What Is Music?

Arts & Celebrities

“What is music?” my friend asked me.

I explained how we, as humans, instinctively react to music by moving our bodies in weird ways, just dancing, and that’s universally understood. I thought that was a good answer because that’s partly what makes music special to me—its ability to make us groove.

I was wrong.

He questioned what music is outside of how it makes us dance. I said it’s one of life’s simple pleasures as well as one of the most complex things humans can create. To make numerous instruments and sounds combine to form beauty is no small feat. The easiest part of it is taking it in, relishing in the splendor of it all.

But that wasn’t enough. I still wasn’t answering his question.

He kept challenging me, but I was having a hard time grasping what he meant. He simply knocked on my desk, questioning how that is different from the music we listen to and pay money to see performed live. I explained that is subjective to each person.

Still, I was wrong.

I kept throwing responses at him that I thought would satisfy his hunger for an answer, but none of them were right. He didn’t want the literal meaning, which is, according to Britannica, “art concerned with combining vocal or instrumental sounds for beauty of form or emotional expression, usually according to cultural standards of rhythm, melody and, in most Western music, harmony.”

Having become annoyed with the conversation at this point because nothing I said was right, I was ready to give up. But I then questioned myself, “What is music outside of movement, complexity and sound?” If it’s none of those, then is it Fibonacci’s golden ratio? It’s considered the universal understanding of what compromises beauty. But that wasn’t enough for my friend. I was lost. However, I gave it one last shot.

“Is music language?”

That, finally, stumped him. Could music possibly be that? I told my confidant that no matter the language, music resonates with people universally. Coco & Breezy, non-Spanish speakers, recently told me in an interview how seeing Bad Bunny perform was a moving and inspirational experience for them. Their encounter with seeing the Puerto Rican rapper and singer live is only one of the many ways within the mainstream sector alone of how music transcends language.

Marta Dziurosza once said, “The more languages you have, the more worlds you belong to.” Therefore, if music is a universal language, then yes, there are more worlds listeners can belong to—worlds that many may have never conceived of entering. Personally, I didn’t think I would ever find myself resonating with an ethno-musical collective called OTYKEN, whose main group members are the Chulyms—a small indigenous group from central Siberia who combine folk musical instruments with modern trends to discuss folk crafts, such as beekeeping and herbalism. This is but one instance of how I love any music that makes me dance. For me, it’s all about whatever sounds provide me with a rhythm that strikes an internal chord, regardless of whether it’s in a language I understand or, perhaps more interestingly, even has words.

But music can be so much more than a universal language, something I’ve learned in my time as a music journalist. One question I have frequently asked the countless artists I’ve interviewed is, “What do you try to cultivate through your music and deejaying?” My favorite answer is from Mary Droppinz, who partly responded with, “So many people just think of deejays as someone who’s just playing on a playlist. I think it’s so much higher and deeper than that. I think of us as energy conductors.”

What sparks the most interest in me is the last portion: Energy conductors. Energy, according to Dictionary.com, has to do with power—a word that is used in all nine definitions of energy. Does music hold that over us?

To me, music is power. It has power over our emotions, movement, energy and thoughts. “How is Porter Robinson’s ‘Goodbye to a World’ different from Martin Garrix’s ‘Animals’?” my friend asked me. For me, the former evokes numerous feelings, ones of sadness yet also sensations of understanding and hope. The latter, in my opinion, is associated with partying, particularly seen in the “Golden Era of EDM,” which some may say is 2009-2012. The two records are very different, and no matter your taste in music, it’s easily agreeable that they hold very different power over people.

I asked my friend for his thoughts, mainly what his answer was to his own question. To my disbelief, he didn’t have one. According to him, it’s an ever-evolving conversation. But can that really be true? Yes, music is cyclical when it comes to the latest trends, but does that change music’s definition as it enters new eras? For that, I don’t believe so, but perhaps I am wrong.

I urge you to question what music means and leave your answers in the comments. If it’s more than beauty, sound, language and power, as well as greater than how it makes us feel and move, then what is it?


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