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Jonathan

Romantic Music Is Objectively Superior

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Her suggestions (in "Music and Cognition") are rather daunting, and I'm not convinced that much data is needed. But I think a vigorous, extensive, comparative study of popular songs and classical themes would be a good place to start.

REB

Are you suggesting an opinion poll? If so, be aware, that is not how science is done.

The wide variety of tastes in music suggest galloping subjectivity to me.

If you ask a random collection of 1000 people what 77 and 55 add up to, 998 will reply 132 and the other 2 will eventually admit that they were mistaken. Now, will 1000 people chosen at random agree on what is is good music and what is bad music?

Ba'al Chatzaf

Thanks for the head's up on how to do science. Silly me, I thought opinion polls were a central part of the scientific method. Now, what will I do -- oh, what will I do? :poke:

Actually, the William Tell Overture aka the Lone Ranger theme is so popular that it is a perfect example of galloping subjectivity. :hyper:

reb

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If you ask a random collection of 1000 people what 77 and 55 add up to, 998 will reply 132 and the other 2 will eventually admit that they were mistaken.

You've obviously never watched "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

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P.S. I also wanted to note for the record that I've officially accepted the Lord back into my life and have become a Christian. This past week I've been listening to Mario Lanza singing I'll Walk With God, because it's good, proper, objectively superior music, and it has convinced me to walk with God from this day on. I'll lean on Him forever, and He'll forsake me never. I'm not so sure yet that I'm willing to let His hand near my throne or rod, but other than that, I'm now totally dedicated to loving God and His boy Jesus and all that, thanks to listening to the right kind of music.

As Michael Valentine Smith would say - I Am God... so GROK...

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Jonathan: "Btw, does obsessively listening to Mario Lanza turn one into self-important twit, or are self-important twits obsessively attracted to Mario Lanza? Either way, there appears to be a lot of evidence that connects obsessing over Lanza with being a self-important twit."

Please find it in your heart to forgive Lanza for numbering Perigo among his fans. Lanza (of whom I am a passionate admirer) had and has many more respectable fans.

When conductor Serge Koussevitzky heard the young Lanza sing, "his response was shocked, sincere, and immediate. Repeating the words 'Caruso redivivus', the maestro made immediate plans for Lanza to sing at Tanglewood. "Yours is a voice such as is heard only once in a hundred years," he said.

Enrico Rosati, formerly coach to Gigli, said that Mario Lanza had one of the most beautiful voices he had ever heard.

Lanza has been a major influence on the generation of tenors who came after him. Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Josep Carreras, Andrea Bocelli, and Jerry Hadley all credit Lanza as an inspiration to them in pursuing their chosen careers.

Most of the music critics of his day agreed that Lanza's vocal range and quality were at least on a par with Caruso.

Maria Callas (not known for her praise of contemporary singers) called Lanza "Caruso's successor," and in a 1973 interview said of him: "My biggest regret is not to have had the opportunity of singing with the greatest tenor voice I have ever heard."

"You have the greatest given throat ever heard in a young man." - Tito Schipa

"Mario Lanza has the greatest singing instrument ever bestowed on a human being." - George London

"We were both surprised by the size of the voice--we were also impressed by Lanza’s innate musicality. No doubt he could have had an outstanding operatic career." - Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland

"Mario could have sung in any opera house in the world and his career would have been sensational." - Dorothy Kirsten

"He had a voice of enormous dramatic impact." - Placido Domingo

"His magnificent voice enriched our lives and introduced us to a wide spectrum of classical and popular music." - José Carreras

"He had a fantastic voice--not just wonderful--a fantastic voice." - Luciano Pavarotti

Barbara

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P.S. I also wanted to note for the record that I've officially accepted the Lord back into my life and have become a Christian. This past week I've been listening to Mario Lanza singing I'll Walk With God, because it's good, proper, objectively superior music, and it has convinced me to walk with God from this day on. I'll lean on Him forever, and He'll forsake me never. I'm not so sure yet that I'm willing to let His hand near my throne or rod, but other than that, I'm now totally dedicated to loving God and His boy Jesus and all that, thanks to listening to the right kind of music.

As Michael Valentine Smith would say - I Am God... so GROK...

Interesting. Are you being sarcastic or sincere? I'm more into Lucifer myself. Don't get me wrong; I don't believe in Lucifer, it's just a great name--for a dog.

--Brant

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P.S. I also wanted to note for the record that I've officially accepted the Lord back into my life and have become a Christian. This past week I've been listening to Mario Lanza singing I'll Walk With God, because it's good, proper, objectively superior music, and it has convinced me to walk with God from this day on. I'll lean on Him forever, and He'll forsake me never. I'm not so sure yet that I'm willing to let His hand near my throne or rod, but other than that, I'm now totally dedicated to loving God and His boy Jesus and all that, thanks to listening to the right kind of music.

As Michael Valentine Smith would say - I Am God... so GROK...

Interesting. Are you being sarcastic or sincere? I'm more into Lucifer myself. Don't get me wrong; I don't believe in Lucifer, it's just a great name--for a dog.

--Brant

Sarcastic. Sorry I missed that. I prefer Lanza, tho not God.

--Brant

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My songwriting partner called me up from on the road last night, sick and outraged--he had made the mistake of turning on the American Music Awards. He had been out of the business awhile before starting to work with me, and forgot how prudent (if not flat-out necessary for psychological survival) it is for anyone working seriously on music to avoid contact with such debacles. I broke covenant and tuned in for a minute.

Yeah. And I have cable why? As long as they keep it on the networks. The horror. The horror.

Kanye West going on about how it's a competition, always trying to outdo, improve...

“We’re going to push this music to the point where it was like in the ’60s, in the ’70s, where you talk about Led Zeppelin and Hendrix and the Beatles. We will be the new Beatles, the new Hendrix,” and capped his big night with a performance of 808s & Heartbreak’s “Heartless.”

I don't theenk so, Homes.

