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On The Murder And Death Of Classical Music

It is difficult to discover one word which adequately and non-misleadingly describes what is today called “music” and what used to go by that name a century or more ago. The word should be statistical in the sense that music are the sounds which one encounters more than any other (and not necessarily what one listens to purposely).

For example, the average citizen in these United States is likely to hear rock produced from latter portion of the twentieth century when in grocery stores, houseware shops, and department stores; the same genre but of more recent vintage when in convenience stores or coffee shops, cafes, and the like; and a mysterious headache-inducing pounding emanation by the name of “hip hop” when in bars, or on beaches and other outdoor spaces.

Incidentally, my theory for the latter is that these sounds are generated by algorithm to cause the aforementioned pain, the kind of which can only be relieved by consuming massive amounts of alcohol—sold, of course, at high margins. We must admit that this is more effective than over-salting the free popcorn.

What are we to call this constellation of sound? Modern places it too squarely in time, and leaves our heirs in a jam because they will have to discover a new word to describe what they listen to in the future. Popular doesn’t work, because there will always be a genre which is the most popular (kind of like how there will always be a “leading cause of death”). Perhaps rock suffices if that word is interpreted to mean what is commonly thought of as “rock” plus its many derivatives.

Now what about those sounds from Rachmaninoff, Hayden, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Tchaikovsky and the like? The word most use is classical. And that’s fine, in its way. But it is defeatist, too. Classical means, in part, “that which belongs to antiquity.” Static museum pieces. Mention classical music and one imagines hearing a piece one has heard many times before, a piece from a limited repertoire. Mozart is not, after all, writing new symphonies.

Sometimes classical is labeled art music, but given what has happened to art over the past century, this is an insult. We could use beautiful since most of it is, especially in comparison to such things as this1. But it is only most, not all. There are, after all, folks like Philip Glass lurking in the margins.

And then there is Nico Muhly, subject of a glowing piece in The Telegraph (he has also been praised by the New York Times). The writer is under the impression that Muhly’s work is “classical.” Presumably this is because he does not use the electric guitars or computer programs which churn out today’s music.

Muhly, a sweet-faced young man whose haircut resembles the kind of expensive “designer” jeans which come with pre-ripped holes and bare spots, instead composes with noise.

I’m constantly recording ambient, unchanging noises. I stayed in a hotel in the Netherlands last month where the elevator shaft had this glorious hum of an open fifth. The air conditioner in my house is this sort of E-flat, the hiss of unconnected electronics, the buzz of a halogen lamp…

His best known composition is entitled “Drones & Piano.” And this is exactly what it is. Droning noises and a piano played with a fitful fist, jamming notes into the air in the way today’s poets scatter words across a page. Which is to say, randomly. Don’t take my word for it. The Telegraph embeds this piece at the bottom of its article. I myself was able to listen to nearly one minute of Part I, “Bedroom Community.”

The paper calls the sounds of this Part “a paranoid, hypnotic piano layered over a warm string hum.”

Viola drones continue into Part II jabbed with staccato jerks and pretty chords. Part III moves forward with brio and speed. Here, the string drones become a bee’s nest and the piano, sounding like a nest of wires, gets more and more tangled before a gentle, quiet coda segues perfectly into Part IV. This track feels like a fresh, dewy dawn.

I listened to the opening strains (yes) of each Part and I’m fairly sure that each repeats; the whole thing sounds like a twenty-second loop endlessly repeating.

Now, the reason this is important is that the paper and Muhly himself calls this stuff “classical.” And proudly. He believes himself to be continuing in the tradition of Hayden, Telemann, and so forth. He says, “The internet is filled with people saying that blah blah classical music is dying blah blah.” (This quotation shows that the mental processes which given Muhly his words also supplies his notes.) Of the doomsayers, “Chances are, they are being paid to say this.”

Nobody is paying me, Mr Muhly, but if classical music lives, you are not providing it life support. But least you have provided us something to listen to which is worse than the Beatles.

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1Found by searching “hip hop charts”, clicking the first link, and selecting the third most popular song

102 thoughts on “On The Murder And Death Of Classical Music Leave a comment

  1. Well just because someone is saying they belong to a tradition, that doesn’t make it “so”. Perhaps it is good for their own work, they really take these things into consideration, etc. Historians of the future might disagree on the matter and on the importance of said works, etc.

    Whenever I want my “modern” take on “classical music” I always turn to movie and games soundtracks. Perhaps they are not up to Beethoven or Mozart, but they are really good, and in any way, I’m not generally towards the notion of there being an “objective” list of what’s good and bad in music (If I may be allowed to be euphemistic!).

    Stuff like this really turns me on:

    http://youtu.be/NQXVzg2PiZw
    http://youtu.be/UkvNmb9tMII
    http://youtu.be/D8coPpuYaF4
    http://youtu.be/Qbrgo3vPBdQ

  2. I spent over 50 years programming computers. Many years ago good code required a process of ‘backing out” of routines to bring you back to the main body of code. An artificial contrivance to make more effective code and programs that were easier to troubleshoot when they had problems. It was a very “ordered” process. Think of it like levels where the main level “called” level two which if needed would in turn call level three etc. When finished each level would return itself to the previous level where it may or may not call up a level again but ultimately ending at the main level. I’m not a musician but in music (good music) I noticed a similar process. Replace level with notes on the scale and you can see this process visibly looking at sheet music. I noticed that classical music had longer and more complex “series of calls” before returning and decent modern music tended to have shorter excursions. Some music/musicians choose to break these rules and their music is more irritating presumably because our minds are ordered and this failure leaves us wanting. Interestingly todays programming languages and styles generally don’t follow this rule (with good reasons) and a programmer might be 7 levels deep in a routine and simply jump out of it back to the base level. Jazz is like this to some extent, unpredictable, erratic and without rules.

    One other point: I think almost anything can be remembered and/or ordered to music and the mind will use this crutch to aid the process of memory. Just as we teach the ABC’s to toddlers with the sing/song method you could memorize “War And Peace” if someone were smart enough to match it to a musical piece. But you can’t do it with music that is discontinuous or erratic. I believe that for the same reason this ordered form of writing programs lends itself to fewer errors and ease in finding errors that the ordered form of music lends itself to a calming effect on the listener as a result of the predictability but even more because the rhythm finishes each foray away from the base music. I’m not sure what that says about modern music or people who like modern music.

  3. How brazen and presumptuous to write such a harangue while boasting you listened to only scant minutes of each part of the piece. This glorious music of Mr. Muhly is in no way looped, there’s a fine arch to it. What has happened to the attention spans of today’s experts? And what I wonder would you have opined about the Armory Show? Or Beethoven’s new sonata, Opus 111?

  4. I do not think Classical music is dead or dying. All that has happened is TV and Radio.

    With umpteen channels on the dial everyone is competing for the listeners attention, which means loud and ‘popping’ sounds/beats no matter when you tune in to the song. On the flip side, (hehe) when you watch a movie or play a video game then you’re assumed to be a captive audience. I would argue that there are more ‘classical’ pieces being produced and listened to today than there were 20, 50, 100, and 200 years ago.

    Luis: I think what you’ve noticed is that video game music is designed to be athestically pleasing. 🙂 The bandwidth isn’t over saturated and there is a separation between each instrument. The game has got 100% of your attention and can afford to take full advantage of the senses.

    Check out ‘The Amazing Spider Band’ sometime– they’ve remade all of the different songs from the original Spider Man cartoon. If you like Jazz and evil Villans you might like. 🙂

  5. 1. So … why is it “classical” music but it’s “classic” rock?
    2. A woman I worked with, when hearing a piece of “classic rock” one day said, “This takes me to another place.” It recalled a memory or memories. I think these associations are important.
    3. How are we to discover new music if we listen only to “oldies” and “classic/classical” music?
    4. I discovered one day that while doing computer work alone, sounds from Times Square (from a webcam) were as soothing and as interesting as much of the background music I usually listen to.
    5. Readers might find The Soundtrack of Your Life (The New Yorker, April 10,2006) interesting.

  6. I write music a lot. I’ve always thought of my writing in the ‘classical’ vein, meaning that I pursued one melody, built upon it, brought in new ideas, modified those ideas, and had one massive progression moving from start to finish.

    After listening to Muhly’s music, it sounds a lot like other ambient music I hear today; there is no driving overall point. Regardless of whether it is actually electronically looped or simply one part played multiple times, it is extremely dull. Ambient music does not function like music proper. It is background filler.

    Music on its own and not as a crutch for something else requires more thought than random and repeated lines.

    I think what you have today is a multi-step problem. Musicians are overall less talented than before as musicians, but are more savvy with technical performance. This leads people to confuse ‘complicated’ and ‘interesting’. At the same time, people are less demanding of music. This is seen very apparently in dub-step and hip-hop. Most of the track is repeated noise. The lyrics are terrible. I’ve watched people ‘write’ this sort of music in a five minute sitting and then perform it at concerts. Perhaps this tells us something about the audience, but it certainly shouldn’t be considered ‘music’ in the same vein as music of the past few centuries.

    Combine less demanding audiences, computers that can do work in place of people, ‘musicians’ who are entertainers first and musicians last and who practice their scales but not their thinking, and you have… modern music. No thanks.

  7. At one time (maybe still, to some), when they were “modern,” jazz and big band were considered an assault on classical. Even some “classical” was considered an insult to preceding pieces. “Classical” is a style. It doesn’t necessarily mean ancient. Are you aware that McCartney of Beatles fame has written a symphony that gets aired on classical channels?

    “Jazz is like this to some extent, unpredictable, erratic and without rules”

    If it were unpredictable you wouldn’t be able to follow it. Or jam to it. All music is predictable but sometimes only to a trained ear. That said, there is a style of jazz that amounts to little more that huffing into a mouthpiece while wiggling the fingers and when vocalized sounds like screeching. I guess there needs to be something terrible to accentuate the good.

    But sometimes “classical” simply means “from the past”. The XM Deep Tracks channel is playing “classical” Pink Floyd non-stop throughout the entire weekend.

