Saturday, July 16, 2011

If a tree falls in the woods...

I've been thinking a lot lately about music in outer space. That is, what it means to be sound, to have sound in a vacuum. When such is the case, it makes music, sound, this thing that we've objectified into not some thing, but necessitates that it be only recognizable as a phenomenon that does or does not happen. What we can hear as a distinct sound on Earth, is actually a series of waves, a vibration initiating from a single source of impact. These waves need a medium to travel through, such as water or solid or, as is normally the case, air. Without a medium, this phenomenon cannot take place and the sound, as we recognize it, does not exist. Thus, sound cannot be a thing so much as it is an occurrence.

And so the experience of sound and music in space is a unique one, one that bears that age-old and cliched question: if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or rather, in our case, if an impact occurs but there is no medium to transfer the vibration, is a sound made? Does sound happen? And when can it be said that a full-fledged sound has actually happened? How far must the vibrations travel? And must they make it all the way to the human ear drum, or is traveling a little way, but stopping short of the ear drum sufficient? That is to say, must a sound be received and interpreted in order to have occurred?

Such questions also bring into question other oft-objectified phenomena, like color. Being the reflection and absorption of different wavelengths of light, color cannot, then, exist if there is no light. Light cannot be interpreted if not received, and so if color isn't received, can it exist? And what of the colorblind, of organisms capable of "seeing" and thus interpreting different wavelengths of light invisible to the human eye?

Does sound exist?

Does color exist?

And if sound doesn't exist, what does that mean for music?

1 comment:

jerome langguth said...

Interesting! I had not seen your post when I ran across R. Murray Schafer's amusing response to the tree falling in the forest puzzle (see Schafer quote in Sunday's blog entry).