Behind the Music

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
sort of inspired by ethan's quite fuckin' contrary thread : Gut vs. Head reactions to music. If you're the type who enjoys talking and arguing about music (which presumably you are as you are here and all) - has all the talking and arguing affected the way you listen to music? Has your real visceral reaction to music been tainted by critical orthodoxy (or a rejection of critical orthodoxy)? Do you find yourself championing music you don't really enjoy (or attacking music you secretly do enjoy) only because they fit as part of a broader platform of ideas about music - some kind of over-arching theory of what's good or bad in culture?

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

This question was also semi-inspired by this (long and obsessive, but interesting) rant on chuck eddy by phil dellio:

http://www.popped.com/articles96-97/talkeddy/dellio.html

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Lester Bangs' advice to aspiring rock critics, quoted from the article above: "You gotta find some band somewhere that's maybe even got two or three albums out and might even be halfway good, but the important thing is the more arcane it is the better, it's gotta be something that absolutely nobody in the world but you and two other people (the group's manager and a member's mother) knows or cares about, and what you wanna do is TALK ABOUT THIS BUNCH OF OBSCURE NONENTITIES AND THEIR RECORD(S) LIKE THEY'RE THE HOTTEST THING IN THE HISTORY OF MUSIC! You gotta build 'em up real big, they're your babies, only you alone can perceive their true greatness, so you gotta go around telling everybody that they're better than the Rolling Stones, they beat the Beatles black and blue, they murtelyze the Dead, they're the most significant and profound musical force in the world. And someday their true greatness will be recognized and you will be vindicated as a seer far ahead of your time."

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

i used to champion hiphop more than i do now on the basis that it should be more interestingly discussed, but there's practically nothing i listen to that i haven't brought up on ilm.

ethan, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I've never had a real visceral reaction to music in my life.

Tom, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

yeah, I guess that would be the other question - is the idea of a real, visceral reaction or some kind of "honest" or "pure" reaction to art inherently phony anyway - just another critical construct?

and if this type of reaction is a myth, then what would be a more accurate description of the process you go through in deciding wheter or not you enjoy a piece of music?

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Well I was being flippant, Fritz, but it's a good question. I mean my first reaction to music is often intellectual in a kind of "what's all this then?" way - I think immediate reactions exist and are very helpful and important but separating them into 'emotional' and 'intellectual' components is unsupportable.

Tom, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I'm not trying to set up intellectual and emotional responses to music as opposites, more trying to think about how being engaged in critical debate about music affects your perceptions of it.

what interested me about Ethan's Q.F'in'.C. thread was that it was based on oppositions - that one liked x (the underdog) *more* than y (canonized fave). So in a sense x's meaning was amplified by it's relation to y. (eg the reader's reaction to "I love Felt" = that's nice. but "I like Felt more than the Beatles" = wow!). The problem with this argument is that it *needs* y to provoke the response it seeks, and even in opposing the critical canon with some metaphorical flag-burning it props the canon up by accepting the x vs. y polarity as a given. In which case, it doesn't tell me much about the listener's ideas about music or the music being discussed - it's only about the existing hierarchy of critical favourites. In essence, it's about culture broadly rather than music specifically. I quite enjoy this type of discussion and think it's completely valid (and traditional music-specific criticism is boring and/or out of my grasp) but it makes me wonder if there is another way to think/argue about music.

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

i like cinematic orchestra better than sketches of spain because i find the melodies more memorable, the overall production more appealing, and the 'complexity' of 'emotion' more affecting. i like sketches of spain very much (it's very possibly my favorite miles album) and it deserves to hold a place in whatever jazz canon, but i honestly feel the similar work done by the cinematic orchestra (on the most basic level, 'moody' jazz with dramatic strings) is something i like far more. by making the distinction it provides a personality to my rather unfounded critical decision, and so even people who haven't heard sketches of spain know the rep it has and my comments about the cinematic orchestra hold more interest. most of this canon business just ends up going back to 'origin' and 'authenticity' and 'influence' so prefering a modernized version of something shouldn't be that surprising really.

ethan, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I do like a lot of music on an intellectual level as if it's some clever maths puzzle, but many bands I 'like' - Stereolab for example - never actually move me. At a Stereolab show last year I recall thinking how clever, witty and amusing they were but only actually enjoyed one song, which, to be honest, sounded like Hawkwind in full on riff mode and was the least witty and amusing tune they did.

But that's not the best reaction to music for me - my best reaction on hearing a piece of music is confusion. Thinking 'what the hell is this???' Understanding a piece of music is great, not understanding it is better. This ties into the other recent message about 'artist worlds' to some extent as such music is often hermetically self contained, needing little understanding of influences to feel that chaotic otherness that characterises such music.

I'm not talking about 'difficult' music here. the Joe Meek produced version of 'Please Stay' by the Cryan Shames is much more typical (actually thats a thought, did I read on here once somebody mention that you could only appreciate Joe Meek on an intellectual level? I'd argue the opposite... apologies if I misquote).

