Before you press play and long after the song has ended, sound can still be heard. Whether it’s the background noise of a bus or the sound of headphones being removed from the ear — we continuously hear sound each day. Listening to the sounds of birds in the morning in combination with the natural sounds of the outdoor environment can sooth and perhaps even allow us to hear patterns of melody in the noisy nothingness. A woodpecker tapping on a tree might match nicely with the sound of the rain – it is in this context in which the listener has transformed what was at first noise, into music.
Music is what we are presently hearing, but only if it is realized to be so. Turning on an album and then focusing upon another activity – is the album still considered music, or has it become background noise? The artist may have intended for it to have been heard as music, but when placed in a context where music is unwanted, it is simply one more layer of noise to tune out. Therefore, music is not a theoretical record yet to have been played, nor is it the next thirty seconds approaching in the song – music is now. If you consider it to be music, you are actively listening to it in the present moment.
Music is response-oriented – focusing upon the listener’s reaction, rather than the music itself. Music is not a pop melody unless you recognize it to be one. It is based on the listener’s state-of-mind and intention. The sounds we hear are either aimless, formless noise or they are cohesive, consciously crafted statements of creativity made solely for our enlightenment. At any given moment, we make the decision on how to classify receptive sound.
Thus, focus is the determining factor in musical preference. Beyond the simple notion of “paying attention” to sound intended (and hoping-to-be-realized) as music, there is the ability to comprehend music at greater levels of clarity. Simply paying attention in greater detail can allow for an increase in musical understanding. Imagine a song you strongly detest, regardless of genre. What caused the discomfort you feel? Was it the sound itself, or was it the fact that the sound conflicted with a personalized mental attachment to what you consider “music”? What happens when someone listens to the same song, but this person finds immense enjoyment in the material? The song matches with their ideal for what can be considered music. Music is completely response-oriented, and thus, all sound can be potentially experienced as music with a broad enough personal standard. This standard adjusts at whim. If you find yourself meditating on a mountaintop, you may find yourself at peace, and all is music. If you find yourself in a traffic jam, limited patience will limit this standard, etc.
Conscious awareness of the fact that sound exists allows us to perceive sound in a way which goes beyond noise. Music is sound which, through personalized context, sparks inspiration within the listener.