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Why Do So Many Smart People Listen to Such Terrible Music?

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arete1952
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If, however, you mean it cannot be objectively stated and demonstrated that classical music is more sophisticated than pop music, then you are wrong.

That is what I meant, and I'm not wrong because there is not really an objective standard for determining how sophisticated a given piece of music is, as a whole.

I can easily demonstrate how classical music is much more sophisticated than popular. For example, if I can sit down with someone and present a comparison of, say, a Bach fugue with their favorite pop song I can show how the Bach fugue displays much greater musical sophistication (formal, contrapuntal, harmonic, melodic, rhythmic) and required far more compositional technique. I can even use a much less complex piece than a fugue...let's say a Schubert art song (which actually is more direct comparison, i.e., art song vs. pop song)...same result.

It is possible to isolate some specific element of a piece of music, and compare that one element to the same element in another piece of music, and say that one piece is more sophisticated than the other assuming sophistication is defined and limited to some one specific analysis of that one element in the music.

For example, one could define sophistication according to how many notes are in a song and then conclude that Chopin's "minute waltz" is more sophisticated than "Row Row Row Your Boat" because there are more notes in the score.

But there is more to the effects music has on listeners than how many notes are in the score--more than the notes that are heard by the ear--more than the notes that are not heard but are implied or assumed by the ear--more than the notes that the ear wants to hear and is frustrated in their absence--and importantly, more than scientists and aestheticians have even begun to understand.

I think an objective definition of musical sophistication would need to take more into account than a "formal, contrapuntal, harmonic, melodic, rhythmic" analysis (as those are presently understood) could afford. Ultimately, I would expect it also to account for the context of what the artist was trying to evoke in the listener, the artistic merits of trying to evoke that in somebody, how effectively and intensely the effect is achieved, etc, the former of which could not be objectively deduced and the latter of which could not be objectively understood at the present time. I say at the present time, because I think eventually it will be understood, and objective criteria for judging music will be established, assuming rational philosophy one day comes to dominate the sciences.

At that time I wouldn't be surprised if many classical pieces are determined to be more sophisticated than many popular pieces. Certainly I would be surprised if anyone concluded that Nirvana's repertoire is more sophisticated than Rachmaninoff's, and I would seriously want to check the premises that led to such a conclusion.

But there is plenty of classical music that is pure, generic, formulaic, boring crap. And there are plenty of popular songwriters who wrote brilliantly moving scores, even by most of the traditional forms of evaluation--for example, Harold Arlen (Wizard of Oz), Rogers and Hammerstein (Sound of Music), Burt Bacharach (almost every descent pop song from the 60's), George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue), etc etc.

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I'm curious as to how music affects your values system.

Music doesn't affect your value system, it reflects it. There is a cognitive evaluation of music when you say "I like it" or "I hate it".

It could be that I'm just a writer and don't particularly associate music with art. (Or writing, really, honestly -- but I've never been all that artistically minded.)

If you are a fiction writer, you'd have to be artistically minded! If you're a non-fiction writer, then I suppose you don't.

I think the real problem is that music represents different things for different people, in different ways. I think my music choices definitely say something about me -- but so do my food choices, and for me it really is a better comparison. Who I am definitely affects what I'll choose to eat, but I wouldn't go as far as to say it reflects my "soul."

The art you value definitely says more about you than the clothes or food you eat, because art reflects your deeper, more general evaluation of reality. By general, I mean that it reflects your metaphysical value judgments and those judgments have a lot to say about the kind of clothes you will choose, or the kind of food or career you will choose. Art is fuel for the soul and therefore the fuel you supply says a lot about who you are.

Or, to take it another step, both Hitler and Stalin dressed nicely.

This is interesting -- what do you mean by reverse?

I'm thinking about Ayn Rand's insightful identification of how music works psycho-epistemologically. This can be found in The Romantic Manifesto. She says: "The fundamental difference between music and other art lies in the fact that music is experienced as if it reversed man's psycho-epistemological process. Other arts create a physical object ... and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception of the object to the conceptual grasp of its meaning, to an appraisal in terms of one's basic values, to a consequent emotion. The pattern is: from perceptual -- to conceptual understanding -- to appraisal -- to emotion."

"The pattern of the process involving music is: from perceptual -- to emotion -- to appraisal -- to conceptual understanding." [Chapter 4, "Art and Cognition"]

And I freely admit that there are probably very good ways to objectively evaluate music. They're just not things I'm personally interested in, and I think insinuating that we all should be interested in them is kind of suspect. I think the brain is much more wonderful than any "art" we've created with it, but I won't be upset if others aren't quite as enamored with neurotransmitters as I am. ;)

I don't think anyone has said we should all be interested. The article referenced atop this thread is just asking the question "Why do so many smart people listen to bad music?" I mean, why don't 50% of smart people love opera? I'd say that opera is loved by a small minority of people, even though it seems to be of higher quality than rap. So, that's an interesting question to ask.

I'm not sure that the question of the complexity of the brain is really pertinent here. I think it's a fascinating subject, but I'm not sure how to evaluate "the brain is much more wonderful than any 'art' we've created with it". To me, art is a reflection of the power of the brain, especially good art, so they go hand-in-hand in that respect.

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[snip]

At that time I wouldn't be surprised if many classical pieces are determined to be more sophisticated than many popular pieces. Certainly I would be surprised if anyone concluded that Nirvana's repertoire is more sophisticated than Rachmaninoff's, and I would seriously want to check the premises that led to such a conclusion.

