I am a regular listener of the show, and my dad, Jonathan White, has even been a guest (episode 72, “Terrorism”). I am a music history professor at Mercer University and became very excited when the discussion on episode 94 focused on music and, in particular, two major issues: 1) music and noise; 2) music and the cult of originality (which in turn suggests an exploration of the topic of musical borrowing). I’ve often thought that it would be fascinating to have a musicologically driven PEL discussion and thoroughly enjoyed hearing everyone’s thoughts in this episode.
On the subject of noise, I, like Schopenhauer, am glad that we don’t have to worry so much about the cracking of whips (from people with or without their horses) outside in the street. After this observation, the discussion focused on how so many of us are so often lost in our headphones and internal, “private” musical worlds. At the same time, one wonders if music has become so ubiquitous (at the grocery store, or loudly blaring at the coffee shop, at the gym, at the gas station) that it is at times impossible to separate music from noise. A few books shed light on this subject. One is Jacques Attali‘s Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1985). Two others come from Mark Katz at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has written extensively about the “phonograph effect,” or the tendency for recorded sound to shape how we experience events in our lives (Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, 2004; Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the DJ, 2012). In a recent seminar that I taught, the students considered the possibility that “phonograph effects” might also include non-musical elements (such as a recorded voice-mail or video of a loved one who has departed). I haven’t even mentioned John Cage, who wrote extensively about music and noise (and silence): one compilation appears as Silence: Lectures and Writings (1961). Cage’s 4’33” famously challenges the listener to contemplate silence in the concert hall, and many of Cage’s works feature silence as a contemplative device.
On the subject of music and the cult of originality, which began in the 18th century and has since thrived in the wake of copyright law, there are also many wonderful readings that might be useful. I took a seminar on musical borrowing at Indiana University with J. Peter Burkholder that dealt with many of the issues mentioned in the show (including a discussion by Joseph Straus on the “anxiety of influence” in twentieth-century music). In his article on musical borrowing in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Burkholder characterizes multiple types of borrowings and the level of complexity involved in talking about how one piece might sound like or resemble another. In doing so, he asks several questions: 1) “What is the relationship of the existing piece to the new piece that borrows from it?”; 2) “What element or elements of the existing piece are incorporated into or referred to by the new piece, in whole or part?”; 3) “How does the borrowed material relate to the shape of the new piece?”; 4) ” How is the borrowed material altered in the new piece?”; 5) “What is the function of the borrowed material within the new piece, in musical terms?” As Burkholder has written, often there are more specific terms than simply saying that one piece “borrows” musically from another, including allusion, arrangement, modeling, quotation, and transcription.
These texts and my ramblings are just barely scratching the surface here, but I wanted to share them after my excitement in hearing the musical discussion on the Schopenhauer episode. Thank you for reading (if you’ve read this far), and have a harmonious day!