I understand what you are saying, but I am still curious if you agree that there is a limit of distinctness in music? It seems difficult to argue that there is unlimited distinctness in music, and I don't think you are, but that you are instead arguing that it requires a certain level of the artistic sensibility to gauge the limits of musical possibility.
If so, who do you think / what type of person would have the requisite artistic sensibility to make such a judgment with some accuracy (but still imperfect)?
If you have the requisite artistic sensibility (I'm not saying you asserted that but I'm curious if you do think that), what is your position on where our current collective body of musical works is in relationship to an objective limit in the distinctiveness of new music?
If you do not think you have the requisite artistic sensibility, are you saying that from your perspective and my perspective that we can make no predictions on whether humanity reaches a certain limit of distinctiveness in music this decade vs in 10,000 years? What I mean is, is your position that there is no way for someone without the necessary artistic sensibility to estimate any limit in the distinctness of music?
I understand your point. My experience is in the genre of rock music (which is songs) and not in classical music, so my explorations into the metaphysical nature of music is based on extensive experience with songs (and not in other pieces of music). However, I believe at the metaphysical level that this idea applies to, there is not a substantial difference in examining the nature of songs and other pieces of music. That may make the perspective I'm coming from clearer to you, or we may have to agree to disagree.
I have not read the Fun Theory Sequence article, but you're right that is connected to this topic. I appreciate the link. Thanks for your comments!
To be more clear, putting pieces of music under different labels (bagatelle, folk song, house track, etc) doesn't have a bearing on this discussion of what is the metaphysical nature of a piece of music. I understand that I was using the word "song" colloquially for a piece of music. I was not attempting to initiate a debate on the dictionary definition of a song or its characteristics in relation to other types of music. Again, I would refer you to the metaphysical discussion that many of the other posters contributed to.
I understand that music categorization and music theory are a separate and important topic of which you may have an expertise in, but that is a different discussion.
IE "what is a piece of music?" from a metaphysical perspective.
You're failing to engage the question of the nature of songs and music as a metaphysical level. I agree that mass culture and dissemination of works is part of the discussion, but it doesn't seem like you're trying to engage with that nature of "what is a song?". (See a number of the longer comment chains by other posters who provided thoughts on this topic if you're not sure what is under examination besides mass culture and dissemination.)
Even though we are of slightly different opinions, I'm glad we are on the same page of what I was trying to discuss and get thoughts on--this has been good. You're right that the sparseness I'm proposing is hard to judge and you can't break down the argument further. My perception comes from my experience in attempting songwriting in the genre of rock where I felt like after spending many hours songwriting that I could understand and perceive the boundaries of the genre/niche at an intuitive level from much trial-and-error--which isn't an argument to convince you or someone else (of course), but just to explain to you why it seems self-evident to me that the songs are very sparse in the space. That in addition to observing the factors I had mentioned before (limited period of best work for each band, declining output of distinct new styles/bands, etc).
Yes, you are right that there is a big difference between addressing older genres like classical and jazz vs current genres, but applying the same concept has led me to believe that the remaining genres will soon be completed as well--which I will do my best to explain, bear with me.
With rock music, much of my experience comes from time spent songwriting and exploring the niche, but also from observing the progression of rock music. One of the simplest factors to see in progression of the opening up of new styles in rock was changes / advances in production styles. So in the 50s, songs by rock acts like Elvis, Buddy Holly, etc were all recorded in Mono sound. That proceeded into the Beatles early work (eg "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"). Mono sound gave songs a distinct sound different than stereo sound, but was also more limited in general. Phil Spector's Wall of Sound technique did allow complexity in Mono (as best used by the Beach Boys in Pet Sounds) but it did not have as much potential as stereo in general. The Beatles then started recording in stereo sound. Partially because of the new larger stereo space, and partially just in tandem development, they (and others) opened up the door for much more varied sounds and instrumentation and styles. Led Zeppelin and early metal figured out how to record heavier sounding drums and fuller distorted guitars. The 80s brought reverb (big room sound) and synthesizers and different guitar sounds into rock (Van Halen etc). Nirvana's Nevermind's production helped usher in even heavier drums and bigger distorted guitar alternative rock sound that persisted into grunge and post-grunge sounds. In the 2000s, indie rock like Animal Collective, TV on the Radio, etc explored additional sonic textures, combining distorted guitar with heavy reverb and big spaces (along with many bands who pulled from sonic and production styles of previous decades within an indie rock sound). But from my judgment, 2009 was the last peak of new distinct indie rock bands and sounds (it was starting to decline after that).
