Music as a Transformative Power

My study covers the role of music as a transformative power taught by Confucius and seen in Chinese society. Using Jacques Attali, we can examine the different manners of reflection of music in society and vice versa.

Works Cited:

“【风华国乐 HQ】洞庭秋思 / 龚一 / 古琴独奏.” Youtube. Youtube. 12 November 2011. 20 April 2013. Web.

Attali, Jacques. “Noise: The Political Economy of Music.” The Sound Studies Reader. By Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 29-39. Print.

“Confucian Music 孔子音乐.” Youtube. Youtube. 6 July 2008. 20 April 2013. Web

“Musical Bells, Temple of Confucius, Nanjing.” Youtube. Youtube. 6 August 2012. 20 April 2013. Web.

Songs to Sing: Interpreting Bird Sounds

Beak Beats


Fallon, Robert. “The Record of Realism in Messiaen’s Bird Style.” OLIVIER MESSIAEN: Music, Art and Literature.  Ashgate, 2007. Web.

Fitch, W. T. (2005), The Evolution of Music in Comparative Perspective. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1060: 29–49. doi: 10.1196/annals.1360.004;jsessionid=E6A556FFCEC405A4F507649E37E1B40E.d02t03?v=1&t=he67url4&s=532e03e24b7dc922e52e9cf6c08f03a3a28d6d92.

Head, Matthew. “Birdsong and the Origins of Music.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 122, No. 1 (1997), pp. 1-23. Web.

“Hermit Thrush.” All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Web.

Roosth, Sophia. “Screaming Yeast: Sonocytology, Cytoplasmic Milieus, and Cellular Subjectivities.” Critical Inquiry 35.2 (2009): 332-50. Print.

Tingley, Kim. “Whisper of the Wild.” The New York Times. 15 Mar. 2012.  Web.

Wagner, Eric. “The Piccolo and the Pocket Grouse.” Orion Magazine. N.p., Jan.-Feb. 2013. Web.

Young, John. “Northern Cardinal Call.” What the Robin Knows. Web.

Behind the Lyrics

Every soundscape is comprised of its own explicit set of ambient sounds. These keynote sounds have helped shape various forms of music each with their own distinct qualities and messages. Hip-hop is no exception. Since its origin, hip-hop music has been used as a form of expression around the world, serving as a microphone to the voices of the marginalized masses. From the block parties in New York, to the streets of Bolivia, hip-hop has been used as a major form of expression. Now people are no longer just hearing a good bass and catchy tune, but are also listening to the lyrical stories behind the music. Artists of all subgenres in hip-hop are coming to the forefront and telling their unique stories of the hardships and struggles that accompany their race, class, and upbringing. These stories intricately intertwined with smooth lyrics and popular instrumentals make the hip-hop soundscape truly memorable.

Tupac’s song “Changes” hones in on his struggles with everyday life. He focuses on tribulations such as poverty, drug addiction, racism, and growing up as an African American. This is a prime example of how artists have used hip-hop as a method of expressing themselves through lyrics and music. Shakur’s song embodies the hardships of his everyday life and allows listeners to relate to his situation making this one of the most memorable songs of his time.

Tupac Changes

Wrapped In The Rhyme

From The Sugarhill Gang, to Tupac and Notorious, to 2 Chainz and Trinidad James, hip-hop has undergone some serious changes. What once was known for mellow lyrics thrown over a beat is now characterized by “at times several vocalists rhymed in angry unison (Kaylan 238).” There is no doubt that over time, the place and style of hip-hop has evolved in various regions. However, its effect stays the same: escape. Rap music has become popular in its ability to serve as an outlet for a type of musical urban revolt. What makes this specific sound so special? What is it that makes this genre of popular (now more mainstream) music so relatable to the general population? By analyzing various journals and authors, it is possible to glean more information as to what lies behind the flows, sixteens, and punch lines of an ever-growing musical movement.