    It was mentioned above that Muhly has slow arcs. I’ve never listened to him but have listened to pieces that have slowly changing patterns. It’s also largely a characteristic of minimalist music. Listen to Ludivico Einaudi . The sound track from Sotto Falso Nome is a good place to start with pieces like Nei varchi di luce and the movie title track that it echoes. Also Uno from the Divenire album is a nice starter.

    http://www.amazon.com/Sotto-Falso-Nome-Ludovico-Einaudi/dp/B0001NPTTI
    http://www.amazon.com/Divenire/dp/B001GL2EC4/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_mus?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1338227375&sr=1-1

    It really boils down to what you like. If you like it; it’s good. If you don’t; well then it’s bad.

  8. Interesting watching all the modernism in the comments causing people to think any discussion about the merit of different kinds of music is worthless because “You do what you like to do and I’ll do what I like to do”. I think there are good cases to be made that some music is actually better than others for different reasons other than personal preference. I hope most musicians/composers feel that way.

  9. Whether there’s good music and bad music I do not know. I can say that this new music by Nico Muhly really grabs me, far more than anything I’ve heard coming from the “classical” side of things recently. And what’s more important, many younger listeners who will never be interested in Beethoven — are loving Nico and his drones.

  10. Music is, by definition, organized sound. Defining it further is useless, or worse.

    There are two kinds of music. Shut up, BillyBob, I not referring to “ya got your country, and then ya also got your western.”

    The two kinds of music are popular and serious. Again, further definitions add nothing.

  11. I like Bill Nye’s quote (made famous by Mark Twain) about one composer’s musical offerings: “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

  12. Joshua,

    “I think there are good cases to be made that some music is actually better than others for different reasons other than personal preference.”

    Then make one. Saying there must be without doing so is a cop out.

    I started playing in high school. Even made first chair. Most music is an acquired taste. Music has repetitive patterns and its the anticipation of those patterns that make a piece. To get that requires familiarity. It’s a cultural thing. I know people who can’t stand music that’s common in Micronesia. If there are universal “goodness” components in music why would that be so? I also know people who sneer at Big Band sounds yet Matt seems to like them. Where’s the universality here?

    One element though is likely built in. The notes of a major triad are among the easiest pitch changes for the human voice.

  13. I made one through example earlier.

    I’ll try another, more specific one.

    My car produces a series of noises and patterns much like a symphony. Which one of those two, in your opinion, is better music?

    If you answer with a definitive, then you admit to the premise as most people do whether they admit to the results or not.

  14. Also, I think you make way too big a jump in implying that I mean there is a universal “Goodness” in some music. To say that some music is “Better” than other music doesn’t admit to there being a “Good vs Evil” aspect to this at all.

  15. I like sounds that I’m familiar with. I’m not familiar with the sounds you car makes. Maybe if I listened to it long or often enough I might come to call it music. How many foreign (like Asian, Tribal, Middle Eastern or Polynesian– I don’t mean from a country that’s similar yours) examples can you name that you instantly thought of as “good” music without even the hint of a WTF? I’m willing to bet it’s a real small set. Most people I know would fall asleep or studiously avoid Tibetan gongs unless they have a westernized beat and chord structure. Does that mean the sounds produced by the gongs are not music Or does it mean I know a lot of people that are unaccustomed to hearing them?

    Personally, I like music that has repetitive phrasing (like most western music). As such, I probably would not like your car’s musical output. That only emphasizes that music is relative as in the ear of the listener. Just as any other taste is relative.

  16. “To say that some music is ‘Better’ than other music doesn’t admit to there being a ‘Good vs Evil'”

    Where I come from there are levels named Good, Better and Best. Evil has nothing to do with them. I call the Goodness levels. What do you call them?

  17. Ahhh… the haylcon days of my youth.

    I well recall Gerard Hoffnung’s Concerto for Hosepipe and Strings matched by that excellent discussion and analysis of Punkt Contrapunkt by Dr Klauss Domgraf-Fassbaender and Prof von der Vogelweide. Said it all really.

  18. Okay, well… if we can’t differentiate between car engine noises and a symphony as two types of things, then I don’t think having a discussion is going to be very productive.

    And I don’t use the term “Good” or “Goodness” interchangeably with “Better” and “Best”. They mean different things.

  19. It’s a matter of taste, Joshua. Pure and simple. It varies from person to person. It’s really no different than saying what makes a “good” meal — excuse me “better”. I had a girlfriend from Guam who really disliked steaks and beef in particular. Tastes vary with the individual. Music is no different. It’s really what you like. What others like is irrelevant.

    BTW: I don’t know where this Good, Better, Best interchangeability is coming from. They are no more interchangeable than 3, 7 and 9 are. I certainly never said they were. They are levels (measurements, if you will) of Goodness and all have opposite signs to Bad, Worse and Worst which can be said to be measures of Badness.

    One meaning of “goodness” from Merriam-Webster: the quality or state of being good; the beneficial part of something.

    same dictionary “better”: comparative of good
    and “good”: of a favorable character or tendency

    By definition then if something is “better” you are effectively saying it has a “more favorable character” than something which is “good”. “Good” is also Worse than “Better”.

    It occurs to me that English may not be your first language. Forgive me if it’s not.

  20. The Renaissance saw the birth of a certain kind of music, as it saw the birth of a certain kind of art; and these were elaborated through the High Modern Ages until they achieved a degree of perfection such that further change could only result in art less perfect than its predecessors. At that point artists begin searching for a new kind of art.

    The primary musical invention of the West was that of polyphony, a quo team sports, corporations, et al. This is the idea that several individuals, pursuing their own lines, can combine into a harmonious and contrapuntal whole, as in medieval chant, modern symphonia, “High Society” (first YouTube at this link: http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2010/10/in-musical-mood.html ) or in the Beach Boys “Sloop John B.” A Tamil friend of mine says that it all sounds like noise to her; though she enjoys a good raga now and then. But both ragas and polyphony are indicators of what “better” might mean in music.

    Think of the shift in art from objective representationism to subjective impressionism to complete abstractionism. At the same time, music (always more abstract to begin with) went from melody to melodiousness (think Debussy) to rhythm. We can see similar movements in literature and in science (where the shift from objective to subjective gives Dr. Briggs much subject matter for blogging).

    Except for a couple of links that have disappeared, the following has a sample of “couples”, “painting” and “music” from each of the Modern Ages. The youtubes can be sampled to get a taste of the music at different points from the Early Modern to the Post Modern.
    http://m-francis.livejournal.com/171684.html

    The industrial age separated the notion of “artist” from “artisan,” which until then had been synonymous. Instead, the artist began to blend in with the “intellectual,” a new class that emerged after mere literacy was no longer sufficient to distinguish those who read closely and conversed deeply from the greater mass of bourgeois middle-brow. This desire to sit at the Cool Kids’ table did not work always to the advantage of the artist, since the objective was no longer the depiction of the beautiful (I did not say “of the ‘pretty'”) to one of poking a finger in the bourgeois eye.

    The Impressionists were profoundly revolutionary. Their epigones are merely revolting. Compare the Armory show of 1913 to the 50th anniversary show in 1963. In 1913, the philistines were outside protesting. By 1963, the philistines were all inside.

    In looking at the 50 years 1863-1913, comparing Delacroix to Cezanne or Brahms to Ravel. we see a profound revolution in art and music. But in the 50 years after (1913-1963), there was very little difference. It is very difficult to fake an artist of the past; those of the 20th century can be faked by hacks of little talent. This, from the separation of artist from artisan. Here is another indicator of “better”. How hard is it to fake?

    On the other hand, a curious thing is also happening. Music is coming out of the concert hall onto the dance floor; art is coming off museum walls and onto living room walls. Abstract art may not be very technically accomplished, but it often matches the furniture rather well. In an age of the Me and in which “I feel” is replacing “I think” in normal conversation, it may be that music that is felt will trump music that must be thought about.

    The death of the noble makes high art: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Ionesco, Beckett, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Sartre, James Joyce, Picasso, and any number of other artists in the first six or seven decades of the twentieth century got to depict the meteoric death and collapse of a culture, and their art is wonderful. The sexual revolution was after all this, when things had already burnt out and gone black. Eliot had fragments he could shore against his ruin – these were the last intelligible fragments of a dying culture that fractured and blazed before it finally burnt out.
    — James Chastek: http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/jugjugjugjugjugjugjugjjgujgujgujgujgujgujujgujguj/

  21. In an age of the Me and in which “I feel” is replacing “I think” in normal conversation, it may be that music that is felt will trump music that must be thought about.

    This is my view of it, perhaps summarized better than I had put it. Discussion of music today is always reduced to relativism and it makes conversations about it pretty meaningless with people who feel that way.

  22. YOS,

    I think you hit it quite well. Classical has an element of snob appeal. Not that it isn’t good in it’s own right, but to claim it “better” or “best” is often mere snobbishness. To me, all music is something to feel. I have a very eclectic taste from Bach to Terry Riley to Zydeco. If you have to think about it, then it’s probably not music.

  23. You can end the discussion easily. There is just no music. How is that for all you relativisticators.

  24. I cannot understand why some people raise their own musical preferences to absolutes, seeming unable to understand either that anyone but a lumpen barbarian / inveterate snob could dislike their favourite music or that music that they themselves cannot appreciate can have qualities beyond their own powers of discernment.

    “In an age of the Me and in which “I feel” is replacing “I think” in normal conversation, it may be that music that is felt will trump music that must be thought about.”

    I know of no music that is not felt, and I know of no music that must be thought about. What would be the point of listening to music that was not felt?

  25. Jeremy and DAV: There are types of music that I firmly believe are listened to for reasons that are entirely non musical.

    Awhile back Puff Daddy had the brilliant idea of saying “yeah.. Uh huh” over top of Led Zepplins Cashmere. The song was well received, but only because it was Sean “Puffy” Combs doing the voice over. The song is forgotten these days, while Cashmere lives on.

    A great deal of the music that boys aged 12 to 17 listen to is a fashion accessory. The exact same content, but under a different brand, would be rejected. The music is junk.. Fluff.. With a shelflife about as long as an open can of flaked Salmon. Enjoyed briefly but for entirely non musical reasons.

    I would say most, but not all, of the type of music I just described is inferior to almost all other forms of music. Let’s just hope that “Presidential Flatulance” never becomes a fad.

  26. A matter of taste – yes, but also of recognition of challenge, complexity and skill.

    I have to agree Matt – Nico Muhly’s music reminds me of the ‘performance’ at a party of supposed composer Georges Fauré (Gérard Depardieu) in Green Card.

    Is he trying to do classical punk – to be to Rachmaninov what Sid Viscious was to Lennon and McCartney? Does he write what he does because he cannot compose a melody or counterpoint and therefore eschews them?

