Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Esperanto

Music is a social construct like language. So suppose I invented a language. Esperanto. Then let's suppose I wrote a lot of poems in Esperanto. They might be very nice poems, but they're still in Esperanto. Schoenberg is like this, as are many composers of the twentieth century. My darling Messiaen falls into this same category. They may have composed very wonderful pieces, but they're still in Esperanto.

We don't count. Those of us who have studied and performed a lot of modern music forget that we speak Esperanto.

6 comments:

bc said...

I don't agree that music is a social construct, at least, not in the sense that language is. I think you can argue that the major scales (even more so the pentatonic scales) are natural objects, in the sense that the number pi is a natural object, and that since the first reed or clay flutes, humans have been studying and discovering the ramifications of the relationships between aural wavelengths--as, to grab for another analogy, livestock breeders have spent millenia working out the ramifications of various DNA patterns. I think the relationships between a dominant chord and its related tonic--they're analogous to Newtonian physics. That pull from the V to the I, it's like Earth's gravity pulling on that famous apple. (Language by contrast is "constructed" because we agree that the sound "apple" refers to the fruit; we didn't discover that relationship.) I may of course be entirely wrong--it depends on how strange you want your mysticism....

Dr.B said...

Ok. Let’s suppose you’re right. I am thinking about going to hear a couple of famous Persian singers. Is there any possibility that I will understand this?

bc said...

I wouldn't expect to be able to...moved I might be, able to do analysis, nope...but that's then a matter of learning their music...what I think I was trying to say was something like, the underlying physics of soundwaves is universal--so cadences are inherent in them, as, oh, I don't know, shapes of aircraft wings are somehow inherent in the physical laws of air and wind; and humans in making music are exploring their possibilities. Does that make sense? Again--it's a mystical statement, and both unarguable-against-able and also unprovable.....

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bc said...

on another hand in this, different cultures obviously do decide to handle the physics different ways, right? quarter-tone scales vs. our western scales (and let's not get into rhythm! though Jerry Garcia once had a nice remark about some music or other going against "our Western 4/4 body knowledge"). But you take any note and go up one octave, that upper note will always be twice as many vibrations per timespan as the first, and the octave down will be half (so "tuning" A--middle of "our" treble clef--is 440; A above the staff, 880, A at the top of the bass clef, 220. (Or at least I think so!) now you can make an argument for the cultural construction of the tempered scale vs. the pre-Bach naturally-tuned scale--and I would throw in as an amused side-glance that one of Lyndon LaRouch's party's argument is that A=440 is unnatural and the tuning A should be some other pitch. proving something but I have no idea what.

Dr.B said...

Dear Bruce, I was discussing how the music is a social construct, not how the physics of music is a social construct. The physics of language isn't a social construct either.