Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
gfx gfx
645546 Posts in 25816 Topics by 3679 Members - Latest Member: as1972 April 19, 2019, 09:52:37 PM
0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.       « previous next »
Pages: [1] Go Down Print
Author Topic: Wise Beyond Your Ears (continued from Unpopular Opinions)  (Read 362 times)
the captain
Smiley Smile Associate
Offline Offline

Posts: 7255

View Profile
« on: March 14, 2018, 08:51:54 AM »

Wise Beyond Your Ears
Board member southbay said in the “Unpopular Beach Boys opinions” thread on March 11 something with which I disagreed strongly. A few people weighed in with various perspectives, with HeyJude opposing my perspective at length. I wanted to respond to HeyJude but because the discussion would pretty seriously derail the original thread—already did, actually. Sorry.—so I began this thread instead. I hope HeyJude or anyone else interested participates here.
southbay said of “Rio Grande”:
I don’t think any of us who were fans in 1988 ever dreamed Brian could come up with something like Rio Grande (or Melt Away) at the time. He was able to do those things in spite of Landy, in spite of the heavy drug cocktail. I was expecting an album of I’m So Lonely’s [sic]. You have to take all of those elements into consideration when looking at those songs.

I disagree vehemently with the last sentence—especially the “have to” part. And that’s what led to almost all of my responses. That said, everything prior to that last sentence makes perfect sense. I can totally understand being pleasantly surprised by the solo album based on those considerations.
Experience Of versus Study Of
Art—and we’re talking about music here—is something that can be experienced in several ways. Because of that, it’s not hard to understand why there can easily be different, even opposing, views on points like southbay’s and mine. My argument here is that if we are talking about the experience of art, it’s important to separate that from the study of art (and artists). This isn’t to minimize the value or otherwise delegitimize the study of art whatsoever. It is to try to tease them apart, though, with a particular focus in arguing against that one, previously noted sentiment: “you have to take [the study of the artist] into consideration when looking at those songs.”
Studying art and artists without question can lead to a richer understanding of the art, and that richer understanding can inform someone’s opinion of the art, either for the better or the worse. Let’s consider the Bible. (Some of you may know I’m also interested in the history of religion; I’m relying on subjects I know, here…) There have always been, and there still remain, people who would argue that to truly understand the Bible, one needs to understand more than the text. For Gnostics, one needed to have access to the hidden knowledge of initiates. For the Catholic Church, one needed to have the interpretation of the Church itself, its priests, with their understanding of context, of Church history, of tradition, even of allegorical interpretation. Martin Luther and others in the Reformation argued against this, saying there was no hidden or secret meaning, but rather that the plain text itself was sufficient for a normal, reasonable reader to determine its meaning.
This is a little bit apples-to-oranges, but I don’t think so much so that we can’t use the analogy. (Pop music and religion? Come on, it works perfectly! John Lennon was more popular than Jesus and all that…)
A person can be a Biblical historian and study how the book came about. This might impact his understanding of its meaning. For example, if you learned that educated Greeks wrote the anonymous Gospels, which were decades-to-centuries later titled with the names of Jewish apostles or apostolic companions, you may well stop considering a verse in Matthew to be the words of the Apostle Matthew. That’s entirely possible and entirely valid.
A person can be a theologian and study how the doctrine of the Bible works. This might impact his understanding of its meaning, and may well change his denomination (based on an understanding of the mechanism of salvation, for example) because of it. That’s entirely possible and valid.
But what if a person is just a normal, literate person who wants to read the Bible. That person won’t know the history of the book, or the details of the theology. Must the person do that study before reading the Bible and identifying as a Christian? (Or reading it for fun as literature, for that matter.) I think most people would say no, that while there are different layers of appreciation or understanding that are possible, those things exist as academic exercises outside of the experience of the writing itself. Of the art itself.
What about a painting—say, a portrait? Is a study of the painter’s life essential? What about the subject? The technique used? The brushstrokes, the paints, the canvas? What is essential knowledge in the appreciation of that painting? In my argument, studying any one of (or all of) those other aspects surrounding the painting’s creation are interesting and even valuable, but they are academic exercises, not the experience of the art.
With music, we could be discussing the composer’s history, including his circumstances when he wrote the music. When he recorded the music. When he released the music. We could discuss the recording technology and tools. We could discuss the state of the genre at the time. We could discuss the recording’s popularity, and with whom. We could discuss the music as part of the artist’s catalogue. We could analyze the music itself: structure, form, melody, harmony, arrangements. We could analyze the lyrics from any number of angles. None of those is invalid, but none of those is essential. What is essential is to listen to the song. An opinion of the song’s merits need not go further than that. Any study that impacts a listener’s opinion of the music isn’t changing the merits of the work; it is changing the perspective of the listener, and possibly shifting him into another “game” (as discussed below).
