Music vs Noise

What is the difference between noise and music? Can music be created by non-human animals? Is there such a thing as noise appreciation?

music is what you make it. there’s a genre of music called ‘noise’ and that’s basically what it is. check out artists ‘merzbow’, lou reed’s ‘metal machine music’ album (and since october, cd–it came out on vinyl in the 70s). noise artists (mostly japanese, for some reason) layer sounds, found and created, into a lush soundscape that’s more suitable for backgound noise (no pun intended) than active listening, but sometimes you just gotta listen to it and pick it apart.
lou reed’s album was basically 60 mins worth of feedback from guitars, 2 on each channel. sometime;s it’s backwards, sometimes the same track is on each channel, but it’s all noise.

it’s interesting.

Uh, I thought Metal Machine Music was just that… machines running.


Noise is what individuals try to tune out in order so that each can listen to music. Music are the sounds that attracts the individual, noise acts as a repellant. The controversy is how individuals process the different sounds we hear. The agreed key to any good music is variety of sound. The green karaoke bar demon in Angel says it best (paraphrase): “I can hold a beautiful note, in fact I can hold it indefinitely. But after a while, that note becomes noise.” I’ll leave it up to the experts on how we process sound.

insider, have you listened to birds? Some birds have to acquire mates with some of the most elaborate songs heard on earth. The humpback whales and dolphins have beautifully made, intricate sound codes that human researchers are trying to decrypt. Humans voices are unique in its variety and range. And of course, we make instruments whose sole purpose is to make music. However, not infrequently do we use our enhanced ability to make music to replicate animal sounds. If that is the case, well, yes, many animals make what we consider music.

Of course, the (somewhat) flippant answer is that music is anything I enjoy hearing, and noise is anything I don’t like hearing. I can readily come up with an exception such as thunder or ocean waves, however. So there is a little more to it than that.

Break it down into three parts: noise, musical notes, and music.

The difference between noise and musical notes can be found here:

Even if you have musical notes, you don’t necessarily have music. A cat walking across a piano is not music, even though you certainly are hearing musical notes. Music consists (generally) of rhythm, melody and harmony. Harmony is the phenomenon where certain notes combine well, because of a mathematical relationship in their frequency. Melody is the pattern of the pitch of the notes. Rhythm is the pattern of the timing of the notes. Therefore, rhythm and melody are really two sides to the same coin.

The really interesting task is to define what is and is not a melody (and rhythm) I saw an article in Scientific American once (sorry, don’t have a cite) that was analyzing computer generated and human generated music. They introduces two functions to generate music randomly. The first function is: each note is completely random. The second function is: each note is step random - that is each note is one step up or down from the previous note, or the same as the previous note. Human generated music is a synthesis of these two functions.

After all of this, note that we as humans are very flexible. We like to experiment with the world, so there is quite a bit of acceptance of sound as music that doesn’t fit into this outlook.

capacitor - I have to disagree with you that birdsong proves that birds appreciate music. While I don’t have any specific information in mind on birdsong, I have seen articles on the brilliant feather coloring in certain bird species. This coloring is not there because the birds have any aesthetic sense - rather it is a genetically valuable indicator of good genes, as a bird(from one of these species) that is not healthy will have dulled colors. IIRC, birdsong is very specific - you can take a birdsong and attract the correct bird with it; however, if you change just one or two notes the song will be completely ignored, although we would still find the song pleasing. IMO, the birdsong is an evolutionary method of ensuring that birds find genetically healthy mates of the same species.

I have heard some anecdotal reports of pets enjoying music, but I wonder if these aren’t instances where the pet is picking up on behavioral clues from the owner.

If it’s music to your ears, then music it is :slight_smile:

I once heard a musicologist say “Music is nothing but pure tone plus noise. Each person has their favorite type of noise.”
You guys are missing the point. Noise is a technical term as applied to audio. Without noise, everything would be a pure waveform and boy would THAT be annoying (anyone remember the early days of the Moog synthesizer?)

