When I teach classes that look at music in cross-cultural settings, I always begin by having the class come up with a working definition of music . The goal is to arrive at a definition that is broad enough to apply to all forms of experience thought of as music but precise enough to distinguish music as a particular form of experience. Typically, the definition arrived at is something like this (composed by a Music of the Americas class at USF):
“Music is an art form that organizes audible sounds and silences.”
Now you might argue that humans need to be referenced somewhere in there; someone has to do the organizing. And can there be non-human music? Animals and other natural phenomena create organized presentations of sounds and silences — bird songs, pounding rain, melting glaciers — that sound musical but is that music. If you break music down into its component parts (pitch, rhythm, timbre, dynamics), you can find them all in natural occurrences of musical sound. And those component parts can all be broken down into patterns of vibration, the most basic non-stuff (without it there is no here, here). Is it human agency the sine qua non of music? What then is sound art, particularly when it involves the human manipulation or re-creation of natural sounds? Soundwave ((4)) green sound, a festival of environmentally themed sound performances, debuts in San Francisco on June 6, 2010 and offers a myriad of settings in which to ponder that question.
ME’DI.ATE’s Soundwave Festival is San Francisco’s premier experiential arts festival held every two years over the span of two months over the summer. Bringing together sound purveyors from across the sonic spectrum (from sound art to experimental to classical to popular music), Soundwave presents innovative performances and activities that challenge the way audiences see and hear sound and music. Each season investigates a new idea through sound that incites diverse artists and musicians to create work that explores the season’s theme in new and innovative directions.