Saturday, July 6, 2013

Motion, Sound, and the Organism: Music over Language

Is the quavering cry of the Florida Loon comforting, sad, or spooky? That’s entirely a matter of subjective acculturation. I know this in the most direct way possible.

But, if music is the visceral response to sound, then even sounds that happen to strike one with horror could be called music. But, that so misses the point that there is no way back to the point by that route. Begin at the beginning, and as many times as it takes. It’s already here.

Music is not plays of photons on our retinas. Music is plays of vibrations of domestic fluids on our brains. The main and proper source of photons is far distant from our home. But, domestic vibrations...

...Hearing is the brain’s own special sense of vibration which is dedicated to ‘turning up the volume’ on the visceral sense of sound, and of otherwise locating oneself in reference to other valuable objects.

Music is the happy vibration of our brains, and, properly, by way of the fluids of our home. Fetal fluids, and, later, the fluid called air. Air is that proper fluid for human domesticity. The fetal variety is merely the training ground for a full domestic sense.

What, you may wonder, am I getting at. Or, perhaps, you think, I’ve already gotten at it: what I’ve said is all that really can be said about it (or, that I think can be said about it).

‘Music is vibration, so just assent to it, and forget about actually understanding what the heck such a statement even means.’ To what is it the proper reference?

‘Who cares’, says Moe, ‘It’s the truth, so it’s all you need to know! Music is music! It’s not my problem you’re tone deaf!’

...There’s a reason Moe is one of the Stooges.


In humans, the intellectual mediation of sounds typically takes the form of the habit we call ‘auditory language reception/delivery’: discrete, and often complex, intellectual mediation of sounds for the purpose of projecting or inferring discrete ideational usage of those sounds. Even in the written form, such as this introduction, language typically engages the linguistic instinct of those familiar with its meanings. So, the capable English reader does not typically treat this sentence as abstract visual art, but, rather, habitually as language

So, language already has the monopoly on general intellectual meaning. That leaves music and musicality the job of provoking emotions, and thus, among more artful or cognitively playful things, of making language more efficient and effective than language can be on its own.

So, music doesn’t need to be an intellectual language, else music would be competing with language rather than complementing language. No one needs a Department of Redundancy Department, much less a Department of Contentiousness Department. Unfortunately, some who are in some ways viscerally or kinesthetically feeble feebly think that music can be worth anything only if music can abide the drily intellectual strictures of language. As Steven Pinker puts it, ‘Music could vanish from humanity and the rest of our lifestyle would continue [on as it always has].” Pinker's view seems to be that things are valuable in terms only of how they may be used to crush competitors. If this is how Pinker thinks, then, naturally, he's going to fault music for being so cooperation- and play-minded. In any case, the point is, music isn't competing. It’s complementing. Only a feebly Vulcanist turn of mind would think that’s a waste.

As everyone knows (or, ought to know), play is a sign of health. Play is an expression of the joy of freedom to move about, and to create new learnings. Play is one of the most powerful, and most essential, ways the brain is stimulated to grow. In fact, the human brain seeks more stimuli—productive stimuli—than can be provided by just ‘thinking’. Even when a person is tired of the work of intellectualizing upon something, such that that work becomes a strain, his or her brain still seeks productive stimuli. Music is one of the most effective, and cost-effective, ways of providing productive stimuli to the brain without requiring the brain to strain to obtain that stimuli. Music is, occasionally, among other occasional things, like a jungle gym for a happy child: a direct form of play for the brain.


Music is visceral response to sounds, regardless of language content. So, making music is the art of cooperating with sound to directly affect our biological selves. In fact, making music began by using sounds as avatars, to dance with other sounds, and thus reach across biological space to penetrate the core of another living being. As I shall explain later, music is the direct language of analogue. Music is SETI before there were such thoughts experiments as ‘extraterrestrials’: the fetus’s perception of the Great Wide Beyond.

So, the exquisite differences and relations between, respective advantages of, language and music cannot be discovered by trying to force music to fit the mold of language. These differences and advantages are discovered only by playfully asking language to try to fit the mold of music. “Meet me halfway...across the sky... I’m where the world belongs to only you and I.” Kenny Loggins - Meet Me Halfway

Music is harmony in disparity of voices. This kind of harmony is something which language, by definition, cannot achieve: language is that way with sounds which commands attention to one voice at a time, for the purpose of communicating specific, if complex, thoughts and wishes, and for guiding the mind to apprehend and maintain important ideational distinctions.

So, music is the opposite, and complementary, way with sounds from that of language. This allows the possibility of a harmony of disparate simultaneous voices: the sounds of different instruments are appreciated directly, and, thus, the hosts of their analogues come to play in our brain.