I take it the response to the OP will differ depending on whether we’re concerned about a technical description–in which case “noise” can be fairly easily defined–or something more aesthetically subjective. It’s the latter that is the more interesting question, probably. The two terms mutually inform one another: my kid will say, “I like noisy music” (i.e. “put on some Jimi Hendrix”) & “I don’t like noisy music” (i.e. “please take Peter Brotzmann’s Machine Gun off the stereo”). One may learn to like listening to noise in some varieties & contexts but still won’t collapse the distinction between “pleasant” and “unpleasant” sounds, music & noise. The biggest difficulty in some ways is learning to undo one’s tolerance for the noise & dissonance of 20th-c. music (where things like tritones & sharp-nines & flat-nines are commonplace) in listening to earlier music: I find it impossible to imagine why Mozart’s contemporaries apparently often found his music difficult or dissonant.

One point made by the cat-on-piano-keys example is that the use of musical tones isn’t sufficient to produce music. The exact reverse to that example makes the same point: do you know Erik Satie’s “Vexations”? It’s a brief composition for piano meant to be played hundreds of times over & over again in succession. There was one documented performance of it in its entirety (pianists like John Cage & David Tudor took turns playing)–it took roughly an entire day to perform. I would guess that for many people the piece would after a while certainly count as “noise”. (The most interesting version of it, incidentally, is on the Vienna Art Orchestra’s The Minimalism of Erik Satie, where it is performed for 40 minutes as accompaniment to jazz improvisations by three different soloists.)

Animals certainly respond to music, but what they get out of it I don’t know. I did have one cat who for whatever really got very frisky when rock & roll or electric blues was on the stereo. --N

Actually, whats strange is that just about anything is music. If you really get down to it, silence is music. There was one guy (I heard about him in my music theory class) who sat at a piano for five minutes and didn’t play a note. It was still music, just not very interesting. A machine making sounds is also music. The things you need to have music are: a reason, rythmn, and a pitch/sound. Silence is sound, clanging of pots is sound and so is musical notes. Silence is there just because, the machine moving is accomplishing its task, and the music notes put together make different pieces. As for rythmn, silence is just one big note, the machine usually has a distinct beat (like my washing machine goes thump thump thump) and well what we like to call “music” has a rythmn too. So really the whole thing I’m saying is that every sound is music, just some sounds make good music, some make bad music.

Shame on you guys. Doesn’t anybody read anymore?

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once signed up for a Physics of Music course. Grabbed this abridged version off a web site:

“I am reminded now … of a demonstration of the difference between noise and melody which I saw and heard in a freshman physics lecture so long ago. … The professor threw a narrow board, which was about the length of a bayonette, at the wall of the room, which was cinderblock. ‘That’s noise,’ he said. Then he picked up seven more boards, and he threw them against the wall in rapid succession, as though he were a knife-thrower. The boards in sequence sang the opening notes of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’ I was enchanted. ‘That’s melody,’ he said. – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Preface to Wampeters Foma & Granfalloons (Opinions)”

Maybe it appears in the Welcome to the Monkeyhouse collection? The best explanation of the distinction between music and noise one could imagine. (Without bringing up the famous 1/f ratio.)

FtG aka GLP
“Freshman Physics is invariably the most satisfying course taught by any American university.” also KV Jr.

Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” might just be an example demonstrating that not all artistic statements in the form of sound are “music”. Many people believe this particular statement translated into “Fuck you, RCA”. The story goes that RCA was holding him to his contract, and he deliberately produced something so bizarre that it had absolutely NO commercial value just to spite them. I don’t know whether to believe that or not.

Could that have been John Cage? I think he did something like that. (BTW he is certainly someone who can really throw a wrench into any clockwork distinction you can make between noise and music).

Yes, it was Cage, and the piece was called 4:33, in which the performer was to sit at the piano for four minutes and 33 seconds without playing. The point was to bring the listeners’ attention to the other noises occurring around them – the breathing and shuffling of the rest of the audience, ambinet noise from outside, etc. – and derive their own musical experiences from that.