Rap wasn’t always a massive movement. In fact, it had much more humble origins tracing back to the early 1970’s accompanying the popular sounds of disco in New York City and Philadelphia. “Many listened and danced to rappers and DJs playing on street corners, before trying hip-hop. As underground and oppositional, street-performed hip-hop grew increasingly popular, drawing large crowds for neighborhood ‘block parties’ (Warren and Evitt 142).” Block parties were very popular and DJs frequently played genres such as funk and soul. The percussive sounds of the music soon became very popular and DJs began focusing more on the percussions (similar to dub), using two turntables to achieve scratching sounds. These breaks and sharp rapping sounds became the foundation of beats that artist could then rap over. Since then rap music has taken flight as new artists, DJs, and engineers have taken the plunge and tried to create their own unique footprint in the hip-hop community.

Regardless of how flashy the artists dress, or how clever their wordplay, there is always an unwavering factor associated with the production of rap music: the story. What hip-hop has allowed artists to do is paint vivid pictures of situations in listeners’ minds, opening a window into their own world. This is what has ultimately changed hip-hop over the ages. What makes rap music so special is its ability to shed light on voices of those who ordinarily would not be heard from. This unseen, unheard struggle is what’s predominantly focused on in the music. Jenkins stresses in his article “the importance of allowing the marginalized to speak and for their voice to be raw, real, and authentic (1233).”  In hearing these stories, whether real or exquisitely fabricated, outsiders are given a look into the lives of society that is under wraps. The sounds and struggles that have become everyday routines for marginalized individuals are brought to the forefront on the music. Attali states that music “reflects the manufacture of society (30)” and that is exactly the aim of hip-hop. Rap music challenges social norms and the “Minority perspectives make explicit the need for fundamental change in the ways we think and construct knowledge (Jenkins 1233).”

Not only does rap music serve as  “a black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of urban America (Kaylan 241)” but also as a movement that has influence all over the globe. If rappers got one thing wrong it is that hip-hop is dead. If anything, hip-hop is livelier than ever before. It has taken forms not only throughout all of America, but overseas as well exposing corruption and issues within society. Even in places such as Bolivia hip-hop can be seen “reproducing elements of that haunted soundscape of cultural and economic dispossession that festered in La Paz. (Kaylan 238).” All across the globe hip-hop is evolving and finding new ways to bring social trials and tribulations of the suppressed into the spotlight. The reach and influence of rap music is alive and spreading as Brunson mentions in his article. “Hip-hop images reside within media the way organisms reside in a habitat. Like organisms, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ moved from one media environment to another, so that its message has been reborn in music video and rendered in the virtual reality environments of and (Brunson 7).” Digging deeper into these articles and stories of the evolution of hip-hop will allow us to find the meaning and message within each respective sub-genre of rap around the world.

Researching this topic is not only important because of its cultural relevance in our time period, but also in understanding a major part of the music we listen to. It is one thing to hear the beat and bob your head to the rhythm, it is entirely another to understand and see the stories and struggles that have helped shape the music. Understanding what’s behind the bars, the beats, and the lyrics, allows us to more fully appreciate and respect an ever progressing genre of music. Once you begin to see what you are hearing then you can feel the “linguistically powerful, at times arrogant platform where minority bodies and voices [are] thrust into hegemonic and vice-regal positions in the media landscape (Warren and Evitt 142-143).”


Works Cited

Brunson, James E., III. “Showing, Seeing: Hip-Hop, Visual Culture, and the Show-and-Tell Performance.” Black History Bulletin 74.1 (2011): 6-12. Print. This article focuses on hip-hop as an “extension of Black American culture” and how hip-hop has impacted the culture among urban youth through music, fashion, dance, and even commercial gain. This article also dives into how hip-hop addresses racial stereotypes and reflects certain aspects of culture. W. J. T. Mitchell will also be analyzed and his opinions used to help understand the social constructs around culture.

Jenkins, Toby S. “A Beautiful Mind: Black Male Intellectual Identity and Hip-Hop Culture.” Journal of Black Studies 42.8 (2011): 1231-51. Print. Jenkins states that the minds of Hip-hop artists are the least valued trait compared to other writing-intensive fields. He claims that hip-hop artists nowadays have much more to offer the community. This article allows us to take a closer look into the intellectual side of rap music and assess its ultimate value.

