Tag Archives: philosophy

Music – What makes it good?

“Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is.”
Miles Davis

An interesting and wonderful statement. But let’s think about it a little further. What is it that makes any piece of music good? Music is often called a universal language. So, is there any universal things that could be said make musical creations good? Is there any single connecting themes or ideas that all good music has, or even all things that can be considered music?

By contrast, or from another perspective, what makes music bad?

Golden Record Cover, on Voyager Spacecraft. [Image from NASA]
Golden Record Cover, on Voyager Spacecraft.

In 1977 Two spacecraft began a truly epic voyage into the galactic wilderness on scientific expeditions. The Voyager Golden Records are gramophone records which were included aboard both of the Voyager spacecraft.

‘They contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them.’

The record contains the following list of musical pieces:

  • Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
  • Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
  • Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
  • Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
  • Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,” recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
  • Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
  • “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
  • New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
  • Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
  • Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
  • Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
  • Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
  • Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
  • “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
  • Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
  • Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
  • Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
  • Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
  • Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
  • Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
  • Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. 1:17
  • Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
  • Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
  • China, ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
  • India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
  • “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
  • Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37

[source of list at NASA]

Picture of 'The Sounds Of Earth', Voyager Golden Record.
The Sounds Of Earth.

So if by chance an alien civilization does happen to intercept/obtain the golden record on either of the Voyager spacecrafts, (and are sufficiently advanced enough technologically to realize what it is and how to play it) that’s the first music from Earth which they’ll hear.

Do you agree with that as a good selection? What would you have wanted put on that disc?

What kinds of music make you think? And what kinds make you feel? If you’d like to, you can share your thoughts on these things in the comments below. (please do!)

“To study music, we must learn the rules. To create music, we must forget them.” ~ Nadia Boulanger