The Rambler :: blog

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

My two penn 'orth 

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Eppy opens up the can of worms that has been sitting on several people's desks for some time now. First of all, he's absolutely right that Popular Music ('Pop-I', music that is popular) is not the same as Pop ('Pop-II', music that sounds like pop). One is a definition based on socio-economic terms, the other is a genre description, and therefore related to musical form and content. They're both interesting phenomena, and overlap considerably, but they are not the same thing.

However, I've been drawing Venn diagrams all morning, and I can't seem to say any more than that with any clarity. I started with two circles, that don't touch, for Popular and Art music. Everything else, I figured would be a subset of one or the other of these. But of course, since they don't touch, you have this undefined space in the middle.

So I made them into two rectangles, and put almost everything else as an overlapping subset:

Pop, I figured, is almost by definition not Art music, so you can safely say it doesn't overlap, and can be safely included within just the Popular music set.

But, as Eppy points out, a Guns 'n' Roses tribute band, and acts like MPath are not strictly 'Popular', so they go somewhere else - but (without meaning to diss MPath, who I haven't heard) they're not really 'Art' either. So our 'Pop' subset overlaps outside the boxes, which is a bit awkward.

To accommodate this, how about two new main sets: 'Music written primarily for its own sake' (ie art music) vs 'Music written primarily to serve a particular function' (ie muzak, cynical money-making, theatrical music, tribute bands, jingles etc.). Then you get something like this:

But then this is an even bigger can of much nastier worms. Sure, a jingle for PC World is not music written for the love, but I'm not going to be the one to say where Britney, or John Adams, or Howard Goodall, or Wynton Marsalis, or the Chemical Brothers sit. Somewhere on a line between total (commercial) functionalism and pure aestheticism, but whereabouts anyone can guess - and on what side of the line between art and function no one wants to say. Perhaps I should just get rid of the set theory altogether, and just have a line with points on it.

But, this is all built around supposition (who am I to say that Beethoven wasn't just a cynical money-grabber who got lucky?), and neither reliable or useful, or interesting. And, I think, it has taken us far from where I came in, which was that the reason for confusion seems to me to be because of the two definitions of pop music; one, the statistical 'Popular' definition, and the other, the musically-defined 'Pop' genre definition.

So I've got nowhere. Someone else's turn.

P.S. - yeah, I know, I'm hardly Tony Hart am I?

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