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Does any one know of a peer reviewed article that argues why a combination of discrete tones, or notes, can be considered more musical than a collection of pitches in a constant state of flux?

In this case the term musical should reflect a positive opinion of those who are guided by the music of Western culture.

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closed as not a real question by Wheat Williams, American Luke, Dr Mayhem Jun 21 '13 at 12:14

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

The thought that a peer-reviewed article would argue for something that's a matter of taste would be laughable, save that it's probably happened. Now, if you would like to hop on over to alt.neuroacoustics, there might be a useful discussion as to the sort of pattern repetition (or lack thereof) which stimulates the cranial pleasure response centers. –  Carl Witthoft Jun 15 '13 at 16:58
By fluctuating, do you mean pitches that slide smoothly through the frequency spectrum? –  ecline6 Jun 15 '13 at 18:35
To my ears they would seem more erratic than what you describe. –  user1423893 Jun 15 '13 at 18:40
Are you talking about the use of a lot of vibrato in instrumental performance versus the use of no vibrato? –  Wheat Williams Jun 15 '13 at 20:57
If I understand you correctly the crux of your discussion is not about music, as these are all random notes, but about whether stepping between these random notes sounds 'better' than sliding between them. Is that correct? It is very tricky to understand what you are asking. –  Dr Mayhem Jun 17 '13 at 19:28

2 Answers 2

The main difference between music and normal sounds you hear everyday, it that music is discrete (discontinuous if you will) both in time and pitch. And that what makes music stand out compared to other sounds. There are many regularities that are found in music that our brains can pick out. In music, sounds occur (or stop) only on beats. Pitches of these sounds are not arbitrary, they come from a scale of twelve notes...

It all depends on how you define music. If it is just "organized sound" then it doesn't have to be restricted to a given scale, and it can indeed comprise of continuously fluctuating pitches as long as there is some regularity that our minds can discern, and respond to emotionally.

According to this definition more musical = more organized. Is a "a collection of pitches in a constant state of flux" more organized than a traditional composition? Maybe you can compose one such piece, and it could turn out to be more organized and expressive than conventional music.

We don't fully understand how music works, so no one has the answer to your question yet. This is a subjective topic ; to make the discussion more objective you need a formal scientific definition of music, and there isn't such a standard definition yet. Check out these links:

, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definition_of_music.


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You have stated what you mean by 'musical' - that it reflects a 'positive opinion' of listeners with background in Western music. That criterion could be used in listener studies by asking participants about their preferences to various musical examples. I am not aware of any such study to date, although it would certainly be a testable hypothesis (and not, at the moment, an established fact).

Vibrato is obviously not what you refer to. But take a look at any synthesizer, and you'll find a portamento control. Also, in the performance practice of romantic music, musicians were sliding a lot more between pitches than later became the norm. Usually, portamento playing still would land on pitches for sufficient long time to make them stand out. Perhaps what you have in mind is a situation where no distinct pitches can be picked out by a listener. If your claim is correct, that stable pitches are prefered to constant glissandi, then an explanation might involve the cognitive aspects of pitch processing and memory for pitches, but that's speculation.

For some more conceptual framework, you may find Pierre Schaeffer's Traité des objets sonores useful, and maybe even more so Wishart's On sonic art. Wishart talks about the lattice, the fixed mesh that pitch and rhythm is locked onto in some music, as opposed to dynamic morphology which is akin to gestures, where musical properties are in a state of change. Often there is a lattice (pitch scale) that is ornamented with dynamic changes (vibrato, portamento).

It may be true that most musical traditions so far have been lattice-based, but if you include a few non-western traditions and late modernism you will find plenty of examples where the lattice is more or less absent. Look up James Tenney's For Ann (rising) for starters. Do listeners dislike that? At least some composers have been curious enough to explore the idea.

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