    @Luis Dias – Loved the Angry Birds music. I’m not a gamer so didn’t know it.

  27. A nice example, dearieme, of music that wants to be thought about, and not only felt. John Lukacs, in his book The Passing of the Modern Age cites jazz as an example of late melodic music which was also captured after the 1940s by a sort of intellectualized avant garde. The Ah-you-are-too-coarse-to-“get” Olivier Messiaen’s “Exotic Birds” reaction. (Not to be confused with “Angry Birds”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UCm6uyzNE8&feature=relmfu) The post-modern notion that what is felt takes precedent over what is thought is very much a part of the triumph of the will over the intellect during the autumn of the modern ages. As ol’ Crazy Fred said, “Truth is whatever heightens the feeling-of-power” (Machtgefuehls).

    OTOH, you could make a cogent argument that the problem with late-to-post modern serious-music is precisely the opposite. That it is over-intellectualized; as if the music were all form, sucked of its melodic-harmonic matter, the musical equivalent of Duchamps “Nude Descending a Staircase”, which depicts neither “nude” nor “staircase,” but “descent.” The abstraction of form from substance is precisely the act of the intellect and not of the will.

    What is clear is that while Mozart could be performed in middle-class suburban theaters in his own time, John Cage is unlikely ever to be so. The snob appeal of post-modern music.

  28. I think that everyone has missed a key sentence: “But least you have provided us something to listen to which is worse than the Beatles.” If someone doesn’t like The Beatles, then it’s a sure bet that they won’t enjoy most contemporary music. Their influence is practically inescapable. I also doubt that Briggs would have much time for ’50s and ’60s Jazz, given his post.

    Whether these stances are rationally justifiable is the core issue. Yes; personal taste is subjective. However, one can appreciate something without personally liking it. For example, I find the Mona Lisa to be very dull compared to most other Renaissance works, but I acknowledge its place from a historical and technical point of view. The idea that art is completely subjective is a fantasy inherited from the aesthetic theories of Hume and Kant, as David Oderberg has written. There are objective measurements of art.

    For example, the hip-hop song mentioned by Briggs is incredibly generic. From its structure to its use of autotune, it’s following a template used by countless other tracks. This is an objective fact, whether or not you like the song. The rappers themselves are not doing anything special from a technical standpoint, and their lyrics are one cliche after the next. Again, this is objectively true. Someone can like it anyway, but they cannot refute those points in a rational argument. (They’re welcome to try, but I doubt anyone from this blog will take me up on that offer.)

    Likewise, Muhly’s music is not innovative. Nothing I’ve heard from him has been original. His compositions sound like most contemporary classical music has sounded for the past ten or twenty years. The most unique thing I’ve heard from him is Mothertongue, but it’s basically derivative of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Could you say the same of a modern classical composer like Varese or Satie, whatever your opinion of their music may be? Hardly. On top of that, much of Muhly’s work is basic from a technical standpoint–whether by accident or design. However, I doubt that a similar case could be made against The Beatles or late Jazz. They were too groundbreaking, whatever your personal taste.

    To summarize this rant, I’d just like to say that I agree that Muhly’s music is poor, but for a completely different reason than the one Briggs presents–which, I believe, does not hold water from a rational standpoint.

  29. Will,

    One could argue if it’s an accessory it’s only being heard and not listened to. Hip-hop is dance music. Unfortunately, 99% of music written and performed is junk. The remaining 1% that floats to the top becomes fondly revered in memories. Who remembers the really bad stuff performed throughout the 1920’s? It’s only the best that has survived. The New Orleans Rhythm Kings were an influence on a number of 20’s performers but few remember them. The same with the Original Dixieland Jass Band whose main contribution was Tiger Rag. You rarely hear NORK or the ODJB (if ever) even on dedicated Jazz channels.

    YOS,

    The Big Band sound is mostly dance music. It’s hard to dance to something if you have to think about it first. Be-bop was definitely over-thought but a lot of people seemed to like it. It survived even in non-BeBop pieces as color, e.g., Ahmad Jamal’s twinkle-twinkle sound. The cool jazz era arguably started by Miles Davis was music aimed at the dinner crowd hence it’s more intellectual but even so, the attraction of the likes of Miles Davis, Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, MJQ and others is still the initial feeling projected by the music — at least for me. The intellectual appreciation is secondary. Cool jazz of the 50’s wasn’t particularly innovative. There were earlier works by Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Lester Young, Adrian Rollini and even some of the performances by the Paul Whiteman band(s) (albeit with Bix, Tram and Bing Crosby) which could be classified as “cool”. But way before the 50’s, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” and “Porgy and Bess” are examples of over-intellectualization. Still, pieces like “Summertime” are priceless.

    I got the impression somewhere that Mozart’s target audience were the Saturday Matinee attendees.

  30. I compare music with the art of painting; look how they painted in the 16-17th century, without electrical light and photography, the old masters created incredible masterpieces, compare this with the junk produced now. They were incredible craftsmen proud of their work.

    Compare contemporary “music”, or should I say sound bytes, with the masterpieces of say Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Tsjaikovski, all written by hand in candle light surroundings, and listen how they use the various instruments in an orchestra to create atmosphere and compare this with all the computer music we hear today, rubbish.

    Same goes for cinema, all’s taken over by computers… boooooring…

  31. TINSTAAFL,

    look how they painted in the 16-17th century, without electrical light …
    masterpieces of say Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Tsjaikovski, all written by hand in candle light

    So, Thomas Edison and I guess Nikola Tesla are responsible for the demise of art and music? But wasn’t the candle equally responsible for the sad departure from cave wall masterpieces?

  32. Oh, yeah, speaking of technology: why didn’t the harpsichord and piano, which essentially are mechanically operated harps, bring down music but computer generated sounds do? That devil Electricity?

  33. I think there are good cases to be made that some music is actually better than others for different reasons other than personal preference. I hope most musicians/composers feel that way.

    Ah, the eternal objectivist. So please enlighten us on how you will observe certain music to be better than others with a strict “objective” eye.

    This is my view of it, perhaps summarized better than I had put it. Discussion of music today is always reduced to relativism and it makes conversations about it pretty meaningless with people who feel that way.

    And yet, most people will point towards Mozart, Beethoven and Bach as the “epitome” of this classical movement. The irony is not lost on me, since these guys were at their best when they were the most “subjective” and emotional.

    Like Briggs, you actually believe there’s an objective sense of “beauty”. It’s like you people never studied art in any way.

  34. DAV, we are dealing with luddites here. Ironically using their computers to spread their mystical nostalgias.

  35. rank sophist:

    There are objective measurements of art.

    Could you please provide these so-called objective criteria or rulers of art which you will use to “measure” its merits?

    The one thing I can take from this thread is that the people who will valiantly defend this objectivist notion of art never studied it more than in a general cultural way. Anyone who has spent thousands of hours studying every example from every art movement since the egyptians would gasp at these statements.

  36. In a recent tv program somebody said something like, “The thing about great art is that I see something new in it every time I look at it”. I thought that was cool till I realised it meant I had to do some work too.

  37. The one thing I can take from this thread is that the people who will valiantly defend this objectivist notion of art never studied it more than in a general cultural way. Anyone who has spent thousands of hours studying every example from every art movement since the egyptians would gasp at these statements.

    I’ve studied music specifically for well over that many hours and that’s what has kind of led me to see a progression of an increase in talent (where the most thought-out and brilliant musicians and composers continually moved music forward) and suddenly, in the past century, a complete change away from this type of thing.

    Perhaps a better thing to say would be: Some people are modernists and some are not.

  38. Like Briggs, you actually believe there’s an objective sense of “beauty”. It’s like you people never studied art in any way.

    Clearly I’ve never studied it with the same worldview that you have, but I may have studied parts of it far more as a musician and composer myself. I’m simply not a modernist in this way. There is no need to infer from this that I believe music is not composed without emotion (as you said earlier), that I am a ‘Luddite’ (I am a Computer Scientist, too. Good one), or any of the other claims you are making. I just think you are very comfortable in your semi-modern, semi-postmodern view and you don’t like it when people come along who are more skeptical of those worldviews.

  39. Ok then Joshua, enligthen me. What is the objective criteria you use to measure a music’s beauty. And base it on sound objective foundations. Don’t tell me you “think” or “feel” that music is “about X, therefore I’ll measure how much of X this song has and that song hasn’t”.

    Good luck, I’ll see you on the other side of the universe while you spend the rest of eternity squaring that circle up.

  40. Luis: surely you can’t be claiming that all things are music, or are you?

    Either you claim all sounds are music, in which case I think you’re just a crank and can’t argue with you, or you accept that all sounds are not music, in which case you have admitted that there is indeed some mercurial yet to be defined metric of musicness.

    (yes that was straw man, and his name is Franklin Porkchop)

  41. The decline of any audience for serious music is part of the decline of an audience for anything serious, i.e., takes time and attention to appreciate.

    @Luis Dias
    The fine arts change through time and across societies, but it is no trouble to find identifiable constants: symmetry, regularity, smoothness (alternated and thrown into relief by asymmetry, interruption, and roughness), the making a breaking of patterns in general. There is good and bad art, beauty and ugliness, even if their instantiations are ever-changing and in need of perpetual explanation.

  42. Will,

    Luis: surely you can’t be claiming that all things are music, or are you?

    I wouldn’t claim anything like that, but then that’s pretty expectable of me, since I’m no objectivist. To me, to declare something “musical” is an individual’s prerrogative. If one finds raindrops to be “musical”, so be it. Who am I to deny so in an “objective” way? No, the most I can do is “Sorry, not seeing it, hope you enjoy it”, and that’s it.

    Either you claim all sounds are music, in which case I think you’re just a crank and can’t argue with you, or you accept that all sounds are not music, in which case you have admitted that there is indeed some mercurial yet to be defined metric of musicness.

    The flaw in your argument is to assume that musicality is something that exists apart from humanity, that it exists “per se”, of “itself”. Music is in the hears of the beholder.

    hmi,

    Let’s not confuse what we can find things we can agree upon (consensus) about musicality with its objective status. We may agree that we enjoy things with symmetry, regularity, smoothness, but as you rightfully put it, we also enjoy when these are deconstructed. We may agree we enjoy patterns, and call it music. I am, however, in no position to declare it objectively true that this is so, nor do I find any deductive argument on how this can possibly be. Beauty and ugliness exist, but they are different for everyone. As it was said above, Mona Lisa is a nice painting, but is it really the best painting for everyone? Can you imagine an “objective” listing of the “best” paintings ever made? How on earth would you even begin to make such a list? The fact that the mere thought of building this list is beyond silly is sufficient evidence to show that art is utterly subjective.

  43. Luis: Your relativism has turned on you and made you an absolutist.

    From what you wrote above it seems as though your only criteria for a sound being music is that any person does, or could, call the sound music. You have defined music, in absolutist terms, as being any sound.

    I am claiming that all music is sound, but not all sound is music. You seem to be claiming that all music is sound, and all sound is music. If so, why bother labeling some sounds as music at all? Perhaps there is a difference?

    If you accept music is a thing, separate or not from the human condition, then you have to accept that something makes it different than non-music sound. Where there is a difference, there is a measurement.

    The Mona Lisa is a painting. You would seem to agree. My pillow is not a painting, despite it also being a material that reflects light. I know of nobody (this might be the last time I can say that) who would say my sock is a painting. If there is a difference between painting and non-painting, why not a difference between music and non-music?

  44. Luis,

    “Beauty and ugliness exist, but they are different for everyone.”
    You cannot possibly know that. In fact, there seems to be more widespread agreement than disagreement. The best you could say is that there is a certain variety of opinion (although much of it falls into easily recognized regularities).

    The existence of an independent concept of beauty in no way entails the existence of any list of better and worse paintings, let alone uniform agreement as to what might be beautiful. Among other things, it could well be the case that an objective concept of beauty merely provides a floor, not a ceiling, in much the same way as I might delineate minimal concepts of justice (e.g., equitable judgment requires the good of parties in a dispute, not the private good of the judge). It could also well be the case that it is given to only a very few minds to be able to discern these objective concepts, and neither yours nor mine is of that caliber. That merely makes us poor judges of these things, but says nothing as to whether objective standards exist.

  45. Will: “I am claiming that all music is sound, but not all sound is music”

    What about John Cage’s 4’33”? It’s a piece effectively consisting entirely of rests. Cage believed any sound could be music. Obviously, his idea of music doesn’t match yours so it would seem Luis is right in saying it’s a relative thing. If music has a universal basis how could it be you and Cage don’t agree?

  46. Luis: Your relativism has turned on you and made you an absolutist.

    Wouldn’t that be ironic? And I wouldn’t be surprised by such turn of events… So I’ll leave that criticism standing though I don’t really see why that is the case. (I’m just in love with irony too much).

    From what you wrote above it seems as though your only criteria for a sound being music is that any person does, or could, call the sound music. You have defined music, in absolutist terms, as being any sound.

    No I haven’t. Don’t place words on my keyboard, that isn’t nice of you. It’s easy to check that, since I did not defined anything in “absolute terms” here. What I said was what I observe: that people listen to a particular cluster of sounds and call them music, irrespectively of what I may or may not judge about it. That is, they will decide for themselves. And they do.

    If you accept music is a thing, separate or not from the human condition, then you have to accept that something makes it different than non-music sound. Where there is a difference, there is a measurement.

    That’s a nice angle to it. I like it. Problem is, such a difference probably resides deeply inside a human brain, and its conceptual framework can be… difficult to attain (euphemistically speaking). So I do not absolutely deny that someone may be able to scientifically “grab” what art is. What will be hard is for him to convince me he got it right. I predict I’ll die of very old age before something remotely like this may even be foresseable in the scientific community.

    So until then, I’m gonna call it subjective.

    The Mona Lisa is a painting. You would seem to agree. My pillow is not a painting, despite it also being a material that reflects light. I know of nobody (this might be the last time I can say that) who would say my sock is a painting. If there is a difference between painting and non-painting, why not a difference between music and non-music?

    These are consensual social terms. That is, we agree to categorize certain things and so we do, so we have some clue what people are talking about. The terms however are not “really true”. They just describe the social consensus prejudices. For instance, that Mona Lisa is a worthy painting.

    hmi,

    You cannot possibly know that. In fact, there seems to be more widespread agreement than disagreement.

    I’m eager to see the data from this empirical study you are implying the existence of. Of course, even being true, one could easily just say that this “agreement” is over standards, not “actual merits”, that is, that a particular type of art object shall be considered “X” or “Y”, not because they are “actually” beautiful, but because there’s a social consensus on what people should feel about it. But if we go a step further and say “no, people actually agree on some things”, it does not follow that they will agree in all things, nor that the agreement wasn’t somehow socially “constructed” by the sharing of the same culture overall (for instance, if we are brought up in relatively the same way hearing the same lullaby songs, it’s a good chance we will share *some* tastes, etc.).

    TL DR version: ad populum is not an argument.

    It could also well be the case that it is given to only a very few minds to be able to discern these objective concepts, and neither yours nor mine is of that caliber. That merely makes us poor judges of these things, but says nothing as to whether objective standards exist.

    Fair enough, but if we are not to discern these objective concepts because we are mentally handicapped in that way, then we are also to be utterly skeptical of those who proclaim they can, for we already established our incapacity of judging such ability. Therefore, I can only conclude that I will not believe anyone who says he can do such a thing.

    Now that seems rather solipsistic doesn’t it? I mean, why would I believe in a physicist if I don’t understand him? Well, because in that case, I have circumstancial evidence of his abilities: his ability to predict observational data and build otherwise magical things (like computers and stuff). So if an objectivist is saying he can define music in an objective measurable way, I want this kind of circumstancial evidence from him too.

  47. @DAV
    I think there is a disconnect. Music is not all one thing or another. But some music can be thought about as well as felt. It can be studied and admired for its craftsmanship — whether pop music like Strauss’ “Gschichten aus dem Wienerwald” or the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B. or serious music like Bach or Beethoven.

    But there comes a point when the discourse has been used so often and so well that the artists grow bored with it and experiment with new forms. But like most experiments in sciences, most experiments in art are also failures. Artists wind up painting, writing, or composing for one another, rather than for the people. And so you get smirky, self-referential art whose main purpose just is to shut the unwashed masses out. (And at the other end of the spectrum, cliched “pig-sh*t” (as Klimt called the murals for the new Opera House he was contrained to paint; or as Mahler and Bruckner and the rest thought of (without using Klimt’s earthy language) the same-o, same-o compositions of Brahms.

    It all came from the Romantic artist abandoning the role of artisan for that of intellectual and considering his job as “shocking the bourgeoisie” (using the tax money gathered from the bourgeoisie if possible) rather than “depicting beauty.”

  48. It all came from the Romantic artist abandoning the role of artisan for that of intellectual and considering his job as “shocking the bourgeoisie” (using the tax money gathered from the bourgeoisie if possible) rather than “depicting beauty.”

    I also heard this fairy tale in my university quite often. I happen to think it is true to a very big extent. However, I cannot but hear amazingly good music being done right now, so I can also conclude that such an effect must be well contained, or at least, sufficiently unimportant for me (because I can get along “consuming” great pieces of art being done lately).

  49. John Cage’s 4’33″ is a perfect example of this sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge elitism. Isn’t it cute the way we can befuddle the bovine masses of the unenlightened bourgeoisie by playing games with their expectations? Best of all, the bourgeoisie sit there and take it, because they have been trained to rely on experts (and the experts belong to the same class of intelligentsia). What do the critics say? Is this an “important” work? Has the Times reviewed it? Being “modern,” they fear above all else not appearing “up-to-date” and have become dependent on artistic opinion rather than on their own tastes. “But even bad taste,” wrote John Lukacs, “is better than no taste at all.”

    4’33” is obviously not music, any more than a blank canvas is a painting. Authors have a tougher row to hoe; though I am now contemplating a book An Analysis of Cage’s 4’33” that will consist of 433 blank pages. Won’t that be so cute and in-your-face!

  50. YOS,

    I may be wrong about this but my understanding is that 4’33” really does have a score but the instructions tell the performer(s) not to play it. If so, it is technically an unheard piece. Similar perhaps to a painting that is permanently covered. If a painting were kept away from viewing would it still be a painting?

    In any case, it has too much intellectualism for my taste. The idea was that the audience would provide the sound. Probably, while conspiring to form a lynch mob.

    On the other thing: I’m not sure there’s a disconnect. We seem to be saying the same thing. My only point is that any thought about a musical piece should be secondary to experiencing it emotionally and if thinking about it is required for enjoyment it has failed as a musical piece. I put Cage’s 4’33” in this category. Note that my opinion doesn’t mean it isn’t music to someone else. It’s just not cup of tea; still subject to reconsideration, though.

    Ennui hasn’t stopped. There are a number of pop songs also decrying the necessity to actually work to get paid for performing. Being in the public eye isn’t exactly what the performers had envisioned.

  51. Luis,

    “I’m eager to see the data from this empirical study you are implying the existence of.”

    There is no ’empirical’ study, nor is one needed. Observation demonstrates quite adequately that the supposed ‘different for everyone’ turns out to be a remarkably short list of characteristics, no matter what universal you are exploring. This is a function of human nature—not social constructs or cultural traits.

    “but if we are not to discern these objective concepts because we are mentally handicapped in that way, then we are also to be utterly skeptical of those who proclaim they can”

    Your skepticism is perfectly irrelevant to the question of the existence of either such people (let us call them ‘Platonic philosophers’) or of moral or aesthetic absolutes.

    “why would I believe in a physicist if I don’t understand him? Well, because in that case, I have circumstancial evidence of his abilities: his ability to predict observational data and build otherwise magical things (like computers and stuff). So if an objectivist is saying he can define music in an objective measurable way…”

    It seems you are arguing that the only type of claim we can effectively accept as genuine knowledge is what is called “scientific.” But there is, of course, no scientific grounds for the preference for that sort of knowledge, nor is there any scientific ground for declaring a preference for the measurable and the predictive. Virtually nothing about any of the things humans are most intensely argumentative about can be settled by so-called empirical study (music’s definition, by the way, is not one of these things, although beauty and justice are).
    Instead, there is discursive understanding of phenomena that are not human constructs, although the road to understanding them starts from reflection on what we see around us. Now, you may not believe that this enterprise is either possible or likely to succeed, but as I said earlier, you cannot possibly know that—your skepticism is literally unwarranted.

