Why do we love music?

A compilation of thoughts. Made by Nicolas Bamberski.

Well, I saved the interesting thread from last/this week and compiled most of the posts in a somehow logical/sequential order.
The whole thing together is kind of confusing but is definitely good food for thoughts, and one of the deepest thread I've seen on a music list so far.

At 05:38 PM 10/5/95 -0400, Matthew Robert Chicoine wrote: Greetings to global rhythm souls. I wanted to relate something I wrote down yesterday that happened, not necessarily "acid jazz," more about music in general. I documented the event as follows: Wed. October 4, 1995 @ 6:30ish PM
Sitting in a non-descript cafe on north campus , I struggled through JP Sartre's "Nausea". The novel got heavier with every page, weighing down on my mind with increasing intensity. What is this talk of "existence"? Is Sartre neurotic, a madman, or could anybody, including my own impressionable self, fall victim to the perpetual consciousness of nothing? I have believed it to be true and have myself gotten a suffocating glimpse of the Nausea Sartre speaks of.
What grounds me in reality, often prone to paranoias and delusion? Music, of course! The only . . . force which can fill me with such inspiration, joy, purpose. Close my eyes and feel the music, listening beyond hearing, escaping the trivialities that pinch and pick at my head. Float above, well-up with ecstasy, tears forming at the corners of my eyes. How do I put these feelings into words? How do I go about making JPS understand, as he struggles to make me understand him?
I come upon the last five pages. Ironically, Jamiroquai is piped into the previously silent cafe. My despair, my dwelling on JPs banterings are distracted momentarily. Words pass before my eyes, but my mind is paying homage to the ears.
What's this? Sartre's last hour in his town of Bouville and he requests to hear music, jazz music no less. He listens, he ponders, he is relieved and the Nausea passes. He feels the music drifting somewhere beyond the condemnation of existence, embodying SOMETHING. What it is, he knows not, but ITS NOT NOTHING.
The music changes in my dim cafe. The Police- SYNCHRONICITY . . . JP and I ponder, touched, getting a glimpse of that amorphous, inexplicable SOMETHING.
PP. 178 " 'That was the day, that was the hour, when it all started'" JP begins to understand . . .
Apologies if this is long, if this does not seem appropriate, but I assume that we are all fascinated with the power of music or else we would not be here, right? Wanted to share with my fellow idealists this real life experience. Peace and don't lose your rhythm.

At 11:31 AM 10/6/95 CDT, Nicolas Bamberski wrote: Brilliant. You have managed, through your prose, to expose the essence of music (and, at a larger scale, arts) as well as its importance. I will keep your words in mind for those countless occasions, those conversations in which one wants to pay homage to the driving element of his/her life (in our case, music) but ideas and thoughts come out too fast and too numerous and end-up in a confusing result (of course, by that time, one's altered state adds to the confusion *smile*).
II was in a little neighborhood bar, the Matchbox, last night with my friend James Anthony and we proceeded to some heavy wine tasting (wow, those California vineyards have finally reached maturity and the quality is now excellent). Anyway, we got into a discussion that relates to your thoughts. Basically we acknowledged our luck. We have total access to those additional layers, let's call them arts, that surround the unavoidable materialistic kernel of our existence. We added the notion of beautifulness to the notion of efficiency.
I witness and witnessed too many individuals who don't bother to discover or acknowledge those layers, who are comfortable within the above-mentioned kernel and are unknowingly missing out on most of what makes the human a superior animal. It's hard to accept the fact that they are in fact a majority. Hell, just cruise to the nearest suburb and observe efficient, comfortable ugliness.
II don't have the ambition of doing anything about that, but I have wishes. I wish more people could reach those mind-enhancing layers of appreciation and creativity. Once one has reached one of them, one has reached all of them. The gap is filled and the essence of life has been discovered. Music is the first layer I reached, and I know there are tons more, and I am happy because my life will flow on "everything" and not "nothing". Maybe I sound confusing; sorry, english is my second language and my brain is still bathing in fermented california grape. However, I feel like I might sound pretentious but trust me, I'm very humble about all this.
What's with me today?!? :)
dj bambi - chicago

