Rebirth of Reason

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Post 40

Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 11:13pmSanction this postReply
MH: "Jonathan - Thanks for the clarification. Personally when I dislike someone else's behaviour I try not to stoop to the same level, but each to his own :-)"

But I haven't stooped to their level. I think I've been pretty damn good at holding my tongue. There are many harsh technical and stylistic criticisms and comparisons that I could wallow in if I were the type who enjoyed focusing on flaws and humiliating others. I'm not, so I won't, regardless of how nasty Linz and Peter want to get.

MH: "That said, I know both Linz and Peter to generally be good respectable chaps (which is precisely why I'm so stunned at this kind of behaviour)."

I agree, except I'd say that they're much more than "good respectable chaps." They're brilliant, and have probably opened more minds to more great ideas in any single year than I will in my lifetime. In this discussion I haven't meant to imply that they're ~always~ braying jackasses.


Post 41

Sunday, October 10, 2004 - 1:13pmSanction this postReply
Thank you for your recommendation. I've saved both books in my shopping basket for later. Judging from all the books popped up after I did that, I've only scratched the surface. Obviously this is a subject that's been studied for ages.

Post 42

Sunday, October 10, 2004 - 4:57pmSanction this postReply

Hong, you wrote about your remarkable son: "He certainly has been treated unfairly . . .But his reaction is always more of hurt or sad, even a little resentful, but never to the degree of great anger or rage."

I think his reaction if an extremely healthy one -- because great anger and rage are so often a means of hiding, from oneself above all, the hurt and sadness one feels.


Post 43

Monday, October 11, 2004 - 6:27pmSanction this postReply
Well, let me respond now to the many heartfelt and insightful posts on this article (and also all the other posts). :-)

 I'll try to respond in a series of posts in order to pick up the main points.
 1. Each to His Own
The importance of art, particularly that of music, is that it touches us. If it doesn't, then qua art it's no good to us - it might offer food for the aestheticians amongst us, but it won't provide that shortcut to our philosophy that is the essential point of art. That said, that is why we must constantly challenge the standard we set for ourselves - as we grow in our knowledge and as people then so too should the art that we are touched by.

Barbara's post discussing her own growth is demonstrative (and I must also say it mostly shows splendid taste) :-) :
When I was in my early teens, I loved the songs and the singing of Frank Sinatra. His was the music of my generation, and expressed much of our longing and what I felt to be the nature of love. But then, when I was eighteen, I heard "Tristan and Isolde" and I was enraptured by it, then as now, because it seemed to express my more adult emotional understanding of the passion of love and the heights of ecstasy it could reach. And then, still later, I listened to Mario Lanza, and found in him the sense of joy and the love of life that I had spent years re-learning. Still later, I heard Strauss' "Four Last Songs" -- and I understood what experiences the word "sublime" had been coined to describe.

And so, just as you say, as my soul grew in experience and complexity, I kept seeking and finding the "more complex drummers" that spoke to my own growing emotional understanding "of life and loss.
Her later comment reinforces this point, and harks back to the Objectivist spiral theory of knowledge.  "I don't think we ever lose our original loves, but we do add other and more complex loves as we grow and mature. Our first musical loves, like our first romantic loves, never quite go away; perhaps an element of this is nostalgia for more innocent days." I think if we like ourselves as people we will always listen to our early musical loves in the same way we think of our young selves, but as we grow and mature in most cases so should the music that really touches us.

Not all music will work for us at all ages either; sometimes we need to grow in order to appreciate a piece properly. 'Four Last Songs' is a wonderful example of a work that never spoke to the young me (I thought it was unmelodious and dull), but is now a favourite of the more (ahem) mature me. I still expect to grow into it, and I look forward to that each time I hear it - this is a piece that truly does reward maturity. Joe M. for another example suggests that Mozart's 'Requiem' does not do it for him. Maybe not, but without being presumptuous allow me to suggest that I hope it does one day (and just to clarify, I mean the Mozart pieces of the piece, not the Sussmayer portions added after Mozart's death). The Salieri-Mozart scene in Amadeus offers a wonderful concretisation of the sprit of this piece, and of the emotional release it can offer.

The point, I guess, is that rather than defensively upholding that which we do enjoy (or did once) we should always be aware that there are  objective standards in art; that we can tell something about ourselves by what we respond to; and we owe it to ourselves to remain open when we are asked by an artist's work to rise.

As Michael Newberry says on another thread,
An Objectivist stance on art and one that I agree with is that the experience of art is a profoundly personal experience. I would call that experience sacred. I agree completely with Irfan's comment on the similarity of experience of music and sex (what about love Irfan?). The point being your personal loves are not debatable. Truly, there are all kinds of art works I love passionately and I don't give a fuck what anyone thinks about it, i.e. from a personal, private perspective...[However] personal favorites has nothing to do with art appreciation. I am using "art appreciation" here in its technical sense: art criticism, art history, and the science of aesthetics.
What art appreciation can do for us personally is not to rationalise our tastes, but help us to understand our tastes and what they say about us and the way we view the world around us, and to offer ourselves the pleasure of introspection as we do so.  To take an obvious example, if we find that Edvard Munch's 'Scream' affects us more than Michelango's 'David' then we know without too much thought that there's something important about ourselves that we need to understand and about which we should ask ourselves some important questions. To understand more subtle examples will require more aesthetic awareness. We should be open to that.

We shouldn't, in other words, intentionally desensitise our artistic responses either by refusing to grow or by making  ourselves like what we 'ought' to like, and nor should we close our minds to the fact that there are objective standards. So if we do find that emotional desensitisation per se or the expression of anger and rage is  is our main musical mission then we should at least ask ourselves some questions. To suggest that one might do is far from "malevolent" as Jonathan angrily claims.