What is essential for art is that it be experienced as art. That’s all. To move beyond that introduces a kind of (unintentional, I’m sure) elitism into the experience of the music—and considering the music is pop music, I think that’s anathema. It would be saying you need to do homework to really “get” it. It implies that the people who have done this extra-experiential legwork are better experiencers of the music.
If that were true, rock and roll (as a populist art form) literally would not exist.
Mere Pleasure
HeyJude made several comments that I think demean “mere pleasure” in experiencing music, but also built a strawman of my point dismissing the essentialism of studying context.
To choose to study the nonmusical aspects of music is valid, but not superior. A person isn’t a better music fan by being a historian, or a musicologist, or a cultural anthropologist, or an armchair psychologist. Or even a music theoretician. Any music—any art—that insists otherwise is in the wrong business. The jazz pianist Cecil Taylor—according to Wynton Marsalis as shown in Ken Burns’s Jazz documentary series—said that since he practiced his work, the audience should practice their listening of his work, that, in effect, they should study him, and that if they don’t, they were “bad” listeners. Marsalis properly (in my opinion) totally rejected that idea as egotistical and elitist nonsense.
There is nothing wrong with experiencing the music as it is, as it sounds. To belittle it with “if you’re about nothing but what music gets you off, what music instantly pleases you, then nothing else matters and then, is there really much to discuss beyond saying “I don’t like that,” “that’s okay,” etc.?” First, to paint that experience as “just” or “only,” as if it were some lesser experience, isn’t fair. Second, the introduction of “instantly” to the conversation was out of nowhere and adds another layer of judgment that I think is unnecessary: nowhere did I say careful consideration of music—as heard, but without study—had anything to do with anything.
I wasn’t suggesting that music should be an intense and immediate rush of pleasure, some sort of empty calories, a hit of crack, and to imply that to appreciate and discuss music without undergoing some study-penance is the equivalent of that is unfair. Music can be carefully considered and discussed at great length without some study of the nonmusical aspects such as those listed above.
Natural Context
All that said, HeyJude was entirely correct in saying “context can inform what one perceives to be the “quality” of the music” and “discussing the “merits” of music is a very, very subjective process.” Absolutely, 100% agree. But to some—I’d say large—extent, that kind of context is more a natural, or even passive, context, and does not require some study of nonmusical circumstances.
For example, western music is traditionally very different than eastern music. The 12-tone chromatic scale, the development of melody based on diatonic scales of half and whole steps, the development of functional harmony emphasizing resolution (or suspension) of five to one, seven to one, and four to three, are all purely contextual. (Well, there is math in overtones, especially fourths and fifths, but that’s another day’s topic.) Other musical systems were based more on rhythms, other scales or melodies built on different sets of pitches than our 12 tones. And so a European listening to Far Eastern music 150 years ago would have almost certainly said “that’s crap,” with the inverse also true. This isn’t objective on an ultimate level.
But there are objective criteria within the context. Once we’ve established a system that includes these 12 pitches, that considers these combinations consonant and these combinations dissonant, then we can objectively judge whether the artist hits those marks. Things develop more specifically into various genres and subgenres. You’re within a language group, then a specific language, then a dialect, then an age-group specific slang within the dialect, etc. So too with music.
A listener can judge the merits of a piece of music based on the music as it exists in that natural context. To discuss it with the wrong person—a person outside of that same natural context—might be interesting, but it probably won’t be especially valuable. (The classic rock fan of a Beach Boys message board often seems ready to go to his grave rejecting the very idea that rap is music, and so the huge majority of modern pop music fans for whom rap or rap-influenced hip hop culture compose the bulk of their listening experience may as well not have that conversation. There is a chasm in natural context.)
To put it another way, to decide who’s winning, who’s won, or who’s lost, everyone involved needs to be playing the same game.
But if everyone is playing the same game, they can discuss and debate the merits of each team, of each player, at some great length. They don’t need to know who invented the game, and when. They don’t need to know that there are other games that other people play, some of whom excel. They know the game, they watch the game, they talk about the game, and it’s more than just “I don’t like it” or “that’s okay.”
HeyJude also said, “‘Using music to assess music’ is kind of silly and kind of reductive.” I don’t agree with that, but it depends on more specifically what he (I think HeyJude is a he. Guess I’m not sure.) means. Certainly I don’t mean to introduce some kind of purely self-referencing method, some circular reference. (“Rio Grande sounds like “Rio Grande,” so it is good because it succeeds in being itself.”) That would indeed be stupid. But what I meant was that the extra-musical context, the extra-musical study—even if relevant to the art or artist, and even if valuable to some listeners—is not essential to the experience of the music.
The End
Which is, of course, kind of the whole point of this big, long post that, if you’ve completed, proves you need to find better ways to spend your time. I mean honestly. I can’t even bear to reread this to correct any mistakes or clean up the language. It may well be incoherent, as most of my clarifications end up being. Have a nice day, everybody.