  52. Luis:

    What are you actually saying? Are you saying anything at all? Either there is no music and it’s just sound, or there is music which is a subclass of sound. Which is it?

    I’m pretty sure IBMs Watson didn’t win Jeopardy by answering ‘What is the anything, Alex?”

  53. DAV: So are you saying that the sound of silence is still a sound, and still considered music?

    Come on people.. I’m starting to wonder if you’re all on drugs or something. DAV, Luis, you can’t make a judgement on anything?

    If someone were to clear out your home and bank account, only to be aprehended later, you would stand before a judge in their defence saying that ‘theft’ is just a subjective concept and beg the judge to ponder the true meaning of ‘he’, ‘stole’, and ‘it’ as a relativist? If that’s the case please post your full mailing address and bank account numbers.

  54. It’s obvious that Mr. Muhly, a Julliard graduate, doesn’t lack understanding of music theory. Musicians surely want to make their music enjoyable and valuable. So I bet he would love to hear any suggestions that’d make his music more enjoyable and better. He might agree with your anecdotal evidence that car noise is just noise and that Cage Cage’s 4’33″ is no music.

    Still, you probably need to explain clearly to him just what “better” means to you though. The good thing is that he does know music theory, which, I imagine, would make it easier for him to understand your definition of “better music.”

  55. Will,

    What are you actually saying? Are you saying anything at all? Either there is no music and it’s just sound, or there is music which is a subclass of sound. Which is it?

    I’m saying no one has the “right” to define the objective sets you are on to reference. I’m saying those sets you are referencing depend to each one of us. I know exactly what I mean by “sound” and by “music” myself, but in no way will I say these are objective standards to which you should abide to, and by that tone implying that everyone who disagrees with me is “not getting it”. For instance, like declaring rock to be noise whose sole function is to get people to be drunk. I like that kinds of statements, just as long as we realise they are not “objective” nor even tentatively.

    DAV, Luis, you can’t make a judgement on anything?

    I’m actually quite opinionated on what kinds of music turn me on and I always love to try to understand why they do so.

  56. Will,

    Taste IS relative. I can only speak to what I perceive. It’s a very wide range. I’ve also changed my mind in the past about what I think of as music so I can’t say with certainty I will never find myself enjoying what I currently dislike or never find myself disliking what I currently do enjoy. I’m also not in a position to tell anyone else that their enjoyment of what they perceive of as music is wrong. In fact, I don’t think anyone is. The best you can do is explain your own perceptions and why and hope they agree and don’t try to force their opinions on you just as you shouldn’t force yours on them. It could prove to be that it is you who is missing out.

    Your example of theft doesn’t apply. Someone stealing what you have should bother you. Someone enjoying listening to something you despise shouldn’t bother you at all unless they attempt to force you to listen as well.

  57. If you are a contemporary composer, you can’t call yourself “classical” unless there is a clear stylistic link to an earlier era. If your goal is to rewrite the rules, or throw the “old order” on its head, there is nothing classical about it.

  58. DAV, Luis: Why do you keep bringing ‘taste’ and ‘feelings’ back in to this?

    If we relied on arguments like yours then no digital cameras or computer software would ever have working face detection algorithms.. Luis would have convinced the project manager that faces are a subjective transient non-entity, and DAV would have chirped in that no algorithm has the right to classify something as a face or not a face.

    🙂

  59. I think some might be arguing over the wrong issue. Some commenters feel that since you or I or no one else can effectively define “good music” then it doesn’t exist and it is all in the mind of the beholder. However there is clearly some music that appeals to people, the majority of people. Where other music appeals to very few people. Something can indeed be “true” but not be provably true. In some respects it is like beauty. Some women are beautiful and some are not and independently most men upon seeing them would be in agreement. The “beauty” of one musical piece over another is only provable by the fact that many/most people like it.

  60. Classical musicians are their own worst enemies. They are forever scavenging for obscure third rate pieces by two hundred year old composers, which they play or promote to further their perceived street cred. It’s all very silly and primarily about snobbery. The problem with this sort of classical music is that it’s boring, so the general public don’t like listening to it.

    But the public does love entertaining classical music; the Star Wars theme or the Lord of the Rings, as examples. Or in other words, “commercial” classical music. Most classical musicians turn their noses up at this sort of thing. They don’t want to make what they do too accessible to the unwashed.

  61. No kings to entertain, no nobility for write for, no God to praise, no lay audience to inspire.

    Furthermore, less and less people are spending less on music (if at all) and it seems most classical artists are subsidized by the public purse one way or another.

    This is likely to have an effect on the quality and originality of new material. Talents from yesteryear may not be draw to the field today.

    Simply put, you get what you pay for.

  62. Will,

    DAV, Luis: Why do you keep bringing ‘taste’ and ‘feelings’ back in to this?

    Because it is nothing more than a matter of taste.
    http://www.musicaltaste.com/

    “Feeling” is one of the criteria used to form my opinion (the most important one).

    Why do you find it so hard to understand there are no objective measures for how a person relates to music and just because there are none does not imply that there are no objective measures for anything else?

    GWTW,

    “However there is clearly some music that appeals to people, the majority of people.”

    That’s called “popular” music. Something Matt doesn’t agree with. At least the current version. Note that what is “popular” changes implying non-objective criteria. How many #1 Billboard hits do you buy?

    “In some respects it is like beauty. Some women are beautiful and some are not and independently most men upon seeing them would be in agreement.”

    And yet, the current Miss America would likely not even have been given a second glance in the Middle Ages except perhaps as an oddity. How many catcalls would the woman in the Mona Lisa be given if she were walking passed a construction site on Broadway?

    I saw a documentary once about a South Pacific island and somehow the topic of sexual attractiveness came up. The island native said the foreign women “looked and smelled” funny implying they were near the bottom of his list.

    It’s more fluid than you think.

  63. DAV, Luis: Why do you keep bringing ‘taste’ and ‘feelings’ back in to this?

    If we relied on arguments like yours then no digital cameras or computer software would ever have working face detection algorithms.. Luis would have convinced the project manager that faces are a subjective transient non-entity, and DAV would have chirped in that no algorithm has the right to classify something as a face or not a face.

    Will, did you pay any zilch of attention to what I actually said? Where was your brain concentrated on when I said this:

    I mean, why would I believe in a physicist if I don’t understand him? Well, because in that case, I have circumstancial evidence of his abilities: his ability to predict observational data and build otherwise magical things (like computers and stuff). So if an objectivist is saying he can define music in an objective measurable way, I want this kind of circumstancial evidence from him too.

    hmi,

    There is no ‘empirical’ study, nor is one needed. Observation demonstrates quite adequately that the supposed ‘different for everyone’ turns out to be a remarkably short list of characteristics, no matter what universal you are exploring. This is a function of human nature—not social constructs or cultural traits.

    What is the difference between “Empirical study” and “observation demonstrates”? I’m having a hard time taking this paragraph seriously. On one hand you say that empirically this is the case, otoh, you say you need no empirical studies to say what “empirically is the case”. Right.

    Your skepticism is perfectly irrelevant to the question of the existence of either such people (let us call them ‘Platonic philosophers’) or of moral or aesthetic absolutes.

    I really couldn’t care less about the “Real” existence of these people. I don’t work with metaphysical possibilities. I care about the empirically testable argument that some people can produce this type of knowledge. And that one is lacking.

    It seems you are arguing that the only type of claim we can effectively accept as genuine knowledge is what is called “scientific.” But there is, of course, no scientific grounds for the preference for that sort of knowledge, nor is there any scientific ground for declaring a preference for the measurable and the predictive.

    No “scientific grounds” are required. Merely the common sense observation that this knowledge has produced non-trivial results. Like computers and atom bombs. These are circumstancial evidence that these methods work. Had these scientists merely produced armchair “knowledge” about the universe without any kind of external evidence that this was in fact so, I’d be equally skeptical of it.

    Instead, there is discursive understanding of phenomena that are not human constructs, although the road to understanding them starts from reflection on what we see around us. Now, you may not believe that this enterprise is either possible or likely to succeed, but as I said earlier, you cannot possibly know that—your skepticism is literally unwarranted.

    Wrong path. My skepticism is perfectly warranted given that anyone can create their own amount of talkative gibberish about metaphysics and other unempirical truths without any actual empirical feedback to set them straight. Without this “straightening out”, these “theories” just go out everywhere they can possibly go. So, it’s not enough to “start” empirically. You must always calibrate your beliefs with this feedback, and it all comes down to how well you predict future observations.

    GoneWithTheWind ,

    I have no issue on how you frame the issue ;).

  64. What I find interesting about all this objective – subjective divide is that whenever it helps mr Briggs’ (and others) ideologies, they are all out on their subjective arguments.

    For instance, if the objective (ar ar) is to dismiss public healthcare, then an hardcore philosophical argument is put that the meaning of health is ultimately subjective and personal (who will tell me that being able to run at X speed is healthy if I deem it not to be?), with extremely insightful and sharp reason. I really am impressed at the performance of those arguments, for they are really good, and they almost get me around in the subject of public vs private healthcare. However, there’s a disconnect when stuff like music is mentioned.

    And I find that extraordinarily odd, that Health may be considered ultimately subjective and personal while Music is “obviously” objectively good or bad! What kind of lobotomy one has to self-perform to reach both these conclusions? I really wonder!

  65. Interesting discussion regarding the ability to objectively and subjectively judge music. At the extreme, I believe it is possible to say some music is objectively “better” than other music. For example, Mozart >>> Bieber.

    But beyond the extremes, it is definitely subjective. What objective criteria can be used to compare, let’s say, Santana’s Europa and Brubek’s Take Five or Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Tamacun , or even Cole Porter’s <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUyYQbgmhJk&quot; Begin the Bequine ?

    As to Briggs original post, all I can envision is the Grinch staring down at Whoville and going Harumph. That is just so Yesterday .

  66. Thank you Tom for correcting my mistake. But you weren’t objective in your critcism and instead were subjective. I did indeed mean effectively

    Dav: I think you drank the coolaid in trying to discredit what should be an obvious given, i.e. that most men would judge a pretty woman to be pretty and a unattractive woman to be unattractive. While it could be true that someone somewhere would find Miss America “unattractive” I think that reflects a personal and possibly genetic problem in that individual and not a legitimate criticism of Miss America. It all goes back to my point which is NOT that EVERYONE agrees on beauty or music but that the majority by agreeing define what is good. You can argue and disagree until you are blue in the face but the simple fact remains that if a clear majority of people like a piece of music then there is something about that music that is good.