I don't know if I can make the argument that Nirvana is more sophisticated than Rachmaninoff, but that really is comparing apples and oranges. Rachmaninoff had entire concertos devoted to extracting every implication out of his great melodies.

But try playing Lithium on a piano sometime. It's more sophisticated qua melody than people give it credit for.

Now, imagine devoting a concerto to that melody.

Or do the reverse. Try playing Concerto #2's melody on a guitar. (I don't mean the crazy virtuoso piano stuff, just the melody.) It's a lot simpler than you think. It's beautiful, but it's not that complex.

Of course, classical composers sound more complex than pop composers do, but pop composers have about 4-5 minutes to express their musical ideas. Comparing them is like comparing sprinters to marathon runners.

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I've thought about this thread some more:

First, a few things need to be layed out... are we talking about aesthetics, or philosophical value? These really have to be discussed separately.

Aesthetics:

When I took a jazz class in college, the teacher laid out an example where he hit a few keys on a piano. He said, this (hits a deep sound) gives this type of response. This (hits high pitched keys) gives this type of response. When we put them together, it comes to this (plays them together).

Then he hit some random keys that didn't go together at all, and said basically, "this sounds like crap". It was true, it did.

From this simple demonstration, I think it can be said that aesthetics can be objectively better or worse. If music is not easy on the ears and such, it can be bad sounding aesthetically. I believe Ayn Rand referred to this in Atlas Shrugged when she talked about how Halley's music had controlled violence and mathematical precision.

Also, the skill involved in a piece can also be a thing to analyze. Think about putting 4 instruments together and coming up with a nice sound verses putting 40 together. The later takes more skill and can create much richer effects, covering all ranges of sound.

For these reasons, I'll always consider symphonies composers superior in skill and aesthetics.

The link to Philosophical value

In order to get any philosophical value from a piece of music, it has to have some level of skill and aesthetics. I think most people agree on this, as I don't think modern art and Objectivism get along. Silence and then a long screech, is not good music, or even art for that matter.

Philosophical value

This is the part of music that one "relates to." It is the reason that I put Tchaikovsky above other composers. Nothing else (that I have heard to date) gives me the same feeling and thoughts as his 1812 Overture. It might not have the same level of skill and complexity as other music, but it is still my favorite.

As Halley said in Atlas Shrugged, a musician's goal should be to inspire the listener to the same values as the composer. The reason Halley was a classical composer is well placed, as Ayn Rand wanted to make the point of high aesthetic value and skill verses the "modern music" of the time. They were a complete contrast with each other.

Finally, people and the music they listen to it

Music is a wonderful thing and has many uses. Some people use it as mildly pleasant background noise. Others study it and delve more into the aesthetics and skill of a piece. Some people look only for the philosophical meaning (though aesthetics and skill do help much with this); they look for music they can "relate to." So it is no wonder that a music major would look for different things than a music layman.

If one goes into music with, "I want something that is pleasant and relaxing to listen to" then they will get different results than, "I want something good and thought provoking worth hours of study". I do not study Tchaikovsky's music very deeply. I listen to it because it is the only music for which I have heard the wonderful blast of music, filled with struggle and eventually triumph in the most loudly dramatic and uplifting finales. I don't listen to it because of all the different layers of music and technical skill (which it actually does have the later), but because I can break a sweat listening to it (if the room is hot enough ;)).

Any thoughts?

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"...the one musician that AR presented as on the same level as Galt, Reardon, et al was a composer of classical music...not some pop music tunesmith."

Yes, but her favorite music ever was "tiddlewink" music. Anyway, neither thing proves anything of value about music or about classical music having an intrinsic superiority to everything else.

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If one goes into music with, "I want something that is pleasant and relaxing to listen to" then they will get different results than, "I want something good and thought provoking worth hours of study". I do not study Tchaikovsky's music very deeply. I listen to it because it is the only music for which I have heard the wonderful blast of music, filled with struggle and eventually triumph in the most loudly dramatic and uplifting finales. I don't listen to it because of all the different layers of music and technical skill (which it actually does have the later), but because I can break a sweat listening to it (if the room is hot enough ;)).

Any thoughts?

Bingo - exactly my point. Well, that and to think that there is necessarily something wrong or unsophisticated with someone who is doing the former rather than the latter is erroneous.

On a side note, I think it's ironic that I write something against mistaking one's personal interests and tastes qua musician with objective quality and I get criticized for equating my personal tastes with objective quality.

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On a side note, I think it's ironic that I write something against mistaking one's personal interests and tastes qua musician with objective quality and I get criticized for equating my personal tastes with objective quality.
Yes, this is what I was trying to combat with myself. I know that there is objectively a quality to music that makes one better than another, but I also know that some of those good music pieces are not my favorites, for emotional and egoistic reasons. So thats when I realized that one needs to distinguish between aesthetics and philosophical meaning.

If I was all about the Aesthetics, I'd think Beethoven is the best, which I don't.

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I have wondered about this myself for a long time:

http://www.unconservatory.org/articles/smartpeople.html

This is not music related, but in the spirit of Ayn Rand, does anyone remember a quote of her saying, when asked what her favorite T.V. show was - that she liked Charlie's Angels?

I mean, it's basically a show where 3 hot babes are sunbathing, somehow end up getting into trouble and then they have to kick butt and take names...and all the while nothing "deep" or "profound" is really ever revealed. I mean c'mon Cheryl Ladd in a bikini? :) how philosophically profound is that?