Kalyan, Rohan. “Hip-Hop Imaginaries: A Genealogy of the Present.” Journal for Cultural Research 10.3 (2006): 238-57. Print. Using different areas of prominent hip-hop including New York and Hawaii, Kaylan shows how rap uses expression to resist the movements in dominant society. He uses his article to show a relationship between cultural resistance using hip-hop and political change. The new trends in hip-hop in New York, Hawaii, and Bolivia are used to demonstrate the movements created in the cultural and political fields all from the use of this catalyst: rap.

Sterne, Jonathan, ed. The Sound Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print. This book takes works from different authors and combines them to illustrate soundscapes and the changes in sounds (both how they are made and their influence on society) and pieces tem together. The articles in this book provide a look at how soundscapes have evolved over time and what brings about the changes (both positive and negative) in the sounds we hear everyday. This will be used along with the other works to help tie together the differences in the music and areas in which hip-hop evolved.

Warren, Andrew, and Rob Evitt. “Indigenous Hip-Hop: Overcoming Marginality, Encountering Constraints.” Australian Geographer 41.1 (2010): 141-58. Print. This article compares and contrasts indigenous “hip-hoppers” in different regions of the globe. This article also draws on interviews, and observations to help bring insight into how festivities, programs and emerging technology have helped pave the way for new, innovative, unique forms of music making. The geographically mobile environment and sound are examined to show how hip-hop is forever changing and is becoming popular in many places. The indigenous style of hip-hop is also put under the microscope to show how older, more experienced, artist blend with newer artists to create a whole new sound.


Dan Batista

From Bird Beaks Come Bird Beats

Nature often takes a backseat to modern sounds of progress.  How much does nature, specifically birdsong, parallel and influence human creation of music?  With the sounds of machines, industry, and other man-made noises, are we drowning out valuable inspiration for human imagination and artistic prospects?  While there may not be concrete answers to these questions, biologists and musicologists are currently studying the similarities between animal song and human music to better understand the relationship between the natural and man made noises.  Many biologists and musicologists debate the influences and importance of birdsong in the development of human music.  However, by analyzing the similarities between birdsong and human music, it is possible to better understand the relationship between man, his environment, and other species.

There are many similarities between music and birdsong.  Birdsong may be comparable to human musical compositions because birdsongs may include “rhythmic variations, pitch relationships, permutations, and combinations of notes” analogous to those used by human composers (Atema 52). Birds may also make music through the use of “instruments,” such as pounding on objects or possessing specialized feather structures (Atema 52).  By understanding the similarities between birdsong and human music, it may be possible to experience similar emotions when hearing birds as when listening to man-made music.  According to Angier, human emotional response to music may be deeply embedded in the brain (Angier).  If humans exhibit instinctual emotional responses to man-made music, perhaps deep connections with birdsong are possible

Birdsong may also be comparable to human language, as it is used as a form of communication between birds.  The difference between language and music lies in the meaning.  While language is generally used to convey a true or false meaning, musical meaning is more ambiguous (Fitch 31).  Similar to the way developing humans use “baby-talk” or experiment with different vocal sounds, birds also experience a developmental stage characterized by vocal experimentation (Fitch 35).  Depending on the definition of “song,” birdsong may or may not be considered a complex form of music, instead of a form of language used for communication.  Fitch makes the distinction that “song” must be complex and must be developed through “vocal learning” from the environment (Fitch 35).  By this definition, both birdsong and human music are unique in their complexity and creation.  However, according to Fitch, birdsong and human musical ability evolved concurrently, but separately (Fitch 36).

Christian religious beliefs also point to similarities between music and birdsong.  Pagan beliefs sprouted the Christian notion that humans learned music from the birds.  For example, the dove was seen as the messenger of God (Head 12).  Additionally, Christian religion identified the birth of music from the Fall as Eve mimicked the songs of the birds out of jealousy (Head 9).  However, later notions challenged the concept of nature-spurred music and instead posited that music was instinctual to man (Head 17).  By dismissing the implications of birdsong, eighteenth century thinkers paved the way for modern alienation from nature because birdsong became an entity outside the definition of art that humans could not understand (Head 19).  Likewise, studies, such as Araya-Salas’ study of the harmonic structure of birdsong, further isolate human music from animal or natural music by rejecting birdsong because it does not “conform to the harmonic rules of human music” (Araya-Salas 7).

Alienation from nature creates a society that is deaf to the sounds of its environment.  By ignoring the surrounding environment, humans ignore their impact on the surrounding ecosystem by creating noise that drowns out the environment.  In drowning out environmental sounds, humans impede mating and communication between animals and harm the natural processes of the earth, perhaps changing them irrevocably (Tingley).  Additionally, the ability to listen to surroundings enables people to become better listeners and to understand themselves, their environments, and others around them on a deeper level.  Without the ability to listen, people could not communicate effectively or live the most productive lives possible.  Ultimately, listening to nature creates a cascade of positive affects upon the individual and upon society as a whole.  Studying birdsong may be the first building block in the larger prospects of mankind.

While it is necessary to study environmental soundscapes as a whole to understand the affects of ambient noises and the interactions of different sounds within an environment, it is important to analyze birdsong by itself because of the stylistic parallels between human music.  If people examine the music-making abilities of alternate species of animals, such as birds, it increases the possibility of revealing the meanings behind songs.  Once song meaning can be discerned, the notion of a universal music that could be understood and enjoyed by multiple species concurrently becomes a possibility.      Continue reading

All You Need is…Music? Music and Changing Societies: How Do They Interact?

It is undeniable that popular culture, especially music, and societal feelings and opinions are two topics that are connected in some way. Whether this relationship is intimate or distant, or if changes in one affect the other, is a contested topic amongst historians and musical researchers alike, as well as, perhaps, a curious college student. The connection between these two critical parts of any culture is interesting to examine, as they can play off of each other in complex and subtle ways. Do controversial lyrics in music trigger a change in public opinions, or does the music reflect already existent and prominent ideas, simply giving the supporters an anthem or a boost in moral? Though this may seem like an endless cycle of questioning, similar to the “which came first, the chicken or the egg” debate, upon further examination, attention to details, and the investigation of the past, we can possibly begin to discern some patterns, or at least some more concrete theories of what this relationship actually entails.

A hotbed for observance of this mystery was the 1960s. A whirlwind of social and political controversies and changes, the sixties were a prime example of the playoff between popular music and societal opinions and actions. Surrounded by rising feminism, civil rights, and the Vietnam War, musicians threw their ideas out for the public to hear in the form of powerful lyrics and sentimental melodies. The Beatles, for example, wrote several obviously anti-war songs, such as Revolution and All You Need is Love, expressing the useless and destructive nature of war. Bob Dylan, too, expressed his discontent with society during the 1960s, as did many other revolutionary artists.

The question often asked once these observations are made is which sparked the other, similar to what Jaques Attali asks in his book Noise about whether music echoes or ignites political changes. This is an important issue to address, as if music can, in fact, shape public opinions, it could be used in powerful ways to manipulate society, for bad or good. For instance, if artists consistently wrote songs about the danger of global warming, perhaps the public would be influenced to believe more strongly that global warming must be addressed and then possibly take action to do so. It is imperative to explore this relationship between music and culture to discover how they interact because our current world is obviously full of controversy and struggling. If we can discover how music can be used to improve a society, we could take advantage of that opportunity now to better our state of affairs, as well as potential issues in the future. However, this may not be the case. It could very well be that songs written about modern societal issues are simply reflections of already-expressed discontent within the people in society. Although this answer is much less exciting and revolutionary than the first, it still would provide researchers with an explanation as to how these two aspects of culture interact.

I also plan to explore the less apparent messages songs can express through their instrumentation or melodic feel. Here is where my Eyerman/Jamison source will come into play, as it references how James Brown made no direct references to the civil rights movement in his music, he still managed to bring about new appreciation for black culture through his songs.

Another point of interest that I would like to bring up is how packed full of meaning and expression these songs were in order to convey messages about society and cultural problems of the 1960s, as opposed to how mindless today’s music is. The youth of today should recognize this and take action to improve modern music by appreciating the deep meanings writers have tried to convey in the past with their lyrics and musicality, as opposed to modern music, which consists of artists having songs written for them about boyfriends and pretty girls and then autotuning their voices and calling it their music. Perhaps the sad excuse for music nowadays can be connected to the deteriorating state of our world and societal values.

