A commonplace in some discussions about music concerns whether a particular instance of music is “structured” or “unstructured.” This is a distinction that seems to assume that it’s not really all that unusual to encounter events that have no structure whatsoever (which might just be pushing it a bit). It would seem that anything we run into (and not just music) would occasion some sort of structure, even if that “structure” may seem anomalous. But, rather than quibbling over a presence or absence of “structure” in any music, why not ask questions about what kind of structures are coming into play or about what purposes a particular structural arrangement might facilitate?
Usually when people talk about “structure” in music, they’re referring only to relationships among sounds; they’re talking about sonic design, which is no trivial concern among musicians. But there are other important structures that deeply affect and qualify a sonic image in music. These are the structures of cooperation and communication among the people who generate the sound.
Likewise, the word composition in music talk usually refers only to sonic organization, but a lot more has to be composed than sonic relationships. Something of a body politic has also to be composed for any music to happen. People have to agree to cooperate. Communication strategies and methods of coordination have to be worked out. All of this together assembles a musical structure. Musical composition’s organization is social as much as it is sonic.
Any musical composition enlists a social agreement in order to achieve its sound. A working consensus gathers around which sounds are to be recognized as “the music” along with how people are to coordinate with each other while generating these sounds. Each specific composition focuses the constitution of a equally specific (if provisional) sonic community.