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Ayn Rand's Definition of Music

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Andrew Grathwohl

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According to Ayn Rand herself, the first statement is untrue.

Music employs the sounds produced by the periodic vibrations of a sonorous body, and evokes man’s sense-of-life emotions. - Ayn Rand

The second statement is outrageous. I would never wish to hear a composer's work who did not have a very sophisticated understanding of the timbrel qualities of different instruments. That's the basis of instrumentation. Not understanding the harmonic qualities of each instrument, and the ways that certain instruments will combine when sounded together, are huge pitfalls in music composition.

Which has precisely nothing to do with physics, so you are off on a complete non sequitor. A few million years hunting and gatherering, and a few thousand years of agriculture, architecture, metal-working, sculpture, shipbuilding, weaving, cooking and music were all accomplished without a scientific approach to the subjects. Science begins where systematic experiment and analysis is required to reach valid inferences about any subject, conclusions which are not directly perceivable.

Package-dealing. Human vision is a whole different sensory ballgame, with a much more refined sensitivity.
You misuse the term package-deal. It was analogizing to liken light to sound. Anyway, the essential similarity is the periodicity in the medium. Everything wave-like can be made to happen with either sound or light.

Traditional western scales (major, minor) use the equal temperament tuning system, which is completely based on the physics of frequency ratios. Why do they sound right? Because the interval spacings of the musical scale affect the bassilar membrane through ratios that the central auditory system perceives as pleasant. But that has nothing to do with the music people like.

I disagree that it has literally nothing to do with the music people like, but it is a different subject so why bring it up? What people like is no standard for objective thinking. When I wrote "musical scales sound right" that was not saying "people like scales" but that "people can perceive scales , the notes of a scale are perceived to be related to each other". What people like is their conclusion and is relevant to making a living as a musician, but you can't conduct an investigation into music by starting with other people's conclusions as irreducible unanalyzable primaries, you'll never get anywhere.

As you say, "the only justification for a scale "sounding good" is the bassilar membrane's logarithmic reaction to frequency and amplitude." Moving toward an esthetic judgment within the field of music after the field has been defined is a different task, but you don't keep things separated long enough to think clearly about them. There is a difference between the philosophy of science and actually doing science, and again a difference in defining ethics and the meta-ethical issues and actually thinking out and being ethical.

Ayn Rand herself disproves your idea in "Art and Cognition":

Helmholtz has demonstrated that the essence of musical perception is mathematical: the consonance or dissonance of harmonies depends on the ratios of the frequencies of their tones. The brain can integrate a ratio of one to two, for instance, but not of eight to nine. - Ayn Rand

You do realize those numbers, eight and nine, are ratios of periodicities? Those things that are mathematical abstractions unachievable in reality, yet somehow we hear them?

Periodicity absolutely does exist, and I never said otherwise. There is a difference between a thing being examinable only in certain fields of study and a thing being entirely unattainable in reality.
What is entirely unattainable in reality does not exist. What exists already is not unattainable.

Just because you don't like a certain kind of music does not make it unmusical. If you think musique concrete has no musical value, then you have absolutely no concept of the practice. How are all works composed with the musique concrete technique not music? I take it you'd have enough sense to not be a fan of naturalism, so surely you could defend this sentiment in the other arts. Is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead not a play? Are the works of Jackson Pollock not pantings?
And yet despite the similarities a baseball game is not a play, and a photograph is not a painting. Gosh, its such a mystery. What could be going on here?

And don't argue against a strawman. As I appended to that post: The only possibility 'musique concrete' has to be useful is a creation of a new set of sounds equivalent to a new musical instrument, as long as it can be reconciled to some musical scale.

You're confusing process with result. It is standard practice for any composer to understand and manipulate the frameworks that he/she is using to compose, but outside of musical composition, the presence of a scale in a piece of music, or the type of scale used, is only inherently necessary to consider for composers who write works of music containing standard musical scales. Scales are not concepts that are necessary to understand for musical listening or enjoyment.

It is also certainly possible to compose by ear. This sure does read very similar to "understanding physics is not necessary to hear or play music". They are similar for the same reason: concepts are not necessary to perceive. Scales as an explicitly held concept are not necessary for process or result, but someone who did know scales and used them would "know what he was doing".

Concepts are necessary to explain anything, however. You can not reach any definition of a concept without following in practice some theory of concepts and definitions. Ayn Rand's theory of concepts is the essence of the philosophy of Objectivism.

In fact, there is no need for a piece of music to have a scale of any sort for it to be enjoyed, even if you consider the fact that musical scales help you reach a broader audience by using musical qualities that your audience has grown up hearing their entire lives. This is evident by examining the emotional responses that atonal and non-Western pieces elicit from listeners. Periodicity is not required for performing a musical composition because, if it were, then very little music would ever be played, since fluctuations in frequency occur all the time in musical performance, which can be the result of either intentional modulations or unintentional fluctuations due to technique and materials.

Look up what Ayn Rand had to say about measurement omission.

Periodicity is involved in anatomically perceiving music, due to the human ear's auditory nerve fiber tunings and the Greenwood function inherent in the bassilar membrane's place-frequency map. However, once we deal with the psychoacoustic processing of sound, it's anybody's guess at this point. Even Ayn Rand herself stated that the jury is not out on that one, as referenced above.
Dealing with the psychoacoustics of sound does not dispose of the subject, it is fundamental to the entire field of music in the sense of "makes it possible". To know all that and then just set it aside as irrelevant to the greater abstractions in musical composition is foolish. You are not integrating your knowledge.
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