  67. While it could be true that someone somewhere would find Miss America “unattractive” I think that reflects a personal and possibly genetic problem in that individual and not a legitimate criticism of Miss America.

    And who is exactly going to measure this “defectiveness” on your genes? As far as I know, genes are molecules, they don’t come with labels stating “This one is defective” “this one is A-okay”. Are you going to say that we will measure beauty by “majority” and declare the minority as defective?

    I’ve heard similar claims by the eugenicists. And I’m going to shut up right now before I rightfully commit a Godwin sin.

  68. Luis: Oh the hypocrisy. Your physics example was an appeal to authority– Google procedural music generation if you want to go down that road.

    The question I posed to you was not “has somebody created a musical yardstick”. I asked you if it’s possible that one could exist. I asked, specifically, if there is a difference between sound and music. You refuse to answer the question, or at least insist on arguing against any interpretation of the half answers you give.

    DAV: I am asking a simple question: is there a difference between music and sound. You’re avoiding answering the question.

    I’m so glad neither of you works for Websters. I can imagine a dictionary 79,000,000,000,000 pages long that manages to avoid a single definition. 😉

  69. The question I posed to you was not “has somebody created a musical yardstick”. I asked you if it’s possible that one could exist.

    I am not in the position to claim either positively or negatively. I know enough to know I don’t know enough to answer that. And I’m eerily annoyed by those who constantly think they can answer this question a priori, as if armchair handwaving is sufficient to prove beauty “exists per se” out there in the world, and furthermore that one is “deficient” if not recognizing certain beauties that, for example, the majority does.

    I asked, specifically, if there is a difference between sound and music.

    And I answered you (namely that I do have very strong opinions on what is sound and what is music for me). That you constantly deny that I do answer your questions is getting really annoying and in bad manners from your part. I have small patience when I feel I am talking to a spambotting wall.

  70. the majority by agreeing define what is good

    GWTW, by extension, then they also define what is not. All it takes is a >50% vote. If your personal definition varies from the crowd does that mean you (and the minority) are defective — genetically or otherwise?

  71. It would mean that mr Briggs is suffering from brain damage.

    Kinda confirming my lobotomy thesis…

  72. The saddest thing about this post is that its author lives an urban, apartment based existence, and cannot exhort us to get off his lawn.

  73. Will,

    DAV: I am asking a simple question: is there a difference between music and sound. You’re avoiding answering the question.

    You might want to clarify that question. Does it mean:

    1) music implies sound? To me, Yes.
    2) does sound imply music? To me, No.
    3) Are (1) and (2) universally agreed upon? I don’t think so, see the Cage example, for instance although the sound from the audience (vs. the orchestra) was his likely goal.

    BTW: You never really posed the question that you wanted answered. You did however state your own belief: I am claiming that all music is sound, but not all sound is music. You seem to be claiming that all music is sound, and all sound is music.

    Why should my personal definition matter to you? It has no bearing on establishing objective criteria if only because it’s an opinion. Opinions are synonymous with tastes in this context and tastes vary. I’ve said that more than once.

  74. @Luis

    <>
    I apologize if I misunderstood your call for “data from this empirical study you are implying the existence of” as a demand for a rigorous scientific study in the modern sense. Does this mean you accept my observation that the standards of beauty and ugliness are not so divergent as to justify calling them “different for everyone”?

    <>
    <>

    So, ‘cognizable by me’ is your standard for interest in and/or acknowledgment of the existence of knowledge superior to your own. You brush aside something you call “metaphysical possibilities,” in favor of “empirically testable argument that some people can produce this type of knowledge.” Again, this is tantamount to declaring that the only sort of thing that qualifies as “knowledge” is that which is measurable, i.e. physical. How is it possible, then, to defend anything as just or unjust, good or evil, unless you have some empirical test? Have you decided that these also are mere metaphysical possibilities, entirely subjective matters, and so you cannot work with such unfounded and ungroundable conjectures (and thus indefensible)? My preference for sex with 8-year-olds is as good as your preference for cannibalism, as there is no empirical ground on which to judge preference?

    <>
    <>

    How is it you separate trivial from non-trivial, or separate common sense from extravagant error? Is a 51% possibility that a drug will have a desired effect, “non-trivial”? How about 10%? 1%? I know that I can induce laughter in 4-year-olds by contorting my face; is this non-trivial? On what basis?
    Common sense tells me that something must be either a particle or a wave. But you produce a strange apparatus, claim that you have fired invisible particles through some slots, and then that your mathematical calculations yield paradoxical results that I must accept, no matter what “common sense” tells me? How is it that your notion of “common sense” got to be the standard?
    Your decision that something called science is the model for understanding based on the claim that “these methods work” is problematic, as any number of technologies have come into existence without any need for method beyond a kind of trial-and-error, even if based on complete theoretical nonsense. On my shelves I have an old treatise on metallurgy that advises tempering steel using the urine “of a small boy or of a goat.” I’m pretty sure either will ‘work.’ Repeatedly. Reliably.
    I have no interest in talking down science, only to point out that it offers an extremely limited sort of knowledge and that not everything that is knowable is known through measurable phenomena that can yield statistically predictive results. The knowledge that forms the basis of effective teaching, of statesmanship, of psychological counseling, i.e., prudential knowledge, is not amenable to scientific capture, and that is not merely because there are too many data points and branchings. The knowledge of right and wrong is even less amenable to these methods. For instance, if I ask Science whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, Science will have no scientific answer for me. Is there a scientific answer to the question of whether its practitioners should or should not simply stand by taking notes while watching experimental subjects die of syphilis (said subjects being under the mistaken impression that they were being treated for their illness)? What branch of knowledge will you apply to for guidance in this matter? Or do you maintain that there is no genuine guidance to be had?

    <<HMI: Instead, there is discursive understanding of phenomena that are not human constructs, although the road to understanding them starts from reflection on what we see around us. Now, you may not believe that this enterprise is either possible or likely to succeed, but as I said earlier, you cannot possibly know that—your skepticism is literally unwarranted.
    <>

    I submit that you don’t know enough about metaphysics to conclude that it is all gibberish drawn out of a hat and independent of any confirmation. Let me suggest that a careful reading of Aristotle’s Analytics and then his Metaphysics might disabuse you of that notion. You will probably be very surprised to discover that he insists on beginning from trying to figure out what language and logic can and cannot do, and then to proceed from what we see around us. In this regard, he originated the philosophic method called empeirikos, or experiential. However, the facts do not ‘speak for themselves.’ So, the “straightening out” takes place through dialectic, discursive examination. Your suspicion of metaphysics is, to repeat, literally unwarranted.

  75. REPOSTING: I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT ANYTHING IN ANGLE BRACKETS WOULD DISAPPEAR. MY BAD.

    **L: What is the difference between “Empirical study” and “observation demonstrates”? I’m having a hard time taking this paragraph seriously. On one hand you say that empirically this is the case, otoh, you say you need no empirical studies to say what “empirically is the case”. Right.**
    I apologize if I misunderstood your call for “data from this empirical study you are implying the existence of” as a demand for a rigorous scientific study in the modern sense. Does this mean you accept my observation that the standards of beauty and ugliness are not so divergent as to justify calling them “different for everyone”?

    **HMI: Your skepticism is perfectly irrelevant to the question of the existence of either such people (let us call them ‘Platonic philosophers’) or of moral or aesthetic absolutes.**
    **L: I really couldn’t care less about the “Real” existence of these people. I don’t work with metaphysical possibilities. I care about the empirically testable argument that some people can produce this type of knowledge. And that one is lacking.**
    So, ‘cognizable by me’ is your standard for interest in and/or acknowledgment of the existence of knowledge superior to your own. You brush aside something you call “metaphysical possibilities,” in favor of “empirically testable argument that some people can produce this type of knowledge.” Again, this is tantamount to declaring that the only sort of thing that qualifies as “knowledge” is that which is measurable, i.e. physical. How is it possible, then, to defend anything as just or unjust, good or evil, unless you have some empirical test? Have you decided that these also are mere metaphysical possibilities, entirely subjective matters, and so you cannot work with such unfounded and ungroundable conjectures (and thus indefensible)? My preference for sex with 8-year-olds is as good as your preference for cannibalism, as there is no empirical ground on which to judge preference?

    **HMI: It seems you are arguing that the only type of claim we can effectively accept as genuine knowledge is what is called “scientific.” But there is, of course, no scientific grounds for the preference for that sort of knowledge, nor is there any scientific ground for declaring a preference for the measurable and the predictive.**
    **L: No “scientific grounds” are required. Merely the common sense observation that this knowledge has produced non-trivial results. Like computers and atom bombs. These are circumstancial evidence that these methods work. Had these scientists merely produced armchair “knowledge” about the universe without any kind of external evidence that this was in fact so, I’d be equally skeptical of it.**
    How is it you separate trivial from non-trivial, or separate common sense from extravagant error? Is a 51% possibility that a drug will have a desired effect, “non-trivial”? How about 10%? 1%? I know that I can induce laughter in 4-year-olds by contorting my face; is this non-trivial? On what basis?
    Common sense tells me that something must be either a particle or a wave. But you produce a strange apparatus, claim that you have fired invisible particles through some slots, and then that your mathematical calculations yield paradoxical results that I must accept, no matter what “common sense” tells me? How is it that your notion of “common sense” got to be the standard?
    Your decision that something called science is the model for understanding based on the claim that “these methods work” is problematic, as any number of technologies have come into existence without any need for method beyond a kind of trial-and-error, even if based on complete theoretical nonsense. On my shelves I have an old treatise on metallurgy that advises tempering steel using the urine “of a small boy or of a goat.” I’m pretty sure either will ‘work.’ Repeatedly. Reliably.
    I have no interest in talking down science, only to point out that it offers an extremely limited sort of knowledge and that not everything that is knowable is known through measurable phenomena that can yield statistically predictive results. The knowledge that forms the basis of effective teaching, of statesmanship, of psychological counseling, i.e., prudential knowledge, is not amenable to scientific capture, and that is not merely because there are too many data points and branchings. The knowledge of right and wrong is even less amenable to these methods. For instance, if I ask Science whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, Science will have no scientific answer for me. Is there a scientific answer to the question of whether its practitioners should or should not simply stand by taking notes while watching experimental subjects die of syphilis (said subjects being under the mistaken impression that they were being treated for their illness)? What branch of knowledge will you apply to for guidance in this matter? Or do you maintain that there is no genuine guidance to be had?

