Skip to content

Debate: Ambiguity

Updated Saturday 24th June 2006

Professor Dennis Kurzon takes issue with Darren Barenboim's Reith Lecture contention that music has ambiguity lacking in real life.

Piano keyboard Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Jupiter Images

I would like to take issue on a small remark by Daniel Barenboim in the third Reith lecture. He relates to ambiguity, saying "in real life ambiguity may be described as a doubtful quality, somebody who is ambiguous, not knowing exactly what he or she wants, how to react etc. But in the world of sound, in this magical world of sound, ambiguity means that there are many many possibilities, many ways to go."

I would not agree with him. Ambiguity is rife in real-life, too, and it has nothing to do with not knowing what to do. Any linguist, and I am one of that breed, will tell you that almost everything that is said is ambiguous. It is the context that helps to disambiguate. The ambiguity found in music -- and I like the way Barenboim presents that topic -- is also found in language, unintentionally in everyday conversation, intentionally in literary texts, but it is different in nature. It is usually not the question of what is coming next, but the two or more meanings of what one has already said.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Some merits of Manchester Creative commons image Icon Nightfall404 under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Some merits of Manchester

In Manchester, William is struck by the city's dignity - and woollen socks.

Article
The Sound and the Fury: Wrecking Ball Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

The Sound and the Fury: Wrecking Ball

The first in a new music series: How the early 20th century saw a fragmented, abstract, discordant sound come to the fore.

Article
OU on the BBC: Sound of Life - The Song of the Earth Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: NASA article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

OU on the BBC: Sound of Life - The Song of the Earth

Experience a magical journey through one day of the planet's life, through sound: Join Aubrey as he listens to the song of the Earth.

Article
20th century composers: making the connections Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license activity icon

History & The Arts 

20th century composers: making the connections

Explore the world of 20th century classical and avant-garde music through the composers and the fascinating connections that exist between them.

Activity
Voice-leading analysis of music 1: the foreground Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 3 icon

History & The Arts 

Voice-leading analysis of music 1: the foreground

This free course, Voice-leading analysis of music 1: the foreground, introduces 'voice-leading' or 'Schenkerian' analysis, perhaps the most widely used and discussed method of analysing tonal music. In this course, this method is explained through the analysis of piano sonatas by Mozart. The course is the first in the AA314 series of three courses on this form of harmonic analysis, and concentrates on the 'foreground level' of voice leading. As you work through this course, you will become familiar with five complete movements of Mozart's piano sonatas, as well as shorter extracts from some of his other sonatas.

Free course
20 hrs
Researching Nirvana: Whatever, Nevermind Creative commons image Icon Dino Gravato under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Researching Nirvana: Whatever, Nevermind

Nirvana's album Nevermind - and the subsequent suicide of Kurt Cobain - has turned a grunge statement into a cash machine. Can research tell us how?

Article
Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 3 icon

History & The Arts 

Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective

Improvisation and composition are words frequently used in the western world to describe the creation of music. But are they really two distinct processes, or are they aspects of the same phenomenon? In this free course, Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective, we will explore the relationship between the two using examples of Asian music to help us clarify the concepts.

Free course
20 hrs

History & The Arts 

Learning to Groove

Learning to Groove tells the story of the Tomorrow’s Warriors band as its young musicians learn the art of jazz. Jason Toynbee, leader of the What Is Black British Jazz research project at The Open University explains how this informal type of music education is playing an important and alternative role. Jazz musician Gary Crosby and his partner Janine Irons share their story of how they set up the band and why they feel so passionate about giving opportunities to inner city children to learn how to play jazz and to guide them on their way to future success in the music industry. We also hear personal stories from members of the Tomorrow’s Warriors projects, who share their love of jazz and the importance of getting in the groove.

Audio
20 mins
What you listen to shows how you think Creative commons image Icon Tejastheory under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

What you listen to shows how you think

New research suggests that your choice of music might show how you think.

Article