Although Free jazz as an approach to jazz music is considered by many as a bold attempt to question the limitations of music, as well as the dogmas, traditional concepts and conventions of jazz and the rest of the music in general, some argue that there are forms of Free Jazz and Free jazzers that being so into the idea of experimentation, got really too far. In order to analyze this idea, we must define what’s Music and what’s Free Jazz. But firstly, I would like you to meet Peter Brötzmann.
Peter Brötzmann and Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet
Peter Brötzmann is a German artist and free jazz saxophonist and clarinetist. Brötzmann is among the most important European free jazz musicians. His rough timbre is easily recognized on his many recordings. Brötzmann has an extensive portfolio, and has appeared on well over 100 albums. Since 1997 he has toured and recorded regularly with the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (initially an Octet) which he disbanded after an ensemble performance November 11, 2012 in Strasbourg, France.
The following performance of his Chicago Tentet really got my attention. Even though I personally don’t like this performance in particular, I know people who enjoy listening to it, which was the main reason behind the post. For me, it was way beyond any experimentation I’ve ever heard and it was really hard to manage to listen it fully (even though I’ve tried more than once).
So, what’s Music anyway?
Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound and silence. The word derives from Greek μουσική (mousike; “art of the Muses”). The common elements of music are pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter and articulation), dynamics (loudness and softness), and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture (which are sometimes termed the “color” of a musical sound). Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements. Music is performed with a vast range of instruments and with vocal techniques ranging from singing to rapping, and there are solely instrumental pieces, solely vocal pieces and pieces that combine singing and instruments.
What defines Free Jazz?
Since the idea of Free Jazz is that Music should not be a predefined template, it is actually really hard to define it. Though the music of free jazz composers varies widely, there is a common feature, which, historically, was the dissatisfaction with the limitations of bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz that had developed in the 1940s and 1950s. Free jazz musicians attempted to alter, extend, or break down jazz convention, often by discarding fixed chord changes or tempos. While usually considered avant-garde, free jazz has also been described as an attempt to return jazz to its primitive, often religious, roots and emphasis on collective improvisation.
As its name implies, Free Jazz cannot be defined more than loosely, as many musicians draw on Free Jazz concepts and idioms, and it was never completely distinct as a genre. Many Free Jazz musicians, notably Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, used harsh overblowing or other techniques to elicit unconventional sounds from their instruments, or played unusual instruments. As Keith Johnson of AllMusic puts it, “[Free Jazz is a] Modern Creative” genre, in which “musicians may incorporate free playing into structured modes — or play just about anything.”
Is Music the ability and freedom to play anything you want?
As the definition of music states, even though there are some basic concepts that define and distinguish music from the rest of the arts, since the point of the art is the expression, some of the concepts can be omitted completely. As we can see, Free Jazz tries precisely to do that.
But what happens when most of the elements that classify music as an art are omitted? Is there an upper bound? A point when someone can say, “OK, this is not music anymore!”?
The problem is that if there is an upper bound, then we are consciously limiting the art and we situate ourselves in our comfort zone of known sounds and harmonies. As Frank Zappa brilliantly coins it, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
But, on the other hand, if there is no upper bound on the characteristics of music, than what makes one person a good musician and other not? Or, why can we not define some RNG (Random Number Generator) multiplier of Fourier series of sine waves as music? Can we say that complete random noise is music? What if that noise is not even generated by human beings? Taking it further, is the total silence music? Taking it even further, if we deny all the concepts of music as being an obstacle to the evolution of music, why is it not possible to state that sound and silence are actually NOT musical characteristics, since characterization destroys art? That would mean that all the arts can be considered as music, and not only the arts but all the things that are acknowledged in the known Universe, and even more, all the things that are not yet known.
Music is subjective, Music is emotion
As most of the questions above can’t really be answered with some generalized scientific notion, the obvious conclusion is that Music is subjective and can’t be formally defined. But, on the other hand, people generally still agree, at least, that music is about sound and silence and that is about emotion. So, even though there is no definition, there is a subjective summation of global opinions, which lead to the the above mentioned characteristics.
So, what do you think?
Should music have bounds, or maybe partial bounds?
Оr can that be its downfall as an art?