Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In how many notes can you recognize a song? The nature of Art

It's a fun game and it hits to the core of what art is. Traditionally people did it with pianos in a social setting. Someone would start to play a song and the people around would guess what he or she was playing with the fewest notes possible. So how far can you go with this, in how few notes is it possible to recognize a song? The answer is one.

Try it with random songs and eventually you'll be able to get there, then ask yourself just how it was that you were able to recognize it.

After all, at least with melodies, the same starting note can appear in any number of compositions.

The answer, or at least one answer, is that the tone itself only has so much importance. What you hear when you hear a note isn't just the tone but also the velocity, how long it was played, what the note looked like, the volume, but even that isn't enough to explain how it is that one note can mean so much at the start of the piece. Adding to all of that is something that can only be described as attitude, as emotion, as the conception that the player had when starting the piece about what the piece itself was about and how he or she wanted to communicate it. This, which is present in all art, is what you pick up on when a song starts. It makes use of all of the variables mentioned above but it transcends them in that it communicates something more sophisticated than just what an effect a generally hard played note creates. It's a subtle interplay between all of them that communicates an artistic vision, which is present whether or not you're consciously aware of it. Your response to that vision can be different depending on your general personality or attitude, and you can get something out of it that's not immediately recognizable as being connected with the intended meaning, but in the end even the most variant interpretations come together to form the multifaceted nature of the piece.

The same sorts of things apply to writing, although the nature of writing makes interpretation that much more complex, infinitely more complex. I've come to the conclusion that words on a piece of paper, or on a computer screen, alone do not communicate the meaning of a piece. There are so many variables involved with phrasing, sentence structure, paragraph structure, that in the end it's the intent and vision, to whatever point it's present, of the writer that makes the words have the meaning they have.

Wittgenstein looked at the situation of words in his later writing as being clouds of meaning surrounding a single word, with so much depending on the exactitude of the way in which a word is used. It's the transition from one cloud of meaning to another cloud of meaning to another that creates the meaning in a written piece, not the words themselves. Which is why things can be translated....

No comments: