Light Music

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light musicLight has a funny dual nature: it is both particle and wave. I don’t fully understand how this is so, but I quite like the stretchy feeling my brain gets when I attempt to.

Music also has a dual nature. It is, on one hand, a static thing, as embodied in the written score; it holds still to be looked at and analysed. You can put it down and come back later and it’s still recognisably the same thing. You don’t even have to write it down for this to be true. Songs that you learn by ear have that same ability to exist as stable entities that keep the same form even if you don’t sing them for years.

Music is also a dynamic thing that moves in time. It has speed and gesture and development and flow. It vibrates in the senses in the here and now, and when the sounds fade they can never be recaptured.

The study of music has usually focused on the first, static, aspect of music’s nature. This makes sense because studying usually involves taking time to think about things, and for that it’s useful if you can return to the thing you were thinking about to check your ideas. And it’s usually the second, dynamic, aspect that people are interested in when they contend that all this book-learning misses the point, that real music is the exciting, live, in the moment experience that studying scores can’t recapture.

I think it’s over-stating the case to say that the traditional study of music misses the point. Musical works are interesting things, and people care a lot about that sense of being able not only to identify them, but also – in some ways – to identify with them. But it’s also true that musicology has tended to neglect music’s dynamic nature.

I find the metaphor of light’s dual nature a useful way to understand the relationship between these two contradictory but equally real ways of thinking about music. To hear music as both particle and wave allows us to acknowledge the validity and importance of both dimensions, without allowing us to regard either as more significant or interesting.

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