#1
Today we're talking about music with extramusical elements. An extramusical element is an element of a piece of music that is not the music itself.

A common example is lyrics. The text of a piece isn't music, but we often associate it with how we perceive the quality of the music. It's very common to hear someone denounce a song because lyrics are bad or to laud a song because the lyrics are good. But are lyrics actually part of the music or are they something else? Should they be assessed separate to how we assess the music or, because the artist has chosen to make it part of the music, do we have to take it as a whole? Do bad lyrics ruin an otherwise good piece of music? Does it work the other way around?

A common example is a visual element. The most obvious being a music video but there are also pieces of music that incorporate visual elements as core structures (as opposed to videos which are often completely separate entities, i.e. they are understood as being not part of the music). We often call these pieces mixed media. Are these visuals part of the music or are they something else? Should they be assessed separate to how we assess the music or, because the artist has chosen to make it part of the music, do we have to take it as a whole? Do bad visuals ruin an otherwise good piece of music? Does it work the other way around?

http://vimeo.com/15395471

I find this music relatively uninteresting but the visuals to be very compelling. How should I feel about this piece?



I find this music very interesting, but the visuals aren't very compelling. How should I feel about this piece?

A common example is a concept. A piece can have a concept that is not perceivable when you listen to the piece. The most obvious is programmatic music or music that tells a story. Another example might be a compositional concept, such as using randomization of musical elements. There's no way to know that either of these things took place, but they did. Are these concepts part of the music or are they something else? Should they be assessed separate to how we assess the music or, because the artist has chosen to make it part of the music, do we have to take it as a whole? Does an interesting concept improve an otherwise bad piece of music? Does it work the other way around?



I find this music very uninteresting by itself, but when I know the story of the music (which you can read here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphonie_fantastique#Outline) it becomes more interesting. How should I feel about this music?



I find this music very interesting, but the story is not compelling to me at all. How should I feel about this piece?



I find this music very uninteresting, but the concept (which you can read about here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheap_Imitation) is very compelling to me. How should I feel about this piece?

A common example is a novel instrument. When someone invents an instrument often it is not good at doing what instruments are traditionally good at, which is what makes it novel. At the same time the novelty of the instrument is entertainment in and of itself. Are these instruments part of the music or are they something else? Should they be assessed separate to how we assess the music or, because the artist has chosen to make it part of the music, do we have to take it as a whole? Does an interesting instrument improve an otherwise bad piece of music? Does it work the other way around?

http://vimeo.com/96745741

I find this music very uninteresting and even the possibilities of the instrument aren't any more varied than a sampler, but I find it interesting to watch the instrument work. How should I feel about this piece?

http://vimeo.com/30501143

I find this music very uninteresting, but I find it interesting to watch the instrument work. How should I feel about this piece?


How do extramusical elements affect your perception of a piece?
Can things that aren't related to the "hard" music influence whether or not you like something?
Can you separate them?
Should you separate them?
Where do you draw the line?
If interesting lyrics can make a piece interesting can interesting visuals do the same? And if visuals can do the same can concepts do it too? And if so, what about novel instruments?
At what point do you say, "no that isn't part of the music and should have an effect on whether or not I like something?"
#2
this is will surely be a controversial statement in this forum, and indeed among any old-white-men and old-white-men-sympathizers, but you really can't remove art from its cultural context. attempts to do so will just move it to the status quo, where it may or may not be interesting at all. to decree any music unworthy for not standing on its own in this context, the context of rigid academia or of classic rock covers, is entirely inflexible.

that's not say anyone can't appreciate music in a different context, like they are somehow unable. how often have you said "i can see how you like that, but i don't"? overhearing the constant praise of some musical act but lacking the worldly wherewithal to hear it in the same context the fans do, many individuals forgo quiet personal criticism and decree it unworthy to their ears and label it uncultured, not music, music for thugs or something, or what have you.

i think lyrics, music videos, concepts, etc, are all part of aforementioned context. you can move the music to a new one but don't be surprised if you don't in it what others do. sometimes ignoring the meaning of the lyrics, if there are any, or content of the video, if there is one, does little for the experience. this may be entirely idiosyncratic; after all, you are the listener so aren't you always part of the context? deliberate failure to see music this way, or art in general, is one instrument of elitists.