Post 44

Monday, October 11, 2004 - 7:33pmSanction this postReply
2. Lyrics

There were a few points made about lyrics, (including Rick's thoughtful post on another thread) and I'm prompted to make a 'few' points in response. Barbara pointed out that...:

The lyrics posted here and in other parts of SoloHQ, presented as good poetry -- are gaaawd awful! Have none of you ever read real poetry?

Just because someone sticks into lyrics the statement that "It's good to like yourself" -- or "It's good to hate yourself," doesn't make him a poet!
I completely agree. Equally, like the post-modern crap that much of it emulates (think Damien Hirst) lyrics that are simply intended to shock and get publicity (think Eminem) are only infantile at best. Taking any more meaning out of them than that they are 'shocking' is pointless (particularly if the shock is just one calculated upon by the 'musician' - we're just being manipulated).

It is rare in any case that lyrics are integrated with music, and I suggest in any case that qua music it's really to music that we respond, not to lyrics  (which is why for example rap 'music' is mostly a musical dead-end). We'll sometimes respond to a well-cut phrase that is well-set (such as the exhortation to "shine on you crazy diamond") but I would suggest that it's the setting that's mostly doing the work, and in most cases (such as Floyd's one here, and for most of prog rock) the phrase is one gem in a barnyard of banality ("you shine like the sun!" Yawn.)

Music without words will in many cases be far more profound - especially if the words are banal - since the emotions of the music is in most cases more universal, whereas words will often tie us to a particular. (You may remember that for a similar reason Aristotle recommended tragic drama to be superior to history - history deals with the particular; tragedy with the universal). This partly explains the failure of most 'programme music' - at least on the terms often claimed for it - and the extraordinarily healing beauty of a piece like Rachmaninov's 'Vocalise.'

You might say that this could be a rule which I might formulate as the Primacy of Music (discussion on this is welcome):  it is to music that we first respond in our listening; if lyrics are included then the better integrated they then are the more rewarding is repeated re-listening. Exceptions to this 'rule' abound, of course; examples that I can think of (from simple to more complex)  are:

1) 'God Save the Queen' - Sex Pistols. The 'God Save the Queen' chorus is there just to shock (c/f Eminem, but this is much more direct), but the seething 'no future' refrain is perfectly integrated both with the music and with the context of socialist Britain circa 1976. If you've ever been touched by it is useful to re-listen to it just occasionally (even just to feel once more the impotent rage that anyone with a soul might feel under the suffocation of socialism). However there are, as someone said,  better things than rage, pain, anger and hurt. :-)

2) 'Girl' - Beatles. The chorus here shows extraordinary integration of simple words and music: you can just feel the hurt and sexual longing for the girl, especially as "she's the kind of girl who puts you down when friends are there,/ You feel a fool."

3) 'Coney Island Baby' - Lou Reed. Just hear the wistful longing as Lou 'sings': "But remember the princess who lived on the hill/
Who loved you even though she knew you was wrong..." or the knowing amusement of "Ahhh, but remember that the city is a funny place/ Something like a circus or a sewer/And just remember different people have peculiar tastes."Lou's chord changes chart in mechanical form the simple emotions of the memories he evokes.

4) I'll Walk with God - as perfomed by Mario Lanza. (See Chris's superb analysis of this integration, and why it's so good that it can make a grown man cry.) The first three songs here represent a good integration of juvenile emotions (which Lou Reed at least understands - that's part of the pleasure of his 'Coney Island Baby'). But this song when performed by Lanza offers wonderful integration of profound metaphysical wonder. This is music for grown-ups that even children might understand. But it's lyrics are still not poetry. :-)

In any case these examples are, I suggest, unusual. Hearing someone other that Lanza 'Walk with God' can be a profound exercise in the banality of both music and lyrics. And Lou Reed himself used to bemoan the fact that he only ever found two rock musicians who listened to what the words were saying (answers on a postcard, please) - in most cases in most rock music the words and music just accompany each other with little integration apart from the similarity of the notes they are vocalised with. The didactic lyrics of mid-period Rush are a further case in point: in most cases the pseudo-profundity of the words only serves to weigh the music down (and their early leaden Led-Zeppisms and Geddy Lee's falsetto ... well, I guess I already thrashed that pony.)

Anyway, two further examples here from two ends of the musical spectrum might help make the point, I think.  I'm very much the opposite of an 'Acker-Dacker' enthusiast, and 'All Night Long' is (lyrically at least) about lust ( I guess) , but a pub jukebox that contained this track proved enormously useful to me several years ago as a catharsis for helpless fury . Musically it communicates different emotions than do its simple lyrics, (which just give the vocalist something to scream) and those emotions are simple and straightforward - if juvenile.

(Barbara (again) suggests that "great anger and rage are so often a means of hiding, from oneself above all, the hurt and sadness one feels" and I think that's true - and reflects what Alexandra York says in my article; I can also observe that on occasions when we have good reason to suppress our hurt or sadness we do need nonetheless to follow the 'mental order' we gave ourselves to feel these emotions at a more appropriate time. That expression can come out in odd ways, as it did here. :-) )

Having said all that, you would think that words in opera should give us an example of lyrical and musical integration, and in many cases they do -- even when sung in a language we don't understand. I would submit as a supreme example across a whole evening the muisc-drama of 'Tristan and Isolde.' (And if that music was written by someone who was emotionally repressed, Marcus, then I'm a dead man!)

