Music (from the Greek: μουσική [τέχνη] – mousikē [téchnē], “the art of the muses”) is, according to the traditional definition of the term, the art of organizing sensibly and logically a coherent combination of sounds and silences respecting the fundamental principles of melody, harmony and rhythm, through the intervention of complex psychoanymic processes. The concept of music has been evolving since its origin in Ancient Greece, where poetry, music and dance were brought together without distinction as a unitary art. For several decades now, the definition of what music is and what it is not has become more complex, since outstanding composers, within the framework of various frontier artistic experiences, have produced works that, although they could be considered musical, expand the limits of the definition of this art.
Music, like any artistic manifestation, is a cultural product with multiple purposes, among others, to arouse an aesthetic experience in the listener, to express feelings, emotions, circumstances, thoughts or ideas, and increasingly, to fulfill an important therapeutic function through music therapy.
Music also plays a vitally important role in the cognitive development of the human being. It collaborates with mathematical logical thinking, language acquisition, psychomotor development, interpersonal relationships, learning of non-native languages and enhancing emotional intelligence, among others. For this reason, music must be present in any modern ministerial educational plan and recognized as an essential discipline within compulsory education.
Music is a stimulus that affects the perceptive field of the individual; thus, the flow of sound can fulfill various functions (entertainment, communication, atmosphere, fun, etc.).
Definitions start from within cultures, and thus the meaning of musical expressions is affected by psychological, social, cultural and historical issues. In this way, multiple and diverse definitions arise that can be valid when expressing what is meant by music. None, however, can be considered perfect or absolute.
A rather broad definition determines that music is organized sound (according to a perceptible, coherent and meaningful formulation). This definition is based on the fact that – in what can be consensually called “music” – certain patterns of “sound flow” can be perceived depending on how the properties of sound are learned and processed by humans (there are even those who consider that by animals as well).
Today it is common to work with a concept of music based on three essential attributes: that it uses sound, that it is a human (and in this sense, artificial) product, and that it has an aesthetic function. If we were to take into account only the first two elements of the definition, nothing would differentiate music from language. As for the “aesthetic” function, this is a rather debatable point; thus, for example, an advertising “jingle” does not cease to be music because it fulfills a non-aesthetic function (trying to sell a good). On the other hand, to speak of an “aesthetic” function presupposes an idea of music (and of art in general) that functions autonomously, alien to the functioning of society, as we see it in the theory of art of the philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, author of the musical voices in Diderot’s L’Encyclopédie, later included in his Dictionnaire de la Musique,1 defined it as the “art of combining sounds in a way that is pleasing to the ear”.2
According to the composer Claude Debussy, music is “a total of dispersed forces expressed in a sound process that includes: the instrument, the instrumentalist, the creator and his work, a propagating medium and a receiving system”.
The most common definition in music manuals is quite similar to this: “music is the art of good combining sounds in time”. This definition does not stop to explain what art is, and presupposes that there are “well-made” combinations and others that are not, which is at least debatable.
Some scholars have defined and studied music as a set of tones ordered horizontally (melody) and vertically (harmony). This order or structure that a group of sounds must have in order to be called music is, for example, present in the statements of the German philosopher Goethe when he compared it to architecture, defining architecture metaphorically as “frozen music”. Most scholars agree on the aspect of structure, that is, on the fact that music implies an organization; but some modern theorists differ on whether the result should be pleasant or enjoyable.
Sound is the sensation perceived by the ear when it receives the pressure variations generated by the vibratory movement of the sound bodies. It is transmitted by the medium that surrounds them, which is generally the air in the atmosphere. The perceptible absence of sound is silence, although it is a relative sensation, since absolute silence does not occur in nature.
Height is the result of the frequency that produces a sound body; that is, the number of cycles of vibrations per second or hertz that are emitted. According to this, sounds can be defined as “bass” and “treble”. The higher the frequency, the higher (or high) the sound. The wavelength is the distance measured in the direction of the wave’s propagation, between two points whose state of motion is identical; that is, they reach their maximums and minimums at the same instant.
Music contains two elements: the acoustic material and the intellectual idea. Both are not juxtaposed as form and content, but are combined, in music, to form a unitary image. To become a vehicle for the intellectual idea, the acoustic material undergoes a pre-musical preparation, through a process of selection and ordering.3
The structure of sound, the scale of harmonic sounds, already exhibits an order that predestines it to be the vehicle of the intellectual intention. With the purpose of a previous general understanding, within the acoustic material for the organization of music, we find diverse classifications, within which the most common in academic environments is the one that divides music into melody, harmony and rhythm.4 The way in which these principles are defined and applied, varies from one culture to another (there are also temporal variations).