Neither am I talking about being wrong-footed by some wild free jazz formlessness - though I'm not excluding that either - the Birthday Party / Laughing Clowns gig I saw was special because of the white knuckle loss of control I felt listening to it, I didn't think much about the bands interesting use of Faulkner's Southern Gothic motifs. I'd also include the Young Marble Giants live for that same loss of control, the hypnotic feeling of slipping into something and being powerless to stop it.

The first time I saw Public Enemy I felt like this, the second time I saw them I didn't, though they were probably more coherent and articulate. I can think of many more examples from all genres of music and from all levels of popularity and critical approval - so I don't think there is much reaction to other folks opinions, its often live performances, but sometimes its hearing a recording for the first time too.

Such a reaction can depend on all sort of things, what sort of day I've had, how much beer I've drank... whatever. I'm a terrible man for analysing gigs in the pub afterwards and retrospectively deciding on why I liked it, but thats just fooling myself as I have already enjoyed it without really understanding why.

I'm too old and too contrary to really pay much attention to critics one way or the other, though there is one exception where a band I would probably think were slight but mildly interesting seem to have their faults magnified when praised by other people. I'm not much of a Magnetic Fields fan - if I had never read a word about them I would probably find them OK in small doses, instead each listen just irritates me more and more. Ocasionally it works the other way and I will read something that illuminates an aspect of a piece of music and can deliver much enjoyment out of listening to it.

It's not a bad thing to enjoy music on an intellectual level it just might get in the way sometimes.

I was in my car the other day and there was a CD in the player my wife had left from the last time she used the car. It was playing track 7 which was a gorgeous piano led repetitive instrumental. I thought was fantastic. I actually thought it was best new band in Scotland Lapsus Linguae as it bore a resemblance to their astonishing 'Parade' song. (see http://www.lapsuslinguae.co.uk/ ).

When the song finished the next track was some sensitive female singer songwriter thing. Uh ho, my wife has been making compilations on the CD burner again.. I'm puzzling where she got the new LL track and skipping further through the CD I find Logical Song by Supertramp. Something very wrong here...

I pop the CD out and see it is the Magnolia soundtrack. So its not Lapsus on track 7. The rest of the CD has awful dirges from the likes of Aimee Mann. I program track 7 on repeat and listen to it about a dozen times very loud. The CD case isn't in the car so I can't find out what it is until I return home.

Turns out its an Aimee Mann instrumental (hmm, thats a lovely phrase isn't it?) I know I still love that track, and I'm not even embarassed to admit it here amongst you young cool gunslingers. I don't think I loved it any more when I thought it was by Scotlands best and hippest band either. However I can't help wondering if I would have liked it less if I had known it was Aimee Mann before I heard it. I hope I wouldn't, but I don't really know for sure.

Alexander Blair, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

A good critic (& a good listener) always works against his gut reaction. Not to fit an agenda, but to A) give things a chance and B) understand why others like them and C) understand why others may *not* like them and it is this going against one's own grain which is the basis of transforming individual reaction to social criticism. Which is to say, the critic seeks to embody society in order to understand society's production of aesthetic. And conversely, I at least approach the aesthetic precisely in order to draw myself closer to society. But the point here is that in this process, the individual response is always at the root of criticism -- but how an individual responds is not a question of the fates, but of conscious sensuous (and not in the dirty sense, at least not necessarily) activity. & the contrary device is a method of making a *point* -- it implies that the two items are roughly comparable (i.e. I like apples more than oranges may be true, but tells me very little about apples and oranges unless situated in a discussion over the merits of edible vs. inedible skin) in some sense and that in the qualities which they find commonality, the one which is thought to be less good is in fact better. Or alternately, it sends the *reader* scurrying to think of in what possible way this could be true. Which is a merit all itself. Because it challenges the established notions of what constitutes "quality"; i.e. rather than esablishing theory over gut, it allows the gut to cut against accepted notions.

Sterling Clover, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

oranges have edible skin!

ethan, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

If your first statement is correct, Sterling, then this clearly explains why I'll never be a good music critic/listener. Strangely, I do apply the processes you describe fairly religiously to cinema, but never to music. I always trust my gut reaction when it comes to music.

I will give widely praised or revered records/composers a spin, but at the end of the day my gut rules what's been fed into my head (NB - I'm including music which *appeals* on an intellectual level as 'gut' rather than 'head' here. Hope that's not too confusing).

I also think that the best music writing disobeys your ABC. Heavily slanted writing (including where it's clearly a 'false' presentation of the writer's true views on the subject) forces you to think about the subject, whereas a balanced piece of criticism often can just be read and instantly forgotten.

Finally, understanding why someone else likes something doesn't always get you anywhere. Often the reason is that it sounds like something else they like.

Jeff, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

it's worth noting that the critical pendelum has swung since the Lester Bangs quote above. The crit/hipster lionization of "arcane" and "obscure non-entities" is so commonplace, that the same stance Bangs suggests is now employed to advocate the merits of Abba or Britney. Which further suggests to me that a lot of music arguments are cultural - about the dominant modes & tropes of the day more than the individual experience of music.

