How much of the music you listen to is really original?

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TetraModulus
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How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby TetraModulus » Wed Dec 19, 2012 7:03 pm UTC

I watched a video from Vsauce recently called "Will We Ever Run Out of New Music?". It got me thinking a lot about how music is created and the origins of genre and scale and melody (and theory in general).

I want to discuss what defines ORIGINAL music. Like, truly original. Like, something someone has never thought of before. Ever. Unheard of. To the point where the conception of a new idea can be traced to a single absolute point in time.

It just seems to me that 100% out of 100% of recording artists and bands today can't say they're music was not influenced by anything. Breaking it down in my mind, it seems like the rudimentary influence for all music is nature. Or the universe. Because those are the first things to exist, right?

I guess what I'm trying to ask is... how do you DEFINE a genre? How do you CREATE one? What events led to the creation of genres like R&B, acid jazz, dubstep, country, metal, etc.?

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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby kybernetes » Thu Dec 27, 2012 7:08 am UTC

I think genres evolve from each other. There are countless factors to consider (especially historically) including region, purpose/intention, instruments available, cultural phenomena, etc. when trying to pin down where a certain music comes from, what makes it original, and when music stopped being one genre and started being another. If you look at classical composers (and not just the famous ones), you notice all of them sharing similar characteristics that evolved from previous generations of composers. If we lived in the time of Beethoven, people might've accused him of ripping off earlier musicians (his early work shows incredible influences from his mentor, Joseph Haydn), but he and other contemporary composers eventually came into their own sound and genre.

I don't think one can simply create a genre. It comes from experimenting and trying new things. I agree, I dont think any artist can claim that their music had no influences, but I don't think they'd want to either. It's important to have roots in music, but the evolution of genres comes from those artists who say "Yeah, we loved Elvis and his rockabilly style, but we're looking for something a little different. Let's see what new sounds we can get out of this equipment." In case you're wondering, I'm thinking of the Beatles. But their musical style not only developed from changes to a previous genre, they also traveled and found new influences in new places (U.S., India), and were able to obtain some of the newest musical technology out there (mellotrons and moog synthesizers come to mind) and produce new sounds from it. The sounds they liked, they kept.

I think you can find a causal relationship between previous genres, introduction of technology, and influence of new cultural ideas to be driving factors in any genre creation. R&B and Jazz has roots in early Afro-Caribbean and African-American music, but Jazz and Blues today (generally) aren't about the travesty of slavery. Technology had a huge impact on the transformation of classic rock and roll to acid/psychedelic rock in the late 60s and 70s.

As for defining a genre, that's much more subjective.
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Bloopy » Thu Jan 17, 2013 10:59 am UTC

I'd define a genre as a useful grouping of artists or tracks that share common elements. Preferably elements of the music itself rather than country of origin, era, etc. I agree that beyond that it's subjective.

TetraModulus wrote:I want to discuss what defines ORIGINAL music. Like, truly original. Like, something someone has never thought of before. Ever. Unheard of. To the point where the conception of a new idea can be traced to a single absolute point in time.

Truly original in every aspect, or just one? I think every genre builds on previous ones somehow, all the way back to prehistoric music. Creating a new genre involves combining multiple existing genres in new ways or making small changes that haven't been made before. Then it's almost luck as to whether the new style becomes popular and spawns a whole new scene. It helps to have a different image and/or attitude to go with it.

In my opinion, a number of artists I listen to created genres. In the case of metal, earlier bands like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles had "heavy" songs, but I think it took Black Sabbath's idea of making scary music (combined with their sound and image) to actually create something resembling a genre.

Other examples:
- Ramones (punk). Had a different attitude and brought fresh ideas such as fast, simple songs, and live sets that were finished in under 20 minutes.
- Luigi Russolo (noise music). Built devices for creating noise and composed pieces for them. Others used noises in music, but he envisioned that noise could replace existing music completely.

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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Роберт » Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:34 pm UTC

There has never been new music, ever. If you make your definition of "new" too narrow, that is. Not sure what the point is?
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Nylonathatep » Wed Feb 27, 2013 1:45 am UTC

I think this article would answer some questions on this thread:

http://www.alancross.ca/a-journal-of-mu ... idenc.html

Given what we’ve had to work with in the west, we’ve certainly been able to create a lot of music. For centuries, we’ve used a standard scale of pitches or “notes” called the “chromatic scale”: 12 notes in an octave - then repeat.

These 12 notes are the building blocks of our music. Everything from the greatest Mozart opera to the dumbest punk song is constructed from the same basic stuff.

That would lead you to believe that the number of combinations of notes would be infinite. And if not infinite, we’re certainly dealing with a very, very big number.