Melody is a set of sounds – conceived within a particular sound environment – that sounds successively one after another (horizontal conception), and that is perceived with its own identity and sense. Silences are also part of the structure of the melody, putting pauses to the “melodic discourse”. The result is like a sentence well constructed semantically and grammatically. It is debatable -in this sense- if a dodecaphonic sequence could be considered a melody or not. When there are two or more simultaneous melodies it is called a counterpoint.
Harmony, under a vertical conception of sonority, and whose basic unit is the chord or triad, regulates the concordance between sounds that sound simultaneously and their link with neighbouring sounds.
The rhythm is the final result of the previous elements, sometimes with very notorious variations, but in a very general appreciation it is about the capacity to generate contrast in the music, this is caused by the different dynamics, timbres, textures and sounds. In practice, it refers to the accentuation of the sound and the temporal distance between the beginning and the end of the sound, or in other words, its duration.
Articulation refers to how a sound is executed, as well as the transition between two (or more) notes. Among the various forms of articulation elaborated throughout history, the legato, staccato, portato, tenuto, accent, marcato and calderón stand out.
On the other hand, the intellectual idea (we can include what today we call brain-body-mind) turns acoustic material into art, and thus music acquires history, linking itself to time and becoming timeless.
The incorporation of extended acoustic material in the 20th century sometimes produced information difficulties, due to the lack of a valid system of prior understanding, and that is why other elements are taken into account when analysing and studying the phenomenon of music, such as form, instrumentation, texture, etc. From all these elements, new ordering principles and composition possibilities are originated.
A good part of human cultures have musical manifestations. Some animal species are also capable of producing sounds in an organized way; what defines human music, then, is not so much being a “correct” (or “harmonious” or “beautiful”) combination of sounds over time as being a practice of human beings within a given social group.
Regardless of what the various musical practices of different peoples and cultures have in common, it is important not to lose sight of diversity in terms of the instruments used to produce music, in terms of the ways in which the voice is emitted, in terms of the ways in which rhythm and melody are treated, and, above all, in terms of the role played by music in different societies: music heard at a religious celebration is not the same as music heard in an advertising spot, nor is music danced in a discotheque. By taking into consideration the functions that a given music performs in a given social context, we can be more precise in defining the common characteristics of music, and more respectful in approaching music that is not that of our society.
Music, allegorical representation of music (Warsaw, designed by Józef Gosławski)
Most definitions of music only take into account some music produced during a certain period of time in the West, believing that its characteristics are “universal”, that is, common to all human beings of all cultures and of all times. Schopenhauer says, “(music) has such a powerful and magnificent effect on man that it can be compared to a universal language, whose clarity and eloquence surpasses all the languages of the earth”.
Many think that music is a “universal” language, since several of its elements, such as melody, rhythm, and especially harmony (the relationship between the frequencies of the various notes of a chord) are plausible for more or less mathematical explanations, and that humans are naturally able to perceive it as beautiful to a greater or lesser extent. Those who believe this ignore or overlook the complexity of human cultural phenomena. Thus, for example, it has been believed that harmony is a universal musical fact when in fact it is exclusive to the music of the West of the last centuries; or, worse, it has been believed that harmony is exclusive to Western culture because it represents a more “advanced” or “superior” stage of the “evolution” of music.
Another of the most singular phenomena of Western (or westernised) societies is the complex division of labour to which musical practice is subjected. Thus, for example, it is often one who composes the music, another who performs it, and a third who collects the royalties. The idea that the one who creates the music is another person different from the one who performs it, as well as the idea that the one who listens to the music is not present in the same physical space where it is produced is only possible in the western society of some centuries ago; the most common (that is, the most “universal”) is that creator and performer are the same person.
Since ancient Greece (as far as western music is concerned) there are forms of musical notation. However, it is from the music of the Middle Ages (mainly Gregorian chant) that the system of musical notation began to be used which would evolve into the present one. In the Renaissance it crystallized with the more or less definitive features with which we know it today, although -like all language- it has been varying according to the expressive needs of the users.
The system is based on two axes: one horizontal, which graphically represents the passing of time, and one vertical, which graphically represents the height of the sound. The heights are read in relation to a staff (from the Greek “πεντα”, “penta”: five; and “γραμμa”, “grama”: lines), which at the beginning has a “key” that has the function of attributing a certain musical note to one of the staff lines. In a staff headed by the “treble clef on second line”, we will read as the sun the sound written on the second line (counting from below), as the sound written in the space between the second and third lines, as if the sound were on the third line, etc. For sounds outside the key, additional lines are written. The most commonly used clefs are those of:
A system of figures is used to write the durations: the round (represented as a white circle), the white (a white circle with a vertical stick called a plica), the black (the same as the white but with a black circle), the eighth note (the same as the black but with a horizontal stick starting at the tip of the plica), the semiquaver (the same as the eighth note but with two horizontal sticks), etc. Each one is worth half of its predecessor: the white one is worth half as much as a round one and twice as much as a black one, etc.
