Music, by Tomás Marco

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In which way does Music help us understand the world?

It helps us through one of the senses, the hearing, which is also governed by the mind. To a big extent, the musical results are results of a mental kind. Well, Leonardo already said that all Art is mental, which is true. It is sensory, but it becomes mental material. And Music helps us develop and educate the hearing sense, but more than the hearing, which is where it comes from, its profits are mostly in two important elements: on the one hand memory, on the other, time. Music is really only perceptible by humans because they have a short term memory but also a long term one. The shape of a musical piece depends exclusively on memory. I have read some article that asserts that a fish can listen to one of Chopin’s preludes without a problem because it has enough ability to distinguish the notes, but is unable to know that it’s a prelude from Chopin because its immediate memory is five seconds long. And a piece from Chopin is more than five seconds long. We have the ability to listen to an hour long symphony and string together everything that’s being lived there through memory and have an image like an only object in this temporal process. On the other hand, there’s the time perception sense. How time becomes an internal space, inside of us, and that’s where music itself lives, or we are the ones who live in the music, as Eluard’s poem claims.

Is there an equivalence between music and mathematics, like in Pythagorean times?

Yes, there is. There has always been, because music created an artifact called counterpoint and then harmony, which is actually translating to musical language elements that are mathematical. Harmony could be studied without relating to sound, without relating to notes, simply as a mathematical formula. What happens is that it is studied from the musical point of view. Even nowadays. During the whole project of the great music from the 20th Century there’s an approach to mathematical elements from the musicians, from Schonbergian dodecaphonism to microtonalism, electoracustic music, that is based in a technical element. And nowadays they work a lot with geometrical forms. From already deceased composers, like Xenakis, etc., till the use of fractals, which is very frequent in music. I don’t think that the Pythagorical ideal has been abandoned by music, but that we sometimes speak with a jargon other than mathematical.

Why is it pleasant to listen to a harmony?

Because of the external concordances with others from within and, mostly, because of the previous preparation with which we confront it. This is the problem of all new kinds of music. People listen to them with the hearing of the old music. Thus, we don’t ever like them. I don’t mean music from today, I mean Ars Nova or from 1400 or Monteverdi’s music. Once these prejudices are overcome, one reaches the conclusion that concepts of dissonance and consonance are historicist, subjective and, of course, they don’t have a real basis, mostly in a century like the 20th, which has been conquering further than the scale to integrate the possibility that any sound can be musical material, at least a priori. Then it has to be worked on, obviously. That’s why it’s like that. Afterwards, it depends on what each person wants to listen to. It is true that if a person is going to listen to a new work with the ears ready to listen to a Mozart symphony, he’s not going to like it at all, because it won’t sound like a Mozart symphony. There’s often unprejudiced audiences who don’t have all this previous experience and that’s why they receive it better. They like or not what they hear, but not in relation to what they were hoping to hear.

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