Actually, I have that number. This comes courtesy of a guy name Frank Behrens who wrote about this in something called The Arts Times in 2004.

A quick bit of math reveals that there are 479,001,600 possible combinations of those 12 notes - if you just played them once each.

But hang on. You just can’t stick a bunch of tones and semitones together and expect them to sound good. Music has to sound pleasing to the ear and soul, too.

That means that despite that last exercise in big numbers, there are only so many combinations of notes that work from an artistic and aesthetic point of view. Are you beginning to see the problem?

If there are only so many notes than can be put together in only so many pleasing ways, how long before things start being repeated? And we can narrow things down even further when we apply the idiom and aesthetics of, say, rock’n’roll and pop music.


Or you can listen to it :

Ep 556 (2007-05-13) Plagiarism or Unfortunate Sonic Coincidence? (1)
Ep 557 (2007-05-20) Plagiarism or Unfortunate Sonic Coincidence? (2)

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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Adam H » Thu Feb 28, 2013 10:12 pm UTC

Nylonathatep wrote:http://www.alancross.ca/a-journal-of-mu ... idenc.html
Can't listen to those podcasts, but IMO that math is about as oversimplified as you can get. It would be like saying "there are 6 basic colors and 9 basic regions of a painting, so there can only be 6^9 different paintings".

He's ignoring timbre, rhythm, and harmony, not to mention melodies that contain repeating notes, don't include some of the 12 notes, or extend beyond the range of an octave.
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby ahammel » Fri Mar 01, 2013 6:55 pm UTC

Most melodies don't include all 12 notes. The one that do sound really weird to most people (including me).
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Роберт » Mon Mar 04, 2013 6:55 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:
Nylonathatep wrote:http://www.alancross.ca/a-journal-of-mu ... idenc.html
Can't listen to those podcasts, but IMO that math is about as oversimplified as you can get. It would be like saying "there are 6 basic colors and 9 basic regions of a painting, so there can only be 6^9 different paintings".

He's ignoring timbre, rhythm, and harmony, not to mention melodies that contain repeating notes, don't include some of the 12 notes, or extend beyond the range of an octave.

Exactly. It's a dumb exercise.
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Sean Quixote » Tue Mar 12, 2013 5:50 am UTC

I can't help but think that most of the OP's questions are already answered in the very video they were inspired -- no, influenced (see how that works? :)) by. (Thanks for giving me another channel to subscribe to, though. I prolly already should have been because I think he's somehow associated with Numberphile, which I've been watching a lot of lately, but I digress.)

In the video, Vsauce talks about how mind-bogglingly long it will take for us to truly and definitively exhaust all the possibilities in a mere five-minute piece of music, and then goes on about how despite the possibilities, we humans tend to gravitate towards a rather small portion of them. (Also keep in mind that all of the calculations discussed are still sticking to a fairly narrow view of what music is and could be -- there'd be even way more possibilities if you wanted to get all chromatic and atonal and shit, and then consider those possibilities!) There are many reasons for this, one being because a lot of them are "tried and true" -- face it, you know that I-V-vi-IV is awesome, most probably precisely because of how versatile it is -- but another is because there would be no such thing as music, or any artform in general, if not for people being inspired to create something based off of something else, usually something else that was created by somebody else. If it were even possible to come up with something totally new based off of absolute-zero outside influence (I don't think it is, and I doubt that anyone who knows what they're talking about, especially anyone who's ever actually written and/or performed music, would claim that it is) then we'd have no use for many of the words that we use to describe music: there'd be no refrain, no chorus, not even verse -- hell, would there even be such a thing as chords, or even notes? These are all things that eventually get repeated, sometimes ad nauseum... and sometimes that's the point... *shrug*

Now of course, ideas that are "like, truly original" are great, but they're also a lot harder to come up with, and much less to be aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, I'm sorry if you're impatient or whatever, but it's going to take WAY longer than the mathematically minimum amount of time for us to verifiably deplete every single possible idea that ever could possibly exist. Why? Because as far as inspiration goes all that we have to work with is what we've already seen and done so far. And furthermore, while the avant-garde is essential for progress, some ideas are just plain too far ahead of the times that we are currently living in. Even the most innovative, or maybe even intentionally surreal shit that we've got today is but a slight variation of previously explored territory, at least in the grand scheme of things.