    **HMI: Instead, there is discursive understanding of phenomena that are not human constructs, although the road to understanding them starts from reflection on what we see around us. Now, you may not believe that this enterprise is either possible or likely to succeed, but as I said earlier, you cannot possibly know that—your skepticism is literally unwarranted.
    **L: Wrong path. My skepticism is perfectly warranted given that anyone can create their own amount of talkative gibberish about metaphysics and other unempirical truths without any actual empirical feedback to set them straight. Without this “straightening out”, these “theories” just go out everywhere they can possibly go. So, it’s not enough to “start” empirically. You must always calibrate your beliefs with this feedback, and it all comes down to how well you predict future observations.**

    I submit that you don’t know enough about metaphysics to conclude that it is all gibberish drawn out of a hat and independent of any confirmation. Let me suggest that a careful reading of Aristotle’s Analytics and then his Metaphysics might disabuse you of that notion. You will probably be very surprised to discover that he insists on beginning from trying to figure out what language and logic can and cannot do, and then to proceed from what we see around us. In this regard, he originated the philosophic method called empeirikos, or experiential. However, the facts do not ‘speak for themselves.’ So, the “straightening out” takes place through dialectic, discursive examination. Your suspicion of metaphysics is, to repeat, literally unwarranted.

  76. It is entirely possible for Adam to look at Betsy and agree that she is beautiful without feeling the least bit of attraction to her. It is just that some folks confuse their own tastes in beauty with beauty as such.

    As for music, the criteria are simple once we have rejoined art with artisan rather than with intellectual. The complexity and subtlety of the work, the mastery of technique, and perhaps most important is the criteria suggested by Lukacs for painting: how easy the work is for a hack to imitate.

    This has nothing to do with whether Adam or Betsy “enjoys” the work. “Better” ≠ “I enjoyed it.” For one thing, everyone enjoys cotton candy now and then without mistaking it for a nourishing breakfast. And you can dance to a tune that has a good beat without supposing it to be a fine example of musical craftsmanship.

  77. “The way you cooked that was much better than the way mom cooked it but I didn’t enjoy it.” Won’t get you too many points on the home front. Substitute [sang, composed, played] for [cooked] and [X] for [mom] might work with your other half but I think most artisans would consider it an insult.

    Analyzing your example: “Better” ≠ “I enjoyed it.” then cotton candy … without mistaking it for a nourishing breakfast

    To complete your analogy: I’m guessing cotton candy=enjoyed then it follows that nourishing breakfast must be better but unenjoyable since “Better” ≠ “I enjoyed it.”

    That kinda implies the breakfast is “better” because of some other criteria like: it’s good for you in the long run. That doesn’t apply to music does it? X is “better” music because it’s good for you even if you don’t enjoy it.

    Are you serious?

    how easy the work is for a hack to imitate.

    Does that mean a detailed photograph is a better work of art than a painting? Or does it mean a photograph is a poor work of art since anyone with a camera might be able to duplicate it?

  78. Dav I hope you didn”t hurt yourself bending over backwards to argue the unarguable. Yes indeed “if a clear majority of people like a piece of music then there is something about that music that is good”. How can you disagree with that? Wait, I know the answer; you are a lonely, unhappy,couch potato living in your parents basement and your only pleasure in life is to disagree with anyone/everyone on the internet.

  79. GWTW,
    Have you been talking to my mom again?
    You do need a better analogy.

    I’m curious, what is the definition of “clear majority”?
    How do you know you’ve reached it?
    Is it related in any way to “significance”?

    Is this a one-way determination? What if a “clear majority” think a piece of music sucks? What then?
    Are you claiming that the Billboard charts are accurate portrayals of what is good?

  80. To complete your analogy: I’m guessing cotton candy=enjoyed then it follows that nourishing breakfast must be better but unenjoyable since “Better” ≠ “I enjoyed it.”

    You had trouble with set theory in school, right? If set A≠B, it is still possible that A∩B>Ø

    X is “better” music because it’s good for you even if you don’t enjoy it. Are you serious?

    It’s not necessary to misrepresent an argument in order to debate it. I never said anything about music being “good for you.” Although I certainly benefited from listening to classical works in high school, despite not at first enjoying them. As has been noted about Renaissance art, people have to learn to see perspective in a two-dimensional painting. Similarly, one can learn to listen to Western style polyphonic music even when raised on an aural diet of ragas. And vice versa. One may learn to “hear” ragas even though raised with polyphony. At that point one may judge that this raga is better than that; or this symphony is better than that.

    But the point remains that one may or may not enjoy music that is objectively better than that to which one listens. I enjoy some pulp fiction; but I don’t suppose it’s better than Huckleberry Finn.

    + + +
    how easy the work is for a hack to imitate.

    Does that mean a detailed photograph is a better work of art than a painting? Or does it mean a photograph is a poor work of art since anyone with a camera might be able to duplicate it?

    I defy “anyone with a camera” to duplicate the work of a great photographic artist. There’s more to it than a camera. Similarly, no one with a camera could duplicate the ceiling frescoes at Melk Abbey or the Doge’s Palace, which from the proper viewing position appear three dimensional.

    But you could make an argument that Durer’s Portrait of a Young Hare is better art than a photograph of a young hare, simply by replacing “art” with “artisanship.” It takes more craft to paint a hare than to photograph one. In the latter case, the hare is doing most of the work.

  81. Dav; All good points!

    Naw! I was just kidding. you are still just throwing “stuff” against the wall hoping something will stick. Being arguementative for the sake of arguing. Think about what I said and not what you can throw out there to refute it. It was a simple statement and one that was intuitively true: “if a clear majority of people like a piece of music then there is something about that music that is good”. It’s pretty hard to argue with that. I don’t think I overstated it or said anything that wasn’t obvious to everyone.

  82. Analogy: a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based

    You said the following two things apparently intending (B) to be an example of (A)
    A) “Better” ≠ “I enjoyed it.”
    B) enjoy cotton candy … without mistaking it for a nourishing breakfast

    If you meant: “cotton candy [enjoyed] … nourishing breakfast [enjoyed and presumably better than cotton candy]” then where’s the similarity between (A) and (B) that is the basis for comparison? So I assumed you intended “not enjoyed” for the breakfast.

    If you didn’t intend (B) as analogous to (A) then the two statements together amount to:
    apples compared to oranges

    But perhaps you meant: enjoyment should not be the criterion for “better” — or at least not the only one. Well then, maybe.

    My guess at the criterion for “nourishing breakfast” being “better than cotton candy” was because the only thing I could see that makes the breakfast “better” was the “nourishing” part. In my mind that’s tantamount to say it’s “good for you”. There isn’t anything comparable to that in music or is there?

    I tend to view “better” and “best” from a systems engineering viewpoint where they mean how well a solution matches the requirements. I see “nourishing” as a desideratum vs. requirement. IOW: a nice to have but not necessary. If it is a requirement then the cotton candy should be rejected. If it’s not required then it’s not part of the definition. The only time a “want” makes a solution “better” is after all requirements have been met.

    Frankly, I can’t see “enjoy” missing from the list of requirements for what I would consider to be music although I admit what someone else calls music could be something I don’t enjoy. Like Matt, I would tend to call it noise.

    “I defy ‘anyone with a camera’ to duplicate the work of a great photographic artist.”

    Well maybe not anyone but duplicating a photograph is not as hard as duplicating a painting. Perhaps not the best argument but … well, never mind. I’ll grant you the point.

  83. GWTW,

    Glad you enjoyed them. Still …

    The corollary would be that a “clear majority” panning something would mean there’s little good in the thing panned. So, I asked:

    What if a “clear majority” think a piece of music sucks? What then?

    Most of the listeners causing single digit Billboard rankings would likely pan classical and jazz which others might consider “good” or “better”. The Billboard 200 songs for the week of May 26, 2012 (http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100#/charts/billboard-200?chartDate=2012-05-26) don’t have classical or jazz in the top 10 nor does the Billboard 100 from 2009 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hot_100_number-one_singles_of_2009_%28U.S.%29) nor the 2010 charts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hot_100_number-one_singles_of_2010_%28U.S.%29). The recording industry tends to put most of its money in the top chart positions so it would seem their definition of “clear majority” is where the money is. That lead me to ask:

    I’m curious, what is the definition of “clear majority”? (and I meant your definition)
    How do you know you’ve reached it? (what would you use to determine it)

    Care to answer? Should be easy if it’s obvious.

  84. I apologize if I misunderstood your call for “data from this empirical study you are implying the existence of” as a demand for a rigorous scientific study in the modern sense. Does this mean you accept my observation that the standards of beauty and ugliness are not so divergent as to justify calling them “different for everyone”?

    hmi,

    You’re under a huge misaprehension here. Your trouble with your previous paragraph and this one is that you fervently believe there’s some kind of metaphysical difference between a “rigorous scientific study in the modern sense” and sharp observation. There ain’t any. The only difference between the two is the rigor of the scientific one, just like the difference between measuring with your eyes and with a ruler.

    Now that you speak of “standards of beauty”, I’d ask which ones are you referring to? The popstar ones? The fashion magazine ones? The ones “in my neighborhood”? Every each one of these? Well, I honestly do not know. I do know that culture is becoming flatter, that means, is becoming less and less heterogeneous, more homogeneous. TV’s and media in general to blame.

    I do not see “consensus” as evidence of an absolute truth. Every “climate skeptic” should be intuitively aware of this issue, apparently not.

    So, ‘cognizable by me’ is your standard for interest in and/or acknowledgment of the existence of knowledge superior to your own. You brush aside something you call “metaphysical possibilities,” in favor of “empirically testable argument that some people can produce this type of knowledge.” Again, this is tantamount to declaring that the only sort of thing that qualifies as “knowledge” is that which is measurable, i.e. physical. How is it possible, then, to defend anything as just or unjust, good or evil, unless you have some empirical test? Have you decided that these also are mere metaphysical possibilities, entirely subjective matters, and so you cannot work with such unfounded and ungroundable conjectures (and thus indefensible)? My preference for sex with 8-year-olds is as good as your preference for cannibalism, as there is no empirical ground on which to judge preference?

