What is the difference between music and an aesthetically interesting grouping of sounds? I ask because I was listening to the opening of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and I while I found the sounds which were made to resemble a flock of birds to be very interesting and even quasi-musical sounding at times it didn't sound like music. It really is brilliant so why or why wouldn't it qualify as music? Listen to it yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0DeA6PPbMI/

Your question is very interesting: it is, I think, an instance of a question that might generally be asked of any particular instance of any art: what is it that makes it the kind of work that it is?

To fix ideas, consider the following question, which Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, says that he's written down in a book at home: "If a man hacking in fury at a block of wood...make there an image of a cow, is that image a work of art? If not, why not?"

Your question, like Stephen's, has to do with the difference between a genuine artwork and an otherwise identical grouping of sounds, not, however, produced in the context of a work of art.

It therefore seems to me that brilliance alone is not enough for something to qualify as music; the birds outside my window sometimes produce a brilliant series of notes. But the sounds produced by the birds aren't music, even if they are musical, whereas the sounds heard on the soundtrack of The Birds are, it would seem an instance of music? The question, is, however, what makes the latter music and the former not? Is it that there was an artist in the one case and not in the other? Is it that the latter, but not the former, is the product of intention?

These and other answers have been given in work on aesthetics, which, long before Stephen Dedalus wrote in his notebook, was centrally concerned with defining the nature of art, and hence engaging, on even a more general level, the kind of questions that you and Stephen raise about particular arts. In the twentieth century, objections were raised to the very attempt to define the concept of art, on the grounds that the concept did not admit of a definition, but was instead, maybe, a 'family resemblance term', meant to capture a cluster of interrelated features, no one of which was essential or necessary to the concept, but which could overlap and criscross in all sorts of ways, and were nevertheless also not simply amenable to a disjunctive definition.

Might it be the case that individual arts are like that? Or are there criteria for determining what constitutes an instance of a particular art? If the latter, then does the concept of art admit, after all, of definition?

For a very extended, and musically informed discussion of your question, I would strongly recommend Roger Scruton's book The Aesthetics of Music. He develops a sophisticated account of the way that we use our imaginations to experience the notes as moving in dance-like ways.

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