Sound and music

Sound has the capacity to conjure sensibilities in us, or rather, we interpret sounds in certain ways. Perhaps the highest refinements of this giving of meaning to sound is in Japanese haiku poetry, where the cry of a bird or the rasp of cicadas in autumn take on a universe of meaning. Such an exercise reflects a self-conscious culture and a sensitivity to nature and emotion.

Music ought to be this high point of creativity as well, and music is often evoked for its ability to express or anticipate meaning. But music is always a cultural contrivance. Music reflects a collective culture, or subculture, from the primitive to the complex. It depends almost entirely on the technology of the moment as much as the composer’s affinities to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. Music imitates and overrides natural sounds, and in this there lies a caution: music can override the flow of responsiveness to natural sounds themselves, to nature itself. Of course, in an urban civilization, music is white noise.