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

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arete1952
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Just curious...what Classical music do you consider bad?

The really dreary, slow, medieval sounding recorder-and-lute stuff you hear all the time on most classical stations and NPR.

What do I like, you ask? Things with passion and triumph, such as Vivaldi's "Summer" form the Four Seasons and Double Cello Concerto, Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delila, Greig's Peer Gynt suites, Antonin Dvorák's Symphony #4 in D minor, Bizet's L' Arlésienne, Holst's Planets, Mahler's Titan, Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, and so on. That list is by no means exhaustive.

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

The really dreary, slow, medieval sounding recorder-and-lute stuff you hear all the time on most classical stations and NPR.

What do I like, you ask? Things with passion and triumph, such as Vivaldi's "Summer" form the Four Seasons and Double Cello Concerto, Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delila, Greig's Peer Gynt suites, Antonin Dvorák's Symphony #4 in D minor, Bizet's L' Arlésienne, Holst's Planets, Mahler's Titan, Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, and so on. That list is by no means exhaustive.

Refreshing for someone to mention a Dvorak work other than his Ninth symphony or cello concerto.

Dvorak is one of my favorites. I enjoy his symphonies, but my favorite works are his Slavonic Dances (both sets), Legends, the two serenades and the Czech Suite.

Edited by arete1952
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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.

Well, that's a rather generous standard.. All music has *some* rhythm and/or unity, otherwise it wouldn't be music. Certainly pop music has rhythm and unity, and is usually more rhythmically based than classical music.

I don't know what form of subjective you are using, but I am using this. In particular, I use this meaning: I don't believe I was doing this.

No, I didn't mean subjective in that sense, and I don't think that's what you were doing, either. I meant it in the sense that Ayn Rand uses the term on pg 56 of the Romantic Manifesto (I guess I was taking it for granted that you've read that, but maybe you haven't).

Here's the quote:

"In listening to music, a man cannot tell clearly, neither to himself nor to others—and, therefore, cannot prove—which aspects of his experience are inherent in the music and which are contributed by his own consciousness. He experiences it as an indivisible whole, he feels as if the magnificent exaltation were there, in the music—and he is helplessly bewildered when he discovers that some men do experience it and some do not. In regard to the nature of music, mankind is still on the perceptual level of awareness.

"Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music. (There are certain technical criteria, dealing mainly with the complexity of harmonic structures, but there are no criteria for identifying the content, i.e., the emotional meaning of a given piece of music and thus demonstrating the esthetic objectivity of a given response.)

"At present, our understanding of music is confined to the gathering of material, i.e., to the level of descriptive observations. Until it is brought to the stage of conceptualization, we have to treat musical tastes or preferences as a subjective matter—not in the metaphysical, but in the epistemological sense; i.e., not in the sense that these preferences are, in fact, causeless and arbitrary, but in the sense that we do not know their cause. No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself—and only for himself."

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.

Well, if someone plays a single chord, I don't think it should necessarily be judged as though it were an entire finished piece of music in itself. In the situation as you described it, it was a demonstration of the chord, and therefore didn't really have a context. So if I were asked to consider a single chord outside of a song with no real context besides "does this sound good or bad," I wouldn't give a straight answer. I would answer it with questions: "What chords and melodies are intended to lead up to that chord? What is going to follow it? What will the accompanying instruments in the arrangement be doing, if there are any?" etc. A chord that sounds horrible outside of its context or without any context isn't inherently bad. Any chord could be made to sound good in the right context, in my view.

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.

Sorry if it sounded like I was accusing you of that, I didn't intend to.

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

Not exactly. (See AR quote above).

Edited by Bold Standard
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Well, that's a rather generous standard.. All music has *some* rhythm and/or unity, otherwise it wouldn't be music. Certainly pop music has rhythm and unity, and is usually more rhythmically based than classical music.
Yes, it is a bit generous. But nonetheless, a child banging randomly on a piano aesthetically sucks. While I might not have a very defined criteria for the aesthetics of music, I do believe they exists, and that they can be judged somewhat implicitly. My point, in its simplest form, is: Aesthetics in music exists, and so music isn't completely subjective in that realm of judgment.

No, I didn't mean subjective in that sense, and I don't think that's what you were doing, either. I meant it in the sense that Ayn Rand uses the term on pg 56 of the Romantic Manifesto (I guess I was taking it for granted that you've read that, but maybe you haven't).