But even when unintegrated the results are often still superb (just ask the Joan Sutherland fans - her 'Vilja' still sounds wonderful even if the story is 'illegible.'). A good opera libretto should set up many situations of emotional complexity that demand explication in music, but the lyrics that are set to each aria still aren't always poetry ( and nor should they be since the music allows the lyricist to say much more than does a poem), and they're not always well integrated. My second example might however suggest that sometimes words just fall short (and if they didn't, why would we need music anyway?).

When trying to complete the Ring Cycle that he began twenty-odd years before, Wagner had tremendous difficulty. This came about for a number of reasons, one of which was that it was only as he reached the task of setting to music words that the had written twenty-five years before that he began to fully understand the climax that the whole operatic cycle needed. (This is not unusual for a dramatic artist - think back to Rand's searching for a climactic ending for 'The Fountainhead.') He eventually realised for a number of reasons that the thing to do was to prune the text and to find his ending musically, chief among these reasons being that words just couldn't express the conclusion well enough - they expressed too much of  the particular when it was an expression of the universal that Wagner realised he was yearning for. (It is an interesting irony that he found this helpful point in the unlikely place of the writing of Arthur Schopenhauer!). And what an ending it is! Books have been written to explain it, because words just can't adequately convey the universal emotions that the cleansing conclusion portrays - or at least they can't with any degree of brevity. :-)

(Wagner learnt the lesson so well that in his next opera 'Parsifal' he began to leave words behind - this is the least 'wordy' of all his operas, and only one musical motif originates in association with the words. He had planned to leave words behind permanently after this work and to concentrate on writing symphonies - a plan interrupted only by his death.)

As they say in exam questions: "Discuss." :-)

(Edited by Peter Cresswell on 10/11, 8:00pm)

Post 45

Monday, October 11, 2004 - 9:34pmSanction this postReply
Peter writes (about Wagner's RING cycle)
"Books have been written to explain it, because words just can't adequately convey the universal emotions that the cleansing conclusion portrays - or at least they can't with any degree of brevity. :-)

(Wagner learnt the lesson so well that in his next opera 'Parsifal' he began to leave words behind - this is the least 'wordy' of all his operas, and only one musical motif originates in association with the words. He had planned to leave words behind permanently after this work and to concentrate on writing symphonies - a plan interrupted only by his death.)"

Hmmm...Peter, I want to offer up a theory of mine that relates to this...I don't know how clearly I will convey it, so I apologize in advance, since this theory is in infancy...

I have been thinking for a while about measurement omission as Rand described it and how it might pertain to music. Early music was homophonic, and found its peak with Gregorian chant, and the next stage was polyphonic music, best expressed in symphonic music. It seems like this was an evolution of complexity and and integration, and earlier people had to learn to integrate all the new harmonies and chords.
Now, you talk about the inability of words to express Wagner's work with brevity...but I was thinking that while that is intellectually true, you could whistle just a part of the theme, and another person (assuming they know the piece) could fill in the rest mentally without hearing it.
So that a composer after Wagner could write a piece of music that suggests a Wagnerian motif, which could invoke it in the listener, and proceed from there to a new level.

Maybe the future of the next "great" achievement of music lies in the ability to convey the past works in brief in order to make way for new achievements?

Now, many people today have heard some Wagner, even if only from Bugs Bunny cartoons. And because we have had polyphony for so long, its not that difficult for non classical fans to listen to. I think the same could be said for melody, to a certain extent. So it may have been an achievement for people to learn to appreciate complex work, but easier today for people to integrate that same work. (I can't speak for everyone, especially those without diverse musical tastes...but I think I am bored by the Requiem is that for me, it is too familiar, it offers no challenge.)
So could this possibly mean that the reason why there has been less emphasis on large scale musical works is because we've hit a peak in the need for such? I also wonder if this means that the next innovation in music and art would be similar to the computer revolution, from large supercomputers to PC's to PDA's? Which would also mirror music playback technology from victrolas to record players, to cassettes, CD's, and now non-tangible forms such as electronic downloads...
The idea is that we no longer need to emphasive complex chords and melodies because we've evolved past that...I've noticed some interesting changes in pop that mirror this...songs used to contain an intro, now they dive right in without setting up the key for a measures...and a lot of instrumentation in contemporary R&B is minimal, but just a few notes or tones can imply what is not there...and the tones themselves are not static in pitch, but oscillate and transform with the use of filters, envelopes, and such. Instead of changing pitch by progressing from note to note, they instead slide, expand, contract, with variations in pitch, intensity, sensitivity... (Continued)

(Edited by Joe Maurone on 10/11, 10:45pm)

(Edited by Joe Maurone on 10/11, 11:14pm)

Post 46

Monday, October 11, 2004 - 10:23pmSanction this postReply

So my overall theory is that there are no new innovations in large scale works like symphonies because of Rand's measurement-omission theory, that because we can integrate chords, harmonies, and melodies on a scale greater than our predecessors, we have reached a threshold...and that because we can imply so much now in a few select notes that will imply the larger work to the listener, the new innovations will not be in the traditional means of harmony and melody that progress in linear fashion, but in other areas like tones that change in horizontal fashion, and smaller scales works that mirror the microevolution of technology.

