Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sound Art

In class this week the term, "sound art" was brought up a few times, but we never really touched on the subject of what sound art is and why it is different than music. I tried researching sound art and found no reliable sources and the non-reliable sources all contradicted each other, so bare with me.

The first thing that came to mind when sound art was first mentioned was musique concrete. Musique concrete was established by a french composer named Pierre Schaeffer in 1940s, when audio recording was first established. Pierre took various train noises and recorded them, then made a musical collage.

This is unlike music because it is just manipulation of found sounds. Music generally follows rules of theory and has an organized set of tensions and resolutions that work together smoothly to create an aesthetically pleasing piece. Musique concrete is unlike music because it does not flow together well, it is more like sound chunks that are played one after another.

Serialism and atonality were mentioned in a few of the contradicting articles I found. Serialism is a type of atonality that takes the I, V, IV in music and throws it out the window, and replaces it with a twelve-tone pattern technique. Serialism can actually sound pretty good if the composer knows what their doing, so I wouldn't call serialism sound art.

The second thing that came to mind when we brought up sound art in class, was Charles Ives. Charles Ives used the techniques called polytonality and aleatoria. The majority of his music sounds like a pandemonium of cacophony. It is not organized (at least on the surface), does not flow, does not have organized sets of consonance and dissonance, and is definitely not aesthetically pleasing. Yet, I think the term sound art fits it well because Ives tried to put across a message about our ideals and standards for music, and his dislike towards them.

Questions: Does music have to be aesthetically pleasing? Is organized/disorganized sound, sound art?

Re: "Notes and Music" by Kristina

Kristina ended her latest post with the question: Is a birdsong music or language?

In class this past week we defined art as an aesthetically pleasing piece of literature, music, or visual composition that connotes something intentional and does not occur in nature. Our working definition of music is: organized sound. Since music lies within the confides of art, that also means that music must be intentional and not occurring in nature.
Can bird singing be considered music even though it occurs in nature? One of the main problems with trying to answer this question, is that we have not yet defined "nature" operationally. Yet, most definitions of nature state that it is independent of human activity. Red-bellied Woodpeckers will find the materials that will produce the loudest volume when they peck. Is this because more birds will hear, or because they enjoy the sound of their drumming? Animal music is a touchy subject because we do not want to anthropomorphize and at the same time we do not want to make the claims saying that only humans can make music. To answer Kristina's question, using the conclusions we have come to in class so far, birdsong is not music.
Yet, what about bird language? On Cornell's Ornithology Lab web page, it states that there are at least three types of bird vocalizations: Chirp notes, call notes, and song. Chirp notes are short and high pitched, they are typically used to keep in contact with birds of the same species or to publicize that they found food. Call notes are louder and more multifaceted than chirp notes. Call notes include calls made to: mark territory, warn others of a predator, prompt parents to feed them (baby birds), keep in contact with another when in a flock, and to navigate when they are migrating nocturnally. Songs are the most intricate bird vocalization and are used to mark and defend a territory as well as to attract a mate.
Looking at all of the ways in which birds use vocalizations to communicate different things to each other, it is safe to conclude that bird songs and bird vocalizations in general are language.

Questions: How shall we define nature? Does the definition of nature limit music to a product of humans? Do we only view bird songs as musical because they (sometimes) sound aesthetically pleasing to us?