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Say there is a music band whose members engage in frequent illegal/immoral acts,

Say there is a music band whose members engage in frequent illegal/immoral acts, e.g. drunken driving, drug use, prostitution, rape, assault, etc. I want to buy their latest album, but I know that the money they receive from me will end up fueling their criminal behavior. Knowing this, is it wrong for me to buy the album?

You've given some good reasons for not buying the album. And since it's hard to make the case that you need this particular album, the reasons seem pretty strong - strong enough to convince me, at least.

That said, there's a larger and harder issue here, and I'm guessing you may have it in the back of your mind. Many of us spend money at businesses whose practices we really wouldn't approve of if we let ourselves think about it. Perhaps they buy goods from sweat shops. Perhaps they have despicable labor practices.

Without pretending that this does justice to the matter, a couple of issues strike me. One has to do with thresholds and balances. At what point are the practices of a business "bad enough" or insufficiently offset by the value of what they provide (including employment) that I should stop patronizing them? And how strong are my obligations to inform myself? I may know that business X has some very nasty practices. I might decide to patronize business Y instead, but the only difference between X and Y may be that I happen to know the bad things about X and haven't dug deep enough to inform myself of the equally nasty facts about Y.

Those aren't just rhetorical questions, nor are they the only ones worth asking. But they do suggest that the relatively clear case you present is set against a backdrop of tricky questions.

Putting aside the legal aspects and ramifications of illegally downloading music

Putting aside the legal aspects and ramifications of illegally downloading music - is doing so morally wrong? Put another way, do we do something morally wrong when we download or otherwise take music that we did not pay for? If we acknowledge a private right to property, and that taking someone's property is stealing, then, can we say we steal (in the same sense, which is to say with the same moral implications) when we take the recognized intellectual property of another, specifically some artist's or artists' music?

The notion of "intellectual property" is fraught with difficulty, and my first reaction to this kind of argument is to question whether there is any such thing. Indeed, there are intelligent and thoughtful people who do precisely that. See, for example, this post by Richard Stallman.

But one does not have to go that far to think, as many more people do, that copyright (and especially patent) law has gotten completely out of hand. Most people seem to think that copyrights and patents exist to protect the rights of the creator of the work in question. This is questionable. One might hold instead that they exist to further society's interest in encouraging creativity and innovation, and that the laws governing so-called "intellectual property" ought to based upon an understanding that this is, indeed, the sole legitimate purpose of such laws.

So, if we value the creation and production of music and wish to encourage it, we would do well to think about what a sustainable and rational "business model" for musicians, composers, and the like might be, one that is compatible with the rights of the rest of us and that will, indeed, further the goals that matter to us. It seems clear that the model that was in place fifteen years ago is no longer workable, and many musicians have already shifted direction dramatically. For example, bands used to tour to promote records: Tickets were the loss-leader that drove record sales, which was where the money was. Now, bands release records to promote their tours: Tickets are more expensive, and that is where money is made. That, indeed, is the model that was in place seventy years ago or so, and it is the way the great majority of musicians make their money. (Composers and the like are a different matter. But I'll leave their plight to others to speculate about.)

It's worth appreciating, too, that the large record companies are really no friends to musicians, but on the contrary have been exceptionally exploitative of musicians, and they have sought to control music in ways that, so far as I can tell, serve no-one's interest at all.

Well, I'm not sure I've addressed the moral question, but I guess that's because I don't think there is a moral question here, unless you think there is some kind of "natural" right to intellectual property. And that's precisely what I don't think. I think property, in general, but especially intellectual property, is really a political and legal notion, rather than a moral one.

How would a person who believes that musical works are universals account for

How would a person who believes that musical works are universals account for instances of musical works which seem to imply that each performance of the same piece is always different, not only in the sense that all performances are different interpretations of the same score, but taking the examples of the arab "maqam", the indian "raga" or western jazz music, in which improvisation and sometimes a radical "mutation" of the work plays an important role, not accidental but essential to the performance of that work? Victor G.