At 01:44 PM 10/6/95 -0400, Jeffrey M. Peacock wrote: I'll apologize for continuing what may be, to some, an annoying strain:) To add my cents (maybe one, maybe two)...It's funny how we can talk about such things...we can think about such things...but, unfathomable how we can truly not feel any of these things unless in the immediate grasp of emotion, for lack of a better word..

Music represents a part of ourselves, our psyche, our minds, which cannot be touched, nor accessed, by words alone...people lose touch with the inner world when they get wrapped up in that which exists in the outer world... Artists and their patrons haven't a monopoly on art, however, they do have a monopoly on the artistic aesthetic...it seems such a mind-blowing concept to me that "people" out there can't seem to enjoy the music that I enjoy so much "in here"...i'm sure many of you have the same thoughts...BUT alas, this is subjective, involving taste, and therefore must be excluded from discussion...

Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, "Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent..." THUS, to remain true to my logical positivist roots, I must be silent about that which cannot be spoken in words...it must merely be felt instead of said...shown instead of described... Again, pardon for my digression...I hope those of you who are into this discussion have "got" what I hope I meant... ;)

At 11:04 PM 10/8/95 -0400, William Dwyer wrote: Sorry, but I'm not that familiar with Wittgenstein's views; however, I was concerned that you may have been quoting him without understanding the position of logical positivism. I'm convinced by the following that you are familiar the phiolosophical underpinnings.

I agree that there are many feelings and emotions that just cannot be expressed well in prose. Poety, and poetry combined with melody (songs), serve to communicate those emotions and feelings. Obviously, some people are better at this than others, as some people are better at expressing themselves using prose. Language has its limitations, but those who are more skilled can overcome some of those limitiations. However, there probably will always be a gulf between what can be expressed in "mere words," and the vast range of feelings that can be expressed and felt in music. One of the problems here is that we have been using the word, music, whithout adequately defining this complex term. I, for one, would be able to make only a feeble attempt at doing so, but, as with education, because we have all experienced it, we think we understand it when we most likely hold many naive conceptions about the subject. Yet, we all, including recent list posters, use the term as if we agree on its meaning. Then we proceed to elaborate upon recent experiences (...get off your feet and jam!).

Yes, of course. We can agree that, for example, Groove Collective's "Nerd (Deep in the Mix)" is really "phat," but we mostly realize that our feelings about what this statement means really depends upon our unique, individual interpretation. Yet, we feel a shared appreciation, enjoyment (choose an adjective) of that "music." Yeah, now I should shut up and not analyze further, but it is in my character (to be anal).

Thanks, Jeff, for an excuse to run off, and apologies to those who felt compelled to read, but were put off by the bull.

- Bil

At 11:04 PM 10/7/95 +1000, Marc Wright wrote: Man, this thread is touching on something I've thought about many times. I thought I was one of a rare few who had this nearly overwhelming passion for music. But, now it seems that there may be many more than I thought. I don't tend to put into words what I really *feel* about music. And that's because the feelings are just so intense. So, I remain quiet. I often hold back in conversations about music, because I'm sure the person I'm talking to could not equal my love this stuff, and would soon think me to getting a bit *too* fired up.

I gotta say - I *love* the way you guys write. The 3 postings I've read on this subject have all been inspirational. I enjoy that sorta shit. I only wish I could keep up.

- Marc

At 02:46 PM 10/7/95 -0400, Jeffrey M. Peacock wrote: Curveball time...

