Randomness, Beauty, and the Oboe

Have you ever looked at an oboe closely?

To the untrained eye, it looks like such a random, asymmetrical shape. It’s such an arbitrary way of putting together a musical instrument. But yet it’s capable of producing music as beautiful as this.

So, too, for a clarinet.

And a tuba.

Or any other orchestral instrument.

Hundreds of years ago, someone strapped together some silver, cork, wood, and reeds in a particular way and discovered that it could be used to make beautiful music. And then it became commonly used. And then it became standard. Put the oboe together with the other standard orchestral instruments, and you can do this.

It’s an amazing metaphor for the randomness of how society achieves consensus. You could create musical instruments through an infinite variety of parts, sizes, and shapes. All of the shapes and sizes we chose are arbitrary. But yet we chose a few that work well together and developed a canon of musical theory and structure based around them.

It’s easy to imagine alternatives to this consensus format, and many do so very well. Still, it’s hard to deny the power of this totally arbitrary musical amalgam.