Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Organised Noise

On "Gamut" I play a wide range of music -- which is the point of my show. As the slogan goes, it's the show that "runs the Gamut of music from the Middle Ages all the way up to the present day."

Which means I play a fair amount of contemporary music. Not necessarily "20th Century music." That moniker refers to last century's ouevre.

Occasionally, I'll get a complaint about a particular work. It's the same complaint I heard my parents level against Motown music back in the mid-1960's, the same complaint my friends level against current hip hop and rock acts, and the same that critics level against just about every composer and/or movement going back to the 14th century.

"That's not music -- that's just noise."

I have a personal definition of noise. Noise is unorganized sound. Music is organized sound.

By my definition, what people are really saying when they characterize music as noise is that they can't hear the organization.

Usually, it's because there's something outside their frame of reference. Many people at the turn of the 20th Century thought ragtime was noise because the syncopation was too far outside their experience. While dodecaphonic compositions can sound like random plinks and plunks, these works are highly organized, and tend to reveal their internal logic with repeated listening.

I'm not saying that all classical music is great. It's not. And I'm not saying all contemporary music is great. It's not, either.

But what I am saying is that when music is presented that seems to be noise, take a step back. If it's truly music, then there's some organization or structure there somewhere.

Sometimes you just have to work a little to find it.

- Ralph

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