-------

i'll provide a sort dramatic example. here is a song i really like, 'gold' by GZA the Genius



let's talk about lyrics. here is the first verse:

[Verse 1: GZA]
I'm deep down in the back streets, in the heart of Medina
About to set off something more deep than a misdemeanor
Under the subway, waiting for the train to make noise
So I can blast a nigga and his boys,for what?
He pushed up on the block and made the dope sales drop
Like the crash in the Dow Jones stock
I had a connect to cross-sales, to catch more mill's
Than ho-bitches got birth control pills
I'm in the park setting up a deal over blunt fire
Bum nigga sleeping on the bench, they had him wired
Peeped my convo, the address of my condo
And how I changed a nigga name to John Doe
And while we set up camp, we got vamped
Put the stake through his heart, I ripped his fucking fangs apart
Snake got smoked on the set like Brandon Lee
Blown out the frame like Pan Am Flight 103
He got swung on, his lungs was torn
A kingpin just castled with his rook and lost a pawn
A regular on the block that played lookout
For playing predator with a Glock, he should have took out


your average MT-goar will dismiss this. it's violent and about narcotics and other icky things. the author of these words, GZA the Genius, is well known in some circles for a poetic feat that all of you will admit is impressive, and in those same circles not one will suggest he hasn't earned the Genius title. why then will the classic rock blues pentatonic fan find this altogether uninteresting, if not offensive? it's a classic to hip hop fans, regardless of whether they actually like listening to it, why not these people? they can't see it in the context that the fans do, that's why. and that's fine up until saying extramusical elements don't count for something -- they counted when you claimed beethovan was a genius and cited so many reasons, but they don't count now? the elitism is born.

tl;dr:
extramusical elements exist and are unambiguously tied to our appreciation of music. claims otherwise are invoked by elitists to dismiss what they don't like. fight me
i don't know why i feel so dry
#3
to take out the 'extramusicality' is effectively a 'cultural revolution' (to shamelessly through that word out) on music. I mean, without lyrics alone you remove so much of post-20th century music. Hip-hop is gone, folk is gone, pop is gone, RnB is gone, etc etc. I know that's kind of the point of the OP (I think) is that there is a lot of music-'related' art out there that relies so heavily on so called 'extramusical' elements, but I think that it's unfair to dismiss music because it hinges so heavily on extramusicality.

For instance the Ryoji. What makes the Ryoji song any more, or less, valid musically than Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"?
it's all just coming back
it's all coming back

it's all coming back to me
#4
The gravity of a Western tonal music based society is a black hole from which we cannot escape.

There are going to be cultural elements we simply can't remove, regardless of whether or not they make or break a piece for us.

Now of course, music I'm not totally crazy about can be ruined with a bad program. But he two things are not mutually exclusive.

I can love the music and hate the program, and vice-versa. I wouldn't let a single part I don't like ruin something I really like.

Look at Verklarte Nacht. Awful extra-musicality, amazing music, IMO.

You should feel about those pieces however you feel about them, and make a holistic and case by case basis on what your taste is.

And GZA is one of the best rappers ever.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Dec 13, 2014,
#5
Extramusicality is part of the "art" of music and ignoring it is a regressive deconstruction of the art. This is the kind of stuff that elevates music beyond the confines of "good" and "bad" and makes it a big subjective experience.
"I didn't like that piece"
"yes but did you know..."
"Ohhh, that's cool!"

"Absolute music" is music which is explicitly about nothing. It tries to seperate the musical experience from the terrestrial. But even absolute music doesn't exist in a vacuum. When I listen I think of the philosophy, how well the composer achieved "absolution," and whatever emotions the music brings me.

You mentioned novel instruments as being "extramusical," but regular instruments are, too. Rather, the choice and mix of regular instruments used in a piece can influence our perception of it before a note is even played. "A piano quartet?" "This jazz band has an electric bass player!" "They're a rock power trio." This kind of programming is used extensively by film composers.