The figures are relative lengths; to know which figure is the unit of time in a given score, we must look at the lower number of the bar indication: if it is 1, each round will correspond to a time; if it is 2, each white will correspond to a time; if it is 4, each time will be represented by a quarter note, etc. Thus, a score headed by a 3/4 will be divided into measures that include three quarter notes (or six quavers, or one quarter note and four quavers, etc.); a 4/8 measure will have four beats, each represented by an eighth note, etc.
To represent the silences, the system has other signs that represent a silence of round, white, etc..
As you can see, the durations are established according to a binary relation (double or half), which does not foresee the subdivision by three, which will be indicated by “triplets”. When a note or silence is to be added to half its duration, a dot is placed on the right (dot). When you want a note to last, in addition to its value, a certain other value, you write two notes and join them by means of an arched line called the extension ligature.
In general, the inabilities of the system are remedied by appealing to more or less conventional written words, usually in Italian. Thus, for example, intensities are indicated by the use of an f (forte, strong) or a p (piano, soft), or several f’s and pes together. The speed of the pulses is indicated by words at the beginning of the score which are, in order of speed: largo, lento, adagio, moderato, andante, allegro, presto.
The practice of musical performance on the basis of an instrument, promotes better performance at the brain level. Music lessons activate both brain hemispheres. Because of this activity, a student’s concentration, memory, and discipline duels when exercising, and this exercise usually improves the capacity of the above-mentioned skills. The moment the brain is challenged to divide itself into several functions that require concentration and precision, such as playing instruments like piano, guitar, violin, double bass, among others, it improves its functions. Studies conducted by the University of Harvard and the University of California have proven that the practice of musical instruments makes the two cerebral hemispheres form new connections, the realization of which produces that the brain has a better performance in the fields of concentration, memory and learning. The legendary Spanish scientist of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, discovered that the only activity that made more connections in the brain cells was playing the piano, since in this instrument each finger is used on a different key, with each hand focusing on different rhythms and speeds, and in addition, the feet, which also have an important function when using the pedals.
On a mental level, music theory is also called very useful to facilitate learning in other languages. Important characteristics of music, such as pitch, timbre, intensity and rhythm, have a lot to do with the variations in speech in different languages. Each of these has a different accent, and in music we discover the various tones, timbres, and rhythms that could be adapted to different languages.
There is a lot of talk about the return of vinyl and new ways of consuming music, but almost nothing about record stores, an endangered species and therefore a genre to be protected and reclaimed. Why are they important? Well, for a lot of reasons. Their existence dignifies music and their cultural weight is very important.
Moving to one of them, rummaging through the CDs and vinyls on their shelves and in their buckets in search of that second-hand jewel that you’ve been longing for, letting yourself go and betting on recommendations from the local record company or even exchanging impressions with another customer is a social act that enriches you as a person, light years away from the coldness that comes from buying with a single click on an Internet portal by mechanically entering your credit card numbers.
In Barcelona we have a few record stores. Some of them are already part of the history of the city, and others have only been around for a few years and are still going strong. Below, we give voice to 10 of them so that their founders and workers can explain to us their origins, specialities and, once they are in, recommend some of the records they have on their shelves.
“In our shop you can find almost everything”, says Segura. We don’t have classical, but we have blues, soul, beat, garage, psychedelia, progressive rock and even material from current bands. We take care to have a good selection of interesting records, and to maintain a balance: there are originals, there are reissues, and there are 10 euro records and 1,000 euro records. Within our special offer, we have a wide section of soundtracks, but also jazz, funk, electronic music pioneers or French music. He adds: “We try to bring new things constantly so that those who come often always find something they didn’t see the time before”.
Jordi Jover, one of the visible heads of the store, briefly updates its history: “Revolver opened in 1991, founded by Jesús Moreno and Alfons Sureda, and basically responds to the need and demand that Barcelona had at that time for a record store specializing in indie and heavy metal. Years later, Revolver Records would open, a sister store located at number 11 in Tallers and more oriented towards collecting and oldies”.
“The offer of Revolver Records, the Red Revolver for friends”, says Jover, “is very wide on a stylistic level: rock, punk, all variants of metal music, electronic, mixed, hip hop… We are a reference for gothic, future pop, coldwave and dark eighties sounds, but you can also find small sections of blues or reggae, and second hand records”.