The usual pablum. At least it used to be just pop. Now, it's...it's...

Viva the underground, the alternative. Rock and Roll.

rde

Destroying cognitive faculties everywhere since somewhere in the seventies.

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I don't like supercilious sarcasm.

Brant,

How about unostentatious sarcasm?

:)

(btw - I am on your rhetorical wave length.)

Michael

It has its place. I use it sometimes.

--Brant

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Over on SOLOP, Pigero responded to Matty's statement that there is no objective standard in music:

You'll get no debate, Matty, because just about everyone here agrees with you.

I already laid out the objective basis for judging music in Music of the Gods.

Why don't you go through that and answer it, point by point? It'll be a first if you do.

The reason folk shy away from the topic is their emotional investment in crap music—and they're too lazy to lift themselves out of the gutter.

Ooooo, that should induce a few flouncings. But I do wish that, for once, folk would debate this stuff. It's important!!

Pigero wants a point-by-point response? Okay:

Pigero's "Music of the Gods" (WARNING before you click that link: The SOLOPers have bogged down the "Music of the Gods" thread with embedded youtube clips.):

"The emotion involved in art is not an emotion in the ordinary meaning of the term. It is experienced more as a 'sense' or a 'feel,' but it has two characteristics pertaining to emotions: it is automatically immediate and it has an intense, profoundly personal (yet undefined) value-meaning to the individual experiencing it. The value involved is life, and the words naming the emotion are: 'This is what life means to me.' Regardless of the nature or content of an artist’s metaphysical views, what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: 'This is life as I see it.' The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements is, 'This is (or is not) life as I see it.'"

—Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto

Introduction

As often happens, I am in hot water—this time on the "RACH” thread—for fulminating against “headbanging caterwauling” and touting the superiority of Romantic music. I am in hot water with the fans of caterwauling for daring to diss their favoured offal, and with a serious music aficionado who insists “Romanticism” should include sundry post-Romantic meanderers and blowhards. He has ranked some thirty Romantic and post-Romantic works according to merit (according to him) in what looks suspiciously like a J. Evans Pritchard modus operandi.

Here I propose to deal only with the “arguments” of the caterwaulers; the case for or against including the likes of Mahler among the Great Romantics will have to wait ... except to say, paraphrasing Shakespeare: “Brevity is the soul of beauty.”

First, a preliminary question: why does this matter matter? Why do I get so exercised about it? Why can’t I just “live and let live” and leave empty heads and deformed souls alone to wallow in their frightful cacophonies?

My answer: I am perfectly prepared to do that—but they’re not prepared to leave me or any other decent, innocent human being alone. They shove their filth at us at every turn, and I am beyond fed up with it. As Rand might say, "These are the commandos of the haters' army, who crawl out of the sewer of centuries and shake themselves in public, splattering muck over the passers-by. ... The passers-by are the rest of us, who have to live, breathe and work in this atmosphere."

As I said in my RACH editorial:

“They do not rule the world officially but they have taken it over. They have taken over the shopping malls, the shops, the bars and restaurants, the gyms and rugby fields, the interludes between television programmes and even the programmes themselves. Nothing is uncorrupted by these aliens—even opera singers perform with them.

So far, Pigero has done nothing but express his typical rage and contempt. I'd think that a person attempting to demonstrate the objective superiority of a certain type of music would begin by defining his terms. What does he mean by "romantic music"? Does he have a definition and clear criteria by which we can objectively determine which works of music qualify as "romantic" and which do not? Is he using the same definition of "romantic" that Rand used? Who knows?

Pigero continues:

It’s time to shame these aesthetic thugs into oblivion. Musical masochism is for consenting adults in private; it shouldn’t be sadistically imposed on unconsenting adults in public. Ideally its perpetrators should follow the logic of one of their number, the Slipknot drummer who, when told his was music to commit suicide by, said, ‘We must be doing something right.’ I would certainly encourage that alien and all its fellows to top themselves and leave the earth to human beings.

Slipknot's drummer was responding to a recording studio production technician who had been publicly critical of the band's music. The technician had said that if Slipknot was the future of music, then he didn't want to live (the technician would not agree with Pigero's angry evaluations of other, similar heavy metal bands). Slipknot's drummer responded by saying that his band must be doing something right to elicit that response from such an asshole. It's kind of like Churchill being told by Lady Astor that if he were her husband, she would poison his tea, and Churchill responding that if she were his wife, he’d drink it. Only not as clever. Pigero likes to leave out the context in order to give the impression that Slipknot writes music for the purpose of encouraging suicide.

Since it’s unlikely that they’ll opt for suicide, unfortunately, it is they who need to be admonished to “live and let live” (if you can call what they do living). They should not be averse to a campaign for the voluntary clearing away of their pollution from places where it’s unsolicited.

I'd agree with Pigero that he shouldn't have to listen to music that he doesn't want to hear on his own property. But that's an issue of property rights and intrusive volume levels of sound, and has nothing to do with one type of music being objectively superior to others.

Rand said:

"I am not willing to surrender the world to the jerky contortions of self-inducedly brainless bodies with empty eye sockets who perform in stinking basements the immemorial rituals of staving off terror, which are a dime a dozen in any jungle—and to the quavering witch doctors who call it 'art.'"

Well dears, neither am I. When some skunk squirts its filth in my face without my consent, I will punch its snout. And I shall campaign against skunkery in general.

Okay, so Pigero has made it very clear that he hates certain types of music. He has outlined his emotional motives for writing his little tirade on the subject. Will he ever get around to moving beyond his emotions and to objectively defining his terms and standards of aesthetic judgement? Does he agree with Rand's comments on objective aesthetic judgments -- that one need not like a work of art, that one must identify the "artist's meaning," and that one must evaluate how well the artist has expressed his vision, regardless of whether or not one agrees with it?

I should say that the reason this essay has taken a while is that it was becoming an academic-style treatise on Romanticism in music.

I doubt that. I've never seen anything from Pigero that has even come close to hinting at being an academic-style treatise.

Does the clown not realize that if he wishes to demonstrate that one type of music is objectively superior to another, then he must do some actual intellectual work, and not just throw tantrums, poop his diapers, and tell us what he hates?

Well, the Internet is replete with such treatises, by people better qualified than I. All I ever intended was an informed layman’s polemic against The Age of Crap as manifest in music, and against the idea that music is somehow exempt from the standard, healthy Objectivist strictures against cultural relativism. Realising I had departed from my brief, I had to start over to get back on course.

Pigero's lame-ass "layman's polemic" against the music that he doesn't like was originally billed as a treatise on the "objective superiority" of his favorite music. In other words, as usual, Pigero lied. He hyped. He carnival barked. And he didn't deliver. Fizzle. No substance.

I have used Dr. Richard Goode as my foil in this essay because, like Everest, he’s there, and because, in this debate, he is perfect in his immorality (I say this in a caring kind of way). He is delectably quintessential!

Cutting to the chase

So why do I feel entitled to pile on value-judgments such as “sub-human,” “skunks,” “filth” and so on in the realm of music?

Didn’t Rand herself say:

“Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music … No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself—and only for himself”?

Yes, she did. And, I submit, she was wrong.

Note the practical implication of her dictum: that no one can claim the objective superiority of the Tchaikovsky and Beethoven posted on the Van Cliburn thread over the Slayer posted on the RACH thread. This is absurd on its face—but of course, “on its face” won’t do for those who seize on Rand’s statement as an excuse to remain in the sewer. So let’s keep going.

What did Rand mean by “conceptual vocabulary”?

She tells us. Such a vocabulary would explain how a work evokes the emotions it does. “Why does a succession of sounds produce an emotional reaction? Why does it involve man’s deepest emotions and his crucial, metaphysical values? How can sounds reach man’s emotions directly, in a manner that seems to bypass his intellect? What does a certain combination of sounds do to man’s consciousness to make him identify it as gay or sad?”

Why need we know these things in order to pass objective judgment? What difference would it make? That she doesn’t tell us. But she does reiterate:

“The formulation of a common vocabulary of music would require these answers. It would require: a translation of the musical experience, the inner experience, into conceptual terms; an explanation of why certain sounds strike us a certain way; a definition of the axioms of musical perception, from which the appropriate esthetic principles could be derived, which would serve as a base for the objective validation of esthetic judgments.”

Phew!

This, Rand goes on, means we need to do what we currently cannot do in musical perception: separate subject and object:

“In listening to music, a man cannot tell clearly, neither to himself nor to others—and therefore, cannot prove—which aspects of his experience are inherent in the music and which are contributed by his own consciousness. He experiences it as an indivisible whole, he feels as if the magnificent exaltation were there in the music—and he is helplessly bewildered when he discovers that some men do experience it and some do not. In regard to the nature of music, mankind is still on the perceptual level of awareness.”

Now, it is my contention that Rand has set the bar way too high here—we don’t need to know all that in order to judge –

We wouldn't need a conceptual language in order to merely subjectively judge music. But Rand's position was that we would need it in order to objectively judge music. Pigero doesn't seem to grasp the difference.

He continues:

and that furthermore, my contention has her imprimatur:

“The deadly monotony of primitive music—the endless repetition of a few notes and of a rhythmic pattern that beats against the brain with the regularity of the ancient torture of water drops falling on a man’s skull—paralyses cognitive processes, obliterates awareness and disintegrates the mind. ... Primitive music becomes his narcotic [that of a modern man brought up as a “mentally helpless savage”]: it wipes out the groping, it reassures him and reinforces his lethargy, it offers him temporarily the sense of a reality to which his stagnant torpor is appropriate.” (Note, incidentally, what she is describing as primitive music is still a slight advance on rap, which was embryonic in her time: rap has no notes!)

If that’s not passing judgment I don’t know what is!

Yes, that's an example of Rand passing judgment. The problem is that it is not an objective judgment. In fact, it is one of the most subjective, irrational, baseless and foolish judgments that she ever made. Like Pigero, Rand was pretending to know the mindsets, emotional responses and aesthetic interpretations of others based on her own. And like Pigero, she didn't approach the subject with academic seriousness, but simply bloviated. Is Pigero so stupid that he thinks that any silly judgment that Rand made about music was "objective"?

And, btw, Pigero is not correct that "rap has no notes."

So, is Rand seriously arguing that she would then baulk at the final hurdle and decline to pronounce primitive music inferior to Romantic? She already has so pronounced it!

Again, Rand didn't make an objective pronouncement. She simply threw a subjective fit. Unlike Pigero, though, she seems to have at least recognized that some of her subjective judgments were subjective.

And with good reason.

Romanticism vs. Headbanging

See, “the endless repetition of a few notes and of a rhythmic pattern that beats against the brain with the regularity of the ancient torture of water drops falling on a man’s skull” is a near-perfect description of, to cite a convenient example, the track, “Rain of Blood” by “thrash metal” band Slayer, linked to on RACH. (Apparently “thrash metal” is a sibling of “death metal.”) The piece is certainly melodically challenged. The rhythm is faster than water drops, to be sure, but the way it beats against the brain is definitely torture (which some clearly enjoy, but I’ll come to that).

Torture to whom? To Pigero, and, since Pigero has "objectively" identified himself as the epitome of virtue and psychological health, the possessor of the perfect "sense of life," and as the ideally sensitive and knowledgeable critic of all forms of music, then the music that he dislikes should also be torture to anyone else who is as fine a specimen of humanity as he is?

The description omits, since it wasn’t specifically what Rand had in mind, lyrics that are inaudible (and, on further investigation, unintelligible) rendered by a voice that is unlistenable, the voice of someone being tortured.

So, one rock song had lyrics that were inaudible to Pigero (who hated the song before he had heard it anyway), it was unintelligible and unlistenable to Pigero, therefore all rock music is unlistenable and unintelligible to everyone? And this allegedly "objectively" demonstrates that all romantic music is superior to all non-romantic music?