In a way, the simplest way to view running out of rock music was to see that there was no further places to go with production techniques or the sonic environment or instrumentation of a song (in a distinct way). At the same time, Indie rock in the 2000s was more democratized than rock ever was before because technology and the internet allowed anyone to write and record music. But I think that democratization allows completion to happen at a faster rate.
In a similar way, rap appears to have maxed out production advances and is starting to run out of distinct sonic textures. Current rap, electronic, and pop music use similar modern production elements that are different than what was 10 years ago or in the 90s or in the 80s. It takes examination of production and the progress up until now, but it seems evident to me that there isn't going to be another large production breakthrough. That in tandem with the fact that current rap, electronic, and pop (or any music) is more democratized as ever, with millions of people trying to create the next great style of song, and it seems likely that these genres will be substantially completed in the next 5-10 years as well (somewhat using rock completion as a metric).
I agree that it is difficult to explain or prove, because most of the evidence that I'm explaining is really a complex picture of what I see as self-evident but can't be broken down further into a simpler argument. We probably will have to agree to disagree, but I'm glad you brought it down to this level of detail. Thanks!
Yea, I'm a fan of Joseph Campbell's ideas, and of course the great monomyth movies (Star Wars, LOTR, The Matrix, Harry Potter, etc). I agree that every story relies on structures that other stories use and nothing is fully original. Star Wars is a great example because it borrowed not only from the monomyth story, but from westerns, samurai movies, WWII movies, space operas, high fantasy (LOTR), science fiction epics (Dune), etc. Star Wars was great because it was really the perfection of the space opera genre, just like The Matrix was the ideal cyberpunk movie.
What I'm trying to get at is that on a long enough timescale, there is a limit to the distinct movie stories we can create. A great story like Star Wars is really like a complex puzzle, with hundreds of factors working together to make it a great movie. Do you think there are an infinite number of potential movies as unique/distinct/fresh as Star Wars or do you think the number is limited? Once I believed that the number is limited, then I started to wonder about how many distinct/fresh stories are left. And then I started to think of the possibility that perhaps movie studios are not putting money into trying to make the next new Star Wars or The Matrix because no one is writing those scripts, because there actually isn't a new Star Wars or The Matrix to create. In other words, the decline in new properties made more sense to me in terms of my idea on completion than that the studios have just gotten lazy or more conservative (which could be true as well).
The more in depth explanations in other replies are a better justification of the idea, this is more just the observation in relation to movies. Hopefully you get what I'm trying to get at. It is conceptual and not easy to explain, for sure.
Yes, you are getting into the heart of what I'm trying to examine. This concept began to form for me as I was writing and recording rock songs and trying to create a distinct sound within that genre. New distinct music is largely created intuitively by people borrowing on the past but adding variation (like you said). But songs contain a more specific balance of factors than I think people realize, which makes a song more like a complex puzzle than just a complex combination of attributes. Many factors must sync together correctly including chord progression, melody, key, rhythm, vocal style, instrumentation, and audio production. But those factors are all limited in their distinctness (limited notes on a scale, limited chords, limited instruments, limited vocal styles). And for a song to work well, all the factors must sync correctly. If you put Elvis' voice instead of Kurt Cobain's on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", it might be funny but it wouldn't work as well. Kurt sings more like Paul Westerberg of the Replacements (listen to "Bastards of Young"), which is a specific distinct vocal style that they share (which works well for a certain type of style only).
So if you have 1000 (to be simple) vocal styles, 1000 chord progressions, 1000 combinations of instruments,....etc, it's not that each specific vocal style could be paired with each chord progression and with each combination of instruments, etc. In fact, it would be only very specific combinations that would work well. So, the songs that work seem to be extremely sparse within the search space.
