Music that plays without a melody line… such a philosophical thought. Or is it? Well, let’s approach it with an open mind first. I mean, from the other direction than most of us would approach it naturally. In other words, let’s say that every musical line can be considered as melody. Even ones that don’t move. At all. Or ones that are voices of some chords. Or spoken voice, with its innate microtonal nature. You with the occasional open mind would therefore think that music without melody doesn’t even exist. Right?
What exactly do we call melody?
Now if you check out the definition of melody, you’ll realize that it requires a lot of specific attributes that we haven’t considered above. Cause it says melody is a linear succession of notes. One that we perceive as a single entity. It also says that melody is a combination of pitch and rhythm. Boom. There goes our open mind. Will our thirst for finding any kind of music without a melody get quenched soon though? The above description sort of defines that melody must be what people usually call a melody. A rhythmical line of notes that we do hear as a coherent line of notes. Oops. Can you see what that definition does? It pretty much places the decision back into our hands. Because if we perceive it as a single entity, then it becomes a melody. For us. “Art is what people call art.” Does it feel familiar already?
Okay, so a very long tone that doesn’t change either in pitch and doesn’t show any rhythmical activity, is it still technically a melody? Or is it the ever elusive melody-less music? At least this definition gives us the possibility to see human speech as a melody line. Or more like an endless stream of melody lines. Oh good. So rap is indeed melodic. And cookie monster metal as well. And there are more artsy takes on it, like “Different Trains” by Steve Reich. He uses the natural melody lines occurring in speech, and (re)creates music out of them, played by instruments.
The movement of pitches & rhythms
So let’s go back to our long tone without pitch movement or rhythmic changes. We can say that this music has no melody on top. Exactly because there’s no movement in pitch and rhythm. Both of these were required by the above definition. But! What if we say there will be movement in both, in infinity? So sometime later, that we won’t actually here. Just like two parallel lines intersect in infinity. Or not. Who said music wasn’t mathematics? And that’s where my head starts spinning.