When I write music I sometimes think of it as "absolute" - like I am a craftsman trying to perfect my work rather than an artist trying to communicate. This may work for certain stages of the composition process, but at some point the work has to be imagined within the context of the real world. That's when the other factors enter into it. Words, visuals, title, methods of performance, whether I'm gonna scratch my guitar off a wall for this section... context. Music cannot exist without context. It is a matter of whether you are aware of the context you are prescribing or not.

I think it's futile to try to seperate the sound of the music from the experience of listening.
#6
You can't really compare lyrics to a music video. You can't decide not to hear the lyrics. They are in the song. But you can decide not to watch the music video and just pay attention to the sound. But yeah, bad lyrics can destroy the listening experience, even if the music part is awesome. Or at least they can make it sound worse (though that bad lyrics are pretty rare, at least in music that I like). And good lyrics can make a not that great song sound a lot better.

So I think lyrics are more attached to the music than a music video.

Though, a good music video can make a song worth listening to - it can make a not that great song better. But I don't think a bad music video has a similar effect. If I think a song has a bad music video, I don't watch it and just listen to the song.

The history behind the music does matter. For example if somebody today wrote a song that sounded exactly like a song written in the 80s, it would just feel a bit fake to me. (Though many times nostalgia bands just write generic music - they write music that fits the genre, unlike the bands that created the style.) And if a song is somehow "historically important", I think it makes me appreciate it more. Again, if somebody wrote a similar song today, it just wouldn't feel the same because the thing has already been done.


I find this music relatively uninteresting but the visuals to be very compelling. How should I feel about this piece?

I find this music very interesting, but the visuals aren't very compelling. How should I feel about this piece?

As I said earlier, if the video is not interesting, you can just decide not to watch it and just focus on the music - it doesn't have an effect on me. A good music video can make me listen to a piece that I don't really like. If the video is good, you can focus on the video. And also, I think a good music video could even make me like a piece that I wouldn't want to listen to if I hadn't seen the video.

I find this music very uninteresting by itself, but when I know the story of the music (which you can read here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sympho...astique#Outline) it becomes more interesting. How should I feel about this music?

I find this music very interesting, but the story is not compelling to me at all. How should I feel about this piece?

As I said, this kind of stuff can have an effect on me. It makes me listen to the music in a different way or at least can make me appreciate the music more if I find the story interesting. It kind of gives the music more meaning.

If the story is boring, I would just listen to the music and not pay attention to the story. Again, the story, just like a music video, doesn't have to be part of the music. You can just listen to the music as music.

Though sometimes the story behind the music can have an effect on me in a bad way. For example I don't really enjoy black metal. Not only because I just may not enjoy the musical side of it but also because I don't really agree with the whole black metal "lifestyle" (ie, burning churches and all that).

A common example is a novel instrument. When someone invents an instrument often it is not good at doing what instruments are traditionally good at, which is what makes it novel. At the same time the novelty of the instrument is entertainment in and of itself. Are these instruments part of the music or are they something else? Should they be assessed separate to how we assess the music or, because the artist has chosen to make it part of the music, do we have to take it as a whole? Does an interesting instrument improve an otherwise bad piece of music? Does it work the other way around?

Yeah, I find new kind of instruments interesting. I may not watch a video of a new instrument because I enjoy the music it makes, I'm just interested in the sounds it can make. So pieces that use this kind of novel instruments, I don't think I listen to it because of the music.
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#7
Quote by Eastwinn
#justeanthings

tl;dr:
extramusical elements exist and are unambiguously tied to our appreciation of music. claims otherwise are invoked by elitists to dismiss what they don't like. fight me

I'm glad you brought up cultural context because I guess that's essentially what all of this boils down too and I missed mentioning it in the OP.