So, I definitely think that there is a time for entertainment and reflection on one's values...if you can find value in something of entertainment, all the better. But where is the "rule" that says everyone must walk around listening to classical music all of the time acting so lofty that they sh*t bricks?

I myself don't watch a lot of T.V., but when I was a kid I enjoyed a British show called "Dr. Who" - my grandparents said that I watched it all the time even though they weren't sure that I understood what was going on (looking back on those old shows, I should have been scared to death, but I remember really enjoying them). It's still on today and I still enjoy it even though, from a rational standpoint, I know that about 99% of what happens on the show is outside the realm of reality. I'm still trying to figure out what is so "cool" about a blue police box that can travel through time :lol:

Now, when compared to another show on the Discovery Channel called "How it's Made", I should like that show more than a sci-fi/fantasy show purely on the basis of value to my mind in terms of gaining knowledge or expanding the scope of my knowledge of how the world around me works - specifically how various products are made. But, in truth, sometimes...I'd rather see the Dr. outwit some aliens than see how a television is made and it's on the basis of "I want to be entertained" and sci-fi has the ability to engage one's imagination.

Edited by prosperity
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Who said I was addressing anyone here? I am simply saying that I've seen musicians who appreciate music on a purely structural level, and that I think that the author is one of the people who does that.

Actually, no, that's not what you said:

Right, and adding to this: the author, implicitly, is saying that what he is looking for from his music is the complexity of structure to it - i.e. for the piece to do something "clever," musically. This is also the meaning behind the "smart people" thing - because it is required that one be smart to be able to enjoy a piece of music in this way.

And then you refer to "people like the author (and his fellow musicians)." You did not say that is what you think the author is saying, you asserted it with your first words. But what did he actually say in any detail about the music he means?

"But there's a world of very high quality, accessible music other than the more commonly encountered rock, rap, country, etc., that you would expect to be the light fare of intelligent, educated people." Note: He explicitly said "accessible." What qualities does he contrast? "...I realize it is not the satisfying form or interesting textures, rich harmonies or rhythmic diversity that captivate them; it is the sheer energy (and volume) of the sound."

You have no basis for saying he's interested in complexity for the sake of it--that's unwarranted. I knew it was unfair the moment I read your posting. And if that is what you think he meant by saying what he said, then it goes just as well for anyone here who says the same thing. If this seems unjustified to you, then all I can say is you need to take better care with your wording in the future.

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Yes, but her favorite music ever was "tiddlewink" music. Anyway, neither thing proves anything of value about music or about classical music having an intrinsic superiority to everything else.

Her "favorite music, ever"? Do you have a citation for this? I believe the references I've heard say favorite popular music, or favorite contemporary music. Hardly of all time.

This is not music related, but in the spirit of Ayn Rand, does anyone remember a quote of her saying, when asked what her favorite T.V. show was - that she liked Charlie's Angels?

I mean, it's basically a show where 3 hot babes are sunbathing, somehow end up getting into trouble and then they have to kick butt and take names...and all the while nothing "deep" or "profound" is really ever revealed. I mean c'mon Cheryl Ladd in a bikini? :lol: how philosophically profound is that?

The mentions I've seen were that her answer was that she didn't watch much tv but had seen CA, and liked it. "Philosophically profoundness" was not a particular aspect of art that she rated per se. I believe she mentioned that she liked it for it's sense of benevolence.

ah, here we go: http://objectivistbibliography.wordpress.c...harlies-angels/

Edited by KendallJ
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Actually, no, that's not what you said:

And then you refer to "people like the author (and his fellow musicians)." You did not say that is what you think the author is saying, you asserted it with your first words. But what did he actually say in any detail about the music he means?

Again you are not reading what I said - you are stretching it mightily to make it say what you think or want to think I said.

The particular part of what I wrote that you quote is where I say the author is appreciating complexity qua complexity as a major value in his music. I haven't yet at that point moved on to discuss complexity disconnected from harmony or emotion. Here is the part of what you said which I object to:

But again, no one here is arguing for that position. What you have ended up doing is setting up your own strawman phrased in such a way as to insinuate that people who argue in favor of concert music favor structure over emotional response

That is the accusation of yours which I was responding to when I said "And who said I was arguing against anyone here?" By the time I have moved on in my post to discussing favoring structure to the exclusion of other factors, I am no longer specifically mentioning any individual here or anywhere else. But you missed that.

What I say I think the author is doing is expecting ordinary smart people to look at music the way that a musician or music geek would - of appreciating design quality as an element on the level of emotionally enjoying its presence. What I am definitely saying is that the author is appreciating design quality as an element on the level of emotionally enjoying its presence. What I haven't said at all is that he is specifically doing it to the exclusion or at the expense of conventional musical appreciation.

You have no basis for saying he's interested in complexity for the sake of it--that's unwarranted.

You seem to be implying that I've said that. But I haven't and I'd like to see where you think I have.

If this seems unjustified to you, then all I can say is you need to take better care with your wording in the future.

No, you need to take better care with your reading because you are leveling accusations against an innocent man.

Edited by Inspector
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Again you are not reading what I said - you are stretching it mightily to make it say what you think or want to think I said. (emphasis added)

Actually, I'm reading exactly what you wrote; it's not my fault if it's not what you meant to say. (And I note you've smuggled in the implication that I'm dishonest in the bolded section. I believe that is against the forum rules, and I'm taking it up with the other moderators accordingly.)

Me:

You seem to be implying that I've said that. But I haven't and I'd like to see where you think I have.

