what is a common thread is that good technique isn’t anything abstract, but the distillation of successful strategies to produce works of music that reach their audiences, are pleasurable to hear, are able to convey their intents in a way that a somewhat musical listener can discern them. Baroque music knows a range of devices that try to express emotions, but also human acts or things in nature in a way that the musical painting produces a whole picture in the mind of the listener. Now, similar things can be said of music of different times and places as well. What they have in common: “Technique” is a means to an end, and is developed by sifting through the possible means and identifying the usable ones. You can produce pieces that show parts of this “technique” separated from its end, which gives something like those endless pages of study literature (etudes …). Lifeless music. But, soon one notices that the best etudes are the ones where even in simple study literature for improving e.g. one’s instrumental skills, the composer slips in a bit of real music that makes one smile, weep, or lifts one’s heart. (Stephen Heller and Béla Bartok, I’m looking at you …)

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On 3/8/2018 at 11:53 AM, Monarcheon said:

...the notes written on the page have no more meaning than a poem does...

...until you listen to it.

Even so, the notes would hold a profound and specific meaning to the composer. 

The "meaning" is always there...just up for each listener to discover for themselves. 

Until it's heard, music is Schrödinger's cat. It's both meaningful and meaningless. It has the potential to be deeply moving, or instantly forgettable, or anywhere in between. 

Hardly worthless, I think. 

I won't bother trying to address the whole "100% convey what you feel" nonsense. There's countless papers and dissertations on semantics in music that do it better than I. That said...I don't think anyone should care what the composer is trying to force on you. What's more important is "what did you feel?"  

*shrug*

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On 11/3/2018 at 12:51 PM, Monarcheon said:

I do it now because I'm relatively proficient at it. Occasionally I'll find myself wanting to "express" something, but it never comes out that way for me.

 

OK. Now I understand better your point of view when reviewing the pieces of others. 

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I'm not confident that I can change your view, but here goes:

People's emotional interpretation of music is not totally arbitrary, it is very obviously connected to recognizable aspects of the music in a very consistent manner.

We, as music consumers, are probably not like computers whose internal states can be enslaved by notes as if they were encoded 1's and 0's in a piece of software. It is very difficult to predict how a person is going to interpret a musical object, but from there it doesn't follow that there is no (statistical) correlation at all between the intent of a savvy composer and its consumers' experiences of it.

As I write this post, I feel a high confidence that you will read it and have your internal state impacted by it somehow. I feel a lower, yet considerable amount of confidence that you will find a meaning in it that is in the general direction of what I intended to convey, however far off the mark it may be.

But I feel totally certain that I could never consistently transfer to you any ideas and feelings I wanted to via mere English. For that, you would pretty much have to be me, or be neurally wired up to my brain, and you're neither (as far as I'm aware).

It does, however, not follow from there that my words are utterly worthless because they don't transfer information perfectly. The same goes for music: You can't say it's futile because it doesn't consistently and precisely transfer a predicted meaning or feeling.

At least music does make people feel positive feelings. Even sad music does, but people still identify it as "sad" very consistently for whatever reason. Is that worthless? People grow attached to it. Music also has monetary value: It helps sell digital audio, records, movies, games, concert tickets, etc. People have always gathered around music, so it even appears to be integral to human community. Is community worthless?

As a composer, the trouble is finding and keeping your own motivations to create..

Edited by Hugget Zukker

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