Any performance of a musical work will always differ in some ways from other performances. And universalist theorists know that. What's required is that the performance nonetheless have the characteristics that the relevant universal call for. (Or have enough of them; we'll set issues about imperfect performances aside.) So suppose the universalist would say something like this: there's something that makes a performance even of a work that allows for accident or improvisation a performance of one work rather than another. Whatever that is tells us which universal the work corresponds to. It may just be that in some cases, the pattern that the work "is" may be more abstract.

Whether that's fully adequate is harder to say. But it's the obvious way to deal with the sort of worry that you raise.

Is intention enough for one to get an artistic status? Supose, as a composer, I

Is intention enough for one to get an artistic status? Supose, as a composer, I have a piece called "Sonata for non-prepared pianist". I walk into a theater and pick someone from the audience and give to this person, that lacks musical theory knowledge, some verbal instructions like "play anything with anger. Now imagine you're watching the ocean. Now imagine you are in a hurry..." and I sit him in front of the piano. He will just randomly hit keys and produce noise (or music?) accordingly to the "moods" I gave him. So, he is playing piano, he has intention of playing piano, he is producing sound, he is following instructions. Can we consider him, now, the concert pianist? Is he now an artist? Tiago V., Portugal

I think we have some pretty good discussion of this question already from earlier Questions 729, 1497, 1806, 2111. It's a fascinating question certain musicians and artists have raised through their work (just as you imagine), and all the more interesting for there being no compelling way of reaching an answer.

Just how 'universal' is music? That seems to be a very broad question, but here

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 significantamong types of snow (dry, wet, hard, thin, whatever). A visitor fromthe tropics not only wouldn't know the names but very likely wouldn'tbe consciously aware of these subtle distinctions. Presumably, it'sthe same with musical styles. Music from a different culture tends tosound similar because you haven't been 'trained' or 'educated' tosense and perhaps also name the differences.

However, could one – given competenthearing, a competent trainer and enough time – learn to 'hear'music from any culture (anywhere in the world, that is, and from anyhistorical period)? What would this mean? Would it mean just to senseand name differences, or would it mean to understand the musiclike a native. You would still be a cultural outsider, of course,albeit a knowledgeable one. There's a lovely short story by Borgescalled 'Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote'. It is about a man whorecomposes (not copies, and not rewrites) the novel Don Quixoteseveral centuries after the original. Borges has great fundescribing how the two books are exactly the 'same' and yet meansomething entirely different; how the later one is, at severalpoints, much better because a phrase that was run-of-the-mill forCervantes was strikingly original in Menard's day.

Recently I've had trouble comprehending the idea of a divide between music and

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:

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 meaningful for mesimply because I become aware of the cultural traditions within whichit rests.

The problem you identify is a real one, but it is not a problem of definitions or establishing a divide. Rather, the issue is understanding the processes of cultural production and both cultural and individual reception.

It is generally accepted that certain intervals in music sound "harmonious", i.e

It is generally accepted that certain intervals in music sound "harmonious", i.e. 3rds, 4ths and 5ths. Why is this so? Why do these certain intervals constitute a pleasant sounding harmony, as opposed to jarring, dissonant intervals like 2nds and 7ths? I do not believe it is a matter of taste - most people, even those with no musical training will uniformly identify a harmony as harmonious (or in tune) or dissonant (or out of tune, I suppose). However, I am open to being disproved on this point.

It's an intriguing phenomenon. And it turns out, so I gather, that it's not confined to humans. Various animals differ in their responses to what we label consonant and dissonant intervals. Why this should be isn't something that a philosopher, as such, is in a good position to say. It clearly has some physiological basis and seems to have something to do with the phenomenon of "beats" (something you can actually experience as pulses when two high-pitched notes that differ slightly in pitch are played together.) One study I discovered (by Jonatan Fishman et al. of Albert Einstein medical college) looks at the neural correlates of dissonance in macaques and in humans. If you're able to follow the neurophysiological details (I'm not) you can have a look at the link. There are also references to earlier work.