It omits the seemingly deliberate over-amping of the guitars to effect distortion.

Is there some objective reason that distortion in music, or any other art form, is unacceptable or inherently bad?

It says nothing about harmony—but

then, there’s not much to say anyway. Overall, the description could easily be of “Rain of Blood.”

By way of cleansing contrast, let us remind ourselves what makes Romantic music Romantic music, and what we know about music itself that permits us to judge.

We know that the primary components of music are melody, harmony and rhythm—and the greatest of these is melody, the ordering of tones. Melody is fundamental. As plot is to literature, so melody is to music. Whistle a tune, unaccompanied (no harmonies), each note equal in length (no rhythm)—it’s still music. No melody—no music. “It’s the toon, stoopid!”

We know that certain simultaneous combinations of tones (harmony), because of the mathematical relationship of their frequencies, are, as a matter of metaphysical fact, integratable by the human brain (consonant) and others are not (dissonant); that this is true for all human beings apart from the tone-deaf; that the resolution of dissonance into consonance helps give a piece suspense, sophistication and satisfaction, a sense of home-coming; and so we may rightly judge the deliberate refusal to resolve for the sake of refusal to resolve to be an act of sabotage and assassination.

That seems to be the real issue here: Pigero can't hear melody and harmony in the musical styles that he dislikes, and he assumes that others can't either. Heavy rock music relies on the same mathematical relationships of frequencies as the music that Pigero likes, but apparently the electronic distortion of guitars and voices results in timbres to which he doesn't emotionally respond, and he refuses to recognize that these aural effects are "integratable" by people other than him. It seems to be yet another case of an arrogant Objectivist mediocrity trying to define universal aesthetic standards by his own limitations.

We know that in the Romantic period (nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) composers and performers pushed the boundaries of every musical element, primary and secondary, achieving an unprecedented emotional expressiveness while avoiding the descent into the atonal anarchy that followed.

Is "unprecedented emotional expressiveness" an objective term? Is there any chance that Pigero will be defining and identifying objective standards by which to judge the emotional expressiveness of music, or will he continue to do nothing but give his subjective opinions and hope that no one will notice that they're not objective?

New instruments, bigger orchestras; new forms, and the expansion of old forms; the coming of age of opera and ballet; virtuoso stars, like our modern-day “celebs” only with talent; the cult of the conductor; more inventive melodies using bigger intervals between notes; greater dynamic range—fff (fortississimo: very, very loud) to ppp (pianississimo: very, very soft); more daring harmonies (chromatic and dissonant, without recourse to the sabotage or assassination that became de rigueur later) modulating more frequently into other keys; more rhthmic variety, including greater use of syncopation, rubato (bending of the rhythm), accelerando (speeding up) and

ritardando (slowing down), changing of the time signature within movements, etc. They honored but were not straitjacketed by the formalism of classicism, stretching but not eschewing the rules that make music cohere. They knew with their predecessors that coherence was integral to integration, and integration to harmoniousness, and harmoniousness to beauty. They exercised freedom within the rule of law—the perfect mirror of what was going on politically.

Thus did they bring individualism to music—they were each distinguishable from the other; each imposed his distinctive stamp upon the form without going out of it (at least not to the point of disintegration). They united the idiomatic with the idiosyncratic, reason with emotion, Apollo with Dionysus (albeit with a leaning towards the latter, via, it must be admitted, that villain Rousseau). They transformed the “universal language” into an individual language. As one commentary puts it:

“Romantic-era composers kept the forms of Classical music. But the Romantic composer did not feel constrained by form. Breaking through boundaries was now an honorable goal shared by the scientist, the inventor, and the political liberator. Music was no longer universal; it was deeply personal and sometimes nationalistic. The personal sufferings and triumphs of the composer could be reflected in stormy music that might even place a higher value on emotion than on beauty. Music was not just happy or sad; it could be wildly joyous, terrified, despairing, or filled with deep longings.”

We know that, in Objectivist terms, they projected as never before, if not for the first time, man the passionate valuer—their symphonies and concerti were “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” set to music and writ large. We know that Rand's description of Richard Halley's Concerto of Deliverance could only have been of a Romantic composition:

"It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up. They spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance." (Rach 3, anyone—how about the middle section of the second movement?)

In short, we know that in every important aspect of it one can name, music—demonstrably, empirically, as a matter of fact—reached its apogee in the Romantic era. Romanticism was the culmination of what preceded it, and the transcending of it; it was the high point of musical evolution to date; it was the “total height”—and it remains so. (What came after was disintegration into vagueness, gratuitous dissonance, ostentation, random plinkety-plonk, silly silences and traffic noise.) Not knowing the physiology of how music evokes the responses that it does in us, not knowing how many parts object and how many part subject are involved, cannot gainsay this fact, the supreme stature of Romantic music, and its superiority over any modern throwback to “primitive music” such as that of Slayer, which it seems ludicrous to mention in the same breath.

Not knowing "how many parts object and how many parts subject are involved" is precisely the reason that one type of music cannot be judged as objectively superior to others.

This superiority can also be ascribed, I should add, to the myriad forms of what one might call “mini-Romanticism” such as operetta, musical comedy, jazz (the intelligible kind), pre-80s pop, movie scores, Ayn Rand’s “tiddly-wink music” and so on. The standard pop tune of my youth was a veritable miniature sonata with a clear theme, stated, developed then reiterated (A-B-A), value-orientated (usually about love!) with meaningful if unchallenging lyrics, audibly articulated. Any of the foregoing is superior to Slayer and all other headbanging caterwauling.

All of it? Every romantic (a term yet to be objectively defined by Pigero) piece of music is superior to every piece of non-romantic music, based on Pigero's disliking one Slayer song?

Isn't it possible that some rock songs might also qualify as "romantic" (if we were to ever hear Pigero's definition)? What then?

If a romantic song includes use of instruments or effects that Pigero hates, is it "objectively" inferior to a non-romantic song played on instruments that Pigero loves?

What about a romantic song that was quickly thrown together by a novice, versus a non-romantic song carefully composed by a very experienced and successful professional composer? Wouldn't we have to conclude that, by Pigero's undefined yet allegedly objective standards, the novice's work would necessarily be aesthetically superior to the professional's? We wouldn't even have to hear the two pieces of music before "objectively" concluding that the rookie romanticism was superior to the expert non-romanticism. Pretty idiotic.

Romanticism and sense of life

Now at this point someone might object: “All this is very well, but you’re over-emphasizing the technical and structural aspects of the compositions and glossing over the business of one’s emotional response to them. After all, headbangers can be complex and clever too. And the fact is, whether you approve or not, Slayer hits my emotional spot and Rach doesn’t. End of story.”

And of course, it is the end of the story if you want it to be, if you’re content with that. Let’s just not continue to tout the relativist fiction that all music is created equal.

And let’s see what can be observed about the emotional response, since the objector is quite right: that is the whole point of the exercise, and music, like no other art form, gets to the point straight away.

I assume that what the objector and I seek from music is the same thing: what I call value-swoon: “This is life as I see it”—in my case, in the form of a spiritual orgasm born of orgiastic love-making between me, the artist, the composer and life itself. Value-swoon consummated by tears. If there are no tears, I haven’t fully value-swooned. Tears of joy, poignance, worship, “unclouded exaltation” in the presence of gods and the godly, of beauty inexpressible in words. The solemn gaze on Van Cliburn’s face as he looks up at his conductor at the conclusion of the aforementioned Tchaikovsky (Piano Concert #1, Movement Three), having thundered spectacularly up and down the length and breadth of the piano and pressed down the final home-coming tonic chord, says it all. Breathes there the man with soul so dead he cannot behold this and exult: “What a piece of work is man!”? This response, of course, is life-affirming, and so, by Objectivist standards, good.

Including the music that was inspired by and intended to inspire further mindless devotion to God?

Moreover, it is the response the work and the performance are intended to evoke, so the subject’s reaction is consistent with the content of the object.

Now, it's true that one needn't seek the full monty every time, which would be rather exhausting, and there are less weighty but perfectly legitimate reasons one might listen to some types of music. "Objectively superior," after all, implies an answer to the questions, "Superior to what, in what respect and for what purpose?" Country is best for a good laugh (who can resist the hilarity of some retard yodelling about his wife leaving him for the horse?),

Not all country music is about the same subject. Some of it is intended to project values that are quite consistent with Objectivism, and are even reminiscent of some of Pigero's views, with their religious-like zeal and lack of intellectual sophistication.

for instance, and The Carpenters are great for getting to sleep. But it turns out metal fans do actually seek the full monty. Or at least, at first glance, they claim to. Dr. (PhD in philosophy) Richard Goode, Slayer’s cheerleader on the RACH thread, said there:

“Honestly, if you don't feel glad to be alive after a good pounding by Slayer, the Queens of the Stone Age or even Hayseed Dixie, then there’s something wrong with you.” (Note, there’s something wrong with you. Evidently it’s OK to say there’s something wrong with you if you don’t like Slayer but not OK to say there’s something wrong with you if you do!)

But hang on a minute! Pressed by me to explain just how a “good pounding by Slayer” made him “glad to be alive,” Dr. Goode responded as follows:

“Anger. Energy. Passion. Defiance. Catharsis. Slayer are musical genius.”

So, is it anger, etc., that makes Dr. Goode feel glad to be alive, that gives him his value-swoons? I tried to find out:

“Anger about what? Passion for what? Defiance of what? Given that ‘catharthis’ is the release of pent-up emotions, why are your emotions pent up (I did warn you that pomowanking makes one passionless)? Wherein lies Slayer's ‘musical genius’?” Alas, my inquiries elicited no further response.

So, Goode answers Pigero's questions, and Pigero then mischaracterizes the answers while going on the attack and pretending to know others' thoughts, and he wonders why he received no further responses? Would it matter if anyone went into greater detail for Pigero? It hasn't mattered in the past. Any time that anyone explains to him what they feel and why they enjoy their favorite music, Pigero ignores what they've said or twists their words around. Clearly he's anything but objective.

Which entitles us to assume, I think, that the anger is not a justified, discrete anger about some particular injustice or other, else Dr. Goode would have mentioned it; it is a generalised, metaphysical anger at life itself that makes Goode feel good!

Goode mentions responding to one song with anger, as well as with energy, passion and defiance, yet Pigero focuses only on the anger, arbitrarily decides that it's not specific enough of a type of anger, and then jumps to the conclusion that it is an unjustified anger at life in general. What an asshole.

Now, remember what Rand said about the way music affects us:

“Psycho-epistemologically, the pattern of the response to music seems to be as follows: one perceives the music, one grasps the suggestion of a certain emotional state and, with one's sense of life serving as the criterion, one appraises this state as enjoyable or painful, desirable or undesirable, significant or negligible, according to whether it corresponds to or contradicts one's fundamental feeling about life.”

In the case of Dr. Goode and Slayer, he perceives their music, grasps the suggestion of anger and defiance and appraises it as enjoyable, desirable and significant, since it corresponds to his fundamental feeling about life. He says, “This is life as I see it.” Which, I respectfully submit, taking it at its own word, is anti-life—and the anti-life, need I point out, is, according to Objectivism, bad! Calling it and what evoked it “inferior” is letting it off lightly!

Again, what an asshole. Someone else's feelings of anger, energy, passion and defiance are not anti-life just because Pigero wants them to be. And even if we could somehow objectively establish that Goode's response to a single song was indeed unjustifiably angry and representative of his general view of existence, and that it was also representative of the "sense of life" of the band who created the music, it wouldn't follow that all fans of the song respond to it for the same reasons (just as it doesn't follow that Pigero loves certain songs about loving God because he loves God).