Since this is just a theory, it obviously is open to development, but already I can anticipate objections. I have a few myself to offer...mainly that on the surface, it sounds like some of the experiments of postmodern artists. But what I have in mind is less about the deconstruction of the mind, or its annihilation, or minimalism in the sense of endless repetition, but of efficiency and measurement omission.
Another concerns the tradeoff of better technology at the expense of melody. Someone once quipped "What's the difference between stereo and lunch meat? One is canned spam, and the other is panned scam." Anton Lavey believed that the better the technology, the worse the music. Keith Emerson, a classically trained pianist who also played rock, helped pioneer the synthesizor technology of Robert Moog, and experimented with all the bells and whistles...but lamented that they were useless for traditional melody. And Phil Spector and Brian Wilson both preferred mono mixes to stereo, after all, we hear binaurally, it doesn't really matter if the music comes from one or two speakers, does it? (Unless you are listening to headphones...and even though quadrophonic music never caught on, we have 5 speakers as part of our surround sound home theater setups, which brings the movies to life with 3-d realism.) (Side note: it's ironic that Wagner is accused by Rand of destroying melody, yet he is being defended on an O'ist board for his achievement. This isn't to knock Peter for defending him, I voted for Wagner. This is to suggest that maybe the future of music does not depend on advancements in melody, at least not in itself.)

But all this might be besides the point if the measurement omission theory of music has some validity. (This is why I can suggest Dark Side of the Moon as a great achievement without joking, because it could be a harbinger of what's to come. Or maybe not. Not that there aren't other, maybe better examples...it has been said of Floyd's earlier work that what's interesting about it is that the listener can mentally add their own melody to it. But I picked DARK SIDE because of its symbolic significance.)

But I do wonder, even without the electronic technological enhancements, if the theory can still be applied. I envision an experiment where a "great" symphonic piece is stripped of orchestration down to say one melodic instrument, and the melody stripped to its basic structure, without any unneccasary fills or flourishes. Would the piece retain its greatness, or is it dependent on the orchestration. Or, does it largely depend on the performer, since great music can be ruined in muzac interpretations...what could be done to foster new innovations in this experiment?

(Edited by Joe Maurone on 10/11, 10:58pm)

(Edited by Joe Maurone on 10/11, 11:20pm)

(Edited by Joe Maurone on 10/11, 11:35pm)

Post 47

Monday, October 11, 2004 - 11:16pmSanction this postReply
3. Rage, Pain, Anger and Hurt?
I still maintain that the predominant emotions expressed best by rock music are these listed above, and nothing said in response to my article moves me from that view. Sure, there are some exceptions, but the operative word here is 'predominant' (and to the person who suggested that Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get it On' proved it wrong, I can only say "Huh!?" :-)

Rock by its nature doesn't have the rhythmical lightness that jazz allows itself for example (or Marvin Gaye's soul does, in a different way), and rarely does it display the fluidity so apparent elsewhere ;  since rhythmical and melodic regularity  is part of the very nature of rock music it lacks the vitality of music that does allow itself more variation. (A good example perhaps is The Kinks emblematic 'All Day and All of the Night' which certainly expresses a raw vitality, but melodically or rhythmically it doesn't go far, which means the vitality is not sustained - it only lasts one night. :-)  The Who's 'I Can't Explain' similarly keeps itself to a limited palette, which has an initial vitality, but like much of their other work it goes so far and no further. Why chain up your music so - unless, that is, it is emotional repression you're really expressing?)

The contrast between Emerson Lake and Palmer's plodding versions of orchestral classics demonstrates the point again, I think - the contrast can be heard more clearly in the hilariously ponderous (to me anyway) 'Concerto for Group and Orchestra' by Deep Purple or in the various guitar concertii by Yngvie Malmstein <sp?> recommended by various SOLOists. Whatever melodic invention is contained in either Purple's or Malmstein's concertii (which is little) the leaden straightjacket of the rock beat refuses to let either soar. The music is weighed down by its leaden-footed, tub-thumping origins. Why not just listen to the real thing, I wonder, unless it is the 'weighing down' which is of most importance?

Much is still possible without a great deal of rhythmical or thematic variation of course (listen for example to the wonderful twelve-minutes of John Coltrane's 'Favourite Things' and you'll understand why it's one of mine) but much more is possible when those variations are opened up to. (Most guitar solos in rock suffer from this - they're occasionally more varied than the body of the piece, but all too frequently go nowhere at great length ,and the emotions expressed are often at best, well, only our old friends listed above. I would add as a significant exception to this the plaintive solos produced by the great blues guitarists like Eric Clapton and Albert Collins that do frequently float over the music beneath, but here again I'm often left frustrated that they don't allow themselves even more freedom in their flight, and that these brilliant solos are frequently buried amidst morasses of the terminally mundane - as are most of Eric Clapton's.)

On this theme of thematic simplicity, I wonder if there is possibly an aspect of some of Beethoven's more muscular works that attracts many rockers and ex-rockers to Beethoven; much of his work has, at one level at least, a similarly heavy, riff-based insistence that can be appreciated in a similar way to that of a lot of rock music (possibly a similar observation led Rand to describe it as malevolent?), although repeated listenings do reveal many more things, including a lightness of touch not immediately apparent (just listen to the 'Emperor' Concerto and the achingly delicate entrances the piano makes!) Of course I exclude the very delicate Moonlight Sonata from this observation (and, inventive as they sometimes are, John Lennon's various use of the Moonlight's delicate theme on the 'Abbey Road' album only help to prove the point made in the paragraph above*.)

