Uni days: Sound vs Music

by Danica

I’ve spent a lot of the past couple of months answering quizzes, researching music concepts, listening to music I’d never consider listening to were it not for my course, and writing essays.

Fun. (Sarcasm not intended.)

One of my subjects for uni is called Sound Synthesis and the Sound Environment. As our lecturer explained it on the first day, synthesis is the thesis + the anti-thesis of, in this case, how sound behaves, and the synthesis of sound is about putting sounds together. Basically, this subject is about composing music via electronic means. No, we’re not creating techno music. Actually, this semester, our assessments were about recording “found” sounds — everyday sounds as you would hear them in the real world — and creating compositions using software available at university (ProTools, Mbox, Absynth, etc.) so that our compositions consist of “found” sounds and “abstract”/”effected” sounds — not at all like how it sounds in the real world. The result is not techno, electronic dance music, electro-pop or other similar genres of music, as I said before (though the methods of composing music may be similar), but instead you get music like:

Yes, all of the above are classified as “music”. If you don’t think that’s music, then you need to open your mind more. John Cage, famous worldwide for his “silent piece”, 4’33” (a pianist sits at a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds without playing a single key), and known for beginning the electronic music genre, once wrote:

I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purpose any and all sounds that can be heard.

In the same text (The Future of Music: Credo, published in his book Silence), he also writes:

If this word “music” is sacred and reserved for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century instruments, we can substitute a more meaningful term: organisation of sound.

This “music” is the kind of thing I have to listen to for hours so that when they play a two-minute excerpt in my exam, I can distinguish whether the excerpt comes from the beginning, middle or end of the entire piece (I am sitting in a room lasts for 17 minutes). I’m still getting the hang of this music — I still wouldn’t choose to listen to electronically composed music over, say, the Backstreet Boys (I love them) — but it has definitely given me a wider appreciation for this (these) genre(s) of music.

As a musician, I’m also learning to appreciate my sense of hearing more. Once, in a group conversation, a friend asked whether we’d prefer to be deaf or to be blind, to not be able to hear or to not be able to see. Without a moment of hesitation I answered that I’d rather be blind. Personally, I think it would be more of a struggle to learn sign language and have everyone around me learn (some) sign language to be able to communicate with me, rather than learning how to walk with a cane or a guide dog. I think it would be more difficult to put up with the fact that I could no longer hear; whereas, if I lost my sight, I could fumble around and my sense of touch would be heightened.

We also briefly studied this guy, R. Murray Schafer, who introduced to the world the “soundscape”. “A soundscape is any collection of sounds, almost like a painting is a collection of visual attractions.” We watched a video that featured him talking about sounds and soundscapes in our second SSSE lecture. The video blew me away — I was wowing like I was hearing a really good preaching — and I guess this is where my appreciation of my sense of hearing was birthed.

Listen by David New – NFB

I suggest you watch the video. I think you’ll also learn to appreciate sounds and noise as they are instead of immediately reaching for the iPod when you’re on the train, or closing your window when the car that pulls up next to yours at the stoplight is blasting music that drowns out your own (though, I admit, I still wind up my windows).

I think I’ve spent too much of my time with my head in books.

– “Keep moving forward.” – Walt Disney