Since I became an adult, I have been fascinated by music. My fascination is the one you feel for the unknown because, technically speaking, I know almost nothing about music. The thing I find so intriguing about it is that a combination of individual sounds—and pauses—may be so powerful as to arouse feelings and emotions in listeners. For instance, every time I listen to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, I feel an overwhelming mix of unstoppable power, furious intensity, and ferocious anger going straight to my brain. In fact, this is why I consider Pink Floyd unique: their music is the only one that doesn’t talk to the heart but to the brain. To me, the way they managed to imprison forever such magic in those notes is uncanny!
Countless times I have wondered how composers can find the right sequence. I mean that very sound scheme that just works, that opens a breach to your heart and that you can’t stop replaying in your head. Naively, I thought that this capability was an innate talent, a natural gift that great composers have had since they were born. I was completely wrong. Of course, natural talent is involved, too, but there is a huge technical background underlying the music creation process.
In this regard, I had my “aha moment” while attending a conference held by maestro Gianni Della Libera, a professional musician and a music teacher. In English, the conference’s title would sound like this: 1822-1970: Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Last Sonata. The event took place at the beginning of May in the beautiful Palazzo Regazzoni in Sacile, Della Libera’s hometown. The purpose of the lesson was to compare the two works mentioned in the title from the point of view of musical structure. Even though the lecture was intended to be accessible to the general public, I found it very hard to follow. This is due to the fact that Della Libera had to mention inevitably a lot of technical concepts and terms related to the science of music composition. Frankly speaking, I didn’t get many of the things he said.
During the conference, Della Libera talked briefly about his relationship with the famous writer and semiologist Umberto Eco, whom he had the chance to meet during his studies in Bologna. Della Libera recalled that, although Eco was not a musical expert, he devised a clever definition of rhythm that he gave Della Libera as a gift. Eco defined rhythm as “a horizon of pauses.” This definition encompasses important aspects of music’s psychological effects on listeners beyond its intrinsic literary value. Even though Della Libera just touched the tip of the iceberg with regard to music composition techniques, I had the impression that, contrary to what I believed, music is 90% a technical matter. Surprisingly, there are a lot of detailed rules consolidated throughout centuries. They dictate how to combine short sounds to build longer sequences which, in turn, are assembled together to create even longer portions of the song and so on. That’s why I found a strong contrast between Eco’s poetical definition and the actual technical nature of musical language.
Honestly, I felt a little bit disappointed after the conference. In an hour, it called into question my romantic—and perhaps distorted—idea of music because the lecture almost shrank it down to a mere technical matter. As such, it seems inevitable that even music composition will not remain a human prerogative any longer. And new start-ups like Jukedeck seem to confirm that the path is already set.