The Analekta 1965

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Tee Lian Keong

The spinning kaleidoscope of the Macrocosm is indeed an exclusive wonder. Yet one ingredient upon which we survive is a greater wonder: the one element that envelopes our hopes and aspirations of life is Sound. A sudden silence will produce the sensation of falling through space; a longer silence will evoke the feeling that the foundations of the earth had given way, and that the bottom of the Universe had dropped out. Science has proved that if a human being is deprived of all sound for a certain stretch of time, depending on the individual's character, the person may become insane. Thus, sound is a self-explanatory fecundating necessity of life.

When simultaneous vibrations of sound waves clash, a resultant sound evolves, and this forms the premise for the beginning of Music. Music, thus, is sound of a certain tone and pitch, in rhythmic combination, normally embracing melody and harmony, with a view to beauty of form and the expression of emotion, and most essential to note is that the sounds that we can really appreciate are what we consider as Music, otherwise, sound precipitates to form a bedlam of noises.

Auxiliarated with the fact that music is a form of expression, we may now scrutinise the question as to how important music is to Man and what kind of music may suit different individuals. Beethoven once remarked that: "Only Art and Knowledge raise Man to the Divine, and Music is a higher revelation than all Wisdom and all Philosophy." A good many people might agree that Music in its essential nature is a revelation. It presents sudden and complete something which was not in a man's consciousness before, yet it is also an expression of individualism, so to speak. The immediacy of musical experience is a basic feature of it, and an analysis of musical creation comes quickly to the discovery that whatever else it is and whatever processes of gestation may have taken place, the creative imagination is a faculty that works by direct and immediate intuition. Immediacy is the mark of musical experience of all sorts: creative, interpretative, critical, or merely receptive.

Basically, Music may therefore be regarded as an enigmatic yet necessary outlet for Man.

Superficially, logic and music appear to have no connection, for the processes of musical thought are not ratiocinatory; one cannot in fact argue in Music. There are certainly analogies to logic in Music: a harmonic progression for instance may suggest faulty logic, or at any rate bad grammar. Analogy is a dangerous but not a forbidden or wholly unsound way of thinking and logic may yield a little light on Music. We may, however, expect to find that if the logician has no use for music, music may have something to say on theories of knowledge, and there is the bridge between logic and metaphysics, for Music is both a kind of knowledge and a way of thinking. Hence, we have unveiled the inevitable fact that Music is also for the mental satiation of human souls, be they normal or abnormal.

A sea of sound engulfs the existence of mankind. Sound is so much with us and so much to us that we perform the wonder of listening as artlessly as we breathe. To distinguish the type of music to suit each individual's palate, it is important to distinguish the variety of listeners, and their probable responses. One prominent type includes those whose pleasure depends on the technical knowledge of the art. Next, there are those who find pleasure from the thoughts or ideas suggested by the music. A relative group includes those who either consciously or unconsciously substitute images for sounds. Generally, such features are normally found together, belonging to the real intellectuals because the features indicate a wide foresight and imagination. Another eccentric kind involves those who find or attain pleasure from the sentiments or emotions with which they are inspired: such individuals are of the sentimentalist class. Lastly, there are those who experience an emotion sui generis and not to be compared with any other psychological phenomenon: in short, a purely musical emotion incapable of being expressed in other terms.

The only advantage to be attained from mechanically discriminating the listening process into these hypothetical planes is the more vivid views and apprehension to be had of the way in which we listen. It is very debatable whether modern pop music may be associated with the last group, but the argument in favour is that mob emotions play an integral part. Also, we must not be unmindful of the important part an individual's mood will play when determining whether or not he or she belongs to such and such a class.

We all listen to music according to our separate capacities. But, for the sake of analysis, the whole listening process may become clearer if we break it up into its component parts. In a certain sense we all listen to music on three separate planes. For the lack of a better terminology, some authorities have named these:

  1. the sensuous plane
  2. the expressive plane
  3. the purely musical plane

To correlate the responses of the listeners to the way they listen, it is essential to divide Music into classes:

  1. Subjective and Associative Music
  2. Critical or Objective Music
  3. Music bearing charactering attitudes.

The way is now clear for us to extend our scope into the realms of musical appreciation for the next link is the focus on the responses stimulated bv Music.

As regards the sensuous plane, we find that it is associated with Critical or Objective Music. Listening for the sheer pleasure of the musical sound itself is the simplest way of listening to music. We, thus, listen on the plane which we hear music without the reflection or consideration of it in any way.

For instance, we may turn on the radio while doing something else and absent-mindedly bathe in the sound. In this process we are not bothered by and do not bother with sensation or emotion or associated images. A void but attractive state of mind is engendered by the mere sound appeal of the music, and its appeal to every normal human being is self-evident.

The expressive plane is illustrated by the fact that we can become more sensitive to the different kinds of sounds as substance as used by various composers, and is very much related to Subjective and Associative Music. The general belief is that there is meaning behind musical notes and that meaning constitutes what a piece of music is trying to say and what the piece is about. The difficulty lies in stating down what the meaning is. Even the intelligent music lover may have difficulty in acquiring a general concept on the meaning of any particular piece of music. This emphasises my view that the intellectuals are of this class. Normally, Associative Music merges with Subjective Music, and this adheres also to the sentimentalist class as it evokes sensory and emotional experience. Music symbolises something else along with it and becomes a language capable of transmitting specific feelings and picturing situations. Music expresses, at different moments, serenity or exuberance, regret or triumph, fury or delight. It expresses each of these moods and many others in an innumerable variety of subtle shadings and differences. The Associative Response is that which forms simple suggestions of movement or perhaps colour - by Analogy again! - and ranges through visual imagery to full-scale day-dreaming, a most commendable occupation.

The purely musical plane involves music which expresses a state of meaning for which there exists no appropriate word. This type of music bears characterising attitudes, that is, according to individual taste. To illustrate this, we find that the man in the street who listens to a piece of music with any degree of concentration is most likely to make some mention of the melody or theme. Either he hears a pretty or attractive tune or he does not, and he generally lets it go as that. Rhythm is most likely to gain his attention next, especially if it seems exciting. But harmony and tone are generally taken for granted. There is otherwise no aesthetic satisfaction as far as this plane is concerned.

The three separate planes on which we listen have been, established for the sake of greater clarity. In actual fact, we seldom listen on one or the other of these planes. We normally correlate them - listening in all three ways at the same time. It really takes no mental effort at all, for we do it instinctively. Finally, we must bear in mind that the art of Music is a creation of the mind of Man. All its features and organising principles depend upon the action of the mind. All its effects upon us when we listen to it, all that we do when we create it, are determined by the laws of the mind..... Thus, if we are to have any ultimate explanation of Music, it is bound to be in terms of psychology.

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Created on 08 December 1999.
Last update on 26 December 1999.

Ooi Boon Kheng