April 19, 2013


"Music is the fourth great material want, first food, then clothes, then shelter, then music." - Christian Nestell Bovee

I recently came across a blog post on the IBM Interactive web page.  The gist was that  people are moving towards wanting meaning and that toy purchases reflect that.  This statement in the first paragraph caught my eye though.

  In Daniel Pink’s book, “A Whole New Mind,” he quotes American journalist Gregg Easterbrook, stating that, “a transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale—involving hundreds of millions of people—and may eventually be recognized as the principal cultural development of our age” (Pink 219). Easterbrook’s statement couldn’t be more true. Society today craves information; whether through personal email, community blogs, educational news stories, or dynamic video content, we have an insatiable need for information. Growing up in the Information Age, I have witnessed the technological explosion that has increased resource accessibility. And thus, I have seen firsthand Easterbrook’s shift from materialist values to “postmaterialist priorities” of self-expression and quality of life.

A transition from material want to meaning want resonates with me as well, although I don't think it is a new phenomenon.  The thing that gets me in the excerpt is the immediate equivalence of "meaning" want to "information" want. Yes, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before, but deriving meaning from that information is highly contextual and highly dependent on past experience.

In essence, a search for meaning is a search for how to interpret information - hence the shift of priorities to self-expression and quality of life. How do we derive meaning? How do we ascribe meaning to information? These are important questions with a range of possible answers. more important though is the self-understanding that one gets when considering the possible answers. I think that a  lot of this goes back to what we believe, accept as true, have faith in, trust.  From these points we can disregard the chaff and focus on finding meaning.  Life becomes much more beautiful when we define what is meaningful and move towards that.

That brings me to music composition. When we listen to music or sound art, we make decisions about what is meaningful. If we are honest in our listening, we take what the composer/musician presents us and try to find the threads that work through the music whether it be form, sounds, gestures, motives, spectrum, rhythms, pitches, motion/direction, and try to derive meaning for the choices made there.  However, meaning is not always intention. We also ascribe meaning to the things that we like - perhaps repetitive rhythmic music, soaring melodies, Eco-recordings, speech.  What we find as meaningful is an interesting interplay between expectation and discovery.  It is what directs us towards labeling a piece as good or bad, as well as whether or not we like it.

The want for meaning is a good thing. Making sense of information is understanding. Making sense of music allows us to appreciate it. The idea that "a transition from material want to meaning want...may eventually be recognized as the principal cultural development of our age" is exciting. I just hope that not only do we want meaning, but that we are willing to work through the piles of information to find it.