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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Music criticism

Notes toward an evaluation of music criticism.

01. Every piece of music has an intrinsic value for someone.

02. It is impossible to impose an impartial value system on any performance of music, whether recorded or live.

03. Each one of us has their own value system, based on their own likes and dislikes.

04. Sometimes the individual's value system overlaps with the value system of others.

05. Every value system is shaped by the society we live in and the tools it uses (institutions and media) to empower its ideology.

06. But we have the individual choice of joining cores of enthusiasts (peer groups) outside the ideology of the power structure, where our value systems can overlap with people of similar tastes and preferences.

07. We also have the choice of being open-minded- a floating value system, if you like- of being free not to choose. This, however, denies the selection process essential to logical thought, or places us in the realms of the arbitrary.

08. The value systems we use can either inhibit or liberate us, though, by the nature of the value system being a system, they would tend to inhibit us.

09. A newly adopted or forged value system then CAN initially liberate us but by nature eventually ossifies and inhibits the user. Every value system is inherently entropic.

10. In an ideal world the value of music criticism should be to inform and educate the listener/audient, to widen and stretch their existing value systems.

11. In reality the writings of a music critic say more about the value systems of the writer than about the music.

12. The published observations on a piece of music or a musician by a music critic attach themselves to, and become part of, that music or performance without the consent of the composer or musician. That is the price of positive endeavour, that it attracts a negative or inappropriate opinion.

13. The audient/listener can have their perception of the music coloured (or muddied) by the observations of the music critic. It is very difficult to listen to music with open ears.

14. To be truly receptive to new music (this term also means music unfamiliar to the listener as well as freshly penned music) one has to be disciplined to listen only to the 'voice' of the music, and no other voices can be allowed to intrude.

15. The audient/listener discovers new music either through contact with their peer group, or through the media. This music will then already be encoded with values, some appropriate to the new piece, some inappropriate. The listener may decide to listen or not to listen to new music based on the encoded information. Inevitably this information will colour the listening experience; the degree of t(a)inting depends on whether the listener can follow the 'voice' of the music without the background noise of encoded information.

16. The music itself is already loaded with cultural signifiers, creating a specific set of expectations. The signifiers may be in the instrumental scoring used or in the styles or forms of music adopted. A string quartet, a sitar and tabla, a symphony, a Wurlitzer organ, a waltz, a brass band, an opera, a country & western ballad, a pavane: already we have certain expectations of form, shape, colouring. Already we are making decisions based on our preferences.

17. The composer or performer working within the western musical tradition may feel inhibited by the burden of these cultural signifiers. It is only by looking between the notes and beyond the enclosed resonances of the notes that one can lose the inhibitions and let go.

When music does this, it touches a realm beyond language.

Neil Talbott
(see also Dr David C Wright and 'I hear music...' elsewhere in this blog. Also well worth exploring are the blogs 'On an overgrown path' and 'The rest is noise')

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