Imagine, then, an ‘orchestra’ of speakers, in which each person speaks a respectively different thought. The linguistic content of such an ‘orchestra’ cannot understood simply by letting it reach the ear, since the total ‘harmony’ is of mere sounds in which each voice is representing specific ideas far beyond the sounds themselves. A chorus of wolf howls isn’t linguistically complex, and so is not required to keep from ‘blinding’ the individual wolf to the ideational content of the individual chorus-ers. So,—to put it overly simply—human language is that human way with sounds requiring the audience to focus on the chronological details of one distinct voice, one voice at a time. If you want something on the spectrum of white noise, then an ‘orchestra’ of human speakers can do the job. It’s only when the rainforest jungle goes quite—as it rarely does—that you really sit up and listen.


In the lower, or non-human, animals, there is little or no wholesale distinction made between visceral vocal sounds and more ideationally discrete vocal sounds. Grunts and squawks do the job of both, as there is little of the kind of intelligence either to perceive or care about finer or more complex distinctions within, and between, the visceral and the intellectual. Animals feel that they get by fine without the thorough and sharp distinctions, and, I suppose, they have trouble keeping track anyway. So, to be trained somehow to make a thorough distinction would, for them, be the useless redundancy. They already have both sides of the coin, and their experience usually has been with the presupposition that neither side is all that good by itself. Of course, the animals do play with sounds; and, so, if viscerally pleasant playing with sounds is music, then they have music.
But, the non-human animals don’t have the kind of refined or extensive intelligence that allows the production of complex ordered, hierarchically sensitive musics. By definition, those complex musics reflect the extent to which the organism which produces it can reflect upon their own biological complexities in the complex world.

And, that reflection suggests the idea that, given that music is the viscerally pleasant response to vibration, the living organism is a musical instrument. The non-human animals already know that much. It’s humans who, for a pedantic love of pendantry, lose sight of that simple, but profound, fact, as well as others equally simple-and-profound:

In so far as music is defined as more-or-less viscerally pleasant response to sound, music is, in sum, the ‘love language’ of intelligence. Given that humans are the most self-reflective organisms, the most complex and acoustically self-identifying musics are human musics. (By ‘acoustic self-identification’ I mean such things as phrase repetition, tonal harmonies, etc.)

So, sounds have visceral power over biology and, hence, psychology (even a lone note can be 'felt' in the musical sense, that is, in the sound itself without respect to its source or 'original intent'). Based on this, music is the direct, kinesthetic-visceral language of analogue to anything and everything, even to every dynamic and detail in the cosmos.

Part of what distinguishes acoustic language from music is that language, in any medium, is mainly the intellectual gymnastics of being sure to have communicated often complex discrete facts, typically with a minimum of the alarmingly excited actions that would get your civilized audience so #@#! excited or afraid that they fail to quite get all of the important details you intend by your language. And, since only humans have both the ability and the interest even to expand, refine, and develop their personal and collective sets of facts, only humans have the wholesale habit of mediating vocal sounds with these complex intellectual gymnastics. This means language, to be efficient, tends be, among other things, a reduction both of possible vocal viscerality and of the number of possible vocal forms which comprise the language. Babies start out with what may be called a ‘universal’ accent, and, only after sufficient time being exposed to a mother tongue, learn to focus almost exclusively on the vocal forms of that mother tongue. But, the universality of music is left intact, such that only by an elitist restriction of musical exposure does a child learn to fail to appreciate sounds as such.

So, in contrast to music (the refined and unrefined visceral appreciation of sound), language in the acoustic medium (the use of sound for expressing and communicating more-or-less disinterested logical exploration/observation) tends to be non-viscerally refined, that is, mainly arbitrary in its forms. Moreover, since language, in any medium, is concerned with keeping track of thoughts about the vastly variable world and the creaturely mind, the set of forms used by a language must be constrained to an efficient minimum of varieties of basic functional form. This constraint on language, combined with raw vocal variability of acoustical language in terms of the unique conditions of geographic and chronological location, is what produces dialect or accent in vocal language, and, in many cases, allows for divergence into a distinct vocal language.

Music, on the other hand, is freedom in the use of sounds for the more-or-less direct visceral/kinesthetic effect of sounds on the hearer. And, the proper point of sounds is not negativity or unpleasantness, but positive and pleasant. After all, the negative, to be worth anything, must be in defense of the positive. Even a cathartic kind of sadness, such as what drives some to sing the inspirational Blues, is positive: Positive of the fact that the human organism is a musical instrument, and, properly, a fully domestic one.