Beethoven's thematic invention is demonstrably more limited than many other composers (than the wonderfully fluent Mozart for example), which oddly helps make him accessible to many otherwise rock-bound listeners who might feel overwhelmed by Mozart's more light-handed melodic invention. The Scherzo from Beethoven's  Choral Symphony is immediately attractive to most rock ears - it certainly made me prick up mine! I hasten to add however that the variations that Beethoven plays on his apparently simple themes are just stunningly expressive, and continue to reveal themselves upon repeated listening - a phenomenon sadly absent in most rock music, and one that contemporary reports of his improvisations suggest would challenge the talents of many of the more melodically inventive jazz musicians (if only recording equipment was available in Beethoven's day - we might perhaps have been spared Keith Jarrett's grunting). :-)

(Now, to 'Mr Jonathan,' who suggested phenomenologically that my "tortured hermeneutics" led to my "ridiculous claim" that the predominant emotions conveyed by rock music are those listed above, I can only say that I prefer the method of induction to the one he recommends, and while I'm happy to quibble over many details I stand in general by the evaluations I made using this method. What I've said here and in the posts above might perhaps help him better understand why I say what I say, though?)

Now, as Elvis Costello said, talking about music is like dancing about architecture (as I believe Joe M. quoted earlier today) so I can only suggest that if you do disagree with the overall argument contained herein that you do repair to the 'listening room of your own soul' as I suggested in the article (which is partly why I've intentionally contained so many examples). The final judgement about all this has to be made between your own ears, not mine, and it's not gonig to be made by words alone.

In other words, I do recommend doing some homework. :-)
* For those interested in irony, the extended jam at the end of Side 2 of Abbey Road (in which the 'Moonlight' Sonata appears as a theme) is often cited as one of the precursors of heavy metal. Which would make Beethoven the first metaller, and with the 'Moonlight' Sonata to boot. :-)

(Edited by Peter Cresswell on 10/11, 11:17pm)

(Edited by Peter Cresswell on 10/12, 2:08am)

Post 48

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 12:42amSanction this postReply
Peter, I agree with you -to a point- with your statement that rock is limited to portray certain themes because of its structure. ( I think that could be objectively true...and I remember Rand talking about Tap Dancing as being limited to portraying only lightness and joy. But the limitation of being able to portray limited themes is not in itself a bad thing, "it's in the way that you use it!. And that when bands such as ELP or Deep Purple simply add a rock beat to a classical piece, often that's all they are doing. But Rock, as opposed to Rock and Roll, is a ambiguous label at best, and that some people claim that when rock loses the beat, or uses more than three chords, it ceases to be rock. Beatles are a great example, "When I'm Sixty Four" is not a rock song, nor is "Michelle" or "Yesterday." Then there is the issue of when rock bands use jazz or latin rhythms...such as Yes, when Bill Bruford brought a jazz approach to rock drumming, his playing DID bring a certain liteness that, along with certain other features, distinguished them from being merely Classical rock. And Black Sabbath's "Laguna Sunrise is instrumental, acoustic guitar with strings, no drums, and to me suggests a love scene from a 1940's film. But is it rock merely because a rock band played it?
But it is those qualities that caused orthodox rock fans and critics to spit on any progressions, because it wasn't rock. So rock bands find themselves in a catch 22...progress, and cease to be rock, or be labeled as pretentious? And what incentive is there? The rock camp will label them traitors, and others will say its not good enough, and will never be.
BTW, Peter, not trying to convince you otherwise,(but I find you more knowledgable about rock music than I previously thought, and you do make some interesting arguments). I think that I am challenging you because those arguments challenge indirectly my own ambitions as a musician. I grew up with all sorts of music, from rock to rap to country to Latin, Jazz, and classical. And when I write, I incorporate what moves me the most from different genres and forms, so I do not claim that my music is rock, or jazz, or anything else but my own creation. It's almost like racial mixing, my music is not White or Black or Asian or Hispanic, it's mixed. Not in an eclectic for eclectic sake manner, but an integration of influences. I think you are hitting a nerve the same way a racist would hit the nerve of someone biracial, like when one claims that the white people are held down by the black genes. (Not that I am calling you racist.) But I feel that my musical ambitions are being condemned as inferior because of their "rock genes," (god, I dread to say it...I can hear the outcry that racial differences aren't chosen, as musical influences are...but some claim that homosexuality is chosen and therefore immoral.. the comparisons to the homosexuality arguments...agghhh...why must I go there???).
But I will risk the slings and arrows in the spirit of friendly debate...

Peter, just as you claim that rock music is limited to rage, anger, hate...Many accusations were made against Jazz (the syncopated taint) that were similiar (and I can hear classical snobs who disdain Frank Sinatra). One such argument was made by Cyril Scott in his book MUSIC: ITS SECRET INFLUENCE THROUGHOUT THE AGES. In his defense of classical music and it's role in the future of humanity,he virently attacked Jazz as immoral.
"After the dissemination of Jazz, which was definitely 'put through' by the Dark Forces, a very marked decline in sexual morals became noticable...Now, it is just this over-emphasis on the sex-nature...for which Jazz-music has been responsible. The orgiastic element of its about its syncopated rhythm, entirely devoid of any more exalted musical content, produced a hyper-exitement of the nerves and loosened the powers of self-control...with its array of harsh, ear splitting percussion instruments inflamed, intoxicated and brutalized, thus causing a set back in Man's nature towards the instincts of his racial childhood...Jazz music at its height very closely resembled the music of savages..." (142)

I don't think that this is music you listen to, given your arguments against rock, yet you list Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" as a favorite. Obviously, you either don't share the author's beliefs about jazz, or maybe you agree with it, but believed that Jazz was able to progress beyond its limitations (and since My Favorite Things was originally not a jazz piece, it could be compared to your criticism of Elp's rock arrangements of classical music.)

Ok, this is long enough...and I haven't summed this up...and I rambled...just my sense of life reacting to what it considers unnecessary attacks on its food source.

Post 49

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 1:33amSanction this postReply
4. Desensitisation - or, 'AClockwork Orange'?
I was going to add more to the discussion regarding desensitisation both musically and emotionally, but I'm beginning to go on a bit (I'm starting to compete with Chris for wordiness :-) ) so I'll just add two examples and a reply and then let further discussion  continue.

