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What Is Music?
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What is Music?

I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding what exactly "music" is. The conversation began with him critiquing my favorite album of the year, Kanye West's Yeezus. He said that due to it lacking much melody (as also confirmed by Kanye, he said he wanted his producers to stray from melodic productions) it couldn't be classified as music. I then went on a rant criticizing nearly everything about modern music. It is this rant which inspired this article today, and the question, "what is music?"

Music is an art. An art that is up to interpretation and is nearly boundless. Although one may say that lack of melody makes something not music, or that lack of live instrumentation may make something not music, or even lack of singing may make it not music, this is actually a personal interpretation of what music is. If you are to say any of these things, are you ignoring the possibility that others may find that special something in audio that isn't suited to your desires? If you are to criticize the lack of things you consider to be musical quality, are you actually ignoring the musical quality found in their devoid state?

This is something I strongly dislike about the music industry today. Nearly every single writer and producer is working within a small bubble of musical art and creating "next big things" within this limited perspective. The bubble is basically limited to melodic tunes with centered leads in a major or minor key. Very few artists stray from melodic bombardments. Very few artists stray from centered leads. Very few artists stray from majors and minors. Very few artists are artists at all. Or, are they? Are artists those who create new ideas or those who create in general? Is a new idea a track which follows mainstream theory but is yet an 'original' track? Or is a new idea a track which discovers something new or brings something new into the mainstream bubble. But once this track is in the mainstream, will it be original any longer? The definition of originality versus copying in music is nonexistent and can't be defined no matter what. Why? Because music is an art.

My friend criticized Yeezus saying that it was a terrible album because it had no real music and shares no emotion. I would have to disagree and instead turn it around and say that it is a greater representation of music than any mainstream album in the past fifty years. He said that I needed love in my life due to my liking of Yeezus, but is that why I like the album? Kanye West visited the Louvre (a famous art museum in Paris, where Kanye records) very often during the creation of the album for visual inspiration. Imagine looking at a picture of a flower right next to a painting of an emotion. While one is easily accepted, imaginable, and even tangible in the real world, the other is a visual representation of something hard to grasp, unthinkable, and unreal. One form of art already exists and is based on other works of art while the other is fresh, it uses existing resources to create something new and hard to comprehend. Something that dares you like it when it seems so far fetched, so impossible. Maybe it's the anger Kanye expresses through the dark samples and far-fetched lyrics that appeals to me. Maybe it's the artistic direction he wanted, a limitless continuation of the unapologetic emotions found on his former album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. While mainstream music is the preferred art due to its familiarity, just like the picture of the flower, maybe Kanye wanted to create something unfamiliar and full of unrestricted emotion, just like the painter's vision of an emotion.

And what of older artists from the 60s such as the experimental Beatles or when jazz was popular in the form of Ray Charles or when soul was popular in the form of Otis Redding? All of these artists had much broader range than that of today. They used chromatic scales, jazz music theory, and strayed from tempos very often. These artists created among the most revered music of all time, yet their style has been forgotten. Their range has been dwindled down to what we have today in the mainstream.

But oh wait! There's more! What of the artists before recorded music such as Mozart and Beethoven? Their compositions, while in a major or minor key for the most part, are very expansive and feature even less restriction than that in the 60s! Classical music such as this tells stories through extremely long periods of time and expresses emotion just as well as anything today, except that it covers a wider range of the art of music. Going back even further you can find the existence of African percussive music and evidence of a lost Greek music theory based on tetrachords, devoid of harmonics.

It seems as if music evolves over time, but what becomes acceptable slowly narrows itself down and allows the discovery of future music theory to continue only to the most dedicated musicians. Music today primarily fills a small bubble, but there are those artists who have expanded even upon the art of Mozart and Beethoven to create an even larger artistic realm for the bubble of today to exist in!

So what, after all that, is music? The answer, everything audible.

Street Talk

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