Inspector:

In fact I would go so far as to say that it is only musicians who are entertained by a piece purely on the level of its structure (i.e. apart from its overall harmony), because they study and understand composure itself. Music that is particularly concerned with that structure, often (but not always) to the exclusion of harmony, is generally referred to as progressive - and it exists in many schools of music including jazz, rock and roll, and even metal.

But the mistake I think people like the author (and his fellow musicians) make is that no non-musician has any reason to care about or appreciate music in that way.

So in fact, if you look at the italicized passage, you can see that you are wrong when you claim: " By the time I have moved on in my post to discussing favoring structure to the exclusion of other factors, I am no longer specifically mentioning any individual here or anywhere else. But you missed that." No, you were directly accusing the author and people like him of believing non-musicians should appreciate music "purely on the level of its structure."

No, you need to take better care with your reading because you are leveling accusations against an innocent man.

I read your words quite well enough, thank you.

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When I took a jazz class in college, the teacher laid out an example where he hit a few keys on a piano. He said, this (hits a deep sound) gives this type of response. This (hits high pitched keys) gives this type of response. When we put them together, it comes to this (plays them together).

Then he hit some random keys that didn't go together at all, and said basically, "this sounds like crap". It was true, it did.

From this simple demonstration, I think it can be said that aesthetics can be objectively better or worse.

That doesn't follow.. Who's to say that the teacher or any of the students were being objective when they evaluated those sounds? Based on what objective criteria?

How does that demonstration show anything other than that sounds can be subjectively evaluated as better or worse?

Furthermore, it seems likely to me that the chords he played which "sound(ed) like crap" were probably more complicated intervals (which sounded like crap most likely because of the way they were voiced and the lack of context, but which could potentially have sounded good, with perhaps surprisingly limited alterations), which could almost certainly be ironically described by some pretentious advocate of dischordal harmonies as "more sophisticated" than the other chords which were more "popular" with the class.

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That doesn't follow.. Who's to say that the teacher or any of the students were being objective when they evaluated those sounds? Based on what objective criteria?

How does that demonstration show anything other than that sounds can be subjectively evaluated as better or worse?

Furthermore, it seems likely to me that the chords he played which "sound(ed) like crap" were probably more complicated intervals (which sounded like crap most likely because of the way they were voiced and the lack of context, but which could potentially have sounded good, with perhaps surprisingly limited alterations), which could almost certainly be ironically described by some pretentious advocate of dischordal harmonies as "more sophisticated" than the other chords which were more "popular" with the class.

"Who's to say"? I am to say, since I was there. I think the better question to ask is why did I think that way. So I'll answer that first. Then I'll address the next part of your question.

My standard of aesthetically good in the realm of music:

Music that is good on the ears (doesn't hurt them, literally) and has some rhythm and/or unity. Must for the same reasons as a poem with no rhyme or beat sounds like poo, and can be put in the category of modern art, or just plain faction/nonfiction.

How does that demonstration show anything other than that sounds can be subjectively evaluated as better or worse?
I don't know what form of subjective you are using, but I am using this. In particular, I use this meaning:
The subjective means the arbitrary, the irrational, the blindly emotional.
I don't believe I was doing this.

As for your last part, one has to take in the full context as it was, not the one you are placing on it. It was a single chord, played with nothing else, and was slightly off the way he hit the keys.

I understand how this could be mistaken for when most people speak, they speak of other people's opinions blindly. However, I was not doing that. When I was writing about my professor's example, it was my own mind judging, not the class's "collective" mind.

Also, I think what you mean by subjective is "relative" which is different and can still be objective.

Thanks for your response though.

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Modern music is not crap. It's just that they hide all the good music where nobody ever gets to hear it.

Dredg - Ode To the Sun Incredibly uplifting piece

Opeth - To Bid You Farewell Beautiful, Powerful, Unforgettable

King Crimson - Level Five Haunting and compelling. The feeling of raw fear explained with a level of mathematical complexity rarely seen in music.

Opeth is sooo good, its one of the only modern groups I listen to atm. I think my favorite cut of theirs is Blackwater Park, not to mention that the entire album is a work of art. I love how Akërfeldt blends harsh metal singing with operatic interludes.

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So in fact, if you look at the italicized passage, you can see that you are wrong when you claim: " By the time I have moved on in my post to discussing favoring structure to the exclusion of other factors, I am no longer specifically mentioning any individual here or anywhere else. But you missed that." No, you were directly accusing the author and people like him of believing non-musicians should appreciate music "purely on the level of its structure."

Okay, I will grant you that it is a reasonable interpretation to believe that the words "in that way" are refer to "purely on the level of its structure," so I can see how I did mention that I think author was expecting people to appreciate music "purely on the level of its structure."

But this is referring only to the claim in my post # 61. By showing I was wrong there, you have not validated your original accusation that I was responding to. Nor, at that, your other accusations or your general characterization of my original post.

And I note you've smuggled in the implication that I'm dishonest in the bolded section.

No, that's what you've done, in your previous accusations of how I'm "constructing" straw men "in order to" "insinuate" this and "implicitly equate" that. What I have suggested is not dishonesty on your part, but prejudice.

And I only presented the possibility of your wanting to think I have said these wicked things because at this point I have to ask: why are you stretching what I said so far? Is it because you want to do so for some reason? Why are you going so far out of your way to characterize me badly? Couldn't you treat me as an honest participant here and if you have questions about my meaning then ask them instead of leveling accusations against me? I see what you're doing and I don't appreciate it, and I am capable of and prepared to respond in kind.

