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The Rambler :: blog

Friday, September 10, 2004

Music crit and musicology 

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This is a really interesting thread going on over at ILM, on pop music and 'formalist' criticism. Something I've ranted about here in the past, although I rarely have the time or energy to post to ILM and then follow them up. So I'm going to break a hundred rules of netieuette and post here instead. Tim Finney (who consistently mixes the right amounts of musicology and passion on his blog, and never gets enough attention round here) makes some excellent points:
I think one of the traps of placing the emphasis on classical training is that it encourages the writer to place to much emphasis on the structures of creation (ie. hypothetically the most rigorous and comprehensive review would essentially allow the reader to recreate the piece of music down to the last note, nuance and peculiarity) as opposed to the structures of reception

is probably the most sensible thing I've read on this subject in ages. m0stly clean also observes that there are different levels of formalist criticism:

Unsatisfatory Crit As It Is Now: This song rocks because the singer is a junky, and the guitars have lots of reverb.

Longwinded Showoffy Crit: This song rocks because of the G#min9 guitar arpeggio played over the VI-ii-VII-ii-Tonic progression.

New More Informed Crit: This song rocks because the chords behind the guitar line make it sound like the tonal center is shifting which is spacy and cool.

To me the top one is what I find absolutely infuriating, the second (and I am a musicologist!) is ghastly dull, and the third is what we're after. I don't think anyone who really thinks about music (and, after all, when we're talking about extensive review pieces, that's the readership) is going to have a problem with ideas of key, or tonal centre (and it's pretty easy to explain in context anyway), or rhythm, or bars, or descriptions of structure. It just seems logical to me - and this goes for all music criticism - that anyone taking the time to read a full review of something is going to want an interesting take on it; some sort of explanation of how it might do what it does, why it is different from anything else you might have heard, its relationship to other music. As Dominique says on thread "why should anyone restrict themselves about what they're willing to consider about music?"


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