There is likely no definite answer to which aspect of culture, music or societal feelings, affects the other first. However, through research and looking at this interaction in a historical context, we might be able to gain a greater understanding of how we can use this relationship to benefit various cultures and the world as a whole. Maybe music is much more than something we blast into our ears while we run, or crank up while we dance at parties. There is a possibility that music is a tool, one that has yet to be tapped into that can do so much more for us than we ever imagined.

1. Barkhorn, Eleanor. “How Bob Dylan Changed the 60s, and American Culture.” Atlantic. 09 09 2010: Print.

“…all sorts of things were happening all around the world in the late 1960s, throughout the 1960s. And Dylan was very much a part of that. And his music was very much a part of that. It expressed what he wanted to express, but people caught onto it as an expression of what they were feeling, what they were thinking.”

Barkhorn, a journalist, obviously writes for the general public. She focuses on Bob Dylan’s contributions to societal changes in the 1960s, which has been untouched by the other sources. I enjoy her point in her article about how people, if they have an idea and hear said idea echoed in the lyrics of a popular song, can begin to believe in the idea even more strongly than they did originally, because now it is a part of popular culture, which proves to people that they are not the only ones with their ideas.

2. Eyerman, Ron, and Andrew Jamison. “Social Movements and Cultural Transformation: Popular Music in the 1960s.” Media Culture & Society. (1995): Print.

“…or it can be less obvious, as in James Brown’s musical revolution which, while not containing any direct references to the civil rights movement, helped bring about a whole new appreciation of black history and culture in conjunction with that movement.”

The two authors of this article search to explain how cultures change and what role music plays in making those changes that shape culture, especially in the 1960s. It is likely that these authors are aiming to convince historians or anthropologists that music and popular culture does indeed assist in causing some of these changes. This narrows the investigation of this influence down to the 1960s specifically, unlike some of my other sources. Seeing as my paper will focus on how the popular music of the 1960s worked with society to instigate changes in opinions or feelings, this source will help bolster that argument.

3. Neiger, Motti, Oren Meyers, and Eyal Zandberg. “Tuned to the Nation’s Mood: Popular Music as a Mnemonic Cultural Object.” Media Culture & Society. (2011): 974. Print.

“Popular music plays a significant role in the shaping of collective memory as well as in the establishment of national culture.”

These authors, all of whom are from Israel, focus on the songs played on the radio during the Holocaust, and how they were used to shape public feelings towards current events. They use this knowledge to deliver a message to those interested in music’s effects on societal feelings and how it can be used in certain situations to manipulate emotions and help to cause certain feelings to arise. Compared to my other sources, this quotation is interesting because it suggests that music plays a key role in the causation of change in a culture, whereas the others suggest that society and music play off of one another to cause change. I think this will provide another interesting view for me to explore in my paper.

4. Ramkissoon, Nikita. “All You Need is the Beatles.” Trespass Magazine. 12 02 2010: Print.

“When asked why his group, the Beatles, had not recorded any anti-war songs, John Lennon responded, “All our songs are anti-war.” His statement suggested that through their messages of peace, love and understanding, the Beatles were taking a stand against war in more general terms, which was much more appealing to mainstream culture.”

“They were, along with other bands of the time, active in anti-war efforts and this is echoed in their music being used as a basis for many revolutionary speeches, movies and plays…”

Ramkissoon, a writer for Trespass magazine, digs into the specifics of the Beatles’ influence on cultural opinions in the 1960s. She writes in a historical context, as she wrote the article in 2010. Her article appeals to a general musical audience with interest in her topic. This source focuses on the Beatles, which is a personally interesting aspect of my topic to me, as I have grown up listening to the Beatles and have learned extensively of their history from my father. I think including their messages in my paper, as well as these quotations which illustrate how powerful their messages were heard amongst the anti-war groups in the 60s, will add a strong argument for how influential music can really be on people’s feelings about a passionate topic.

5. Rosenthal, Rob. “Teaching a Course on ‘Music and Social Movements’.” Radical Teacher. 52 (1998): 16. Print.

“…much of the class becomes a debate over whether music can do anything beyond buoying the spirits of the converted…”

Rosenthal is a teacher who teaches a class concerning the effects of music on social movements. He writes for the general public to inform them about his class and what his goals are in exploring such a difficult-to-prove topic. Although it does not specifically concern the 1960s like some of my other sources, I think that this excerpt from his journal provides an interesting contrast for my paper in exploring whether or not music can really cause change, or if it just exaggerates opinions that already exist.