No matter how edgy you think your tastes are, I guarantee you that if time travel were possible and we could hear a piece of music from the next millennium (and nothing avant-garde for its time, either, imagine in this hypothetical example of something that at whatever far-distant future date will be considered cliché even at the moment of its own creation)... well, you and I would most likely simply be unable to digest it. It'd be like the inverse of that recent South Park episode where Randy Marsh is trying to pretend like he "gets" the shitty music that kids these days are listening to. :P Think about what would happen if you were to take, say, a Marilyn Manson CD with you back to midieval Europe and play it at a church (not expliticly for the shock value, but as a matter of fact because that's where the majority of musical culture existed during that period in human history)... they'd probably think you were the Devil, right? Well, good luck making it back to your time machine in one piece... I would suggest also bringing along with you some very flame-retardant clothing. ;)

ahammel wrote:Most melodies don't include all 12 notes. The one that do sound really weird to most people (including me).

Haha. I fucking love this! :mrgreen:

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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Thesh » Tue Mar 12, 2013 5:56 am UTC

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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby ahammel » Tue Mar 12, 2013 4:07 pm UTC

Sean Quixote wrote:Now of course, ideas that are "like, truly original" are great, but they're also a lot harder to come up with[...]
Nonsense, just "compose" them completely at random.

Trololololol
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Роберт » Wed Mar 13, 2013 9:09 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:
Sean Quixote wrote:Now of course, ideas that are "like, truly original" are great, but they're also a lot harder to come up with[...]
Nonsense, just "compose" them completely at random.

Trololololol

Because in the world before computers were widespread, composing at random was a common idea that anyone could have come up with?

Yeah, right. That's like saying The Matrix or Lord of the Rings is extremely cliché because you saw all the stuff that built on their ideas before you saw the original.
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby ahammel » Wed Mar 13, 2013 9:29 pm UTC

Роберт wrote:Because in the world before computers were widespread, composing at random was a common idea that anyone could have come up with?
That's not what I meant at all. The joke was that it's pretty easy to get new musical ideas (read: "combinations of notes") if you don't care what they sound like. Just pick notes at random.

The idea to do that was certainly an original one, but there wouldn't really be any point in doing it twice, since it invariably sounds like you threw a cat on your piano.
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Sean Quixote » Wed Mar 13, 2013 9:37 pm UTC

Actually, zoomusicology is a well-founded area of study.

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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Роберт » Thu Mar 14, 2013 2:14 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:
Роберт wrote:Because in the world before computers were widespread, composing at random was a common idea that anyone could have come up with?
That's not what I meant at all. The joke was that it's pretty easy to get new musical ideas (read: "combinations of notes") if you don't care what they sound like. Just pick notes at random.

The idea to do that was certainly an original one, but there wouldn't really be any point in doing it twice, since it invariably sounds like you threw a cat on your piano.

Oh, right. I thought you were making a completely different point. Lots of people discount Cage's pioneering work and amazing influence because some of the end results weren't exactly pretty.

But yes - something that is "completely original" isn't likely to have much of an emotional connection or be able to trigger interesting emotions in the listeners. Being "completely original" is dumb. Being creative and adding interesting original twists is where it's at.
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby philsov » Thu Mar 14, 2013 3:11 pm UTC

I want to discuss what defines ORIGINAL music. Like, truly original. Like, something someone has never thought of before. Ever. Unheard of. To the point where the conception of a new idea can be traced to a single absolute point in time.


Instrumentation, for one. Sure, there are string instruments -- but there are nuances and genres on the mandolin vs banjo vs 6 string guitar. There are only so many notes and beats per minute, but the amount of instruments in the world is always increasing. Especially if you tilt your head and squint your eyes juuuuust so, because the human voice is unique to the individual.

Anything with a brand new instrument can be defined as original, I'd like to think. Usually it's a spectrum of gradual change. Pacing a line saying one object is too similar to another isn't original, but give it two more degrees of difference and it suddenly is original... is a difficult thing to do. Either almost everything is original, or nothing is.

Take for example this dude (Ted Talk, Mark Applebaum shows off his new... instrument.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46w99bZ3 ... age#t=273s
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby ahammel » Thu Mar 14, 2013 3:49 pm UTC

Роберт wrote:Oh, right. I thought you were making a completely different point. Lots of people discount Cage's pioneering work and amazing influence because some of the end results weren't exactly pretty.
Yeah, I'm not a Cage-basher. Pieces like 4'33" and Music of Changes are way more interesting as thought experiments than as actual music for my money, but he wrote quite a lot of stuff that works as both.

He was also something of a virtuoso of the electric cactus.
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Re: How much of the music you listen to is really original?

Postby Роберт » Thu Mar 14, 2013 4:04 pm UTC

philsov wrote:Anything with a brand new instrument can be defined as original, I'd like to think.

"It's just another set of vibrating metal strings, it's not original".

Or "it's just a doorstop, it's not original". People can easily dismiss something as not being truly original. But yes, that was your point.

I think asking "is it original" is as unuseful as asking "is it music".
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