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Re: (OT) Music

From:Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
Date:Tuesday, June 11, 2002, 15:39
At 7:55 AM +0100 06/11/02, Jan van Steenbergen wrote:
>--- John Cowan wrote: > >> And Rosta scripsit: >> > Which kinds of music? I, sans training, appreciate some music that to >> > others is mere cacophony. (And vice bloody versa when my wife goes on >> > a Wagner binge!) >> >> Quite so. Wagner's operas, as Mark Twain told us, are better than they >> sound. I suppose what music one appreciates as a matter of first, and >> what as a matter of second nature, is relative to the perceiver. > >In the West we have a bad tendency to believe that "our" tonal musical >language is a universal, while other kind of music are rather considered >strange deviations. As soon as our children are born, we start to sing >simple songs to them, that are (almost) always examples of the very >basics of tonality, thus feeding them with the source of prejudice against >any other kind of music. As a result, the vast majority is unable to accept >music that is not entirely tonal or escapes the dictature of 4/4 measures.
The fact that people brought up in the Western tonal tradition aren't readily able to appreciate music from other traditions IMO says very little about their *attitude* towards other musical traditions; rather, it is like a foreigner who is confronted with a language he has never heard before. He may be willing to learn it, but without training and experience he's not likely to get very far. Just so for a person unexperienced in a musical idiom; he may be willing to give it a try, but without training (which includes experience), his appreciation is likely to be superficial, at best. In their book, _A Generative Theory of Tonal Music_, Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff say that the Western tonal tradition is only one possible setting of various parameters of musical cognition, much like English is one possible setting of various parameters of linguistic cognition in the Principles and Parameters framework. They do not claim that other musics aren't "natural;" but since they are both most familiar with the Western classical tradition, they focus on that repetoire in their book. If they have done their job right, it should be possible to apply their theory to other traditions with equally insightful results.
>That it can be different is proven both in other cultures and by my little >cousin, who at his first concert appreciated Anton Webern’s Symphony >op. 21 more than any other classical piece on the program.
But Webern is squarely within the Western tradition, even when he consciously flouts some of its expectations (e.g. connected melodic lines, hierarchical pitch structure). Consider that he titled op 21 "Symphony"; you can't get much more Western than that! Here's the real question: how would your cousin approach Chinese classical music or Indian raga? My guess is that while there might be a superficial appreciation (novel sonorities, timbres, etc), it wouldn't go much further than that. This says nothing about his willingness, only about his level of training and experience. (I don't know anything about your cousin; I only use him as an example of a willing but perhaps unexperienced listener.)
>Nevertheless, the idea that music appreciation is a matter of training is a >myth. It is a matter of mentality. The unfortunate truth is, that a lot of >people are not prepared to appreciate (or even listen to) other music than >the music they already know; the only new music they can accept is nothing >but the mere repetition of the same old thing.
Absolutely right. However, without experience in a musical idiom, appreciation is likely to be only superficial, however genuine.
>If a person is able to open his ears and forget for a moment what he already >knows, he will experience wonderful things he would otherwise have >missed. > >It is a cliché, but nevertheless true (which is a cliché as well, I’m afraid): >there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music. Good music >speaks for itself, and I don’t believe it would require any other sort of >training from the listener than openness.
I think that people appreciate music for a multitude of reasons. I don't think that it will say much for a piece of music for a majority of people to like it, if that majority is unexperienced in the idiom in which the piece was written. Their appreciation will only be superficial and will not be an accurate measure of its quality.
>---------------------------------------------------------------------------- >--- John Cowan wrote: > >> I think these are *exactly* the factors that determine what is beautiful >> mathematics, and the criterion of so-called "pure" mathematics is indeed >> beauty. Of course, this raises the question of what beauty is, to which >> I can do no better than William Blake: "Exuberance is beauty". > >Iannis Xenakis is a great example of a person who mastered both arts >(adding the art of architecture). He applies mathematics directly in his >works, with a very strange, almost alien, but always smashing result.
I've listened to a lot of Xenakis in the past, and I confess that he doesn't do much for me. Perhaps I'm not experienced enough in his idiom, or maybe his music is just crap. I'm not willing to make that judgement, though. I'm glad to hear that his music does reach someone! Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga Man deth swa he byth thonne he mot swa he wile. 'A man does as he is when he can do what he wants.' - Old English Proverb


John Cowan <jcowan@...>