If you can’t hum the tune, is it music?



But then, I suspect I’m more open minded than most.

This was one of the points John Cage was trying to make when he made music from silence. There’s a statement that it is not silence, it’s still music, because there’s never silence (even the utterly deaf experience something of sound through vibration, though doubtless that experience is nothing I could understand, without living it, which remains a biggest fear of mine).

Cage asked it thusly: ‘What’s more musical, a truck driving by a music school or a truck driving by a factory?’

But even before you start listening to trucks, factories and air conditioners (I’ve done all of them, and found satisfaction), you have to leave room for entirely rhythm-led music. Or music too fast to be hummed accurately. Or polyphonic tunes that need more than a solo performance to communicate to someone.

(One of my favourite (if largely boring) stories is of me and a long gone friend, both ranting at each other about our favourite bit in an Underworld song. Both of us cited ‘that synth on the drop’, and proceeded to hum it at each other. We both took the opposing parts of a contrapuntal melody, so neither of us was singing the same thing, but together, we had the whole part we were talking about, uncoordinated, by surprise. We harmonised well.)

But I maintain that noise is music. All noise. And this makes my life richer. Spotting a nice counterpoint between the birdsong and the air conditioner. Trying to harmonise with a whining dog. The rhythms of engines.

All those sounds. So often making me feel like my life is not a life but a dance.

I once went to an installation by David Byrne called ‘playing the building’. A modified harpsichord, in the centre of the big round heart of the roundhouse, wires rocketing out of the back and all around the building, attached to motors, fans, solenoids and the like, so that as the keyboard was pressed, bits of the building would vibrate, breathe or be struck. The effect was mesmerising. Human created random industrial noise. Occasional accidental patterns.

For the rest of the day my brain was on fire. Every noise was part of a single symphonic piece. Everything.

And, to return to the core of the question; it’s the noise music, the odd, edxperimental and often tuneless stuff, that helps switch you to that wavelength.

It’s worth listening to some challenging, droning or violent music sometimes. It does something to your brain if you persist with it. It’s like an opening. Which can only be good.

One of my least accessible favourites is Jim O’Rourke’s electronic stuff.

It took me a while to sink my teeth into, but once those atonal, multi layered, accordian-like drifts of electronics mount up on top of me, I start to feel lost.

Then something reaches out and lifts my heart. Pulls me upwards and tickles the soul underneath.

That’s definitely music. Always.

Illustration by Joe.


About Alex Ava

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Questions by Kat, Special Guest Illustrations. Bookmark the permalink.

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