Friday, December 5, 2014

Music Is Invisible

One of the strangest things about music is its invisibility. Music is literally nothing but compression waves in air, and hence invisible. Oh sure, you can call the score music, but that is no more the actual realisation of the work of music than, perhaps, a photo of a musician playing: both are mute.

I was thinking of this as I was listening to some music last night. A photo of the scene would have revealed nothing but a guy sitting in a chair, gazing at the ceiling! But a great deal of music was being heard--all invisible. It made me realise how much we 21st century folks rely on visual images when we listen to music. Much if not most music nowadays is listened to in conjunction with moving images:

Sorry if that made the point a little too strongly! But you see, I think that the linking of music so tightly with imagery has resulted in the defining down of the music. If you want to make a lot of sales, I guess you put up the most striking imagery, which is often sexual. This puts the imagery first and makes you select music to go with the images and not the reverse. So this is what you end up with. Rather the opposite of the real nature of music, which I think is more transcendent:


Rickard Dahl said...

Well, there's always opera and it certainly requires the visual element in most cases (obviously you can listen to it without watching a live performance or a recorded one). In a sense it does put the visual part first (unless maybe if the composer is also writing the script and all that other stuff like Wagner did).

Then there's movies, TV shows, video games etc. and the results certainly vary from case to case (from amazing to bad). I think the main difficulty is for the composer to connect the dots between the imagery and the music. Obviously there are cases where the composer simply writes bad (as in bland or uninspired) music, with or without images. Either way, there's great music even when the imagery is put on the highest priority.

By the way, here's a good mix of imagery and music (Henry Cowell's Heroic Dance, which sounds amazingly unheroic (in a dry neoclassical way) but it's a nice piece actually, with some even more unheroic video recording):

An even better example is the Suite for Woodwind Quintet by Henry Cowell juxtaposed with video recordings from the Antarctic and Arctic (I've linked this one before, notice how the video recording type is adjusted to suit the various characters of the movements):

Bryan Townsend said...

Of course, you are right to bring up all these counter-examples. I often, even in concerts, listen to music with my eyes closed as I find that is less distracting. Thanks for the interesting Cowell examples.