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Just how 'universal' is music? That seems to be a very broad question, but here's some background to clarify: In the past, there have been many different ways of creating music. The only real standard of pitch is the octave, which is two notes exactly one half or twice the others' frequency. Between that, there have been tons of different ways of dividing the octave (12-tone, just intonation, 19 tone, 31 tone, pitch bending etc.) which obviously resulted in some very different types of music. When I listen to Armenian duduk music, for example, it all sounds very similar to me, a combination of familiar western music scales and modes with slightly bent pitches. I presume that they have many different types of music within their own culture, as we do in the west, and as every culture probably does. So, would our music sound similar to someone unfamiliar with it, as a person from a small Asian or African village that had its own, old and untainted musical tradition. Would they be able to distinguish...

Thanks for your question. I can think of a couple ways ofanswering your question, we'll see if you think any of them areworthwhile. It is often said in evolutionary accounts of human beings thatmusic is a universal feature, because it served or still serves somesurvival function. If one could indeed map the 'need' for musicagainst an evolved feature of the human brain, then that would provemusic is not merely cultural (and thus whether there is music in aparticular culture would be contingent). However, to evaluate thisevolutionary account empirically, presumably one would have torigorously define music, and distinguish it from language, poetry,noises, imitation, etc. And arriving at such a definition doesn'tseem easy for precisely the reasons you raise. Similarly, it is often pointed out thatcultures in cold climates have many words for snow, while culturesfrom tropical climes have few or none. Many words are needed in theformer case to indicate differences that culture finds...

Recently I've had trouble comprehending the idea of a divide between music and noise. I was wondering, are noise and music one and the same? To compose something with the intention that it be noise music seems paradoxical to me, since music and noise seem to be two opposite ends on the line of 'sound'. Yet there exists noise music and even freeform jazz, with completely random notes and seemingly no structure at all. Is this still music? It seems to me that music is a form of art, and art is expression - so there is no reason really why this kind of noise shouldn't be classed as music, since it is the artists intention that it is music, even if its just random noise being recorded. I'm having real trouble understanding whether this is an actual problem or not. It seems to me there shouldn't exist any kind of boundaries in music (and so no boundaries between music and noise?), yet I am reluctant (for some intuitive reason perhaps?) to acknowledge these noise projects as forms of music. Thanks for your...

A similar question has already been asked. Have a look at: http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/729 It seems to me that 'music' and 'noise' are being used in twodifferent senses here. First, an 'objective' sense, as types ofthings whose properties can be enumerated. Second, as values: 'I likethis', 'this is important', 'this is what music should be' and soforth. Here as in so many cases, distinguishing these senses andkeeping them separate is very difficult, perhaps impossible. It may be possible to give a fully objective description of sometypes of noise (e.g. 'white noise') but otherwise the term is appliedin a value-laden fashion: what is noise to one person is joyfullyraucous to another; even to the same person at a different time.Moreover, music is not a thing, it is a cultural production and a culturalreception, and any definition will have to rely upon cultural normsand histories. So, a piece of contemporary music that appears asnoise at first may 'resolve' itself into something...

Do you think it is a bad thing that musical genres are fragmenting? In the past there were clear movements in music, Baroque, classical, Romantic. As time goes on, movements seem to become more specialised, with the Beatles and rock then split into punk, metal, indie, dance, hip-hop, soul, nu-punk, nu-metal. Each movement seems to be targeted at a sub-section of the population, and so music is losing some of it universal themes. Music created with less artisic merit and effort is reaching the public. Is the inevitable result of new technology, or the rise of an instant gratification cuture that wants to listen and create without any serious effort?

I'm not convinced that European music ever had the clear periodisation that you describe. 'Baroque', 'Classical' and so forth tend to be descriptions applied by historians of music after the fact. In fact, at any one time, there were thousands of composers, working to specialised markets, with different players (large, small, amateur, professional, private, or public) and publishers in mind, with regional styles, and so forth. It may well be that the music scene you describe will, a generation from now, be seen as much more simple and homogeneous than it now appears. History naturally simplifies music just as it naturally simplifies philosophy. Is there more variety now, do genres ‘fragment’ more quickly? Probably, but this may be only a matter of degree, rather than an essential change. Nor am I convinced by the argument that the pursuit of a public, or the employment of new technology, are new phenomena. There were, and still are, ‘artists’ more concerned with making music than with having...