To filter it through my lens, I often struggle with the Soviet composers because to me their music isn't very interesting intuitively, but there is a lot going on on a cultural level. Can I really separate the two? If I separate them (and I tend to) am I really even "getting it?"
Quote by Declan87

You mentioned novel instruments as being "extramusical," but regular instruments are, too. Rather, the choice and mix of regular instruments used in a piece can influence our perception of it before a note is even played. "A piano quartet?" "This jazz band has an electric bass player!" "They're a rock power trio." This kind of programming is used extensively by film composers.

Right, but no one is entertained just by something being for a piano quartet. Whereas I'm entertained and engaged by my two examples just because of the instruments. Obviously instrument choice is important and affects the music, but what I was going for is what about when the instruments negatively affect the music?

Quote by Declan87
When I write music I sometimes think of it as "absolute" - like I am a craftsman trying to perfect my work rather than an artist trying to communicate. This may work for certain stages of the composition process, but at some point the work has to be imagined within the context of the real world. That's when the other factors enter into it. Words, visuals, title, methods of performance, whether I'm gonna scratch my guitar off a wall for this section... context. Music cannot exist without context. It is a matter of whether you are aware of the context you are prescribing or not.

I think it's futile to try to separate the sound of the music from the experience of listening.

What if I want, as a composer, for the experience of listening to be the sound of the music?
Quote by MaggaraMarine

As I said earlier, if the video is not interesting, you can just decide not to watch it and just focus on the music - it doesn't have an effect on me. A good music video can make me listen to a piece that I don't really like. If the video is good, you can focus on the video. And also, I think a good music video could even make me like a piece that I wouldn't want to listen to if I hadn't seen the video.

The point of my examples though were that you can't not watch the videos because they are part of the piece. They're part of the whole, unlike music videos, which, as you said, can be separated from the music. I don't think you can do the same thing with the Ikeda.

Quote by MaggaraMarine
As I said, this kind of stuff can have an effect on me. It makes me listen to the music in a different way or at least can make me appreciate the music more if I find the story interesting. It kind of gives the music more meaning.

If the story is boring, I would just listen to the music and not pay attention to the story. Again, the story, just like a music video, doesn't have to be part of the music. You can just listen to the music as music.

Though sometimes the story behind the music can have an effect on me in a bad way. For example I don't really enjoy black metal. Not only because I just may not enjoy the musical side of it but also because I don't really agree with the whole black metal "lifestyle" (ie, burning churches and all that).

Yeah, I find new kind of instruments interesting. I may not watch a video of a new instrument because I enjoy the music it makes, I'm just interested in the sounds it can make. So pieces that use this kind of novel instruments, I don't think I listen to it because of the music.

But if the composer made it part of the piece how can we just ignore it? With both program and new instrument there was a choice to include it in the music so is it right to remove it or does it have to factor in to how we judge it?
#8
I think an important part of extramusicality is performance. If people go to a show and the artist/band just barely gets through the songs (acting like "we've done this 1000 times"), then of course it's boring. Jazz is a great example of this. Some of the Jazz greats weren't the most technically proficient guys (they weren't slouches, but their goal wasn't technical mastery). But their performance skills, combined with their good skills at the instrument, made the songs come alive.
#9
Quote by Eastwinn
fight me


My problem with this is that it seems to me (and you can correct me if I'm wrong), that on your view, appreciating a work of art is the same as as either being in the right cultural context to appreciate the work, or being able to reconstruct the appropriate cultural context and put yourself in the shoes of the original audience a work was aimed at. But it seems to me that in the real world people successfully appreciate works of art outside of their original cultural context all the time.

For example, I have a casual interest in ancient Greek literature. The original audience for Sophocles would have seen represented in his works the deepest beliefs and traditions of their society. They would have been used to consulting oracles and looking for signs from the Gods in their everyday life, and believing that the actions of Zeus, Poseidon, Athena etc. lay behind various natural occurrences. And the plays of Sophocles would have been performed by a troupe of all male actors, wearing masks, with certain portions of the play being sung rather than spoken.