Here's the quote:

"In listening to music, a man cannot tell clearly, neither to himself nor to others—and, therefore, cannot prove—which aspects of his experience are inherent in the music and which are contributed by his own consciousness. He experiences it as an indivisible whole, he feels as if the magnificent exaltation were there, in the music—and he is helplessly bewildered when he discovers that some men do experience it and some do not. In regard to the nature of music, mankind is still on the perceptual level of awareness.

"Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music. (There are certain technical criteria, dealing mainly with the complexity of harmonic structures, but there are no criteria for identifying the content, i.e., the emotional meaning of a given piece of music and thus demonstrating the esthetic objectivity of a given response.)

"At present, our understanding of music is confined to the gathering of material, i.e., to the level of descriptive observations. Until it is brought to the stage of conceptualization, we have to treat musical tastes or preferences as a subjective matter—not in the metaphysical, but in the epistemological sense; i.e., not in the sense that these preferences are, in fact, causeless and arbitrary, but in the sense that we do not know their cause. No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself—and only for himself."

Thanks for the quote but I don't think I have the entire context of this statement so I'm not going to comment much more on the subject at this time. I do have the book, I just haven't read it yet, so I might come back to this.
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Okay, I’ve got a little break down on music. This is a broad perspective.

I think music is anything with a melody that sounds good. By “sounds good” I mean it is pleasing to the ear. However, a sound doesn’t have to sound good in isolation, so long as it “sounds good” within a whole musical piece. There are methods by which poor sounds can sound good in context and there are methods by which poor sounds can be used to make other sounds sound better, depending on placement. So, I think that’s what music is and anything which doesn’t sound good in the way I describe above is not music.

As to quality of music, I look at it this way, the longer the piece of music the more work it requires to make it a quality piece, because the longer the piece of music the more effort it takes to hold a listener’s interest. You hold a listener’s interest by being non-repetitive and doing creative things. The degree to which a piece is true to its melody and sustains interest over time is the degree to which it is quality music. If a piece is overly repetitive, I would consider it of lower quality than a piece that adds great variation, but the variation has to be the result of logical choices (true to the melody).

One final note, the composer Aaron Copland noted about music (I’m going from memory here), that music doesn’t have the power to convey a specific scene or idea, but, rather, gives general moods that can fit innumerable specific scenes or ideas. Music can only express moods. [see his book “What To Listen For In Music”]. This I would note is different from literature or painting. Literature conveys specific, concrete events and scenes, and paintings (visual arts) present concrete scenes. Now, lyrics can add specifics to a piece and thus concretize the reason for the mood of a piece.

I think this is an example of a rock piece that has good variation and is well integrated. "Who Wants To Live Forever" by Queen:

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fusea...endID=235137240

Also, I notice it changes mood three times, that's what I count. It starts out melancholy, goes to defiant, and then to victorious.

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I think music is anything with a melody that sounds good. By “sounds good” I mean it is pleasing to the ear.

But what is "the ear"? Whose ear? What is melody? Is it the only element that needs to be present in a sound in order for it to be music? Would percussive sounds such as a drum cadence then not be considered music?

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But what is "the ear"? Whose ear? What is melody? Is it the only element that needs to be present in a sound in order for it to be music? Would percussive sounds such as a drum cadence then not be considered music?

You gave me a lot of questions, so I'll rattle off some quick responses.

The ear is the organ that senses sound. Auditory sensations result in sound perceptions (e.g. hearing a violin's F#) which are the building blocks of music. It's where the rubber meets the road.

"Whose ear?" is a good question, because I think that the nature of a particular ear could potentially make a big difference as to how a sound is perceived. I’ve heard of people having highly sensitive ears, so much so that music has to be played extremely well to sound good to them. Helmholtz apparently noticed this. But, as a rule, I don't believe there is a big difference from human-to-human when it comes to the physiology of the ear.

Melody is a succession of sounds held together by a frequency pattern and a rhythm. It's the glue that holds a piece of music together. I think it is the essential ingredient to music and can stand alone. Everything else helps the melody and adds to the richness of a piece.

Interesting point on percussion. I'll have to think about it, but I will note that a pure percussion piece has to change timber and frequency to be interesting. If it's just about timing, then I think it'd be like a Morse code signal, which I wouldn't consider to be music. Anyway, let me answer this question by asking you what you think. Is a pure percussion piece music?