In around '91, a house artist/producer out of New York, whom some of you may now know as Roger S./Roger Sanchez/the S-Man, with a track on the Strictly Rhythm label called, "Celebrate life"...it opens with a spoken-word intro on music which basically says "Music is the basis for all life...Without music, we have no meaning, no joy, and no soul...It comes from your innermost thoughts and emotions...Music is the celebration of life...Celebrate life..." In a less wordy vein, I think this is what we've been trying to say, pardon my theft of proxy ;) Any detractors speak now or forever hold your peace...


At 08:53 PM 10/8/95 -0400, Jeffrey M. Peacock wrote: Well, if one wishes to read even further into "music is the basis for all life," one could say the songwriter was referring to a rhythm to which all things are tied...I don't think I have ti explain that further.. Strangely, though, I'm not so sure the songwriter was thinking that deeply but far be it from me to deny him such artistic and intellectual license...


On Sun, 8 Oct 1995, Marc Wright wrote:

I agree with this quote, but think it should read "Music is the basis for *our* lives". I don't think it's the basis for *everyone's* life. And if we take the quote literally - 'all life' also means bugs and trees and stuff. Great... I've just stuffed up a wonderful quote.

- Marc.

At 11:16 PM 10/8/95 -0400, William Dwyer wrote: This concern about whether music is a basis for ALL life depends on your definition of "music," as I mentioned in my earlier post. You can find evidence in the literature for some form of "music" that all life can "hear," such as in the "music of the spheres." However, we obviously are talking about music created by people for people. I don't believe my cat really cares for acid jazz or any other "music" I listen to, but some people argue that classical music makes cows give more milk, and other play music to make their plants grow better. But enough!


At 07:14 PM 10/8/95 -0700, Jeff Slattery wrote: The connection has been around for a long time...check this out from 1687:
So, when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pagaent shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.
-J. Dryden
keep the faith,

At 01:31 PM 10/9/95 -0400, Matthew Robert Chicoine wrote: Greetings,

I know some people might be reluctant to carry on this discussion, but just skip the heavy, self-indulgent shit if you ain't into it. Anyways, I remember reading the poem by Dryden last year in an English class. Yeah, I think Dryden's take on the situation was ahead of its time; the poem in its enitirety actually uses a lot of anomotopea (sp?), aka the use of words to convey a sound or noise (eg. "boom").

Thinking about the later poetry of the beats (appropriate, huh?) and even moreso of the styles purveyed by modern freestylers and rappers, we can see how this aspect of language has become important in our portrayal of music through words. Point being, Dryden's poem is dope.

As far as music as an all-encompassing entity, I kind of see the idea. There has been a time-worn debate over what music is (can we define it?), and more importantly, is music the "universal" language. Ethnomusicologists and the like are quick to say no, that this is a trite, played myth. They have come to this conclusion based on different culture's unique reactions to certain types of music. Certain African cultures, when played Western classical music, became agitated instead of moved and had difficulty getting into it. The same could be said of western culture when they have been exposed to music of other cultures, their hierarchal egoisms writing the music off as "primitive" and the like. So certainly, a particular piece of music will not signify the same thing to different people. Therefore music is not the universal language, right? Nu-uh. For anybody to think that a piece of music will touch different people in the same way is naive and ridiculous. Of course not, music is a vague and abstract entity that has very personal, very open connections to the greater emotions, ideas, and feelings that are conjured up in the presence of music. Music is not science, we can not explain music in words. What we "get out" of music is individual, but the point is that regardless of how we feel about certain types of music, you will have some deeper reaction to certain types of music. You will be uplifted by certain songs, be turned off by others. But here it is clear that music is "speaking" to everybody, saying different things, but "speaking" nonetheless.

The other very important aspect of this is that certain people will better understand this language, through their personal translations and/or their mastery of the language. Others, as is most often the case, are oblivious to the power of this language, and are not hearing (because there not "listening") like some.