Theoretically then I have every disadvantage in coming to a genuine understanding of Sophocles. As a product of a contemporary western education I hold little stock in oracles, which play a significant role in Oedipus the King. I suppose, in a certain sense, I can sympathise with such a belief, given that I understand something of it's historical context, but this belief in oracles will never be genuinely my own. And rather than seeing it performed on a stage by an all-male troupe, surrounded by an audience of native ancient Greeks, in festival season and with the lines being sung, I read it sitting quietly, probably not a context in which Sophocles could ever have conceived of someone coming in contact with his play. Even if I try to imagine myself sitting in that ancient theater (which I never do, incidentally), given that nothing of ancient Greek music survives besides some instruments and theoretical treatises, this part of the original context is radically lost to me.

But all the same I enjoy reading it and at least think I can discern aesthetic value in this experience, despite being unable (and unwilling) to view it through the eyes of it's intended audience.

Greek sculpture provides another interesting example. We know that originally many ancient Greeks sculptures had bright and vivid colouring, yet the paint has worn over time leaving only the white of the marble. Yet for many people these colourless marble sculptures are ancient Greeks sculpture, and plenty of imitators emerged from the renaissance and beyond, imitating a style of which one feature (the lack of colour) is a result of historical accident and has nothing to do with how the sculptures were intended to be displayed. Without the colouring is Greek sculpture hopelessly lost to us? Or can it still have value for us even if we can never see it the way it's original audience did?

I know I'm rambling but another point strikes me as well. What about art which flopped in it's originally intended context, but was later rehabilitated outside that context? Bach springs to mind. I want to add that, personally, when I experience a work of art, I rarely find myself thinking about anything like social or cultural context, but I guess that could be evidence that I'm hopelessly complicit with racist and patriarchal structures of power,
.
#10
Quote by Nietsche
My problem with this is that it seems to me (and you can correct me if I'm wrong), that on your view, appreciating a work of art is the same as as either being in the right cultural context to appreciate the work, or being able to reconstruct the appropriate cultural context and put yourself in the shoes of the original audience a work was aimed at. But it seems to me that in the real world people successfully appreciate works of art outside of their original cultural context all the time.


i don't think i made myself clear, my bad. i think it's fine to move a work of art from its original context into another, the important part is that you understand that these contexts exist and that there is no default or null context. you can appreciate anything anyway that you want, see if i care, my issue is with people

1. going on and on about the absolutely "correct" context, or
2. expecting others to see criticism made form an entirely different context.

number 1 is self-explanatory, but as an example of number 2, consider the stuffy concert pianist criticizing the lack of lead melody in a hip hop song and becoming enraged because hip hop fans won't listen to her. her criticism makes total sense, to be sure, but it's pretty meaningless to someone who isn't listening for any lead melody.

Quote by Nietsche
For example, I have a casual interest in ancient Greek literature.


i am currently doing online work for my ancient greek language class

Quote by Nietsche
The original audience for Sophocles would have seen represented in his works the deepest beliefs and traditions of their society. They would have been used to consulting oracles and looking for signs from the Gods in their everyday life, and believing that the actions of Zeus, Poseidon, Athena etc. lay behind various natural occurrences. And the plays of Sophocles would have been performed by a troupe of all male actors, wearing masks, with certain portions of the play being sung rather than spoken.

Theoretically then I have every disadvantage in coming to a genuine understanding of Sophocles. As a product of a contemporary western education I hold little stock in oracles, which play a significant role in Oedipus the King. I suppose, in a certain sense, I can sympathise with such a belief, given that I understand something of it's historical context, but this belief in oracles will never be genuinely my own. And rather than seeing it performed on a stage by an all-male troupe, surrounded by an audience of native ancient Greeks, in festival season and with the lines being sung, I read it sitting quietly, probably not a context in which Sophocles could ever have conceived of someone coming in contact with his play. Even if I try to imagine myself sitting in that ancient theater (which I never do, incidentally), given that nothing of ancient Greek music survives besides some instruments and theoretical treatises, this part of the original context is radically lost to me.