Example 1, Singing:

If you've ever just listened to Maria Callas sing Norma (say), or Macbeth or Tosca, and then taken out the CD and inserted into your player something by (say) Rush - go on do it, I dare you - what's the first thing you ask yourself?

I'll bet it's something like: "What the fuck do you call that? Singing?!" Both Geddy Lee and Callas scream - the difference is that one is controlled and filled with expression (the latter) and the other sounds like a cat being strangled (the former). True, just try it.

Once you come to appreciate the latter, then the screaming of the former just sounds absurd; I suspect that if Mr Lee appeals to you then the sentiment is similar in reverse, with the difference that to truly appreciate the screaming of Mr Lee one really has to suspend one's critical faculty a great deal - and why would one wish to automatise that habit?

Yes, yes, it's probably unfair to pick on Rush's singer since the number of fine singers in rock can be counted in the number of prophets hidden on studio walls. But pick on him I have, since many here have indicated they're familiar with him (a necessary condition for a good example).

Example 2, The Clockwork Orange:

One of my favourite authors, Anthony Burgess is perhaps best known by his least work, 'A Clockwork Orange' and unfortunately mostly known by an illuminating film of the book.

The theme of Burgess' book is given in the title, and described in the last chapter (Twenty-One) of early non-American editions of the book (don't ask!). As paraphrased by one reviewer,
a clockwork orange is said to relate to something with a bright colorful facade and a juicy full appearance that looks much like an orange, but turns out to be no more then a clockwork toy (a wind-up toy) which mimics life but can do no more than walk in a straight line and bump into things. The main character realizes he spent his youthful life as such a lifeless shell of a human; having all the energy and vivacity of a youth but squandering it on meaningless and repetitive acts of violence.
One might say the same of Kubrick's film of the book, which illustrates the theme by unfortunately emulating it - by "squandering it on meaningless and repetitive acts of violence" exactly as Burgess decries in the youth. Kubrick himself is desensitised to true human values it seems - he himself is betrayed as a clockwork orange by his depiction of the story.

In my judgement, much of the music in rock is like that clockwork orange - "a bright colorful facade and a juicy full appearance" but it's no more than a soulless reflection of human life, to which repeated exposure desensitises the listener to the real thing - to true human values and human emotions, and to music that so richly expresses them

3. Battle of Britain

I confess I've never knowingly had the 'benefit' of listening to Iron Maiden's 'Aces High' which Irfan recommends so highly, but commemorating the Royal Air Force's victory in the Battle of Britain in music (although certainly a task worth doing well) is perhaps an example of over-particularising at which programme music usually tries and fails?

That said, I do remember the 'Battle of Britain' soundtrack efforts of Ron Goodwin and William Walton with much affection (and also the other great war movie themes such as 'Dam Busters,' '633 Squadron,' and 'Where Eagles Dare' which are spectaculary heroic) - although without their connection to the 'Battle of Britain' film they don't necessarily telegraph the particular events they portray; but then neither I suspect does the hair-metal of Mr Dickinson.

Post 50

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 2:01amSanction this postReply
Joe M..

You 're asking about genres etc. and you say:" I grew up with all sorts of music, from rock to rap to country to Latin, Jazz, and classical. And when I write, I incorporate what moves me the most from different genres and forms, so I do not claim that my music is rock, or jazz, or anything else but my own creation."

Great! (Although I do shudder at the word 'incorporate.' Uuugh!) Duke Ellington used to call anything he heard that was good "beyond category," meaning of course that the piece was so good it was music in the fullest sense. I think music that aspires to that accolade is music that will ask us to rise -and it will be music (like Lanza's) with no dichotomy between being entertainment and art. I imagine that writing such music requires either a naturally exalted soul such as Ellington's, or that of a man with a self-made exalted soul. :-)

You ask if I agree with the writer about jazz* that it has an "over-emphasis on the sex-nature" as our anal-retentive intrinsicist Mr Scott argues. Of course it does, that's why it's good! :-)  Listen to Duke Ellington's 'Creole Love Call' for example, which so lusciously combines the ethereal with the earthy - from gorgeous to gut-bucket in the same bar!

It's so good, it's beyond category. :-)

* Unfortunately when talking about jazz one really has to discriminate between eras and sub-genres, not to invent categories where none exist, but in order to separate the good from the execrable. I would exclude for example the whole realm of post-Coltrane knob-twiddling masturbation from the realm of good jazz (and even much of Coltrane, sadly). It lacks melody and human interest. If you want to talk in Cyril Scott's terms, it's insufficiently orgiastic. It has no climax! :-)

Post 51

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 3:45amSanction this postReply
Peter - I think the most important thing you've said here is, "Do your homework." That's what *I* asked of folk in my initial post on your article. I *knew* what you'd said would send certain folk into apoplexy, & asked them to ride that out & make an effort. Sadly, they just went straight in to apoplectic mode, abused you & me as "malevolent" & whatever else, & went into denial. Rather like the statists at the end of Galt's speech saying, "That wasn't real, was it?" You cast pearls before them, & they reacted like swine. To cite the "incorporation" of certain classical works into headbanging caterwauling as something redemptive of the latter when it's merely an insult to the former, is ... well, words fail me.

Another point you made well is the Callas/Rush one. (I think it may have taken *you* a while to get to this juncture! :-)) When you cut your eye teeth on great voices & singers who could sing, the suspension of spirit & judgement required to listen to caterwauling & pretend it's singing is just too great. This is *not* to insist that only opera singers can sing or have decent voices - it's to identify honestly that the caterwaulers can't & haven't.

