No Universal Language


The extraordinary social relevance of music (it is better if we speak of "organized sound" or "meaningful sound") has a lot to do with its uncanny potential to catch and collect symbolic meanings of all kinds. That is why the old fallacy, so hard to die, that music brings people together (“the universal language of mankind”) really is a fallacy. No music was ever meant for universal appeal. Music separates.  Music is always partisan. It always stands in somebody’s favour and in opposition to somebody else. When there is war or conflict there also is music. War and conflict cannot even be imagined without it. More simply, whenever you do not like somebody else’s music, that is almost always because, you just are not supposed to like it. Samuel Butler once said: "The best music should be played as the best men and women should be dressed - neither so well nor so ill as to attract attention to itself". But that is seldom the case. Music is meant to be intrusive, because it always wants you to make the choice: that you belong, or that you don’t.

Ethnomusicology has been showing for about a century that "musics" exist that are often so diverse as to be incomprehensible to each other. Ultimately, if it were a universal language the music of Crete would suit the people of Vanuatu just as well as their own, and vice-versa.