Along the same line, if you look at rock bands, they usually have a period of 5-20 years where they produce their best work. It seems to be that they run out of good songs (the possible puzzle combinations of factors within their own style). A band like AC/DC recorded their best songs in the 70s and 80s, and then most of what they released after that just sounded like them repeating their sound but with diminishing results. If there really was a lot of untapped songs within a band's style, it seems like there would be at least a few counter examples of bands who produce the same high level of quality for 30 or 40 or 50 years, but I've never seen that happen.
And once you run out of new distinct factors (voice styles, or production styles, or instrumentation) then it seems like the potential for new distinct songs (as complex puzzles of those factors) also will run out. We have moved through genres over time, including better production in the last 20 years and more electronic aspects etc, but when will the well run dry?
It seems to me that with art (including music), we start with primitive attempts and instruments, but then we develop more complex music theory and new instruments, but then eventually we run out of new and our output will decline. While I was working on writing rock songs, I was noticing at the same time that bands I liked seemed to have declining quality of output, and there weren't new bands in different styles but of equal quality releasing music to fill the void. The rate of creation of new and quality rock songs and styles seemed to be in decline. I don't see there being a different method to unlock many other great songs or new styles than the intuitive method and trial-and-error that has been used for centuries; I think the well is just dry.
Anyway, the idea itself is interesting to me because if this concept applies to music then it seems like it would apply to all things involving creativity and discovery. That we can view all knowledge and creation as one thing (The Big Niche) that exists apart from whether possibilities have been created or not, and that it will all eventually be completed at some point in the future.
Sure, I didn't mean to imply that art is just about new creations. There are many other values to art and creativity of course. Also, I agree that we are fortunate to have an abundance of music available. So don't take what I'm saying as a criticism of creativity or art, or not appreciating the value of them apart from newness. I'm more examining this topic in the interest of understanding human progress and discovery in general.
I agree that this idea is difficult to prove as of now, which is why I'm doing my best to explain my thought process as to what seems evident to me, and I'm appreciating the objections that others are raising. But if we get to the year 2200 and the majority of people still listen to music primarily from 1500-2050 (or whatever), then that does say something about our reality and human progress/discovery. It also is interesting to me that people intuitively view creativity as something open-ended and undefined (at least I did until a few years ago), when perhaps there is something objective and defined and limited about human discovery (which I now believe).
I don't mean to press you on a point, but when you say in reference to musical consensus, "Probably, but I think your example is a little bit too extreme to demonstrate your point", I think it is important to say whether you believe there is any musical consensus of what is good, or if you believe there is zero consensus. The degree does not matter as to whether the point I'm trying to make is true. Is there any consensus based on how shared human nature interacts with physical sounds as to what is agreed upon as "good"? It seems difficult to argue that any consensus is completely arbitrary.
Also, I'm not saying that there is not infinite gradation of sounds or instrumentation, but there is a limit to the distinctness of sounds or instrumentation. Do you believe there are infinite distinct sounds or instruments possible? There isn't clear language for what I'm trying to get at, but think about how a violin is more distinct from a tuba than from a cello. Or think of it in terms of being similar to the visual spectrum of light: there are infinite gradations of color, but there isn't infinite distinctness. There are limits to the range of the visible spectrum of light, with the primary colors being most distinct from each other (but there is an infinite amount of gradation that can be categorized as sub-colors).
The point being that if there is an objective aspect as to what human nature appreciates as a song, and there is a limit to the distinctness of sounds (and other factors like rhythm, song structure etc), then there would be a limit to possible songs and a limit to possible songs that would be considered "good" by the general consensus (which I agree with you is very varied, but it is still non-arbitrary).
I think you are right to bring in painting or other forms of art to the discussion. What I'm really trying to do is explain a phenomena that I've observed in multiple forms of art. There is a pattern that appears to be taking place, that humans start out with very primitive forms of visual or auditory art, and then develop techniques and understanding to increase in complexity and open up new possibilities in art (like you refer to in your first couple paragraphs), but then the speed of development of more distinct works seems to slow down at a certain point and eventually decline. I agree that this observation is difficult to judge, but do you agree that there is a limit to distinctness? On a long enough timescale, (for example) wouldn't all classical music sound like a song that has already come before?
I appreciate the back and forth and your arguments.