So why, then, are we here chatting and sharing on this list? It becomes apparent that we will be drawn to certain strains of the language over others, depending on what types are able to effect us the most deeply. Hence we are here to share and expound on our love for soul, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and a basic love for contemporary expiremental music, music that hasn't sold all of its soul to technology or commercialism, but music that retains the complex textures of jazz, the emotion of soul, the syncopation of funk, the technology and lyricism of hip-hop, (all of which are inheritantly similar in many ways) and throws them all into a musical stew, breaking down the boundaries of "music" (does music, no quotes, have boundaries?), culture, time, social and racial misconceptions. THIS music is universal in nature: dynamic, ever changing and expirimenting, adapting and fusing eclectisism. Even though we argue about labels, the "jazz" is appropriate, for the spirit and philosophy of jazz as forged by our inspirational heroes survives and expands in the music we live.

Whoooooeeeeeeee! Did I just go off on a tangent or what. God damn! Just a few (!) things runnin through my mind. This is the portion of the text where I apologize to anyone not into this, anybody who thinks this is a big load of shit, anybody who thinks this discussion is pretentious. I always felt, though, as I'm sure others do, that this list is a resource that should be used to share thoughts and ideas that relate to, one, the music we love, and two, what (this) music means to us personally. I'ma shut the hell up now.

Peace out to all.


At 12:50 PM 10/9/95 -0700, Teresa Wilmott wrote: Well, I'm a bit confused about the music and science connection, myself. I think I'll probably stay confused - it's a mind bender alright. Still... as I was sorting through email this morning, a friend walked into my office with a book that I had loaned him called LANGUAGE, MUSIC AND MIND by a woman named Diana Raffman. As my friend pointed out, the title is a bit misleading. The book isn't as general and accessible as it sounds. It's an extensive analysis of ineffable (verbally inexpressible) musical knowledge. For anyone who is interested in this topic seriously, there is quite a literature. Ray Jackendoff's research group (at MIT, I think) has done a lot of work on this and there are some other books on related topics like: A GENERATIVE THEORY OF TONAL MUSIC by Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff (Ray Jackendoff is both a linguistics philosopher and a clarinet player) WAYS OF THE HAND: THE ORGANIZATION OF IMPROVISED CONDUCT by David Sudnow which is a very cool sounding book about what is happening cognitively when the author learns how to improvise jazz on the piano.

The line of thinking that I'm familiar with isn't all that focussed on the cultural aspect of music - these researchers assume some universals of psychological experience.

That's two academic musical comments in one month. Enough. I'm just out of news bits. Hey Gordon, the new Step Jazz is great. I think the band was happy to see the good review of Karl's record. And Robert got a grin at the comment Barry made about the mixing - he thinks it's good when reviewers can be objective about local music. I don't know what Andy had to say about that...


At 02:15 AM 10/10/95 -0400, Tim G. Wagner wrote: Teresa-

On the Cog. Sci. and Jazz tip, you should check out Paul Berliner's Thinking In Jazz. It's a hefty volume but it is well written. It gets really into the technical side of things in terms of theory (music) but it really gets you in the head of the Jazz Musician. I read it back to back with the Sudnow book (which I think I'm probably going to read a second time) and it kind of gave a complete picture. Someone should teach a course about Jazz and cognitive processes, it would be damn interesting.


Tim FrOM Buffalo

At 05:04 PM 10/9/95 CDT, Nicolas Bamberski wrote: I had an agitated discussion (argument) with my russian friend Anatole on friday night. He's deep into classical music, plays a few instruments himself, and I am sure is musically talented. Our argument was about QUALITY of music, and we tried to keep tastes out of the discussion (hard). Anyway, him not being on this list I don't really want to talk about his arguments versus mine, that wouldn't be fair. I can, however talk about what we agreed on and that settled everything :)

On the listener's side of things, a piece of music is a collection of accoustic patterns generating feelings. On the musician's side of things, a piece of music is a collection of accoustic patterns transcribing feelings. [Our conversation stopped at this point]

I don't mean any offense, I know that's generalizing a lot and that definition might sound too scientific and actually degrading, but isn't it the goal of any musician to express his/her feelings, and if at the same time he/she can generate similar feelings in you, all is good?

