What Is Music? 7 these features is present in all musical systems around the world, but all musical systems likely have a subset of these attributes. CONCLUSION Renowned ethnomusicologist John Blacking famously called music a “gloss word,” writing that “although every known human society has what trained musi- cologists would describe as ‘music,’ there are some that have no word for music or whose concept of music has a significance quite different from that generally associated with the word music” (Blacking 1995, pp. 224–225). Given the various definitions and understandings of music across cultures, and the absence of an overall concept of music in certain cultures, one might wonder how an ethnomu- sicologist would decide whether a particular activity is an instance of “music.” Given the complexities of defining this human behavior, it is tempting to avoid using the gloss word music and to focus instead on describing specific human activities, such as singing together to create beautiful harmonies, chanting as part of a religious experience, or creating sounds and movement for the purposes of healing. There are many concepts we use that we would not be able to define if asked: What is time? What is happiness? Music is perhaps one of those concepts that is difficult, if not impossible, to define. We do not need to define music before we can recognize it, describe it, and appreciate it. Some ethnomusicologists have adopted this approach, providing richly detailed understandings of particular behaviors across various cultural contexts—a strategy that is sometimes called thick description. And it is hard to deny that all these forms of musical behavior play powerful roles in our lives and may have a deep psychological connection and common evolutionary origins. For this reason, understanding this collection of human behaviors, in all their colorful and complex manifestations, will remain a key focus of investigation within the psychology and science of music. References and Further Reading Bispham, J. C. (2009). Music’s “design features”: Musical motivation, musical pulse, and musical pitch. Musicae Scientiae, 13, 41–61. Blacking, J. (1973). How Musical Is Man? Seattle: University of Washington Press. Blacking, J. (1995). Music, Culture, and Experience: Selected Papers of John Blacking. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Cross, I. (2001). Music, cognition, culture, and evolution. Annals of the New York Acad- emy of Sciences, 930, 28–42. Davies, S. (2012). On defining music. Monist, 95, 535–555. 2. Sound Waves: The Music inside Sound Alex Chilvers The composer Edgard Varèse (1883–1965) used a very simple phrase to define music: organized sound. Working with any means of sound production available— from conventional musical instruments, to hand-cranked fire sirens, to electronic
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