now do you think the second movement has too many violin?

...Such disagreements grew from deeper ones over whether the art [music] was to be valued for its emotional power, its sensuousness, its manipulation of abstract forms, or its enactment of "improving" ethical values. (Harold Love, How Music Created A Public)

Dipping my toes into some pretty heavy stuff at the moment, thinking about the place of music in the space of the public sphere, and further to that the role music criticism might play. Reading Love's historical account of the very emergence of a musical public (ie. a public that exists solely because of their love for music, to play or listen, which has not always existed but is actually a fairly recent phenomenon, roughly overlapping with the eighteenth century development of the literary public sphere) and I came across this quote, in which he is talking about the elements of debate that occurred between the musical public back then, and I come to realise that the mode (for want of a better term) of music is something that has been fretted over long before I came along, in fact ever since it emerged as a relatively autonomous sphere. Because to bring it back to the personal, I've been thinking a lot lately about exactly where music fits in for me, and I find myself moving closer and closer to an aesthetic, emotional connection or conception (that in my view links up with traditionally literary criticism centred on thematic insight), no matter how hard I try to politicise, economise, socialise the whole bloody thing. I'm not sure it's a necessarily bad thing, although I would like to devise a way of rejoining the aesthetic and social that is not through the moral or the personal, if that makes sense. I guess it might come through the affective, or possibly through a renewed 'textual' analysis that posits larger things within the text itself, (to paraphrase Barbara Johnson, herself speaking for Derrida, 'when one hears (or plays), we always hear more than (or less than, or other than) one thinks').

Nevertheless, it's comforting, and also somewhat annoying (in that it hasn't been sorted out) to know that these sorts of problems have been going on since wayyy back. And of course different positions are of course themselves submerged 'ideologies' - matters of taste are always far more than just that.
Which one to choose?

emotional power


manipulation of abstract forms

enactment of 'improving' ethical values

But of course - it's not so much a question of style (music outwards) but taste (listener musicwards). And yet is this demarcation itself something worthwhile, or is it itself a kind of ideological (discursive?) operation (see Adorno's typology of listeners...)? Nevertheless, do we still tend to privilege a particular mode of listening in the everyday?

5 riffs:

Anonymous said...

Nevertheless, do we still tend to privilege a particular mode of listening in the everyday?

Assuming that the "we" in that question is meant to refer to a listening (as distinct, as far as possible, from a theorising) public, I'd say, "yes". Or at least a particular, very limited set of modes of listening. In particular, consider the prevalence of anti-reflexive modes of listening: i.e. those that refuse to reflect on how or why a particular affect is produced in the event of listening to a specific song/album/artist, etc.

BTW, here's a great paper that I think you might enjoy:

Robert Walser (2003) "Popular Music Analysis: ten apothegms and four instances", in Moore (ed.), Analyzing Popular Music; Cambridge UP.

dave said...

Plebian ahoy. I don't understand what 'manipulation of abstract forms' means in this conext. Could I request a little elaboration as to the meaning?

Lawson said...

hey dave,

i'm not entirely sure myself, but I suppose it means focussing on music that works not at the level of texture (or even sound) but rather in terms of the dynamics between structural features. Does that make sense? My use of those four recent songs was really just a tongue-in-cheek way of trying to work that out for myself. Interestingly, I found that the same song could be applied across at least one other category of evaluation...

dave said...

I think I follow you, but only if for instance stuff like surrealism and tension-and-release would fit the category? Yes, no, kinda?

I was going to comment that some music is judged on its enactment of degrading ethical values but Harold Love beat me to the punch with those little inverted commas.

It could be worthy to note that jazz listeners seem most of all to 'appreciate' the instrumental 'performances' within the given 'song'. To be honest this 'skill' kinda ideology baffles me whenever I'm exposed to it, but with the beat boxing thing a few years back and the technological loop station hooplah I guess it's gonna find ways to infiltrate ... my ... life.

Anyway, this post has obviously made me think about stuff - Thanks for that ^_^

Lawson said...

hey dave - great identification of the 'skill' ideology you've provided there, and to note its continuation into more contemporary musical forms! do you think that the mash-up fits in somewhat with this?

i think there is a certain progressiveness implied in such a privileging, as it denies the music as an 'inherent' force, rather affirming that it is always something in process/performance. but then i think this itself is also the source of its (unRomantic?) limits.