Of course, the same patterns will generate very different feelings and emotions in different groups of people. Sometimes they will generate the same feelings and some element of the same group will try to repress them (remember rock'n roll patterns being called Devil's music by the Wasp). But people will adapt to some patterns, accept them and associate them with their own emotions. They will also grow tired of some patterns, after abusing them. And that's when musical TASTES come in action, your tastes consisting of the patterns that work on you.

I judge the quality of a piece of music by the way the musician uses and mixes patterns to generate feelings in the audience (thinking of it now, the 8th Dimension title "Mixed Emotions" is right on). However my judgement won't be accurate if I do not respond to some of the patterns, because I will be missing some information for my judgement. So, in a way, I just proved to myself that I cannot judge the quality of a music without considering my tastes first. Is that true? I would love to hear other people's comments. I cannot even judge the quality of a music based on its complexity, since some minimalism might just be there to put more weight on a pattern or another...

A good example for me of perfectly arranged patterns is Fila Brazillia's "One Z and 2 L's" on Pork Records. The way the bass lines sooths me deep inside, the way the african (or maybe brazilian, it's hard to tell) vocals relax me while generating some feeling of curiosity, and the way the break beat (almost jungle) percussions come in action to excite and disorient me: all this makes it a track of excellent quality for me. And I found out that some people react to it exactly the same way as I do, I'll quote another member of the list, he will name himself if he wishes (netiquette): "I was driving home from a friends house really pissed off. I was driving like a madman, steamin, until... the second to last song on the first side dropped. Oh my god, the shit just hit me like a wall. My mind was cleared instantly, I felt euphoric bobbin my head, singing along. I even closed my eyes for a second to groove deeper (not the best idea when driving a car). The chord changes are so sweet, and the African singing was the cherry on top. And then it jungalizes! That has to be the most production I've heard since maybe Shadow or W. C. Anyways, words tend to ruin the inexplicable, but thank you. But you must tell me what it is!".

Well, now you know :) and I'll let you sign your little review of Fila Brazillia's track.

Did I make an ass out of myself yet? did I just write about something that is so evident, simple and basic that nobody needs to write it or even say it? If I'm wrong, tell me now because this is the way I think about music when I spin, I do some case-sensitive pattern sequencing :P *yuck* I swear I'm not a geek! :P This thread kicks some major ass may I add...

dj bambi - chicago

At 07:35 PM 10/9/95 -0800, JASON BRANCAZIO wrote: This is my first public post about this topic...been lovin' it....Bambi wrote "On the listener's side of things, a piece of music is a collection of accoustic patterns generating feelings. On the musician's side of things, a piece of music is a collection of accoustic patterns transcribing feelings" When I first read that, I said 'exactly'...but now that I think of it, this quote misses one side of music a bit. The verb 'transcribing' applies to your friend's beloved classical music or to electronic music very well in fact, and if the world of music consisted of only these forms, then your quote would simply explain everything. What the quote doesn't hit is the experience of 5 or 10 people jamming on stage - for them that experience is generating feelings, and the music being played is a product of that generation, a sum greater than the total of its parts....the thing that would be doing the 'transcribing' in that situation is the recording technology. That's the beauty of improvisation/grooving - spontaneous eruption of the soul.

Jay B

At 08:50 PM 10/9/95 PDT, Gordon K. Hurd wrote: I thought I'd join in a little on this abstract thread we have going on. One of the first really philosophical discussions I've seen since I joined the list. One thing that I grabbed onto via Bambi's last post was the point of expressing oneself. I feel that this is really what music is about. Express your feelings. Express them to another person, maybe even only yourself. But it is that communication of expression, or expression of communication maybe, that makes music what it is--powerful, evocative, cleansing, disturbing, energizing, soothing, and so on, and so on.