“In the middle of 2000 we rethought it,” say the heads of Disco 100, “and vinyls have gradually taken up more space: we started with two buckets, then there were four, and now we have around 13,000 different ones that cover all styles: pop, rock, metal, world music, flamenco, classical, electronic, blues, country, soul, funk, soundtracks, world music
The Disco 100 store, which now organizes concerts on a small improvised stage in the same place, is a breeding ground for anecdotes. “Some time ago, we were struck by the fact that a Chicago blues pianist, Barrelhouse Chuck, was loaded with… “Chicago blues records. We asked him about it and he said he couldn’t find them in his town, even remarking that he was taking records from Sunnyland Slim, who had been his teacher.
Do you recommend any new recordings? Núria Graham and her ‘Does It Ring A Bell’; ‘Onades’, by Adrià Ballús; ‘Secret Places’, by The Zephyr Bones; L’Hereu Escampa and his ‘Pren la matinada’, and ‘Vida Gris 32’, by Gúdar”, suggests Chamorro.
Amongst the items on display, the box of seven vinyls that features Art Pepper in Ronnie Scott’s London club in 1980, with a lot of previously unreleased material, stands out. Also the one from Vijay Iyer’s last record in sextet, ‘Far From Over’. The staff of Jazz Messengers launches a wise reflection on the future of the physical medium: “The physical sale of records will continue to exist in a much smaller, though faithful, size. Jazz is a music that requires active listening,” they say. This listening benefits from the small liturgy of having to select a record, take it out of the sleeve, put it in the player and listen to it. From beginning to end. It’s like reading a book. You can’t listen to just one piece. They are stories where the interaction between the musicians follows a common thread from beginning to end.
“The shop was born eight years ago now”, say its managers, “and we have a little bit of everything: from new releases to second-hand records of almost every style from jazz to techno”. “We have always been labelled as an electronics store”, they admit, “but the reality is that we try to have a small selection of more styles”.
Discos Paradiso, which describes its day-to-day work as “a different adventure” and pays special attention to the electronic music here and to labels such as Hivern Discs, Domestica, End Of Dayz, Disboot, Struments, Chaval Records, Lovemonk or Discontinu, has just moved on to the release of vinyl records under the name of Urpa i Musell. One of their first references is ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ by Carlos Maria Trindade and ‘Nuno Canavarro’, a Portuguese cult album originally released in 1991.
“We’ve been open for nine years now, and we’re still going strong! Nobody would give a euro for the shop, even the record company representatives told me I was crazy. But they were wrong: there is still an audience for metal. In fact, it’s the style that has the most loyal audience. Obviously, the albums that populate Pentagram’s buckets are the wet dream of hard rock fans.
“We have a lot of cool stuff from reissues from the 80s and 90s that are hard to find at a more than affordable price, from bands like Celtric Frost, Riot, Omen, Heavy Load, Voivod or Kreator”, says Rosas, “but the jewels in the store are first editions that you don’t usually find from Immortal, Taake, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Gorgoroth or Satyricon, and some rare Iron Maiden over 300”.10,000 Records
A rare tip: this is a record store that also sells hi-fi equipment so you can listen to your CDs, cassettes and vinyls in the best possible conditions. The 10,000 Records ship is run by Rubén Franch, an engineer who decided a few years ago to turn his life around.
“I used to be a computer scientist, and I made the decision after being unemployed for a while,” he explains. Since I was a kid I’ve had a hobby as a DJ and I’ve collected electronic music vinyls. What’s more, my father had a collection of over 10,000 vinyl records and also quite a few Hi-Fi sets. All that led me to the idea of opening a vinyl store with new and second-hand music playback equipment and with the help of my father, who gave me part of his collection to sell.
About the adventure of leaving the keyboards, Franch says: “I can assure you that it’s a world where you learn new things every day. “Besides, you usually meet clients who collect some group or some artist in particular and you discover that the field of collecting is something worth studying”.
Little more can be added. Well yes, any record recommendations you have for sale? “The Traveling Wilburys Collection’ on vinyl, deluxe box set with its excellent short discography and a host of extras; and ‘Cómo está el servicio… de señoras!’, reissue on pink vinyl plus two CDs and a DVD with all the recordings by Pedro Almodóvar and Fabio McNamara”.
This little record company Galia is run by Dani Franch, a vinyl nomad who one day decided to move to a sedentary life. “I opened the store at the end of 2013, but I started in this world by making stops at fairs,” he says. One of the particularities of Vinil Vintage consists of a generous stock of vinyls at popular prices -between 1 and 4 Euros-, as well as a varied offer of styles (rock, pop, jazz, funk, disco, soundtracks) concentrated in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
Dani Franch, who is optimistic about the future of local record sales – “I see it well, because the virtual can never replace the physical experience. Let’s hope that the new generations are still interested in it”, he shares a Martian anecdote related to his trade: “One day they called me to ask me how much I sold the decorative vinyl meter”.