I was inspired to research the words “organ” and “organized” after I read a statement made by Merleau-Ponty scholar Lawrence Hass that “perceptions are organized (organ-ized) information.” He included the hyphen to emphasize a very interesting point: it may be that our ability to organize our thoughts is rooted in a concrete aspect of embodiment. We have specialized organs and neural pathways for particular ranges of wave frequencies (light for the eyes, sound for the ears, vibration for the skin). So, it’s plausible that organization of thought may have its roots in the configuration of our sense organs. Astounding!
Here’s a typical definition of organize:
- v. arrange in an orderly way
- v. to make into a whole with unified and coherent relationships (yourdictionary.com)
These definitions aren’t satisfying. What makes an organization orderly, unified, and coherent? The definition Hass implies is much more illuminating: to be organized is to be divided according to the sense organs of a perceiver. Now we’re getting somewhere!
But moving in a slightly different direction, what the hell are we doing playing a musical instrument called an “organ”? And what does all this mean for Edgard Varèse’s famous definition of music as “organized sound”?
- n. from the Greek organon meaning “implement”, “musical instrument”, “organ of the body”, literally, “that with which one works” (Online Etymology Dictionary)
- n. an instrument or means, as of action or performance
Substituting “organ” in Varèse’s famous definition with these, the word “music” means:
- music is sound with which one works
- music is sound that is a means of action or performance
For the first time I understand what Varèse meant when he said music is “organized sound.” We use the word music to mean sound that is utilized by someone to work or perform. Nothing more, nothing less.