I am also prepared to treat you the way I expect to be treated - as an honest participant. Even now, I am prepared to do this. But the choice is yours. So what shall it be? Shall we drop the back-and-forth you're-smuggling-this-and-insinuating that business and actually get down to understanding each other? If you are not in fact wanting to think that I am the way you've characterized me, then how about you stop acting like it and start discussing things with me in good faith instead of as an attack?

Because I don't honestly think we disagree here on the actual topic.

Edited by Inspector
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Okay, I will grant you that it is a reasonable interpretation to believe that the words "in that way" are refer to "purely on the level of its structure," so I can see how I did mention that I think author was expecting people to appreciate music "purely on the level of its structure."

Good, that's a good start.

But this is referring only to the claim in my post # 61. By showing I was wrong there, you have not validated your original accusation that I was responding to. Nor, at that, your other accusations or your general characterization of my original post.

If you wish to return to that broader issue, then that's fine. Consider the first paragraph of your original posting: "Right, and adding to this: the author, implicitly, is saying that what he is looking for from his music is the complexity of structure to it - i.e. for the piece to do something "clever," musically. This is also the meaning behind the "smart people" thing - because it is required that one be smart to be able to enjoy a piece of music in this way." Even in your second sentence you were already saying that his tastes require the listener to be smart. Why? Because, as you have stated several places in this thread, you believe someone has to be smart to be able to appreciate music "in this way," purely on the level of complexity, and that is the reason he goes on about smart people. But that is not what the author stated, nor is it a reasonable surmise based on his comments, and it is not what he meant by talking about smart people: Quoting myself, "The implication in the article is that smart people read novels of great complexity for pleasure ("someone with wide knowledge outside his field, good judgement, and refined tastes in many things"); why don't they do the same for music?"

Nor, as I pointed out, do you have to be smart to enjoy music with a good deal of complexity (certainly complex as compared to the popular music he was thinking about), like, say, Brahms, Beethoven, Chopin, and so many others--that was in response to an argument you made when responding directly to the author (second sentence above) and in closing about "progressive music." There's no real change in your argument from the beginning, where you talk about the author, to the end, where you talk about fans of progressive music--you say both are interested in cleverness, both urge on others music you have to be smart to listen to, and in the middle say that people like the author and the other musicians you have in mind view music in the same way, a way that you say non-musicians needn't be expected to appreciate.

No, that's what you've done, in your previous accusations of how I'm "constructing" straw men "in order to" "insinuate" this and "implicitly equate" that. What I have suggested is not dishonesty on your part, but prejudice.

First, "in order to" is a misquote. I wrote, "phrased in such a way as to insinuate...," which does not necessarily imply intent but result. I'm quite agnostic as to what your intent might have been, but I know what the result is. Second, you need not have intent nonetheless to implicitly equate two things--throughout your first post you discussed the author and progressive musicians in the same terms and at least once in the same breath, and implied when you didn't state it that they were taking the same position--you equate them but not always explicitly, so "implicitly equate" is an accurate description of the result. Third, "construct" is the neutral verb with strawmen, for they certainly do not spontaneously generate; why put it in quotes but not strawmen, which it seems to me is the more serious charge? As for strawmen, see the discussion above. (I'm actually not sure I used "construct" in any case; I noticed "played with" and "set up.")

And I only presented the possibility of your wanting to think I have said these wicked things because at this point I have to ask: why are you stretching what I said so far?

Because your original posting at best was very poorly thought out and unfair and your responses since then have been most unsatisfactory, and it's necessary to refer constantly to your own words and the structure of your arguments to make clear why. If I didn't, you'd attack me for calling you names; then when I take the effort to make perfectly clear why I wrote as I have, you say I'm just stretching your words much too far. If you simply think your postings don't deserve so much attention, I disagree.

If you are not in fact wanting to think that I am the way you've characterized me, then how about you stop acting like it and start discussing things with me in good faith instead of as an attack?

I don't "want to think" that you are how I've characterized you (that's a red herring of yours that distracts from the issues); I simply think that you are based on what you've written. There's no need to consider you dishonest in this thread--one-sided, hasty, unfair, stubborn, willing to consider what you actually wrote only if dragged to it like a cat balking at the vet, yes, certainly I think those likely. Most likely it wasn't even a very important topic for you and you just tossed it off half-thinkingly--perhaps that's why you think I'm blowing it way out of proportion out of personal antipathy. But you seriously misrepresented the author's position in such a way as to insinuate (that is, in such a way that it could easily be read as saying) that anyone who shared his views was equally a snob and a lover of complexity regardless of other musical qualities--and note that people in this thread had already agreed with what he actually said. At best your posting was an irrelevant flourish against completely different people that you found the author a convenient figure to hang on; but it could also be reasonably read as a snide attack on people here. You say now that wasn't your intention and I fully accept that, but your postings are still unfair and your arguments objectionable. If you want to drop the issue, that's fine; I've said what needs said for anyone curious.

Edited by Adrian Hester
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Adrian, Interesting posts.

The analogy you make to novels is illustrative. What I understand you to be saying is that Atlas Shrugged can be enjoyed by anyone who is willing to focus. One does not have to be particularly smart, nor have a particular interest in the art of novel-writing. Similarly, I read you as saying that people who dismiss Atlas and Ullysses as being too thick and intellectual are wrong, as are those who like both primarily because they're thick and intellectual (assuming such people exist!)