Demon-Fighting Genius; Patronizing Twaddler; Argumentative, Sanctimonious Prick; Sensationalist Dullard; and Douche who (occasionally to rarely) puts songs here.

No interest in your assorted grudges and nonsense.
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2018, 09:03:56 AM »

I personally think context is a little overrated when it comes to appreciating music.   And there's nothing wrong with simply appreciating music for what it is. 

I do think, and I mentioned this in the thread you're talking about Captain, that context can at times enhance one's appreciation for something one already likes. 

For example, the Queen album Innuendo contains some amazing vocals from Freddie Mercury.   But, knowing that he was dying when that album was recorded does make me appreciate them more.   But, somebody who might not know Queen's backstory as well who hears the title track or The Show Must Go On on a compilation will likely still appreciate those songs strictly for what they are. 
Smiley Smile Associate
Offline Offline

Posts: 4854

Maybe I put too much faith in atmosphere

View Profile
« Reply #2 on: March 15, 2018, 04:27:15 AM »

Great posts there, guys. Great topic title!

This must be my 20th attempt to post something here...

I remember a Dutch architect once writing that you don't need to know the names of the trees to enjoy a walk in the woods. I keep coming back to the moment in everyone's lives when they hear a piece that sounds fantastic, they fall in love with it on the spot, but they haven't the vaguest idea of what it's called, who's singing or playing it, who wrote it, etc... The only context is what their ears tell them.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2018, 04:27:45 AM by JK » Logged

Smiley Smile Associate
Offline Offline

Posts: 5818

View Profile
« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2018, 07:17:56 AM »

The phrase I've used when talking about this subject is "objective quality." Let's face it: Most of us react to pieces of art or media in varying ways. And that's because people are wildly different, and the things they experience are wildly different. So there's a huge amount of subjectivity in assessing the aesthetic worth of many (if not most) things.

But. There are pieces of art that transcend such debates. I remember thinking this when "Love and Theft" by Dylan came out. There's a huge amount of Dylan lore, of course, and all of his work is studied and teased apart for meaning. But that album doesn't need any added work on the part of the listener -- it doesn't even really require you to know who Bob Dylan is. It creates its own little world that is absolutely compelling. There are certain films that are like this too -- it doesn't matter the genre, the director, the actors -- they're just great. (I'd put "Mad Max: Fury Road" here.)

In terms of Brian and the boys, this is extra tough, because I'm not sure how much of Brian's solo work truly transcends context. Possibly TLOS and Gershwin. I'm not sure how much else.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2018, 12:12:39 PM by Wirestone » Logged
Pages: [1] Go Up Print 
Jump to:  
Powered by SMF 1.1.21 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines Page created in 1.227 seconds with 21 queries.
Helios Multi design by Bloc
Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!