The Role of Sound in Confucianism: Morality through Music

“The Master said, ‘Be stimulated by the Odes, take your stand on the rites, and be perfected by music’”(Analects 8:8). 

“He stands to benefit who takes pleasure in three kinds of things…To take pleasure in the correct regulation of the rites and music, in singing the praises of other men’s goodness and in having a large number of excellent men as friends is to benefit” (Analects 16:5).

            Music is extraordinarily vital to Confucianism. Without it, Confucius believes that we cannot achieve jen, or general benevolence. Achieving jen is the ultimate goal of Confucianism; it is similar to reaching Enlightenment in Buddhism or creating general happiness in Utilitarianism. What it means is that everything a person does is in the name of humanity for all people; it is the way in which we should consider our actions and the absolute virtue to follow in living our lives. Almost as important is the concept of li, stating that there is a right way to achieve jen. This correct path is defined by Confucius as well as by Chinese society. For instance, there are strict guidelines for beginning a meal, approaching a place of worship, the role one should play in a relationship, etc. In many ways, it is simply the ceremonies or the repeated actions that we follow, even if they refer to something seemingly unimportant in our day-to-day lives.

Confucians also believe that these two principles are tightly bound to morality; li and jen are both virtues, and we must adhere to them. A main part of this morality is respect for music. In ancient (and modern) China there was a distinct reverence for music, and it was integral to ceremonial practices. According to Confucius, the music is as important as the ceremony itself; without it, the ceremony would not be whole. For this reason, the rites (or li/ceremony/morality) go hand in hand with music throughout Confucius’s Analects. Because of morality through ceremony and benevolence, music holds extreme importance in Confucianism.

It is known that ancient Chinese society was based on many Confucian beliefs; Confucius is still highly respected, and he played a large part in both the social and political evolution of the Chinese people (Chan 2.4.13). This raises the question of how music reflects the moral rules of a society; is it possible to use said rules as a parameter with which to measure the actions of the society? In this case, can we examine the Confucian ideas of proper music and see them reflected in the Chinese people? This is clearly true in an idealized Confucian world; everything is supposedly dictated by the propriety of a person and the goal of goodness to humanity, thus a respect for music would inevitably be found in all people. As a result, this attention to music is of utmost importance. However, this could only be stated without further investigation if everyone in the society strictly followed Confucianism.

As authors such as Jacques Attali have argued, we can learn much from a society’s music. According to Attali, music reflects the culture of the people and the way in which that group is moving. It can also be used to detect evidence of future events, whether that is a social, political, or economic change. Again, this seems to mirror what we would hypothetically see in a Confucian world. As I have mentioned, Confucius believes that his society must stick to a certain way, and that way can be orchestrated through respect for music. In the literature of both Confucius and Attali, we see this same relationship between music and the actions of people.

The problem I propose is to analyze the role of music within Confucianism in order to determine the effect of his stress on music and ceremony on ancient Chinese society. According to Jacques Attali, there will be a clear relationship between the two, but only if Confucianism had enough of an effect on the people.  Similarly, Confucius indicates his belief that this will be true for people trying to achieve jen, but says nothing about society as a general rule. Thus, I propose an examination of both the music and ceremony in Confucianism, along with the role of Confucianism in ancient Chinese society. From this, we can determine the role of music as well as the attention to Confucian morality in this society. This will not only tell us about ancient and modern Chinese society, but also about the role of politics and religion on music in general. Furthermore, we can examine the backing of Attali’s claims in Eastern societies and find a standard with which we can measure the role of music in other cultures.



Attali, Jacques. “Noise: The Political Economy of Music.” The Sound Studies Reader. By Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 29-39. Print.


Chan, Sin Yee. “Confucius: Li as Ceremonies.” PHIL 121: Ancient Chinese Philosophy. Hills 234, Burlington. 4 Feb. 2013. Lecture.