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First, "in order to" is a misquote. I wrote, "phrased in such a way as to insinuate...," which does not necessarily imply intent but result.

See, it's that "necessarily" part that gets me - that and the "set up" ("construct" is a misquote - I had to head out the door at the time) is also a term heavily colored with the idea of intent - as if I deliberately knew that these were strawmen that I was intentionally and dishonestly setting up to discredit an opponent. The phrasing that doesn't imply this would be "you are attacking a strawman," which doesn't say anything about whether it is one that I deliberately and insidiously designed to further my own nefarious ends.

Because between that, the rest of your phrasing, and the overall tone of your post, I definitely saw it as attacking and accusatory.

Because your original posting at best was very poorly thought out and unfair and your responses since then have been most unsatisfactory, and it's necessary to refer constantly to your own words and the structure of your arguments to make clear why.

I didn't ask why you were quoting me - I asked why you were stretching what I said so far. That's "stretching" as in interpreting it in a way so far out of the bounds of a reasonable and good faith reading of them. And I was asking not to you, but rhetorically in order to demonstrate the internal line of questioning that lead me to think - and subsequently suggest the possibility that - you had some other motive.

Now you've said to me that you had at least some level of suspicion that what I wrote was "a snide attack on people here," and that has not likely helped your interpretation of everything else. So I'm telling you outright and explicitly: it's not - not on the author, not on musicians generally or even progressive musicians specifically, not on anyone who appreciates music qua composition, and certainly not on anyone here. At worst, I think maybe the author expects that non-musician smart people ought to be expected to appreciate music in the way that composers of music do (i.e. for its compositional virtuosity, rather then the direct perceptual effect it has - or to put it another way, qua composition rather than qua music), which I describe as "erroneous." (not that the appreciation is erroneous, rather that the expectation that others do so is) And that if that is not specifically the cause of his confusion as to why more smart people don't listen to his kind of music, then it is at least an existing error which I am bringing to the attention of the reader. What other things you see attacked in my post (i.e. disharmonious composition which is made only to be complex, etc) are directly only at those who commit them, which is not something I am accusing anyone specific of.

...willing to consider what you actually wrote only if dragged to it like a cat balking at the vet, yes, certainly

Here, this is at once the bottom line and the real irony here. If you weren't so hostile in your approach so as to do such things as describe me as an animal viciously balking against its own good then I can guarantee you that I would have pleasantly engaged all of your queries.

And as I said, I'd be more than willing to start this conversation over and communicate with you in good faith to answer all of your questions and concerns (if you have any) - but you're going to have to promise me that you'll cut it out with the quips, attacks, loaded language, and generally hostile attitude.

Do we have a deal?

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Because between that, the rest of your phrasing, and the overall tone of your post, I definitely saw it as attacking and accusatory.

I apologize for that.

Here, this is at once the bottom line and the real irony here. If you weren't so hostile in your approach so as to do such things as describe me as an animal viciously balking against its own good then I can guarantee you that I would have pleasantly engaged all of your queries.

"Viciously balking"? That's a strange phrasing.

Do we have a deal?

Deal.

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The analogy you make to novels is illustrative. What I understand you to be saying is that Atlas Shrugged can be enjoyed by anyone who is willing to focus.

Provided they're not philosophically strongly opposed to Objectivism, yes. Even in that case it's possible, I suppose, that they might still admire the structure, but I've yet to meet such an animal.

One does not have to be particularly smart, nor have a particular interest in the art of novel-writing. Similarly, I read you as saying that people who dismiss Atlas and Ullysses as being too thick and intellectual are wrong, as are those who like both primarily because they're thick and intellectual (assuming such people exist!)

Not exactly how I'd put it, but yes. It's the equation of thick and intellectual that's a problem. Thick can mean two things--large in scale or dense in detail; neither is necessarily intellectual (in either sense, needing intellectual training to appreciate or setting forth a highly philosophical view). Now, thick (in either sense) might be necessary for fully expressing the author's vision (and that vision might be highly intellectual), or then again there might be lots of filler; but thick does require the reader's attention, and if it repays his attention then the length or density is necessary to the work. (There are any number of writers I can think of to exemplify length here, including Ayn Rand, of course. Density's a different matter--Faulkner perhaps. Or Wallace Stevens, whose poetry is quite dense and difficult, but often worth the effort for me--but he was a very philosophical poet with a fondness for very subtle uses of language and very striking, bizarre imagery, and those are not concerns most people care for in their poetry; indeed, when I was younger I didn't appreciate his poetry at all.) In fact, thinking about that parenthetical statement, the equation of dense and intellectual is understandable.

Now, with structure in literature, I'm not talking strictly about plot. That's part of it, but a novel can have a good plot yet still have a number of events shoehorned in that don't really belong, but they still seem to contribute to the novel somehow. Presumably that's because they shed interesting light on certain characters or make for interesting comparisons between characters. In addition, novels frequently include symbols and particular wordings or lines of expression that recur in widely separated scenes, and some minor characters appear as counterpoints to major characters (for an example from The Lord of the Rings, Faramir, Boromir, Eomer, and Eowyn can all be compared to each other in interesting ways, as can Theoden and Denethor, in how they react to the Ring and to the spectacle of impending doom.) Those are structural qualities, and while filler makes the novel less unified, more sprawling, and distracts from the plot, it's not wholly irrelevant in many cases--it just represents a failure of unity, and if you're analyzing the novel you'll want to ask what structural purpose it serves besides plot to express the novel's theme. (If you're just reading it you can enjoy it for what it is or glide over it in irritation.) I haven't read The Art of Fiction, so I don't know what Ayn Rand would have said on the matter of structure as I've phrased it; don't assume I'm using her terminology or making a point she did. Rather, I'm drawing out a certain point at which literature and music can be usefully compared directly.