    First, no, “cognizable by me” is the only standard of acknowledgment that I can hang on to if I am to be honest with myself. Of course, I can also decide to trust people even though I lack evidence for what they are saying. That’s called “faith”. Others may call it gullibility. I do it everyday with the people I trust. But in all those cases I know that I am doing that, and that I’m not doing philosophy or trying to come up with any absolute general rule, law or truth.

    Second, you confuse “knowledgment” with “morality”. One is descriptive, the other is prescriptive. They are separate. Is-Ought, etc. Now, one does change one’s moralities given their observations. For instance, the way I infer torture is “bad” is because I am able to observe that it induces awful levels of pain with little upside (most information gathered in torture is “bad information”). Rape is bad because it induces an awful level of pain throughout different scales of time (when it happens and afterwards, etc.). Exercise is good because despite the pain it induces, it also induces better shape, a sense of accomplishment and a mental reset that feels very good. ETC.

    Third, you may well think that raping a child is a good thing for you. I cannot deny this. What I can deny is your right to do so and leave unscathed, for I do not think this is a good thing. So if I see you doing this, and if we were to find each other inside a legal vaccuum, I’d probably beat you pretty hard with disgust and anger.

    How is it you separate trivial from non-trivial, or separate common sense from extravagant error? Is a 51% possibility that a drug will have a desired effect, “non-trivial”? How about 10%? 1%? I know that I can induce laughter in 4-year-olds by contorting my face; is this non-trivial? On what basis?

    The basis depends upon your purposes. And the rigor you demand depends upon the “seriousness” of the issue. So if you tell me to burn my house, you’d better come up with a very believable account on why I should do so.

    Common sense tells me that something must be either a particle or a wave. But you produce a strange apparatus, claim that you have fired invisible particles through some slots, and then that your mathematical calculations yield paradoxical results that I must accept, no matter what “common sense” tells me? How is it that your notion of “common sense” got to be the standard?

    It hasn’t and it isn’t. Welcome to relativism.

    Less funnily, it degrades from common sense. Common sense dictated well before that we should trust empiricism. But empiricism showed us a strange experiment called “double-slit”. Common sense that dictated that either elements “should be” (I’d rather call that armchair handwaving than “common sense” but whatever) waves or particles (not both) was falsified by the experiment. Clearly, they could and should be seen as both at the same time.

    I submit that you don’t know enough about metaphysics to conclude that it is all gibberish drawn out of a hat and independent of any confirmation. Let me suggest that a careful reading of Aristotle’s Analytics and then his Metaphysics might disabuse you of that notion.

    I admit all that, and that my definition of “metaphysics” may be well different than what you have in mind. What I mean by metaphysics is not simply what some long-time philosopher decided to write after his “physics” treatise (thus calling it meta-physics).

  85. Luis: you have converted me to relativism. I finally understand you. Your words, in having no absolute meaning, convey both everything and nothing. Will you marry my daughter and sire me a few Luis Diasesque grandchildren? I absolutely do not mean what I said, just like you!

    The next time the tax man comes knocking I’m going to insist that paying him is impossible since we can never know the relative value of what he asks for.

    It’s all so GWBasic now..

    01 REM Luis Dias model v1.0 (c) Will
    10 Im so unsure about everything now, even relativism, that I’m absolutely sure about nothing.
    20 Being a relativist, I can’t be absolute about anything (even nothing, which may or may not be a thing), so that means I can’t be absolutely unsure of everything.
    30 That makes me absolutely sure of something, which I cant be because I’m a relativist!
    40: GOTO 10

  86. Luis
    I’ll skip everything else and go right to the heart: “you confuse “knowledgment” with “morality”. One is descriptive, the other is prescriptive. They are separate. Is-Ought, etc. Now, one does change one’s moralities given their observations. For instance, the way I infer torture is “bad” is because I am able to observe that it induces awful levels of pain with little upside (most information gathered in torture is “bad information”). Rape is bad because it induces an awful level of pain throughout different scales of time (when it happens and afterwards, etc.). Exercise is good because despite the pain it induces, it also induces better shape, a sense of accomplishment and a mental reset that feels very good. ETC.

    Third, you may well think that raping a child is a good thing for you. I cannot deny this. What I can deny is your right to do so and leave unscathed, for I do not think this is a good thing.”

    What on earth makes you think that the so-called Is and Ought are separated by any gulf whatsoever? Kant was driven to this thought after a monumental and monumentally complicated study to see if he could “save the phenomenae,” but unless you wish to tell me that you have decided, after having reproduced such studies and then studied and rejected all the complex criticism subsequently produced by Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger and phenomenology in general, well, I think I’m going to say that you are simply repeating something you’ve been told, but which you yourself could not explain.

    For the rest, I will just note that your rejection of torture because it produces unreliable information is merely a call for more effective forms of torture that can be scientifically shown to produce reliable information. There is only your unfounded preference for absence of pain that leads you to oppose that or rape or sex with children, but then no *moral* reason why I shouldn’t do these things—especially if I can develop better Rohypnol-type pharmaceuticals, so that I can avoid either giving pain or leaving behind any memory of the event. This seems to me like base nonsense and moral abdication, but clearly YMMD.

  87. Will, I have a different response to parts of your earlier post to Luis:

    Luis: Your relativism has turned on you and made you an absolutist.

    From what you wrote above it seems as though your only criteria for a sound being music is that any person does, or could, call the sound music. You have defined music, in absolutist terms, as being any sound.

    The only interesting thing to me about the question “is it art?” is that, for reasons I don’t understand, it matters to other people. Whether it is applied to art, music or any other of the arts I regard it as being inconsequential. There are obvious benefits in distinguishing between potatoes and carrots or abelian and non-abelian groups but what benefit is there is in distinguishing between art and non-art?

    Nevertheless, it is true that certain things are trivially not examples of particular arts. E.g. I like think it can be stated uncontroversially that a potato is not music because, regardless of how or whether we choose to define music, I think it is universally agreed that music consists only of sounds and silences.

    To avoid the possibility of meaningless (to me) “is it art?”-type discussions my working definition of music is therefore “any arrangements of sounds and/or silences that someone chooses to regard as music or present as music”, and I define art and literature analogously. This is not an absolutist definition but an “inclusivist” one as the following example illustrates.

    When I was younger, and more musically receptive, I was not unknown to listen to birdsong or the sound of washing machines or other mechanical devices as if I were listening to music, experiencing it in a somewhat musical way. I do not generally call such things music, since I prefer to apply some further criteria before labelling something as music of my own volition. If, however, someone else calls it music then I am happy to call it music, since the distinction is unimportant to me.

    If you accept music is a thing, separate or not from the human condition, then you have to accept that something makes it different than non-music sound. Where there is a difference, there is a measurement.

    The vast majority of people share, to varying degrees but in somewhat similar ways, a natural ability to recognise, follow and respond emotionally to rhythm, melody, harmony and timbre etc. For many people this is greatly affected by their cultural background and their previous experience of listening to and/or playing music.

    Occasionally one’s experience of a piece of music can be affected dramatically and instantly simply as a result of being presented with a new way of thinking about it and perceiving it. My favourite example is someone for whom I played on my hi-fi Neon Lights by Kraftwerk. She didn’t find it unpleasant but it obviously had little emotional effect on her. I then explained how, to me, its synaesthetic effect was important and how the various parts of the piece achieved their emotional effect on me. Intrigued, she listened to it again, and this time she was so overcome with emotion that she cried.

    Re “where there is a difference, there is a measurement” I have little doubt that all sorts of computer programs could be devised that would rank music by various means such that Beethoven was usually near the top and washings machines were usually near the bottom. They might be objective measures of arbitrarily defined things or probabilistic predictors of (e.g.) the average person’s musical preferences but I can conceive of no legitimate step that would allow one to describe such a measure as a measure of absolute musical quality.

    On the other hand, if one insists that there is even in principle some objective measure of musical worth then one must also accept that, in principle, a non-sentient computer program could be devised whose powers of musical discernment is greater than or equal to that of any human.

    “The Mona Lisa is a painting. You would seem to agree. My pillow is not a painting, despite it also being a material that reflects light. I know of nobody (this might be the last time I can say that) who would say my sock is a painting. If there is a difference between painting and non-painting, why not a difference between music and non-music?”

    From what I’ve written above it will probably be no surprise to you that if someone exhibited socks – or for that matter windows covered in bird droppings – as visual art then I would regard them as visual art by virtue of their having been presented as visual art. But that doesn’t mean I would wish to visit either exhibition…

  88. To clarify my above post, I hope it is obvious that it is more a response, triggered by Will’s post, than a reply. E.g. I don’t mean to suggest that Will would necessarily have described my definition of music as absolutist but I have nevertheless defended my definition against such a description.

  89. “What if a “clear majority” think a piece of music sucks? What then?”

    Then there is something about that music that is not good.

  90. Finally, sorry for all the typos. I tried my best to catch them but unfortunately I tend to want to contribute to blogs etc. when my insomnia is at its worst, and it’s hard to proof read when you keep passing out for a few moments at a time!

  91. Jeremy Das: in accepting that music is what anyone thinks it is, and that some people define all sound (even the absence of sound) as music, then you have accepted that music is nothing.

    This is a logical argument, has nothing to do with taste, and you can swap “music” with “set A”. You can write my argument in the programming language of your choice and you will get the answer I just described.

    Luis and DAV can quibble about this because they would likely argue that math and sets are undefinable pseudo entities with no concrete definition. Of course I disagree.

    Just because someone says “x=y” doesn’t make it so. 🙂 that’s my opinion anyway.

  92. Will, “…in accepting that music is what anyone thinks it is, and that some people define all sound (even the absence of sound) as music, then you have accepted that music is nothing. “

    No: what I accept is that,
    (i) all music consists only of sounds and silences,
    (ii) there is no need for a precise definition of music,
    (iii) any precise definition of music is necessarily arbitrary,
    (iv) any claim that one piece of music is objectively better than another is necessarily subjective, since any objective measure that might be used to obtain such a result is necessarily arbitrary and
    (v) it might be possible to make objective measurements of music that give objective results, e.g. the probability that a randomly selected WEIRD person will prefer music A to music B.

    If someone describes as music something that I wouldn’t normally regard as music then I am happy to accept their statement, not because I have accepted that music is nothing but because I accept the subjectivity in and unimportance of deciding whether a particular thing is music or non music. This is a long way from accepting tha music is nothing.

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