But all the same I enjoy reading it and at least think I can discern aesthetic value in this experience, despite being unable (and unwilling) to view it through the eyes of it's intended audience.


i have 0 problem with this

Quote by Nietsche
Greek sculpture provides another interesting example. We know that originally many ancient Greeks sculptures had bright and vivid colouring, yet the paint has worn over time leaving only the white of the marble. Yet for many people these colourless marble sculptures are ancient Greeks sculpture, and plenty of imitators emerged from the renaissance and beyond, imitating a style of which one feature (the lack of colour) is a result of historical accident and has nothing to do with how the sculptures were intended to be displayed. Without the colouring is Greek sculpture hopelessly lost to us? Or can it still have value for us even if we can never see it the way it's original audience did?


the bright primary colors look pretty tacky nowadays. it would take a weirdo like me, or maybe you, to insist that the neoclassical buildings in DC ought to be painted that way, but this comes from a sort of academic satisfaction. but that academic satisfaction is a feature of my personal perspective. it makes total sense to me, but i understand why it doesn't to others. i might insist that it would be "correct" to paint them but by this i mean it's historically [& archaeologically] accurate, not necessarily the right thing to do. if i only i said what i mean more often.

i believe you may appreciate the sculpture in whatever context you'd like. but if you're serious about analyzing it you must see your perspective for what it is and see what other perspectives exist and obviously this will include the original context.

as an aside, the whitewashing of ancient greek sculpture was in some part intentional. it was, indeed, whitewashing. that's the renaissance for ya.

Quote by Nietsche
I know I'm rambling but another point strikes me as well. What about art which flopped in it's originally intended context, but was later rehabilitated outside that context? Bach springs to mind. I want to add that, personally, when I experience a work of art, I rarely find myself thinking about anything like social or cultural context, but I guess that could be evidence that I'm hopelessly complicit with racist and patriarchal structures of power,


the original context surely had some play in the art's initial conception so for a complete picture, something i think you should strive for if you plan to be critical with any authority, you ought to consider who it was made for.

this all sounds pretty highbrow but i want to stress that i am applying these standards only to people who seek to be highbrow. if you just wanna look at a sculpture and say "yeah this is good" or "nah this is trash" that's totally cool. that's 99% of my interaction with art and music and for a lot of people that's 100% and they're damn content with it. if you want to speak to many people at once and say "yeah this is trash and this is why i think so" or the opposite likewise, your words will be dismissed unless you understand the variety of perspectives present in your audience so that you can speak to them truly and in their interests. that surely applies to more than art, but when it's entirely subjective like art you really can't rely on the supposed permeating nature of objective fact. failure to acknowledge other perspectives in you audience will make you a #2 at the beginning of my post.
i don't know why i feel so dry
#11
I've been thinking about this since I first read it. It's an interesting idea.

I think we can separate the "hard music" from the extra-musical elements. Should we? I don't know, maybe.

I was considering your example with the tree rings. If you were given an mp3 of the audio file and were told nothing about it except "hey here's an interesting piece of music" and listened to it then most people would not find it interesting at all. However, when you show them how it was made then the music becomes interesting.

It's as though the idea of playing tree rings on a record player is interesting and thought provoking and so it makes the resulting music interesting.

But does it actually make the music good or is it the extra musical idea that is interesting?

Is the music actually still pretty ugly and not something you'd have on your playlist but the idea of a sonic interpretation of a tree's life where the actual value lies?

So is the value of the music inherent in the music itself or is it in the idea that goes with the music?

Thinking about the Russian composers that you found uninteresting until you learned about the cultural and political influences that controlled the direction of their music brings up similar questions.

If the music is uninteresting and only gains value when you understand the historical context then it is the historical context that is interesting rather than the "hard music".

Can we separate them? Yes I think it is possible. Should we? I don't know if it's a moral question. Sometimes we should and sometimes we shouldn't. It really depends what you are looking focus is. If you are interested in a philosophical, historical, or technological idea then you probably shouldn't separate the extra musical from the musical. If your focus in on the music then maybe you should separate them.

I really don't know, but there are some interesting ideas here that definitely got me thinking.
Si
#12
Extramusical elements in music doesn't make the music not music anymore, nor does it make music into music. Really, music is just another form of art and adding extramusical elements just extends the music as an art form.

Basically, art is art if it's art. And music is music if it is music.