Inferior Music and Philosophy

None of this occurs in a vacuum. It’s no coincidence, but rather entirely congruent, that among Dr. Goode’s other pin-up boys is the philosopher David Hume, who taught that concepts, the means by which human beings make sense of reality, have no basis in reality; there are just brute facts, and the act of integrating them into concepts is entirely arbitrary.

Here’s Rand on Hume:

“When Hume declared that he saw objects moving about, but never saw such a thing as ‘causality’—it was the voice of Attila that men were hearing. It was Attila’s soul that spoke when Hume declared that he experienced a flow of fleeting states inside his skull, such as sensations, feelings or memories, but had never caught the experience of such a thing as consciousness or self. When Hume declared that the apparent existence of an object did not guarantee that it would not vanish spontaneously next moment, and the sunrise of today did not prove that the sun would rise tomorrow; when he declared that philosophical speculation was like a game, like chess or hunting, of no significance whatever to the practical course of human existence, since reason proved that existence was unintelligible, and only the ignorant maintained the illusion of knowledge—all of this accompanied by vehement opposition to the mysticism of the Witch Doctor and by protestations of loyalty to reason and science—what men were hearing was the manifesto of a philosophical movement that can be designated only as Attila-ism.”

Here’s Goode on the significance or otherwise of philosophy, in a SOLO exchange with James Valliant:

Valliant: As a philosopher, can you tell me what the practical upshot of your work is, i.e., its implications to human life?

Goode: Hahaha. You're kidding, right?

Stretching too long a bow?

Hume was a destroyer. Slayer, whose headbanging has included “songs” sympathetic to the 9/11 terrorists and Joseph Mengele, are destroyers. And all other headbangers. They are Hume’s chickens come home to roost. Richard, who claims there is no basis in reason for freedom, is an enabler of the destroyers (I grant he’d be horrified to think so). All three are archetypes. Hume, the clever/stupid philosopher, for whom logic and facts ne’er will meet; Goode, the modern “cool” sophisticat, monotoned and sardonic, getting his kicks from clever-dick nitpicking and word games; Slayer, the ugly reality behind the philosophers’ pseudo-civilized veneer, like so many “metal” bands of whichever variety—“thrash,” “death” or otherwise. It’s useful and instructive to see them all appropriately aligned—all nihilists together in this post-modern Age of Nihilism.

Conclusion

Nihilism is as objectively bad in esthetics as it is in any other realm—and in music as in any other part of esthetics, Rand notwithstanding. Appraising a positive response to musical nihilists as good, as Goode does, is bad. These animals intend to purvey ugliness and mindless rage and like nothing better in response than the perverted value-swoon of the nihilist, the pomowanker’s snicker of approval, perhaps more accurately called the "anti-value swoon." Again, the subject's response is congruent with the object's content.

We all hear the same thing. We all recognise deliberate ugliness and rage for ugliness’s and rage’s sake, just as surely as we all hear a minor chord as somber and a major chord as cheerful. It’s our responses to the ugliness and rage that differ, and the issue here is: evaluating the responses.

Wow. We all hear music exactly as Pigero does. If you like something that he thinks is ugly, then you must like ugliness. It doesn't matter if you think it's beautiful or in some other way positive.

It’s a question of values, not physiology. Life-affirming values = good; life-negating values (anti-values) = bad.

Here Pigero is making moral judgments when the subject at hand is aesthetic judgments. Did he think that no one would notice? Or does he not grasp the difference?

So, if you respond with approval to deliberate ugliness and gratuitous rage, if you seek out and wallow in the anti-value swoon, then, in Dr. Goode’s immortal words, “There’s something wrong with you.” And that’s a fact.

I’m reminded of a painter friend from years ago who read The Fountainhead. He got it. He understood it as well as I. But he chose to blank it out, because, “If I take it seriously it’ll turn my life upside down” (his life being in thrall to axe-through-head tutors).

In his exceptional SOLO essay, “Something Better than Rage, Pain, Anger and Hurt,” Peter Cresswell exhorts:

“Music is our food of the spirit. So do try to be careful what you eat.”

(This admonition, by the way, doesn’t mean we all have to like the same music any more than we have to like the same food. It means we should eat food rather than feces.)

Musically speaking, we have whole generations eating poo and militantly relishing it. It ill-behoves Objectivists to tell them there’s no objective reason not to do so. Objectivism is nothing if not a command to rise. To those addicted to feces but wanting to rise from the sewer, I commend Mr. Cresswell’s essay. He knows whereof he speaks. He has himself risen!

Pigero is referring here to the same Mr. Cresswell whose essay "objectively" identified AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long as being about rage.

Just these last few days on SOLO, artist Michael Newberry has recounted the story of someone who presented plastic-wrapped blood from her miscarriages as an artwork, and asked:

“Many of you here are freaked out about the possibility of radical Muslims taking over the world. But what is it that could weaken the West so much that it could fall victim to a primitive anti-modern society? When I see America, I see and experience many great things, lots of freedoms. It's much easier to do what you like here than in the other countries I have lived in. But, I also see the postmodern art world everywhere, with its cynical, disintegrated, anti-conceptual mind-set, and pathetic sense of life. That is America too. What if art plays a major role in the health, flourishing, and spirit of country or a culture? If that is so, aren't we more in trouble from the inside than the outside?”

Michael Newberry isn't a very reliable source of aesthetic criticism. He thinks he's being fair, reasonable and "objective" when writing a review of a work of art after seeing only one fifth of it. He often knows little about what he's talking about, and can be rather intellectually careless in presenting his opinions.