Addressing Confucius in my ancient Chinese philosophy class has been the most useful source of information. Throughout many of our lectures, we have frequently touched on the role of Confucianism in Chinese society and the role of music in each. In this particular lecture, our main focus was the importance of ceremony in Confucianism as well as in Chinese society, especially in contrasting it with the much smaller role it plays in American society. This strongly relates to the theme of my research, again showing another dynamic of the importance of this analyzation.


“Confucianism and Music.” Confucianism and Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2013. .

Confucius, and D. C. Lau. The Analects (Lun Yü). Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979. Print.

This is the most important source that one can use in any examination of Confucianism; it is typical for Chinese philosophers to write an account of their beliefs, and Confucius has done just this. As we can see above, he frequently outlines this belief system of li and music going hand in hand. He also argues throughout the Analects that these are extraordinarily vital. This is also closely related to many of the lectures from my Chinese philosophy class; we have also read this work in that class and go over many of the doctrines that have been recorded.


Mencius, and D. C. Lau. Mencius. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1970. Print.

Mencius is known as the second most important Confucian after Confucius himself, as indicated by his Latinized name. Much like I have outlined about the Analects, Mencius has written a detailed account of his own belief system. As predicted by his designation as a Confucian, he also is a huge advocate for music. In this sense he shares the same beliefs as Confucius, and he similarly holds the same regard for music and li. Since he lived roughly 200 years after Confucius, Mencius also shows a very useful view of the Chinese society in which he lived. Additionally, his is very interesting in that he actually says that both popular and classical music should be revered. This gives a parameter with which to compare the lasting effect of Confucianism and see if ceremony still plays a large part in Chinese society.


Schwartz, Benjamin I. The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1985. Print.

Harvard University’s Benjamin Schwartz is one of the premier scholars on Chinese philosophy. Throughout this piece, he examines the role of music in Confucianism, as well as compares this role to the ideas in other schools of thought in Ancient China. Like many scholars, he holds the idea that Confucius had a very large influence on the Chinese society, and also outlines the reception of Confucius and opposing philosophers by the people. Predictably, the Analects is one of the main pieces he analyzes, but he also mentions Mencius and later Confucian philosophers. Again, this gives a parameter to compare the evolution of Chinese society with the evolution of Confucianism and see if there is the proposed reflection.


Wang, Keping. “Mozi Versus Xunzi on Music.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy (2009): 653-65. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.

One of Confucius’s largest opponents is Mo Tzu (Mozi). He advocates for the abandonment of music, since it supposedly wastes resources which could be used to improve the lifestyle of the people. However, Xunzi, another important Confucian, holds the traditional belief that music improves a person’s character through its relationship to morality in li and jen. Keping Wang, another commonly cited source in philosophy, shows their opposing arguments, as well as Xunzi’s extension of Mencius’s belief that popular music is equally important to classical music. Wang concludes that Xunzi (and thus Confucianism) is a stronger view, because Mo Tzu does not consider the intellectual needs of humans, only the physical needs. This is a concept which we are very familiar with in today’s world. Similarly, this illustrates many of the real-world applications to the Confucian realm of thought and why it was so effective in Chinese society. This source was provided to my by my philosophy professor, Sin Yee Chan.

New study: Love of musical harmony is not nature but nurture

I feel like this article is relevant to this class:

‘Our love of music and appreciation of musical harmony is learnt and not based on natural ability – a new study by University of Melbourne researchers has found.

Associate Professor Neil McLachlan from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences said previous theories about how we appreciate music were based on the physical properties of sound, the ear itself and an innate ability to hear harmony.

“Our study shows that musical harmony can be learnt and it is a matter of training the brain to hear the sounds,” Associate Professor McLachlan said.
 “So if you thought that the music of some exotic culture (or Jazz) sounded like the wailing of cats, it’s simply because you haven’t learnt to listen by their rules.”

In and Out of Listening

In completing this assignment, I tried to think of what aural elements of a typical day I wanted to portray. I was thus forced to open my ears, and try to objectively hear my surroundings in a way that I don’t always do. I won’t claim to have listened critically for the whole time that I was making recordings, but I did stop and consciously listen more carefully on many occasions. One thing that I became more conscious of, was how often I chose to put on my headphones in my commute between classes. When and where I would take my headphones off and switch from an isolated, immersive, musical experience, to the ambient sounds around me, became a focus of my interest on this assignment. In the past month or so, I’ve been using a new pair of headphones, and in many ways there ability to isolate sound so effectively has changed my soundscape significantly on the days I choose to bring them with me. I tried to portray the jarring nature of going between a few songs that I might listen to throughout the day, and the sounds I hear when I don’t have them on.

