I think Nathan M asked this question a while back, and I think it’s an interesting question. The context of the question comes from a discussion about great art, namely that great art reveals something true and profound about human beings and their existence. If we consider the best classical music (or instrumental music like jazz) to be great art, then in what way does this music inform us about the profound truths of human existence?
Great art doesn’t reveal the truth, it just reveals cleverer lies than bad art.
“Music’s inherent symmetry and organizational principles tap into a deep human need to order, or manage, our environment.”
Sure, a lot great music is well-organized and that organization appeals to people. But the music is not revealing truth about human existence in those moments, is it?
I don’t want to there. Can we assume the premise that great art reveals something true about the human condition is correct.
“Great art doesn’t reveal the truth, it just reveals cleverer lies than bad art.”
Perhaps the revelation of cleverer lies is the truth.
-But the music is not revealing truth about human existence in those moments, is it?-
Structure is truth.
No need to articulate it, you just feel it.
I think Nathan was making a point that that definition of great art is a bad one.
“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
@Jazz: What kind of instrumental music are you referring to? You mention classical and jazz (which isn’t entirely instrumental), but there’s instrumental music in practically every genre of music, both past and modern. You’re painting this question with extremely broad strokes my friend.
And on top of that, what’s the difference between vocal and instrumental music? Some of it is improvised, some of it pre-meditated, some of a hybrid of improv and determinist composition … some of it indeterminist.
I suppose what I’m wondering is, how can one kind of music be more ‘enlightening’ than another?
In jazz, the inherent quality is improvisation. In classical, there isn’t much improvisation (which isn’t entirely true [Mozart was one of the greatest improvisers of his day], but since it predated the advent of audio recording, we only have composed/notated pieces to go by). Classical music was the “pop music” of its day (well, for a certain class of course). Before that, early music was mostly religious (monophony at first, polyphony later) with a few troubadours introducing the early form of secular music.
What is this “truth” you’re referring to? Is this some kind of absolute truth, because I severely disagree with the concept of “absolute truth” in relation to art.
First, when I say instrumental music, I’m referring to whatever instrumental music people consider great—improvised, through composed, or aleatoric, etc. (i.e. by great classical composers, jazz compsers/musicians). Second, I wanted to focus on instrumental music—as opposed to music with a text—because I have a harder time imagining the way instrumental music reveals profound truths about the human condition. Third, when I mentioned “truth,” I wasn’t mainly thinking about “absolute truths” so much as profound truths about the human condition, about human nature.
I can understand the way a great film can reveal something deep or profound about human beings. L’Avventura might reveal truths about the relationship between men and women, for example. I can understand the way books do this, too. But how does a great piece of instrumental do this? Does it happen?
Boooo. What the heck does that mean? Btw, this is not the type of answer we could give for great novels or novels—at least the ones that reveal something profound.
Btw, right now, I’m not really comfortable with the idea of great instrumental music revealing truths—at least not in the same way films or novels do. To me, great instrumental music is more about feeling—or it is something you feel; it is more emotional and spiritual and, as Malik mentioned, not something you can really articulate. (But if you can’t articulate it, can we still say it conveys something profound? That seems odd.)
The act of experiencing humanity through film is the same as in music—just to be absorbing the input is a testament to humanity, and inasmuch as the work affects you—and music can bring you to tears as much as film—actually broaden your understanding of yourself and the rest of us.
I see no difference.
If we both watched 2001 or 8 1/2, and we wanted to talk about the profound truths revealed about human beings, we could articulate these truths. But now, if we listened to Coltrane’s "Giant Steps* or Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, could we also articulate the same type of truths?
I think so, though the results would be inherently different since your experiences don’t share the visual. We make up our own visual in its absence.
Definitely the same types of truths.
It’s rare that I visualize music (see images) when I listen to instrumental music. I’d be interested in hearing examples of how instrumental music provides you with insights. I understand that instrumental music can make us cry, laugh or experience joy—and I could say that the music does this in a substantive, maybe even “truthful” way. But to say that the music reveals insights or truths into human existence or human beings is harder for me to imagine.
I’m certainly not conscious of these insights when I’m listening to this music. I’m feeling a lot, and the music has some ideas (more conceptual—like structure that Matt referred to), but not insights into human beings that I can articulate.