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But what is "the ear"? Whose ear? What is melody? Is it the only element that needs to be present in a sound in order for it to be music? Would percussive sounds such as a drum cadence then not be considered music?
I know with taste in food, one's choice should be objectively based on their taste buds. Different people like different foods but one's taste remains objective if they base it on the pleasure from their taste sensors.

Perhaps noise in the ear would be the same?

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You gave me a lot of questions, so I'll rattle off some quick responses.

The ear is the organ that senses sound. Auditory sensations result in sound perceptions (e.g. hearing a violin's F#) which are the building blocks of music. It's where the rubber meets the road.

Is it The Ear where the pleasure of listening to music originates? Or is it in the mind, where the music is contemplated and interpreted?

"Whose ear?" is a good question, because I think that the nature of a particular ear could potentially make a big difference as to how a sound is perceived. I’ve heard of people having highly sensitive ears, so much so that music has to be played extremely well to sound good to them. Helmholtz apparently noticed this. But, as a rule, I don't believe there is a big difference from human-to-human when it comes to the physiology of the ear.

I think that the difference in sense of life and cognitive habits from individual to individual are much more significant determinants in what music is pleasing or offensive than the physiology of individuals' ears. But I think it is possible that physiology could make a difference. I don't know how much. I do think that the media on which music is broadcast and the room in which it is heard make a much bigger difference to how music is interpreted than is usually taken into casual consideration, though.

Melody is a succession of sounds held together by a frequency pattern and a rhythm. It's the glue that holds a piece of music together. I think it is the essential ingredient to music and can stand alone. Everything else helps the melody and adds to the richness of a piece.

Interesting point on percussion. I'll have to think about it, but I will note that a pure percussion piece has to change timber and frequency to be interesting. If it's just about timing, then I think it'd be like a Morse code signal, which I wouldn't consider to be music. Anyway, let me answer this question by asking you what you think. Is a pure percussion piece music?

I think that a percussion piece can be music. And I think that drum cadences with little changes in timber and pitch can be interesting, such as old military march cadences played on a single snare drum.

But rather than viewing melody or rhythm as entirely distinct ingredients of music that combine to make a piece of music, I regard them as different methods of considering musical pieces which are often indivisible. Music is the periodic vibrations generated by sonorous bodies intentionally directed for the purpose of invoking sense of life emotions in an audience.

But there are many aspects of the tones generated by musical instruments which can be periodic on various scales. A single pitch can be said to be a very rapid periodic succession of sound waves.. A higher pitch being more rapid and a lower pitch being less rapid. A series of varying pitches is what I would define as a melody, and the mathematical relationships of the various pitches in a melody are something that the mind is often able to integrate and analyze subconsciously and automatically.

But no natural sonorous body generates pure sinusoidal wave forms (at least, not exclusively). Any tone likely to be heard in music possesses overtones and harmonics. Various pitches being played simultaneously is harmony. Two tones originated from various sources can harmonize with each other, and (in my view) a single tone can harmonize with its own overtones and harmonics. So from the beginning harmony is present even within the simplest melody.

Rhythm is also a way of analyzing periodic vibrations, but it's usually on a much, much slower scale than pitch. Pitch is the rapidity of vibrations on the scale of vibrations per second, whereas rhythm can be viewed as beats per minute (or slower, or faster). But there is considerable gray area between the two at times. And rhythm is not merely the frequency with which a tone is struck, plucked, or otherwise sounded. Distinct, natural rhythms can be heard within the relationship of tones sounded in a single chord (this is most obvious in instruments with lots of rich overtones, such as an organ or synthesizer).

So utilizing various techniques, a musician can attempt to isolate various elements of music.. He can try to isolate rhythm by playing a cadence on a snare drum. Yet even the slightest variation in dynamics, or striking the drum head in various places will cause the pitch to fluctuate. The rattling of the snare against the drum and the resonating of the drum itself will cause overtones and harmonics. All elements of music will be present, but the most obvious will be the rhythmic elements.

So I agree that melody is probably the "most interesting element" in music, because it sort of sits in the middle.. It's the most observable element in most music, I suppose. Even if one is analyzing the changes in harmony within a progression, he is observing melodic relationships simultaneously contrasting with and complementing one another (rhythmically, of course). It's just, I don't think you can ever have a pure melody entirely distinct from harmony and rhythm, or that "melody" makes sense outside of a harmonic and rhythmic and timbral context. (I didn't even touch on timbre in this post, because I think I've gotten complicated enough as it is! : P)

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