There are still some things left over that a philosopher might want to puzzle about. One is the sort of thing that physiology might straightfowardly help us understand: why is it that intervals we identify as dissonant are also perceived as unpleasant when we hear them in isolation? Another is famously hard to get a handle on: suppose that Fishman and his colleagues are right and that perception of dissonance has to do with "oscillatory neuronal ensemble responses phase-locked to the amplitude-modulated temporal envelope of complex sounds" -- whatever exactly that means. How do we get from that to "what it's like" to experience dissonance? Of course, that's of a piece with a much more general question: how do we get from physiological accounts of perception and sensation to the way that we experience things? This is a question that divides philosophers deeply; they are nowhere near agreeing on what would count as an answer, nor even on whether the question is a good one to begin with.

Fishman et al point out that there's a distinction we need to keep in mind: the dissonance of intervals (such as the minor 2nd or the augmented 4th) vs. musical dissonance and consonance. Dissonant intervals occur all the time in music that we find quite pleasing (as I'm sure you're already more than well aware.) And it's not just that the alternation between dissonant and consonant chords adds musical interest; whereas a major 7th (e.g, C-B) sounds dissonant by itself, when we add notes to form a major 7th chord (as in C-E-G-B) the result sounds pleasant to most people, even in isolation. One suspects that there's a complex combination of cultural and physiological factors at work here; this is clearly an area for fruitful collaboration among aestheticians, psychologists and physiologists.

Vaughan Williams' music has been termed 'nationalistic', or 'spiritual'. Would

Vaughan Williams' music has been termed 'nationalistic', or 'spiritual'. Would you construe these terms as metaphorical? They have been used to decribe and categorize his music, have been seen as attributive, and his music has been known for these qualities for generations. I would really appreciate a comment on your view of 'nationalism' as metaphor for a body of music.

I won't comment on Vaughan Williams's music in particular, but I certainly think music that evokes and celebrates a certain nationality can accurately be described as 'nationalistic'. And I don't see that such a description is any more metaphorical than many of the other descriptions we employ with music: 'sad', 'anguished', 'triumphant', 'relaxing' and also 'spiritual'--though I won't say anything more about what might make music spiritual.

One way--though perhaps not the only way--for music to be nationalistic would be for it centrally to include certain melodic, rhythmic, harmonic or intrumental elements that are unique to a given nation. If a composer includes such elements because they will be recognized as deriving from that region, and she moreover uses them in an approving or celebratory fashion, then I think her music is nationalistic. And I don't see that describing it this way is any more metaphorical than rooting for that nation's soccer team, or pridefully ordering its beer.

Does music have any intellectual content?

Does music have any intellectual content?

As opposed, I suppose you mean, to affective or emotional content? Yes, both in the lyrics or librettos of various musical compositions and in the web work of meanings that have come to be attached to various sounds. Like most, if not all, artforms, music exists in an historical context, and within any context music relates to other music. So rhythms, harmonies, instrumentation, chord progressions, intonation, etc. evoke symbols, social ideas, abstract ideas concerning music theory, social criticism, human relationships, the divine, etc. Musical compositions themselves are associated with cultural movements (modernism, tradition, militancy, rebellion), fashion, politics, even entire civilizations (the Europe, Africa, India). When we listen to a song, we listen to a history and to a society.

What is music? I can recognise music from cultures other than my own as being

What is music? I can recognise music from cultures other than my own as being music, even if I don't enjoy it; but what makes a series of sounds 'music'? Similarly (I assume), when does human vocalising become song?

What a fascinating question. I hope that some of my co-panelists can give you the answer this question deserves. For myself, I would briefly and cautiously answer this way: What makes a series of sounds (or even a single sound or even a silence) music is our agreement to consider it as music. Just as John Cage invites people to consider the silence and random sounds that occur during a 4 minute and 33 second period music (his piece is called, 4' 33") and Marcel Duchamp invites people to consider a urinal as sculpture (he called the piece Fountain), we make something music when we interpret it as music.