Does music exist without a listener? This is kind of a corollary to the tree

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Does music exist without a listener? This is kind of a corollary to the tree falling in the woods question- but it definitely deviates. Does the noise exist without someone to hear it? If music is created by a musician, does it really matter if anyone hears it? Does music have more value than random noise- because it was created with a purpose? Does this purpose give it more value than other waves?

Great questions. If by 'music' one means actual auditions (sounds), then it seems that the same reply works with the tree in the woods. There would be no sound and thus no music without auditions and thus without someone or thing to hear it. And the definition of music in terms of sound is an important one in the philosophy of music. Jerrold Levinson, for example, defines music as follows:

Sounds temporily organized by a person for the purpose of enriching or intensifying experience through active engagement (e.g. listening, dancing, performing) with the sounds regarded primarily, or in significant measure as sounds.

But if we change things a bit and think of musical composition, then your question about the musician seems very tempting. After all, imagine a musician composed a piece like the ninth symphony, perhaps writing out all the score, but the piece is never played. In that case, I think many of us would say the muscial composition exists even if there is no sound made at all based on the score. I would even say it is possible that all manner of musical compositions exist (or can exist) even if not written down, so long as someone simply composes the pieces in her head (so to speak!) and never tells a soul.

As for random versus purposive noise, Levinson's definition seems to rule out as music sounds produced by non-persons (e.g. birds) and mere noise (e.g. the wind's impact on trees). You may wish to challenge his position on that front. But one reason for thinking that persons and pursposiveness comes into play with music, is that most of us believe that music has expressive qualities or moods (joy, anger, sadness...) and it is difficult to think of noises that are non-purposive as possessing such expressive qualities. Making matters more complicated, however, is that some contemporary musicians make great use of random sound waves. For a philosopher who has done excellent work on the philosophy of music, check out Peter Kivy.

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