#6. Anthropogenic Sound

In putting sounds together, in composing, a composer makes decisions about which sounds go where and when they go there.  This is what a composer does — and anybody (that means anybody) who does this is composing.  What distinguishes a musician’s composing from a listener’s is that a musician’s constructions turn audible.

Most musical bodies of sound manage to self-identify as “music.”  A listener doesn’t have to like a sound or even accept it as “music” for oneself, just acknowledge that it’s got to somehow qualify as “music” for somebody.  Somewhat less often are there sonic events (such as many of those fostered by John Cage, for example) that, rather than quite so explicitly identifying themselves as a sonic exception that could only indicate music,  have often to lean instead on institutional brackets to be introduced to musical attention. But, generally a listener usually doesn’t have to wonder too much whether some sounds are “music” or not because a musical sound body messages a distinctively social gesture that invites a listener to engage it face to face.  It invites a listener to compose along with it.

Musical sound might so engross a listener that many may rarely ever move their considerations beyond what a particular music can do for them (and how could anybody really enjoy listening without some occasion for self gratification anyhow?).  But a musical sound body’s very capacity to “self identify” derives from other avenues of access it presents.  Not so different from the way the shifting geometries of beach sand recount patterned motions of wind and water, musical sounds distinctively symptomize human activity; and this is why it so often draws the turns of the head that it does. Somebody’s doing something. People are doing something.  What’s up?  An alert uncertainty edging on wariness begins to tone attention, and for good reason too: any living system (and people especially) behaves just unpredictably enough to bear some watching out for.  Musical sounds consequently always pose news.

Sounds point back to their generating frictions.  And the sound of a human generated event points even farther back toward the people who’ve initiated these sounds.  A telltale whoness insinuates among sound’s acutely sensorial whatness.  Sonic images swell with forensic clues that both imply and trace the decision streams of their composers.

An overall sound may impart ambience, feel, tone, perhaps even mood; but the compositional choices marking and distinguishing a sound body are what deliver a music’s drama.  Imaginative, empathic, even speculative attention to the impacts of agency on musical sound can reach toward prospective “whys” behind sounds and into the inhabitable “what ifs” of music’s sonic fiction, wherein one might infer – and feel – the sensibilities and dispositions of minds (or even states of mind) other than one’s own.

About patrick brennan

patrick brennan is a NYC composer and saxophonist.
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