Substantive Debate about Music is impossible

Why do you listen to such crappy music all the time?

Music, like the visual arts is a two part relationship.  The Performance and The Consumer.  If one was to set up a random tone generator that made repetitive patterns over time; there is a chance that even if it was at a tuneless pitch and widly swung through the chromatic and dreadful scales, someone would hear it and appreciate it as music.  Witness the sometimes cacophony of modern “art” music such as “Art of Noise” “Atari Teenage Riot” or “Muslimgauze”, I admit these are popular examples, but I am not a fan of conceptual music and have no real exposure.  Share in the comments if you have stronger examples of music made through non-traditional or in non-traditional forms.

This appreciation of music is highly subjective; the listener and their experiences shape a great deal of the types of sounds that they would appreciate as music and prize as entertaining or at least provocative on an emotional level.  This relationship between experience and musical preference can be highlighted when one looks at popular music as it relates to geographic location, social strata, economic status and cultural norms.

That is a bit aside from what I’m heading towards though.  It’s the way that we can’t as individuals appreciate what other people enjoy in music because of the fact that we are individuals.  Even the tightest cliques; who dress and apparently think alike are composed of individuals who experience the world through their own lens (if you will) and therefore interpret the world around them differently.

DJ Funktual is the musical Everyman

There will always be someone you know who doesn’t listen to music at all; not for pleasure, not for torture.  They don’t listen to music and then may never.   This is akin to someone who doesn’t read or watch television or enjoy theatre or movies or any number of passive entertainments.   Some people do not appreciate or enjoy some or all passive forms of entertainment.  Their views on music (if they are the type who doesn’t listen to music) might be unique among the populace as they don’t bring to it the same prejudices and preferences a life-long or even short-term musical fan may take.  They might even make for better mechanical critics of muisc (or art or television, etc) as they can (likely) be counted upon to dissect a piece for it’s pure objective merits.  It’s very loud or Why does the singer keep repeating that phrase even outside of the chorus.  That isn’t (as I understand it) what critics of “art” should do though (even though I will do it in a review if the mechanics of something are so unappealing as to overwhelm the piece (I’m looking at you show that smells)).

What about the person who likes everything? They owe no allegiance to any one genre or form of art.  They are not a dilettante; but they aren’t a “hardcore fan” of anything.  Are they better suited to judge the merits of a given piece, can the Musical Everyman (like DJ Funktual) look at a piece and give it the metaphorical Thumbs Down and have it accepted by society at large as canon?  I would imagine not.  In the end, even a musical polymath like DJF would have his own cultural and social lens in place when viewing a piece and therefore his opinions of any given thing would be altered by his own experience.

The Accepted Authority

When we are talking about musical tastes,  especially when debating the merits of music each party is a flawed judge.   Having no legal precedent to fall upon and no (if you will) law of music to appeal to;  debates about matters of taste are largely unproductive if the parties have no neutral or accepted authority to call upon as meter to measure the relative value of said piece.  For it is the relative value of the piece that the two parties are debating.  In some cases they can debate the relative value through economic measures (this piece sold X items) or the relative draw of a piece (this many people chose to play or hear ther piece this many times) .  In the absence of some form of objective measure, debate about the relative value or quality of a piece can become abstracted from values and therefore insubstantial and unresolvable.   In those cases, debates about music and the other arts are moot, because the debaters cannot experience the piece as the other consumer can and any abstract argument about the merits of the piece become moot.