Acoustic language is the human mode of sound dedicated to expressing and communicating more-or-less abstract ideas about the world and about the self. Therefore, language, acoustic and otherwise, is the mode of expression which is carefully mediated by the intellect. But, the distinction between music and (acoustic) language isn’t quite as simple as that between the raw visceral perception of sound and the intellectually mediated perception/production of sound. This is because the intelligently complex ordering of sounds for raw visceral effect is itself a kind of intellectual mediation of sounds.

But, if music is itself an intellectual mediation of sounds, then, what, exactly, is music in the normal human sense of complex intelligently ordered visceral sound? Consider the fact that bats use eco-location to orient themselves with respect to their environment. Most human music is, literally, the ‘eco-location’ of the most reflectively intelligent organism’s sense of self in the world, including of its self-reflective intellect. So, music is visceral ‘eco-location’ of the mind with respect to either or both actual physical or abstracted objects. Musical perception is, therefore, at least three things:

One, musical perception is the organism’s intelligently complex acoustic sense of space and external objects. In this sense, music is the architecture of sound: that most omnipresent of solids; the ethereal sense of everything external to the self.

Two, musical perception is the organism’s intelligently complex acoustic sense of its own body. This is perhaps especially in regard to kinesthesis: the organism’s sense of the mass and motion of its various parts in space and with respect to one another. Equine kinesthesis, for example, develops so quickly that a newborn horse acquires the ability to stand, walk, and run in a matter of a few days. Of course, compared to a human, horses have little intellectual or general practical potential. So, a newborn horse’s brain is occupied with such a narrow set of practical objectives that the rate of development toward those objectives is comparatively quick.

Three, musical perception is the organism’s abstract sense(s) of itself dancing with itself and with its abstract sense(s) of the world. This means that musical perception is the ‘expressway’ or ‘dedicated internet server’ between different cognitive locations: directly stimulating the cognitive networks by bypassing the consciously abstract filters which pertain to language perception/production. Music thus exercises the brain without the organism having to make special effort to causing the exercise to occur. Music is a little like the direct electrical contractive stimulation of the muscles for a person whose broken bones are still too much in the process of healing to bear a load commensurate to that by which the muscles (and bones) need to be maintained. Complex musical perception/production is thus the language of high general visceral and, or, abstract intelligence.

These three together mean that music is the viscerally direct language of analogue: analogue for anything and everything.

So, music is the especially human (but by no means exclusively human) mode of raw expression of, and, or, appreciation for, sound. This includes, but is not limited to, the intelligently complex ordering of sounds which most commonly are understood among humans by the term ‘music’ or its non-English equivalents. Music, especially in the sense of the complex intelligent ordering of sound, is cognitively holistic: the perception/production of sound for direct pleasure in the sounds necessarily is more-or-less unmediated by those intellectual filters which are invoked for the production or reception of acoustic language (i.e., the acoustic expression of, and assistant to, complex ideational discretion).

Of course, acoustic language is capable of being perceived ‘in the raw’ by humans, that is, without regard for intellectual/linguistic content. But, the structure of language is the product of the purposes of language as distinct from those of merely visceral reactions to sounds. So, by habit, it is difficult for many humans to attend to common instances of language without being taken up with concerns as to what the ideational content either may be or seems to be. Nevertheless, two prime examples of the raw visceral perception of acoustic language is in the ‘pre-linguistic’ infant’s visceral perception of his mother tongue, and in the adult speaker’s visceral perception of an acoustic language which is foreign to him (i.e., the specific ideational content of which he has not yet really begun to learn), perhaps especially as may be heard on ‘foreign language’ radio talk programming.
But, unlike music, language (acoustic and otherwise) is the device of attaining someone’s undivided attention to ideational discretion (as I hope you notice in reading this). So, the structure, and elements, of a language, especially acoustic language contra music, is a function of the concern for the interplay of maximum effect, and maximum production efficiency, of communicating the intended discretions.

On the side of production efficiency is mono-tonality and mono-rhythm-ality. An example of this production efficiency is the prosody of ‘Computer’ of the original Star Trek TV series. Of course, engineering such a voice requires much less trouble, because there are no variables of tone and rhythm to program into the computer.

But, in so far as a natural living organism is a complex and dynamic hierarchy of functions, the organism most effectively expresses, and, thus, is most effectively communicated with by, variable tones and rhythms. 

A Vulcan abstractionism is like a slug’s defensively shrinking into itself, because, as the non-redundant Maria Montessori showed us, the very ability to acquire and refine abstractions, including mistaken abstractions, is based on actual, variable, visceral experience.

1 comment:

  1. Your writing has enhanced my own thinking on this subject. I particularly resonate with your conception of music as a visceral response, not just the sounds themselves. Music is a process whose existence depends on a perceiver. "Cooperating with sound" -- well put. I look forward to reading more...