As for "genres" - of course they exist & are legitimate & are entitled to be judged for what they are. But that doesn't mean that non-music or anti-music must be counted as a musical genre. Rap, for instance, is not music. It's simply the rhythmic repetition of limited lyrics, usually obscene (*this* is malevolence!), in a monotone by any old voice, usually dreadful, backed by percussion, usually raucus. Jungle savages have rapped for millennia. That's fine. Just don't call it music. If there weren't so many drugged zombies being catatonised by it, it would be a joke.

Those who have a problem with the standards propagated by SOLOists should read SOLO's Credo & ask themselves by what right they come here as SOLO's guests & demand that SOLO *drop* those standards & *abandon* that Credo. This is not a place for nihilism, in music or anything else. It *is* a place for "the total passion for the total height" - unashamedly! The cheerleaders for caterwaulers have suggested a SOLO sub-group just *for* - & called - "headbanging caterwaulers." That wouldn't worry me, since it's an honest depiction of the tastes of those who would wish to belong, but I'm curious: why would they wish to be part of SOLO's purview? Is it beyond their capacity to set up headbangingcaterwaulershq.com?


Post 52

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 9:58amSanction this postReply
I'd like to understand some terms and such before I bother to post further on this topic:

Lindsay said:  "This is *not* to insist that only opera singers can sing or have decent voices - it's to identify honestly that the caterwaulers can't & haven't."

This seems to make sense to me. What I need to understand is what you mean by "caterwaulers" so that I can see your yard stick.

Certainly there is plenty to loathe in the genere of rock. The question is, is there anything of value. Rock tends to ride on a rythmic backbeat, that you mention in your comments on rap. Is the nature of any repetitive rythem something you find not musical, or was your comment limited to the style used in rap?


Post 53

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 1:07pmSanction this postReply

You're unhappy at your attitude on this topic being described as malevolent. I can only suggest you take another look at the relevant posts and try to understand why someone who generally holds you in the highest regard would make such a statement (and I say this as someone who thinks that some of the earlier insults levelled at you and Peter were over the top). You accuse the "headbanging caterwaulers" of not being willing to make an effort and receive Peter's pearls (i.e. classical music). As has been pointed out previously, many if not all of us who speak up for some forms of rock/metal are already familiar with - and great listeners of - classical music. This is something you seem to have totally evaded throughout this debate. You then say that the "incorporation" of classical music into progressive rock music is in fact an insult to the classical composers (rather than a tribute as I, and indeed the prog musicians concerned, have claimed). I would rather have thought that it would demonstrate to you that prog rockers, far from being nihilists, actually admire classical music as you and Peter (and indeed I myself) do.

As to Peter's favourable comparison of Maria Callas' vocal talents over those of Geddy Lee, on this point we are in agreement, though I think Peter exaggerates greatly in his description of Lee's voice. You then comment on rap, a genre I have not defend and more or less agree with your sentiments on. I'll not speak for the others but I have said nothing to warrant the accusation that I want SOLO to lower it's standards. On the contrary, I would argue that certain progressive rock and prog metal bands (not all of them, and certainly not all rock or metal bands generally) have risen to meet those standards.


Post 54

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 2:57pmSanction this postReply

(Edited by Irfan Khawaja on 10/19, 4:09pm)

Post 55

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 3:14pmSanction this postReply
Mathew said: "I would argue that certain progressive rock and prog metal bands ... have risen to meet those standards."

Well, go on then. I double dare ya'. :-)

"Peter exaggerates greatly in his description of Lee's voice."

You think I was perhaps too generous in my description? I can edit it if you like? :-)

Post 56

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 4:55pmSanction this postReply
What an odd post, Irfan (Post #54).

Apparently you find my points (all of them?) inductively weak (and "monumentally anti-inductive" no less) because (I have to presume) you don't find my examples compelling. Or is it that you want more? (Galt forbid!) Please explain. I find your "untrammeled ranting" confusing. :-)

And  quite apart from our obvious disagreement about your "obvious point," which obviously I find far from obvious, I just don't see any "snide remarks" from me at least "directed at those who made the obvious point that there is no "rage, pain, anger or hurt" to be found in that song [All Night Long]" - I just don't see the 'arithmetical error' you seem to think is so obvious. I said I thought the song offered a wonderful catharsis for a juvenile sort of helpless fury, and you think this is snide and saying that 2+2=5? Really? I think perhaps you've either misread what I said, or perhaps you have a different version of this song in your jukebox?

You then increase the confusion rather than dispel it by suggesting Michael is creating a dichotomy between one's 'personal favorites' and the field 'art appreciation.' I won't speak for Michael, but in my use of what he said I thought I made clear why the distinction was an obvious one,and also an important and a useful one.