Well, I don’t really think that’s a fair analogy (Kubrick and Fellini with Coltrane and Bach) but anyway. Music is more abstract than film; film being something which (conventionally) consists of both aural and optical sensations. When you start getting into the more difficult types of music, it really starts to rely more and more on the depth of your experience/knowledge of music. Like film, more involved types of music become less intuitive, less feeling (though I think that’s not entirely the correct word because there must be a modicum of feeling somewhere) and more theoretical, more technical, therefore less accessible to the general public. I mean, what about a film as multifaceted as Prospero’s Books? Is it not unlike the complex polyrhythms of Steve Reich or the virtuosic string arrangements of Vivaldi? Or take something more “commercial”; the music of Goblin. Would their music be any less visual if they weren’t attached to a film, would the theme of Suspiria be any less terrifying if the film didn’t exist?
Music only makes linear use of one sense. It can easily be misinterpreted, misunderstood because of this abstraction. If anything, music, when probed deep enough (and this would require a certain level of introspection), can reveal any truth.
Can they be articulated? Yes, I definitely think so. I won’t deny that there are musicians who create music purely from feeling, without any kind of pre-meditated thought, but all music can be deconstructed, reconstructed, imitated, and rearranged – and communicated. It just might require a broadening of one’s vocabulary.
But a lot of instrumental music was created with a theme in mind: Motzart’s Requiem, for example, is just as profound a meditation on death as For Whom the Bell Tolls, or The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes. I really don’t see a difference, whether or not you synethize music.
I would say Requiem is far more profound. Is there in us a thirst for the eternal and sublime that great art can satisfy?
I would argue that the breadth of the discussion of death in Hemmingway and the stark reality of the Brakhage is just as profound.
To be honest, I don’t think you will find “truth” in great instrumental music or movie scores. It seems it is some kind of artistic integrity you are looking for, jazz.
I’m not convinced that music deals with ideas as directly and as explicitly as films or novels do, at least not outside the context of theory. of course a musician could set out to make music that reflects the chaos and alienation of the times we live in, or may offer a conscious respite from it(e.g Part and the holy minimalists etc).
Music works more on the level of emotion than the intellect i think but more artistic music engages both, and sometimes even privileges the latter over the former.
Joks: But that can’t be since many instrumental works actually tell a story. I find this whole distinction wrong-headed.
Yeah, what about Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique or Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle? The Firebird? They certainly tell a story, but most music isn’t as clearly stated.
^^^Sure, they can set out to tell a story, but unless we know that’s what they are doing, i think we just respond to the music emotionally. When i’m listening to bands like Mogwai, Mono etc, i get they are taking me on a journey of sorts, and i just lie back and submit to their will. Whether they are communicating ideas to me though, is debatable, that’s the point i’m making, not that music doesn’t tell stories or deal with ideas at all.
When i’m listening to Scelsi’s explorations of micro-tonality, i’m not thinking ‘wow, shit, that Scelsci man, he is really making me think about the chaos of the natural world’. I’m responding emotionally to the devastating use of sound, and perhaps intellectually, to the use of arrangement etc etc.
Same thing could be said of Code Unknown—in fact that’s really what the film is about—non-verbal communication, and the interpretations are many.
“They certainly tell a story, but most music isn’t as clearly stated.”
that’s the other problem, isn’t it? That unless you have a concept shoved right in front of you, it’s difficult to say, because music is so abstract. Perhaps it’s a cop out to discuss it purely on an emotional level—-music can put ideas and pictures in your head—-but i still think it tapes into something that’s more ultimately more difficult to express, something more personal
I think you’re right about music, but film does the same thing (and I’ve cited multiple examples).
^^True House, it can happen with film too, but i personally find it easier to articulate what i do and don’t like about films personally, and how it is affecting me, but i won’t lie, it’s not always easy to do.
I think when a film is more sensualist, or working on that kind of emotional level, it’s often very difficult to articulate why you like it. Just explain to people why you think Gerry, or Last Days, or Brown Bunny, or maybe even In The Mood For Love, are great, to those that find them ‘dead boring’, and it’s bloody difficult. I find that when art is on the minimal side of the equation, it’s often harder to articulate my feelings, but maybe that’s just me.
Film enjoys an inherent visual connection with our brains that music doesn’t have, but just because it’s more difficult to articulate (and I agree on that) it doesn’t make it any less important.
I still say the exploration of humanity is so present in each art form as to make this argument just futile as hell. One may be more subjective than the other, but does that diminish it?