Transforming Noise Into Music | Jackson Jhin | TEDxUND

Transforming Noise Into Music | Jackson Jhin | TEDxUND


Translator: Ines Azabou
Reviewer: Queenie Lee Finding insperation is not the hardest part
of composing music. Musical ideas are all around us, but sifting through them to find something
that’s going to be appealing not only to yourself
but also to other people is the real challenge. Hi, my name is Jackson Jhin, I am a composer
and electronic music producer. And what if I could show you
what makes popular music popular? So here is the end result
of a well-known piece: Pachelbel’s Canon in D. (Music) Now, even if you don’t know
the title of this song, this chord progression is used
throughout contemporary music and is heard in weddings, graduations,
and throughout our culture. But how exactly did Pachelbel know
this would be so appealing? Well, he had commissions, audiences, and audiences that gave him applause
as sources of affirmation. But he would also stress the importance
of classical music theory, which states that
very certain harmonies, chords, and all these types of progressions are crucially important
to making appealing music. But if we look on the other side
of the world, for example, some cultures don’t even use
the same 12 semitones per octave, much less the same harmonies or scales, so then what is it that defines music? What if you were born
on an island with no society? Then what would music sound like to you? So, on this island, we find a coconut. (Pangs) It sounds like this. Pretty basic noise,
not inherently musical or special. But let’s make it
a little bit more special. What if we find two sticks? It sounds like this. (Tapping) Now, if I were to play this sound
over and over for an hour, how many of you would consider this music, or better yet, how many of you
would just go ahead and kick me off? (Laughter) Kick me off the island. But we find more sticks, and then now we can change
a variable to add more interest: pitch. Now we get something
that sounds like this. (Music) A lot more interesting. So now what I’m going to do
is play this over – (Music) now this is a lot more
interesting than the coconut, but what we are going to do
is bring the coconut back in. Now what you have
is the stable rhythm of the coconut (Laughter) but a very interesting counterpoint
of the sticks on top. And lastly, to bring this
to our final step of musicality, imagine that we are in a cave. (Reverberating sound) And now what you have is the interaction
of the sound and the cave; the echo creating something predictable
that will always happen but yet inherently interesting. So by raise of hands, how many of you’d consider
that more musical than just the coconut we started out with? Awesome, it looks like
almost everyone. Great. So then, what is it that defines music? Music is fundamentally the balance between predictability and variability. Now this is important because you
need your music to be intriguing, you want it to be interesting, but, at the same time,
if it is not predictable, if you can’t anticipate
what’s going to happen next, it’s too chaotic. So I’ll show you what I mean. We take out one of these,
and all we have is predictability. A famous modern composer, Philip Glass, is known for using very repetitive music that sounds just like this, very predictable without much variation. So let me play a little bit for you. (Music) on and on and on. This piece is an hour
and eight minutes long. (Laughter) That’s crazy. And on the other extreme, let’s take out predictability,
and what do we get. We get complete variability with no anticipation
of what’s going to happen next. Another modern composer, John Cage, is famous for playing
very avant-garde music without much anticipation
of what could happen next, and in this particular piece, he uses a feather to stroke
and amplify cactus. I’ll show you what I mean.
It sounds like this. (Music) So imagine that for an hour
and eight minutes. (Laughter) Now, I don’t personally enjoy John Cage’s
cactus experiments, but some people do. Some people are
on either end of the spectrum that can like very predictable music
or very variable music. (Laughter) But for the most of us, we need it to be balanced
between predictability and variability. So what’s an example of this? Well, actually, Pachelbel’s Canon in D
is a great example. What we have here (Music) is a piece that is balanced very well, with each chord sharing at least one note
with the chord proceeding it, a very steady tempo and chord progression, with a very interesting
counterpoint on top – What does this all mean? Translation: it’s well balanced
and it’s appealing. So, what we are going to do
is see if we can take that out, take the intentional
predictability and variability and see what happens then. So what I have done is cut this up
into eight arbitrary slices, and with the help of the audience – Could I please have a number
between one and eight? Right here. Seven. Okay! A different number, please! Seven, four … between one and eight! (Laughter) Seven, four, two –
seven, four, two, three – seven, four, two, three, six. We have seven, four, two, three, six. Now, what I am going to do
is play this Philip Glass style. (Music) Over and over … And what we have is something
that sounds totally different, and honestly pretty bad. So, with the help from the audience, we have just destroyed one
of the most appealing pieces of music. (Laughter) But that is easy,
anyone can deconstruct music, you just have to take things
out until nothing is left, but what if we could transform noise
into music, using these same principles. So this next sound I have – (Beeping) I can already see
by the looks on and groans that this may sound like something more that you try to hit in the morning
to shut off rather than music. But what if we change a variable
to make this more interesting. So let’s change pitch. So instead of this … (Beeping) we change pitch and we get this … (Music) A lot more interesting, right? And then next, we are going
to change the rhythm and see if we can make this
even more musical. We get this. (Music) So, how many of you think
that last part is more appealing than just the alarm clock itself? (Laughter) I would rather wake up to this as well. But what does all this mean? Some people do have preferences
on either end of the spectrum, and our preferences
can fall anywhere in between. Some people may like
more predictable music, some people might like more variation; however, the majority of us
need this fundamental balance of predictability and variability
to find music appealing. Every day, when we listen to music, we use very strict frameworks,
like genre, culture, and era, to tell us exactly what music
is going to be appealing and what instruments
and sounds to listen for, but the next time you listen to something
that doesn’t catch you immediately or isn’t appealing at first, don’t press skip, give it a chance, focus on the balance
of predictability and variability. Thank you. (Applause)

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