Here are some of the more unusual "uses" of music that I picked up on this week.
A demonstration of taste and ethics
This thread on popular community site MetaChat concerns "songs you love" but whose lyrics (or the message contained in the lyrics) you hate. The discussion uses music as a medium for talking about personal aesthetics (what kind of music you like) and personal values (what propositions do you agree with? what are your politics?)—the thread addresses (among other things) abortion, sexism, and race. It's an example of music being used as a way to negotiate personal and group identity.
My walk to the train station each morning lasts about twenty minutes. I listen to music while I walk. I'm not sure why I do this. Maybe to relieve the tedium, but that can't be the whole story—taking a different route or simply trying to be more aware of the environment could also do that. I think it might be a territorial thing: I'm trying to claim that space for me, trying to make it more like home, trying to get it to belong to me. I don't mean the physical space as much as the temporal space. If I listen to music, I feel less like I've wasted those twenty minutes.
(more after the break)
Video game music
I've been playing two video games pretty heavily over the past week: Age of Empires: The Age of Kings for the Nintendo DS and Katamary Damacy for the PlayStation 2. The former is a turn-based strategy game and the latter is an action game—two very different kinds of games, and accordingly the way they use music is very different.
In Age of Empires, I frequently play with the sound off. The music is basically just something to fill in the background, and while there are different themes for different levels (i.e., when you play as Joan of Arc, the music is vaguely medieval; when you play as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the music has an Eastern vibe), the music doesn't really establish a sense of place or rhythm.
The music in Katamari Damacy is similarly unimportant to the core gameplay, but I'd never imagine playing with the sound off: it's brilliant, catchy, quirky. It contributes to the feeling of being inside the world of the game. Maybe it helps you get "into the groove" of the game, so to speak: the flow.
At TNO last week, the music in the bar was especially loud. What's the use of music that drowns out conversation? Maybe it has the effect of raising the value of succinct communication (making talking more fun, in a way?), or encouraging physical proximity between people, or discouraging words altogether (in favor of, say, dancing). Whatever the effect is, it must be beneficial, since extremely loud music is a strategy favored by almost every single bar I've ever been to ...
Pedagogical music and making music
Luke plays a lot of music for us in Algorithmic Composition. This is use of music is interesting from a functional point of view: we're listening not for enjoyment, but for historical context, inspiration, and to demonstrate some of the possibilities of the medium.
Last week, Luke also gave a demonstration of csound in lecture, which (almost as a side effect!) created music; and in listening to the music thereby created, we all came to a consensus about how to change the algorithm in order to create something weirder/different/more pleasing. So it's kind of a feedback loop: listening to music in order to figure out how to make it in order to listen to it.
I have a subscription to eMusic. They make available 30 second "clips" of songs in order to help you decide which songs to download. This is another interesting use of music: a segment of the song stands as a representation of the song as a whole, and the purpose of listening to the clip is not to enjoy it (or do any of the other things you might do with music), but to decide whether or not the music is worth listening to in the first place. It's kind of like a meta- musical experience, a musical experience designed to help you decide what music experiences you want to have.