The Separation of Music and Meaning
I sort of laugh when I ponder the whole “intelligent design” diatribe, which ascribes to the notion that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher intelligence. Applying this theory to music would make me an intelligent designer. Whatever. Sure, I create musical universes all the time, but at the end of the day, I’m just a guy who likes to scribble notes on manuscript paper. I’d argue my actions aren’t very intelligent, or designed to act as some kind of conduit to find any deeper meaning. Composing music is quite different from the let-there-be-light modus operandi, yet with both byproducts—a musical composition or the Garden of Eden—meaning is in the eye of the beholder/believer.
I’m attracted to music, in part, due to its meaninglessness. We have many words to describe how music sounds and a vast assortment of theories useful to describe the ways in which music is structured. But really, music isn’t a language in which we can declare fluency. I certainly don’t claim to understand music. It just doesn’t function as a syntactical language, and it’s by no means a reliable mode of communication. In the end, even when converted to mathematical relationships, a certain pitch, sonority, or rhythm conveys no meaning other than societal clichés assigned to whatever the aural phenomena. But even this minor-chord-equals-sad paradigm is unreliable at best.
I realize that many folks out there don’t buy the whole music-is-meaningless argument, and I agree to a certain extent. Music does have meaning, however it doesn’t literally communicate anything distinctly. It’s impossible. Music is a wonderful un-language with the ability to convey many different things, depending on who is listening. As someone who creates music, I don’t mind a bit being left in the dark about the mysteries of music. Maybe it’s just the wails and cries, or the background filler, of an evolved species. Unfortunately, this planet isn’t populated by too many able to keep so Zen about such great unknowns.