Having the frequent juxtaposition between absence of ambient noise, and then the sounds I hear upon removing my headphones—at times a bombardment of external, ‘random,’ sounds—can be bit jarring at times, but it also provides insight towards the different nature of the two sound types. It often takes a fraction of a second to readjust to the wider soundscape provided in the real world around me, one that headphones fail to simulate effectively. I think the move from a single recorded sound source—played in an enclosed circumaural acoustic environment—to the array of different sound sources going on in most areas of campus during the day, takes a brief adjusting to. I am reminded of both the Chion and Horowitz articles; on the one hand because of the kind of listening I am practicing, and on the other because of the potential impact my choice to listen to electronic music through much of the day may have on my overall ability to discern and pick apart different elements of the ‘natural’ sounds around me.

Depending on when, where, or why I choose to take off my headphones, I am most likely moving from reduced listening of the recording to causal, and/or semantic listening of my surroundings. As the muffs come off, I begin to consider the location of whatever it is that I’m hearing first. If there’s talking, I simultaneously process what is being said, whether it relates to me or not, and discern meaning from the words. When I’m listening to music, it is typically in the realm of reduced listening, though at times it is a combination of reduced and semantic if there are lyrics that I’m focusing on. Interestingly, Chion says that “reduced listening is an enterprise that is new, fruitful, and hardly natural. It disrupts established lazy habits and opens up a world of previously unimagined questions for those who try it” (Chion, pg. 51). This contradicts, to some extent, Horowitz’s assertion that “Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload” (Horowitz, pg. 2), because I am, in affect, able to more closely listen to certain sounds because of the technology I own. Let me explain this further in the context of the recordings.

The first sound that plays in my playlist is that of me brushing my teeth, next you’ll hear the sound of the toilet flushing, and then the sound of the shower running. These sounds have become so routine, that it wasn’t until I listened to the recordings and could replay the sounds, that I could start to hear them more objectively. It is the recording capability itself that allows me to focus “…on the sound itself, independent of its cause and of its meaning. Reduced listening takes the sound—verbal, played on an instrument, noises, or whatever—as itself the object to be observed instead of as a vehicle for something else” (Chion, pg. 50). The tin sound of the water hitting the drain grate of the sink, the almost metallic nature of the toilet flush, and the subtle change in sound as I closed the shower curtain all became apparent to me after my initial listening. After showering I get dressed (which I didn’t record), and head outside with my headphones (I simply uploaded a portion of a track I might listen to on any given day to re-create the affect). The next sound after that is of my first Tuesday class convening—before the teacher has begun the lecture. After sitting down, the instant I take my headphones off I actually feel that I am more in tune with what I’m hearing. After having been so focused on the music, and so isolated from the sounds of my surrounding, the sudden confrontation with those sounds forces me to consider more of their elements than I might have if I weren’t fluctuating between ambient and electronically sourced listening. After my class, I went to the library, and the first sound I heard upon taking my headphones off briefly while on the third floor was that of someone highlighting a paper on a desk near me. I could almost feel the felt tip grazing against the tooth of the paper. This took almost no time for my brain to locate, identify, and then imagine. I looked over the edge of the desk, and sure enough—a highlighter on paper. This is another example of the causal listening Chion was talking about, however it wasn’t until I listened to the recording again that I could analyze why my mind knew it was the highlighter on paper. This was very interesting to me, because though I knew what it was, I couldn’t articulate the reason(s) why, until I had given the sound a reduced listen.


Works Cited

Horowitz, Seth. “The Science and Art of Listening.” The New York Times, 11 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

Chion, Michael. “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader. Ed. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 48-53. Print.

Songs used in the order they appear (artist, then song title):

Barika. Good Morning

Lupe Fiasco. Daydreamin’ (feat. Jill Scoot).

Black Keys. I’m not the one.

Gramatik. Don’t Let Me Down