This weekend I was introduced to one of the 自得琴社 (Zi De Guqin Studio) videos, 空山鸟语. I don't quite understand all of what is going on there, but the basic details are: they're music students dressed in period clothing playing period music. I can tell you that it's a song from the Tang dynasty, which spans from 618 to 907 in China. Those are just Wikipedia level details--I don't have any feeling for what it means.
But it caused a thought, which caused a question, which cascaded some other questions.
How do these musicians know what the music sounds like? The instruments are the same--they can be compared with archaeological evidence--and the lyrics are in (basically) the same language, but what about the music itself? Was there music notation in Tang dynasty China?
I can read sheet music and, with a cold chisel to break off the rust, could play from it on the piano, and to some extent on other instruments. How old is our music notation? How did it develop? When did it become what we recognize today? Is it the same as old Chinese notation, assuming it exists? Are there different formats there now? Elsewhere? Madness in all directions. I don't have any answers. I stood at the edge of that rabbit hole and couldn't see the bottom, couldn't imagine the fractal possibilities down below. I'd welcome recommendations for a good book or article, etc., that gives a ranging overview of any and all parts of that.
One step further into other thoughts: music notation encapsulates how to operate an instrument to produce a series of sounds and we call that result music. It's an encoded series of time-sequenced process steps. Is it a language? It seems like a language. What is a language?
One more step: what would music notation look like for your own day-to-day activities? Could you create your own markup language to describe the different activities and entities and so on that you encounter? If you had to hand over sheet music or code to someone that needed to do your job, what would it look like? I hope it wouldn't look like the turgid process documentation we use at work. I hope it would look as clear and sequential as Ikea instructions, as abstract as the Voyager record, as ineluctable as a floating cake that says EAT ME.
(No answers were harmed, or even bothered, in the making of these questions.)