Perhaps if I expand on what I said in using Michael's observation:
  • We all know that we have many personal artistic likes and dislikes, and we may or may not wish to understand these responses. If we do wish to understand them then there is a field called aesthetics which holds out the possibility of explaining the objective criteria by which we can judge an artwork against objective standards. Indeed, Objectivism argues that there  are  objective standards in art, and explains why. (And with reference to the objectivity of aesthetic standards WRT music we should be aware that some of the psycho-musical research Rand said forty years ago "still needs to be done" has now been done by such gentlemen as the late Derryck Cooke.)
  • So, By reference to those standards and to the way in which we respond to particular works of art we should be able to tell something about ourselves and about the way we see the world. This is a good thing. We might say that while our tastes are subjective, the standards by which our tastes and our artistic likes and dislikes are judged are not - they offer us a yardstick by which to understand where our tastes sit, and what they say about us. If art is a shortcut to our implicit philosophy, as Objectivism holds that it is, then this offers us the enormous benefit of offering a way to see and understand our own implicit world-view, which to many a youngster (and even many oldsters) is often a complete mystery.
  • What art appreciation should be able to do for us personally then is not to rationalise the tastes that we do have (which is an awful way to desensitise our artistic responses), but to help us to understand these tastes and what they say about us and the way that we view the world around us. (And also, perhaps, offer us a reason to move on to better things if our evaluation of our tastes suggests that doing so might be a good thing for us - and, incidentally, if we're a musician or a promoter of music, then understanding why that might also be a good thing for the culture in which we create our art.)
  • Comparing our own personal responses to art to the objective standards for that art also offers us the pleasure of introspection;  we respond to a piece of art - which might be in the manner of "that makes me feel like ..." etc.' - and can then move on to evaluate the work of art by the objective standards of art appreciation and, and thereby judge our response.  If we're honest with ourselves, what could be more revealing? And who would wish to be dishonest with oneself? As Alexandra York explains in my article, the whole process really helps our own emotional development, and as emotions are among our chief  rewards for living well, who wouldn't want to encourage that?
  • To concretise all this, if we find when examining our artistic tastes that Edvard Munch's 'Scream' affects us more than Michelango's 'David' - or, worse, if we feel love for the former and disgust for the latter - then we know without too much thought that there's something important about ourselves that we need to understand, and about which we need to ask ourselves some very important questions. This is an easy example, but of course to understand more subtle examples requires of each of us that we develop both an awareness of our own artistic responses (which requies that we don't desensitise our responses), and more understanding of the field of artistic appreciation. We should be open to both those things, because as  Objectivism argues the field of aesthetics and our own artistic responses are selfishly important to us.  To be open requires more homework, but it offers commensurate rewards.
Now, Linz can respond to the rest of your points if he wishes, but I really do find it odd that an assertion that there are aesthetic standards should be considered 'Peikovian' (by which I assume you mean dictatorial?). If it is 'dictatorial' then it's a dictatorship of identity - and you know who wins in a battle between you and identity. :-)

So let's at least clear up that issue, because if we disagree here then we need to shift the argument altogether. First, might I ask if you agree that there are objective standards for art? And then, do you generally agree with the standards outlined in the 'Romantic Manifesto'?

If you answer affirmatively to both these then as you say in your post "Linz thinks that heavy metal is nihilism, but its defenders don't," then presumably you can mount a defence of hairy metal in terms of those objective standards? And if you answer in the negative perhaps you could explain why?

Post 57

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 6:05pmSanction this postReply
Thus far, I've counted 252 combined posts since October 4th for this thread, "Reprise: Headbanging Caterwaulers," and the "Greatest Achievment in Western Art" poll question.  What a loaded topic!

Anyhow, I feel inclined to respond to Peter Creswell's latest round of detailed (and much anticipated) responses.

1. Rage, Pain, Anger & Hurt

Says Creswell:

I still maintain that the predominant emotions expressed best by rock music are these listed above, and nothing said in response to my article moves me from that view. Sure, there are some exceptions, but the operative word here is 'predominant' (and to the person who suggested that Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get it On' proved it wrong, I can only say "Huh!?" :-)

Fair enough, but  it seems to me that you might be trying to rationalize aesthetic truisms based on your own musical tastes here.  I think a better way for you to put it would have been: "Personally, the rock pieces I respond to most are those that effectively portray rage, pain, anger & hurt." 

In my own estimation, the emotions that most objectively characterize rock music are: youthful exuberance, youthful angst, sexual liberation, and social rebellion.  I would venture to say that any and all rock music identifies with one or more of those concepts.  The same can certainly not be said about rage, pain, anger and hurt.

And by the way, it was I who raised the Marvin Gaye example. In hindsight, I guess I don't know if you consider him to be rock.  As has already been stated in other posts, the line drawn between genres can indeed get blurry, but I figured since Gaye's music (and most other 'soul' music) has an underlying regular backbeat, and is based on simple repetive chord progressions, it could stylistically be categorized under rock for the purposes of our conversation.

2.Rhythmic Regularity

Creswell writes:

Rock by its nature doesn't have the rhythmical lightness that jazz allows itself for example (or Marvin Gaye's soul does, in a different way), and rarely does it display the fluidity so apparent elsewhere ;  since rhythmical and melodic regularity  is part of the very nature of rock music it lacks the vitality of music that does allow itself more variation. 
 I think progressive rock's use of odd and alternating meters is an exception to this rule. One of the most enjoyable aspects of listening to a composition (of any genre) is to figure out the little riddles and puzzles the composer has worked into the piece, and in this regard, uneven or nontraditional meters are great objects for pondering.  It often takes several listenings to internalize and anticipate syncopations and meter changes - they can be very elusive in the first listening.  Certain works by Dream Theater, Rush, Yes and Phish come to mind as excellent examples of rhythmic vitality in rock music.

Furthermore, I believe (some) rock musicians deserve special consideration for embracing technological innovations in sound production.  Effects processors offer musicians a whole range of sonic possibilities such as delay, reverb, chorus, flangers, phasers, distortion etc.  Synthesizors take things to a whole new level yet.  Today's classical composers have by and large avoided taking advantage of the new sonic possibilities offered by the marriage of music and electronics. 

Post 58

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 8:04pmSanction this postReply
(Edited by Irfan Khawaja on 10/19, 4:10pm)

Post 59

Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 8:06pmSanction this postReply
Double post deleted.
(Edited by Irfan Khawaja on 10/12, 8:08pm)

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