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

But the individual's experience of music is totally shaped by the dominant modes and tropes of the day.

Tom, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

are we into chicken and egg, nature vs. nurture territory now?

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Only if you oppose the two. And they're not opposed, duh.
Also, cutting against your grain != being balanced. It means giving yourself over completely to many ways of feeling.

Sterling Clover, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

as a rebuttal to the Lester Bang quote way, way upthread... I think it's a better policy to find an obscure but worthy album, and preach at length about its goodness. The bands who made the record can eventually be PROVEN BY SCIENCE to suck a bowling ball through a drinking straw...but if champion NOT THE BAND, but that one single album that more than justifies their existence...you are vindicated. Think about it. The Bee-Gees blow the big beef...but the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is an acknowldged classic, and the only think in their canon that explains why we didn't put them out of our misery them in 1978.

Lord Custos, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

No, the Crits aren't the ones pushing Abba, its members of bands who spout praise about kitschy bands. The Critics stick to *obscure* kitsch like Shonen Knife and They Might be Giants. While Garth Brooks and Jon Bon Jovi blather on about how great Kiss is. For once, I think the Critics are right. Shonen Knife kicks ass and Kiss licks one.

Lord Custos, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Ahh, but the Bee Gee's faux Beatles period yielded "horizontal", a fine soft-psych lp that guided by voices fans would love. And in the hands of Al Green and Isaac Hayes and Gram Parsons, their late 60's/early 70's ballads soared. They're not as easy to dismiss as you might think.

and, sterling, I'm trying to avoid either/or's as much as possible, but it's like a gravitational pull.

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

This was way before my time. But I have heard some early Bee Gees on a VH1 Behind the Music show. They obviously didn't play "Horizontal" or any worthwhile tracks of their Faux-Beatles period. It all sounded like Hermans Hermits outtakes. So, No, I've never heard "Horizontal."

But being a Yank, I'm not exposed to anything worthwhile anymore. Just think...in America VH1 is now PROVEN BY SCIENCE to be less cruddy than MTV. Thats not because VH1 is any damned good...it just goes to show how Cosmically Bad MTV has gotten. Back in the 80's the only show I watched was 120 Minutes with Dave Kendall. That was the only show that justified that stations existance... Ohhhh....sorry....I've gotten wayyyyy off-topic.

Lord Custos, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

"Don't you hate that...?" "What" "...unconfortable Silences..."

Lord Custos, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Further on my fav topic: purely social criticism saps the work of its meaning, & end result = dull academic prose which is of use maybe to a sociologist but not to a listener. Purely personal crit describes emotions but not how they arise & thus is useful *only* to the author. Thus all crit does both to varying degrees, if it is at all useful. But crit made self conscious of its own role as an examination of a nexus of social engagement between individual and society and author -- now *that* is where things heat up.

Sterling Clover, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

maybe this belongs on the Contrary threat, but i rather love the syrupy early Bee Gees, like First and Odessa... "Melody Fair" may be my favorite song by them, just for fond memories of how it burrowed into my brain before i knew who it was by.

i might attack music i secretly enjoy, in the attempt to talk myself out of it, but i never champion anything i dislike.

And while i wish that there were more videos, and more variety, i don't care how i think i feel about the music, i'll watch any video, no matter the genre now.

badger, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

nice distillation of your point, Sterling.

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

but I still have a problem with your "a good critic always works against his gut reaction" rule. My gut reaction to this statement is that it's wrong.

fritz, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

purely social criticism saps the work of its meaning, & end result = dull academic prose which is of use maybe to a sociologist but not to a listener. Purely personal crit describes emotions but not how they arise & thus is useful *only* to the author. Thus all crit does both to varying degrees, if it is at all useful.

Sure, but technical criticism seems conspicuous by its absence. I find that criticism that at least touches on the technical is far more interesting to me than criticism that does not -- especially in music, but also in other fields as well. Engaging the actual material of the work is one of the ways in which a critic can show that his/her theses have some foundation in reality.

Phil, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I have close to zero interest in technical criticism, but that may be one of the reasons I'm feeling confined or confounded by intellectual/experiential criticism.

fritz, Wednesday, 31 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Good point Phil. I don't discount technical criticism, but it just hadn't come up in the discussion thus far. I'd add purely technical to purely social as an academic dead end, and also note that I agree completely that the intersection of the manner in which various people respond to a work must be based on a comprehensive understanding of the actual traits of the thing itself.

Sterling Clover, Wednesday, 31 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

fifteen years pass...

Behind the Music is my ultimate nostalgic hangover binge watch these days. so easy to dial up any band on youtube and watch the VH-1 spin masters tell a tale as old as time.

anybody have any favorites? the hair metal bands tend to be the most fun. as much as i hate Guns N Roses as a band, there's a pretty awesome story there.

also i love the Red Hot Chili Peppers one mostly cos the narration by Downtown Julie Brown. everytime she calls them "The Chili's" it's so great.

AdamVania (Adam Bruneau), Sunday, 14 May 2017 14:57 (six months ago) Permalink


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.