Music is part of what we call art and culture. Music, musical instruments as well as the perceiving and performing human brain, is a self-organizing system by its very nature. Self-organizing systems are more than ‘dead matter’, they are living. So at least this part of our culture is a life we have invented as living beings. The musical instruments humans have invented, the timbre we have created, pitches, chords as well as musical meaning and emotion are all part of a whole system which is living and alive.
Therefore we consider music as lively, as inspiring, as meaningful and also as a language, it appears like a living being, although it is not a human, an animal or a plant. Music is maintaining itself, like all self-organized systems do, it has a history as all living things have, it develops according to its own rules, likes and its history, again like all being do.
At the same time music is not only within one human or stored on CDs and MP3s. The musical memories, abilities and likes, the musical instruments as physical systems with the rules of playing them, the music stored in all formats, the human ear and auditory system with its physiological constraints, music performances and dance, altogether form a self-organizing system which maintains itself, develops, and therefore is a living whole.
This music has developed evolutionary as well as what we call culturally. Both are necessary to develop what we call music today. These developments appear to us as more than an amount of played pieces, performances, musicians, styles, storages. Music is all this as a living system. Therefore it is not reasonable to define music. Jean-Paul Satre once asked what a Beethoven Symphony is, is it the musical score, the dots written on paper, is it the performance during a concert, is it the musical idea Beethoven had in mind while composing? Of course it is all this and much more in a whole system of reasonings, a self-organized system.
So is music a living being with consciousness? Would it be right to associate a higher being with it, a god of song which we can communicate with, which has ideas, a self-consciousness, has feelings and wishes?
Following the discussion in terms of consciousness we might be sceptical about this. Conscious seems to appear when a neural network is in a medium degree of complexity. As the human mind shows such a high complexity on a very small space, the space in our heads, with a complex electric field, such a complex field is not present in the system of music. This does not mean that it is not a living system, still we do not have any evidence that it has consciousness on its own.
So if at least music as part of culture is self-organizing, may culture in general be just the same? We cannot tell yet because therefore we would need to go deep into the physical mechanisms of other art forms and other parts of culture. Still if this would be true than culture is another form of life, a life which follows the same rules like all life does, it is born, lives and dies, it has a history, tries to maintain itself, reacts on things around it and appears to us as a living thing, what it indeed does.
The search of an origin of music, evolutionary, cultural, technical, social, is then really a search for the plural, the origins of music and the problem of the origin of the chicken and the egg. But if we view music as what it really is, a self-organizing, therefore living system, we do no longer need to search for such an origin, music has gradually developed and will ever do so.
So the question is not too much of what music is but of how music works. It is the system of this living being called music which is of interest and the interactions between all its parts. There is no ‘must’ or ‘do not’ in music, there are only decisions and consequences developing the living being music on and on. Everyone does act as part of it and can examine its actions and how it works. We have brought music to quite some hight, let us see and let us act on its development in the future.