So the basic difference between novels and short stories is length. Short stories don't as a rule have intricate plots; an author with an intricate plot would automatically write a novel. Instead, short stories will focus on a compact plot that reveals character, say. The other elements of stucture might be relatively more important than in a novel as well, since they'll serve to unify the story or express its theme in lieu of a sequence of events in a plot. Similarly, in poetry there's the structure given by the form of the poem, but additional structure is given by internal rhyme, assonance and consonance, and so on, as well as "echoes of meaning" from using related or associated words in different lines or sections. This is a better example of structure, incidentally, since in much poetry there's no plot to unify the poem; instead, the poem expresses its theme through a sequence of associated imagery. (Though there is narrative poetry of various sorts, such as epic, that does have plot.) Longer non-narrative poems rely more on the coherence of the imagery; shorter ones can do quite well with a striking contrast in imagery that upsets the reader's expectations and leads him to see similarities in quite dissimilar things. In any case, shorter poems simply have smaller scope for expressing the poet's vision through a coherent stream of imagery, and in lieu of that the other structural elements are frequently very important and quite complex.

But you don't need to be smart or well-trained to react to the complexity in the structure--the elements in the structure all have some effect on any general reader, and a good poet will be able to evoke his vision through the elements he chooses and the structure he gives them. The structure will be felt by the attentive reader as a pleasing, effective sequencing of reactions to each word and phrase in which separate parts of the poem are further unified by the similarities in wording and sound. Analyzing a poem consists of making explicit to oneself at least some of the structure of the poem--how echoes of one part bring to mind the imagery of that part at the same time the part you're reading is evoking a different image, for example. Critical vocabulary for analyzing literature simply generalizes over the various examples of literary techniques, naming the general type presumably on the basis of similar effects on the reader.

The same is true of musical structure. A musical piece doesn't typically have a plot--some narrative songs do, of course, such as settings of narrative poems. Instead they are quite similar to non-narrative poetry in the resources available to the composer. The difference is that instead of images that can be expressed in a number of different ways, the composer has themes that evoke emotions--not always the same emotion for a given theme, depending on harmonization, key, and so on, but a smallish set of emotional responses, sometimes quite diverse. (In this respect they're like characters in literature and a large piece of music sometimes feels like a conversation or interaction or struggle between two characters, but that's quite metaphorical and the other aspects of characters and themes don't lend themselves to particularly useful metaphors--in particular, it doesn't make much sense even in this view to talk about the plot of a piece of music, though of course composers of programmatic music were inspired by trying to do so.) These are his basic elements, and they can be played in sequence or simultaneously (perhaps with a delay) for striking contrasts in emotional response. Structure is introduced in the task of setting out the interplay of themes so as to allow both similarity (unity, integration) and variety (to give a sense of progression, to prevent boredom), and there are many elements to it--harmonization, transitions, development, and so on. For large-scale works you need the full range of structural techniques, but for small-scale works you typically need a simple structuring of the themes (ABA song form, for example) and skillful use of harmonization and so on, which can get quite complex, even dense. But if it's a good piece, the various techniques used in a small-scale work will all have their intended effects on the listener and deeply enrich the effect of the themes. In a large-scale work, the structure will also have a unifying effect by virtue of its ordering of the effects of each element on the listener. (But this also depends on the quality of the themes. I've never had much esteem for Elgar's symphonies, for example, because they are too large for the material to sustain. Instead of a dramatic struggle between heroic and lyrical, for example, his themes are essentially noble or sentimental, and their interplay goes on for almost an hour, which is probably 30-45 minutes too long.) And those effects are immediate and effectively automatic--musicological terminology starts with those effects and generalizes them to unify the vocabulary for describing the techniques. You don't need to be smart to feel the structure of a large, complex piece; the structure will make itself felt if you listen with attention, just as that of a poem will, and musicological vocabulary simply names what you feel. Analyzing the structure, however, does take training. You don't have to be smart to "see" the structure rather than just feel it as you hear a piece, but you do have to have been trained to recognize and name the various techniques.

This, incidentally, is where serialism (twelve-tone music of Schoenberg and Company and its generalization by people like Boulez) goes wrong. Tonality is one of the structural elements used to unify a piece of music. In my experience, twelve-tone music can be listenable (though often it is not) and on occasion even pleasurable (Berg's Violin Concerto's the only striking example though), but it's written with a basic part of structure missing. If you listen to it closely on the small scale, what you get is a kaleidoscopic feel of subtly changing tonal centers cycling through the duration of the tone row, but nothing larger. This can be effective in certain circumstances, usually on the very small scale, and to express certain musical visions, though in most cases they're simply not worth expressing, at best tepid, watered-down porridge and quite often simply unpleasant. It's not a revolution in music but rather a very narrow technique that can work only with a few straitened forms, and then only with true inspiration; outside those forms it does not provide enough structure to unify the momentary and usually weak emotional responses to the individual elments of the piece. This is why it is arid and unrewarding, and why it has been written for as long as it has only because it was ensconced in the universities and tied in with a certain bundle of malign ideologies and the propaganda of its creator.