We’re certainly in trouble from the inside. I quote finally from my inaugural speech at SOLOC 1 in 2001. The "jungle cacophony" alluded to is Eminem—I had just compared Johann Strauss and Eminem as exemplars of two contrasting cultures, antipodal pop icons, one danced to by human beings, the other jerked to by the eyeless-socketed ones:

“ ... get out there in the marketplace and promote good art as zealously as you promote good philosophy, both being necessary for the preservation of freedom. The tide is against us at the moment—wherever we turn our ears are assaulted by jungle cacophony of the kind we've just heard. In the visual realm … well, we've just been reading on the SOLO Forum about the Canadian artist I alluded to earlier who won a prestigious award for ejaculating into vials; there was the Turner Award in Britain, recently bestowed on someone whose ‘artwork’ was a room with an electric light in it. These abominations are a dime a dozen right now; it is, as I often say, the Age of Crap. I want SOLO to wage an intellectual war on it every bit as relentless as the physical War on Terrorism.”

That war should include the unabashed proclamation of Romantic music’s objective superiority.

I see, The idea isn't to actually demonstrate the objective superiority of romantic music with a solid, intelligent argument, but to simply proclaim its superiority.

Romantic music is composed and performed by the heroes in our midst. It speaks and appeals to the best within us. It awakens our capacity for rapture. It is appreciated and adored by the passionately enlightened. It is inspired by and inspires the most intensely life-affirming value-swoons possible to man. If the expression, "total passion for the total height" means anything, it finds that meaning in Romantic music. In terms of what went into it and what can be taken out of it, Romantic music is simply the best.

And that’s a fact.

Again, nothing objective here. Pigero has droned on and on about his personal subjective responses to music and asserted that "we" respond exactly as he does. He offers no objective definition of "romantic music," and he proposes no standards, other than his own personal emotions, by which to judge which works qualify as romantic, or as good or bad. And he also seems to confuse aesthetic judgments with moral ones. He offers nothing of substance to back up his subjective opinions.

J

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Jonathan,

I can give you one objective standard for judging superiority of music. It will be superior only according to that standard, but it will be objectively so.

Many people in the music industry use split testing (playing different songs in identical settings) to gauge the appeal and impact of music. For instance, Musak-like companies who supply elevator music (the popular name for background music in commercial establishments) have an enormous set of criteria they use when drawing up their playlists. The truth is that some songs make people buy more supermarket products than others (as one example) and this has been well documented through split testing.

The free market is another standard. Nobody I know of forces people to buy music or keep the radio/TV on certain stations, or even view YouTube music videos and download mp3s for free. I am becoming a student of persuasion, so I recognize that there are some inducements operating, but it still boils down to free choice.

By the standard of numbers of people exercising free choice within a region during a set time, rap would have to be judged superior to other kinds of music.

This is part of what "check your premises" means, although holding to a defined standard is often brushed aside in Objectivist discussions on music (and aesthetics).

I have mentioned my musical epistemology idea before. The truth is that there are cognitive abstractions and normative abstractions in music, just like there are for other sensory input. A cognitive abstraction is something like harmony organized around a scale (for integrating "concepts" of aural entities). That is obviously not the only one. Normative abstractions have to start at the beginning, for example with murmuring sounds being soothing or sudden explosive sounds causing fear. I believe that you can objectively identify a musical work's quality and depth, but only after you have an handle on these kinds of elements in an objectively tested manner at the fundamental level.

As to objectively comparing one style of music to another to decide which is superior, Rand's initial question repeated over and over regarding politics comes to mind: by what standard?

I believe this is doable (as an exercise in futility, i.e. mostly useless), but there are so many variables that the oversimplifications dreamed of by pretentious lesser minds like the one you just analyzed are impossible. For anything to be objective, you have to first state your terms, then your evaluations in relation to those terms. You do not state terms, then make evaluations based on other terms and call that objective.

This standard of objectivity applies to everything in life. It only doesn't apply to music in the minds of mediocre intellects, who dream of a simpler universe so they don't have to think.

Michael

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Jonathan,

I can give you one objective standard for judging superiority of music. It will be superior only according to that standard, but it will be objectively so.

Many people in the music industry use split testing (playing different songs in identical settings) to gauge the appeal and impact of music. For instance, Musak-like companies who supply elevator music (the popular name for background music in commercial establishments) have an enormous set of criteria they use when drawing up their playlists. The truth is that some songs make people buy more supermarket products than others (as one example) and this has been well documented through split testing.

The free market is another standard. Nobody I know of forces people to buy music or keep the radio/TV on certain stations, or even view YouTube music videos and download mp3s for free. I am becoming a student of persuasion, so I recognize that there are some inducements operating, but it still boils down to free choice.

By the standard of numbers of people exercising free choice within a region during a set time, rap would have to be judged superior to other kinds of music.

This is part of what "check your premises" means, although holding to a defined standard is often brushed aside in Objectivist discussions on music (and aesthetics).

I have mentioned my musical epistemology idea before. The truth is that there are cognitive abstractions and normative abstractions in music, just like there are for other sensory input. A cognitive abstraction is something like harmony organized around a scale (for integrating "concepts" of aural entities). That is obviously not the only one. Normative abstractions have to start at the beginning, for example with murmuring sounds being soothing or sudden explosive sounds causing fear. I believe that you can objectively identify a musical work's quality and depth, but only after you have an handle on these kinds of elements in an objectively tested manner at the fundamental level.

As to objectively comparing one style of music to another to decide which is superior, Rand's initial question repeated over and over regarding politics comes to mind: by what standard?

I believe this is doable (as an exercise in futility, i.e. mostly useless), but there are so many variables that the oversimplifications dreamed of by pretentious lesser minds like the one you just analyzed are impossible. For anything to be objective, you have to first state your terms, then your evaluations in relation to those terms. You do not state terms, then make evaluations based on other terms and call that objective.

This standard of objectivity applies to everything in life. It only doesn't apply to music in the minds of mediocre intellects, who dream of a simpler universe so they don't have to think.

Michael

What makes these "standards" other than conventions as opposed to fundamental laws of nature? The laws of nature as stated in physics are really the ways the nature works (or something pretty close). Art standards are socially accepted conventions and differ from culture to culture.

