Of Instruments and Words

In my view, communication is an essential component of effective music. Communication starts with awareness there is someone out there and there is something worthwhile to share.  The idea to be shared is formed and the decision to share the idea is considered.  The author of the idea expresses the idea in a mutually understood set of symbols.  The idea is presented or transmitted and received by another individual or group.  Finally, the idea is interpreted by the receiver.  Often the receiver provides feedback to acknowledge the message.  In general, this is the traditional definition of communication.

With that in mind, what if the message we are trying to understand is present in the wind.   What can the wind tells us?   It is cold (feel), there is a storm brewing (visual), it just rained some place close (smell), somebody is cooking a good meal close by (smell), the storm is powerful (very loud sound of air moving).  All of these elements are messages, information, useful stuff we generally associate with communication.  Yet, no one developed a formal message with defined symbols – we are simply using our experience to read the wind.

Can you tell how far away lighting struck with just your ears? Just count the duration in time (number of seconds) between the lightning flash and the sound of the lightning strike, multiply the number of seconds times 1100 feet and you have the approximate distance.   Is nature communicating with us or is this just information derived from observation?  If we act on this information and protect our self, is interpretation of a message from nature real communication?

Most people I have encountered and books I have read on the subject accept the notion that live instrumental music can communicate emotions from the musician to the listener. This notion gives birth to several questions. Can we classify musical phrases played by the musicians as communication symbols? Do musical instruments say something to people?  Why do musicians talk about the phrases they use on a regular basis as their musical vocabulary?  Does anyone actually have their musical vocabulary documented as a series of phrases with distinctive definitions for each phrase?  Do all musicians need to use the exact same vocabulary (and definitions) to communicate with their audience?

Communication starts with thinking. Do you think about the message contained in the music you create? Do you have to have the emotion in mind communicate that message to others (i.e. to play a sad song, you need to be sad)?  When you hear music in your head, does it change the way you feel?

In addition, how about this — If you created music, and the music only exists in your head, and the music impacts your emotions — is it Art?

Absurd? Perhaps not.

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