(In this I'm in full agreement with Kyle Gann: "Maybe the value of 12-tone method for certain composers is its extreme limitation, which if understood that way can inspire creativity against obstacles, like writing an augmentation canon, or a novel that doesn't use the letter "e." The rhetoric of 12-tone music claimed to offer something: unity, organicism, consistency. Instead, it denies something, and only the composer clever enough to outwit it can make anything of it. That deposes 12-tone technique from the level of an analogue for tonality to the level of a technical device, like a canon, and while canons are fascinating (I collect them), they are not considered one of the major musical genres. They are valued not because they are often great music, but for what they achieve despite absurd limitations." His italics.)

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Not exactly how I'd put it, but yes.
Okay, I was following you up until this part...

Not really. I think I got what you were saying. To analyze the reasons for certain aesthetic aspects of music, it takes training; but to simply enjoy them does not.

But seriously, I think you were missing some new ¶ and possibly chapter headings. Oh, and a table of contents too B)

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I mean, why don't 50% of smart people love opera?

Because with Opera, it seems enunciation always goes to hell. If I am going to listen to singers, I want to understand what they're saying. For this reason, I highly appreciate the Broaway genre.

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"Viciously balking"? That's a strange phrasing.

Heh. Cats are strange creatures.

I apologize for that.

Thank you, and I apologize for any inadvertent friendly-fire in my post. Now, the author I'm not particularly sorry to if I've been unfair to him because he's been terribly unfair to a great deal of the population - after all, he entitled his essay, "Why Do So Many Smart People Listen to Such Terrible Music?" And what does he consider "terrible music?" The answer he provides is: "specifically rock-and-roll in all its distinctions that are the mainstays of commercial radio."

He's dismissing all of rock-and-roll played on commercial radio as "terrible," and furthermore something which in a right-thinking world would be avoided by smart people. So Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Beatles, Roy Orbison, Dick Dale, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, The Animals, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Boston, The Who, Kansas, Journey, Styx, Rush, Queen, Foghat, Lynyrd Skynyrd, CCR, Golden Earring, Aerosmith, Foreigner, Dio, The Eagles, Van Halen, Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, The Scorpions, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Metallica, Guns n' Roses, Nazareth, George Thorogood, ZZ Top, and countless others - these are all "terrible music" which should be the domain of non-smart people who "have less innate musical intelligence, talent, musical sensitivity," or other benighted attributes.

I rather love and appreciate classical music and understand that rock-and-roll is limited, as a genre, in its range of emotions and themes that it can express. I think that if a person who listens to only rock and roll is missing out on quite a bit. But that doesn't make it terrible or the domain of The Stupid.

Deal.

Right, so - I could see how the way I put it, it sounds like "in that way" is referring to liking structure qua structure "purely." To get more at my actual meaning, I'd re-phrase it that the "that" is referring to the enjoyment of it qua structure but not necessarily with a blind eye to its other elements (thus, this is what I think the author is doing). What I'm getting at is that non-musicians aren't interested in the structure itself, but rather only if it serves to make the music express something. As Ayn Rand said, music is enjoyed in the reverse order to other art, with emotional response coming before conceptual understanding. Musicians, on the other hand, I have seen enjoying, judging, and listening to music based on its compositional virtuosity. (Not that these same musicians I know don't also listen to and enjoy simpler music - they do) There's nothing as such wrong with this (it can go so far sometimes so as to be almost non-music, but that does not describe all of it); I just think that they shouldn't expect non-musicians - even smart ones - to do this.

Note that this is where the "smart" thing comes in and how I agree with the author that it is a "smart people" thing - because as Ayn Rand said, "The pattern of the process involved in music is: from perception—to emotion—to appraisal—to conceptual understanding," and I think you do have to be at least basically smart to attain a conceptual understanding of complex music and I believe it is precisely a conceptual understanding which the author is expecting smart people to be attaining of their music. Otherwise, as you say, why make it a matter of being "smart" at all, since just about all people can enjoy even a complex piece on an emotional level, if its complexity is well integrated in the service of its purpose.

But "smart" is not a precise term - you, I, and the author may all have different ideas of what the boundaries of smartness are.

Now, as I said I think that the author is doing this, to some extent. By no means am I saying that it's his exclusive or even major premise, but I think it might be in there somewhere. (He is a bit vague, as you have noted) A big cue in my suspicion is that he is a Jazz Pianist - a genre which, as Thales noted, is well known for making music to be appreciated for structural cleverness ("listen to the notes he's not playing!"). Which is not to say that all Jazz is like that, but certainly there is some and it is famous for it. As I said, I didn't even have Classical in mind at all; although I'm sure that one could find some that fits the description.

If the author is not at all saying anything along those lines, then that's fine and I've made a point that's irrelevant to his statements, but nonetheless interesting to me and hopefully others. And as I said, if he is not saying this then I am a bit baffled by his focus on smart people, unless he is just simply a snob. In that sense, there is some accuracy in saying that I found the author to be a convenient figure on which to start making a pre-existing point that I had been mulling.

But anyhow, if I had to answer the question of why good Classical music is not more widespread, I would say that it is because bad Classical music gets so much play that it buries the good stuff in most peoples minds. As you said, a lot of the modern conductors re-interpret, and ruin, the greats. And then it doesn't get a wide audience, which only worsens the problem.

Hope that clears things up. Do feel free to ask me any more questions if you have them.

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But anyhow, if I had to answer the question of why good Classical music is not more widespread, I would say that it is because bad Classical music gets so much play that it buries the good stuff in most peoples minds.

Just curious...what Classical music do you consider bad?

Edited by arete1952
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