It's that whole communication aspect that gets me excited and addicted to music. I've always had a problem expressing what I feel in the clumsy, sometimes misleading communications tool we call speaking. That's why I write, that's why I used to play music, and all the other pursuits I spend my time on. The very fact that by choosing a particular song on a particular album by a particular group (to use DJ'ing as an example) you can clue someone in as to how you're feeling, or substantiate a pervading feeling amongst a crowd, that's amazing.

Make the air vibrate with your horn, or your keyboard, or your speakers, or your drum, or even your plastic comb and kleenex. Do that and you make someone's eardrum vibrate, thusly vibrating their minds, their emotions, their body. Frankly, I'm a little overwhelmed by it all. Some say music is life, I'll venture to say that music is God. It makes us who we are. Okay, I'm done for now. Thanks to whoever started this whole thing. It's nice to go way out there every now and again


At 12:37 AM 10/10/95 -0400, Shamms wrote: Not a metaphor or an intellect reason for a season of want to bees (sting?), not a term to center on to center on another, not a circus of naive words meant to impress, not a lurking digression into angels on pins,.. none of these. MUSIC IS LIFE as trane knew (new) best when playing faster than the atoms swirl he almost saw what he came for (and Trane came through all Linghams at the same time into Yonis that doubted their own depth),.. white black sepia mauve crimson,.. MUSIC IS LIFE. Period. Blood. Nuff said!


At 04:43 PM 10/10/95 GMT+10, MR T MOSS [PHY] wrote: Music is life JAZZ IS LIVING.


At 09:55 AM 10/10/95 -0500, Mark Bowen wrote: "music is a collection of accoustic patterns transcribing feelings." Nicolas has really stated what i believe to be the overriding driving force behind music. Call it to scientific if you must but I really believe this is the governing principle.

Our brain is composed of millions of neurons. While we may share some basic wiring in common, most experts in neuroscience agree that the majority of connexions between neurons are formed as a result of experience rather than genetics. Now experience in this context really refers to any sensory input, like mom jumping up and down when you're a fetus not just life trauma etc. However I think this serves to illustrate the numerous different ways the wiring in your brain can be fine tuned.

Now a song is really a wave pattern generated electrically (in the case of stereos), passed through acoustic vibration and retranslated into electrical impulse in your brain. Each neuron conveys electrical impulses through modulating the periodicity and intensity of its firing pattern (sound musical?). I believe the temporal pattern of the song would interact differently with the different wiring schemes found in different peoples brains producing a different associations and finally different emotional perception. Thus you have musical taste.

"I cannot even judge the quality of a music based on its complexity, since some minimalism might just be there to put more weight on a pattern or another..."

Minimalism brings up another interesting point. Is complexity just the arrangement of sounds or can it encompass the arrangement of silences as well? I think it was actually George Michael back in the faith days who saidsomething about funky music involving careful placement or silences (paraphrased of course).

Mark Bowen

At 01:22 PM 10/10/95 -0400, Matthew Robert Chicoine wrote: Quickly, some books to check out referred through my ethnomusicology class: "Music & Trance"- Rouget: nuff said "Soul of Mbira"- P. Berliner: will demonstrate cross-cultural (perhaps ... univarsal) aspects of music, especially African musical and poetic tradition w/ jazz and hip-hop.

"Thinking in Jazz"- P. Berliner: an 800 some page account of jazz and improviation, and its function as a life metaphor. Haven't read these, except for parts of "Soul . . .", but I've heard much about them. Dope, dope, dope. Carrying on this whole discussion that has been occuring with such enthusiasm (I think). In fact, peeps are bombarding more ideas as I write this (2 messages in 10 minutes). Gotta roll to give a presentation on musical transcription (I kind of dog it.

What do you all think the purpose of transcription might be? What are the aims, and are they realistic?). More input on the way . . .Keep up the passion. Peace-