Yes, one can say the X or Y really conforms to standard S. But what makes standard S right or necessary? Being unambiguous can be useful, but is lack of ambiguity a test for objective correctness?

Ba'al Chatzaf

If it ain't physics its is either stamp collecting or playing the tuba.

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Bob,

You are jumping the gun. You asked: "But what makes standard S right or necessary?"

That's a normative question asked in a manner to support a foregone conclusion.

I gave you a simple standard with the sour note in the music composition. Conceptual integration and how man's mind does it made that particular standard both right and necessary.

Your question is the wrong question to ask when you are looking initially at how it is done by people who do it. It is the equivalent of asking "what makes language S right or necessary?"

Michael

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Your question is the wrong question to ask when you are looking initially at how it is done by people who do it. It is the equivalent of asking "what makes language S right or necessary?"

Michael

Correct. I am still waiting for an answer to that question.

Aesthetics is like chewing gum. Taste is all in the mouth.

One man's beautiful as an other man's so-so or ugly. If musical standards were like physical standards everyone would agree on what beauty is. But such agreement does not exist, therefor the standards are conventional or arbitrary.

When musical standards of beauty can be linked to the associated neurological processes, then you will have truly objective standards.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

Of course people agree on standards of beauty. They just don't use blah blah blah. They communicate with their pocket books. They buy their beauty and there are measurable trends of agreement.

Michael

It is pure convention. That is why there are so many standards of beauty. We have only two sets of physical laws (one for gravitation and one for the rest), but we have dozens of standards of beauty over periods of time and over many cultures.

You confuse convention with some necessary property of reality.

Nature is what it is. We make up the rules of beauty as we go along. Everyone is entitled to his own opinions and tastes. No one is entitled to his own facts.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

It's not convention (although convention is important and a different discussion). It's people choosing from alternatives.

They choose language products based on message and certain standards of competence. The particular language might be convention, but the need for language is not, nor is the message or competence. Ditto for art.

It's a mistake to oversimplify.

Michael

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Bob,

It's not convention (although convention is important and a different discussion). It's people choosing from alternatives.

They choose language products based on message and certain standards of competence. The particular language might be convention, but the need for language is not, nor is the message or competence. Ditto for art.

It's a mistake to oversimplify.

Michael

There are universal laws for the physical world. Where are and what are the universal laws of beauty? I await your answer with bated breath.

Aesthetic standards are doxa (opinion) not necessary laws of nature. Write me when we have a science of beauty that is empirically testable.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

Why would I bother?

You already have your mind made up and would not acknowledge it if it bit you.

Here. I'll show you.

If you want to see some very interesting empirical information on subconscious choices, take a look at Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Your library should have it.

I believe an objective theory of beauty (and artistic values in general) will grow out of such things (but not exclusively).

You are free to call it nonsense. I doubt the psychologists involved mapping human responses will have time to consider your views, though.

Michael

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Jonathan,

I can give you one objective standard for judging superiority of music. It will be superior only according to that standard, but it will be objectively so.

Many people in the music industry use split testing (playing different songs in identical settings) to gauge the appeal and impact of music. For instance, Musak-like companies who supply elevator music (the popular name for background music in commercial establishments) have an enormous set of criteria they use when drawing up their playlists. The truth is that some songs make people buy more supermarket products than others (as one example) and this has been well documented through split testing.

The free market is another standard. Nobody I know of forces people to buy music or keep the radio/TV on certain stations, or even view YouTube music videos and download mp3s for free. I am becoming a student of persuasion, so I recognize that there are some inducements operating, but it still boils down to free choice.

By the standard of numbers of people exercising free choice within a region during a set time, rap would have to be judged superior to other kinds of music.

I might call those "objective methods of measuring which songs people like or buy," but not "methods of objective aesthetic evaluation." What you're proposing is evaluating the popularity of a piece of music, not objectively evaluating it's meaning, content, expressiveness, etc.

This is part of what "check your premises" means, although holding to a defined standard is often brushed aside in Objectivist discussions on music (and aesthetics).

I have mentioned my musical epistemology idea before. The truth is that there are cognitive abstractions and normative abstractions in music, just like there are for other sensory input. A cognitive abstraction is something like harmony organized around a scale (for integrating "concepts" of aural entities). That is obviously not the only one. Normative abstractions have to start at the beginning, for example with murmuring sounds being soothing or sudden explosive sounds causing fear. I believe that you can objectively identify a musical work's quality and depth, but only after you have an handle on these kinds of elements in an objectively tested manner at the fundamental level.

As to objectively comparing one style of music to another to decide which is superior, Rand's initial question repeated over and over regarding politics comes to mind: by what standard?

I believe this is doable (as an exercise in futility, i.e. mostly useless), but there are so many variables that the oversimplifications dreamed of by pretentious lesser minds like the one you just analyzed are impossible. For anything to be objective, you have to first state your terms, then your evaluations in relation to those terms. You do not state terms, then make evaluations based on other terms and call that objective.

This standard of objectivity applies to everything in life. It only doesn't apply to music in the minds of mediocre intellects, who dream of a simpler universe so they don't have to think.

Michael

Yeah, I'm very open to hearing intelligent arguments based on objectively defined terms and standards, but I think it's pretty clear that Pigero doesn't actually have a serious interest in the subject, or the ability to set aside his carnival barker approach long enough to contribute anything worthwhile.

J

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Jonathan,

If it were only popularity, why do shoppers buy more supermarket products with some kinds of music than with another?

And even on the basis of popularity, I believe the attraction of a piece of music is based on the way the mind works since coercion and biological necessity are not involved.

Obviously this is not the whole story of "meaning, content, expressiveness, etc." as you stated, but it is the start of the same.

One caveat to that is that there are other factors at work that cause the popularity of a musical work like social proof (one of Ciuldini's principles of persuasion), bombardment over the media, etc., but the factor of attractiveness to the human mind, with a high position on the normative range of importance (which implies a valued meaning), has to be there for a song (or other musical work) to endure through the ages.

Michael

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