Zapp & Roger Troutman

Before I was born, my older siblings used to clear out the living room and throw dance parties for all their friends. I'm talking 1977 - 1981, when Ann and Paul were in high school. I'm talking some of the best funk & soul ever made. They'd push all the furniture into my parents' room and get down while my mom read in bed and my dad did math problems on the butcher block in the bathroom. I missed all of this, so growing up I'd spend hours poring over boxes of dusty vinyl in the garage and imagining my family young & hip. This album caught my eye, and the first song was disco magic. Of all the badass funk jams the 80s turned out, I was convinced this was The One. The soundtrack to everything cool. The song that made sexy things happen. Paul had the 12" single and beat my ass when he came home and caught me trying to scratch it on my unscratchable turntable. Can we please have a Studio54 party? Frza, where you at?

Zapp & Roger - More Bounce to the Ounce

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8:25 PM

So Ryan, I am confused. In regards to your mission statement: is not the interpretation of all art subjective? I don't understand your view of music as being apart from that notion.    

8:44 PM

no, yr right, all art is naturally open to subjective interpretation. i think that music is even more so than the rest, and thus attempting a body of "music criticism" is futile and counterproductive.

other arts are representative. movies are moving pictures that represent objects. words are non-moving symbols that represent ideas. you can look at a painting and say "that's photorealistic" or "that's impressionist" and other people, whether they agree or disagree, will know what you mean. music (without lyrics) is that's it. it doesn't represent anything else. so it should be left alone by know-it-all critics, because there's no way of discussing or "validating" music except by describing how it affects you personally.

my reason for saying this, and my beef with mass-media music moguls, is that these people seem to think they have a monopoly on musical "knowledge" and "good taste." which isn't a problem for consenting adults like us who might read their Rolling Stones and SPINs and Pitchforks anyway. but it is a problem for the little kids who don't know any better, and are having their musical tastes formed for them instead of being allowed to explore on their own. my little cousin skipped over the recent mt. eerie album because pitchfork gave it a 5.0. i think that album is alright, and when i sent her a copy, she loved it.

there's a literary canon and an art canon and a film an extent there's already a musical canon. but i don't think there should be, because of the essentially elusive, personal and unquantifiable nature of the art.    

8:45 PM

also, i need to figure out how to make it show who posts these comments.    

12:51 AM

I started wondering, as i often do about all of this again. It started when i remembered a conversation i had with my cousin over the summer. He is really into techno, etc. and wants to start making his own stuff eventually, etc. and I asked him about it as far as how does one make techno. For you to like it all you usually have to do is sit down and listen to it and either you like it or you don't make on a totally non-intellectual level, but to make it, how do you go about making it. And he said it's almost the same as listening, you know you listen to what you make and whatnot, but that you have to construct it. Long story short (too late) he brought up arpeggiology, I believe the word was. So I guess the question is, for music in generally or maybe certain genres or maybe just music without words, maybe this should include classical (?) are there in fact objective criterias by which to judge music, or is that only true of it's creation, and if that is the case is it that well constructed structure that sounds good. If this is the case it begs the question about conventions and innateness, etc. which i'm already too familar with. Long and short of it: music is indeed subjective, but some stuff is just plain crap whether your postmodern or not. Is there any science whatsoever to music. Answer, I don't know, but some artist seem to have some knack of what people will like based on something.

That got really convuluted, but I hope a legitimate point and question can be deciphered from all of that. Feel free to discuss/fight or otherwise input.    

7:47 AM

hey wes.

i guess yr question is, are there objective criteria for judging music?

i don't think so. at least not as far as assigning value judgments to whether it's "good" or "bad" music.

you can certainly judge some college kid'd Brahms recital by deciding whether or not they played the correct notes with the correct intonation and how true they stayed to the original piece...but that's judging their performance and not the music itself.

did that answer yr query?


3:13 PM

and there's much more to writing about music critically than assigning value judgements. what you're talking about is buyer's guide reviewing- which has its own valuable place in the market if less so in the academy (or wherever we want to map 'criticism')- whereas real, hard, journalistic criticism meets music as it exists in the world. ie: what it means to follow the stones' "under my thumb" with the fall's "the classical" on a mix; the historical significance of punk; reconciling authenticity, artifice, the studio vs. the concert, scene insularity, etc. all this anti-criticism talk is like me taking the english dept to task cos i don't like the grading scale of Entertainment Weekly.

some other points along the way-

re: "futile and counterproductive," to what?

re: genre, i can say "hip-hop" or "house" or "blues" and while none allow for much detail (find me one genre title that effectively does), each represents a generally shared idea of conventions (what that means is a different argument). when you said in this post, "the best funk & soul ever made," i didn't think anyone was jamming to oboes.

re: critical effect on the children, isn't that just part of growing up? as the parental unit becomes something to rebel against, some other authority fills the gap (even if you, in that time, want to deny it)(see also the assimilating tendencies of counter-culture as a catalyst for individual development). plus, generally, this "oh, think of the children" argument = yougottabefuckingkiddingme.

re: canon, history written by the victors as it is, i'm of the opinion that all canons should be scrapped as they privilege art on levels of class, race, gender, and all my other liberal arts buzzwords. not that a canon isn't a useful intoductory tool, but weight is always a problem. i suppose we're on the same page here but for (seemingly) different reasons.

re: subjectivity, this is where criticism flourishes, no?, especially in highly contentious areas (like music, i'm sure you agree) where the spaces between our differing opinions build a bridge between understanding the placement of the art and our own placement in that world. i fail to see how subjective material is a site of breakdown instead of community, cos, let's face it, we're all in this together. writing, actually putting yr ideas and yr knowledge out there for whatever/whoever comes, is about community. (am i the only person who actively writes and thinks this?)

and, generally speaking, anti-critical discourse smacks of po-mo consumer culture music as a commodity bullshit that i have serious bones with. i write about music on my own blargh because i really do think it matters politically (especially), socially (definitely), and personally (achingly), not because i fashion myself a tastemaker (cos who the fuck reads my blog?) or a know-it-all (cos i'm the first to admit i'm no wikipedia). julianne shepherd wrote earlier this year, "Because actually thinking about the ramifications of pop culture in the real world, and your level of complicity within it, is a fucking struggle: you are forced to self-examine, to examine your level of privilege, and to acknowledge that the world and life are broad[,]" and i agree with that wholeheartedly. maybe the unwillingness of people to talk about 'that background noise at the party' happens with music more cos people hang their lives on a couple notes for __ amount of time, but i can't tolerate this strain (and i've seen it lots of places, not just here) that may as well read: "Whoah with all that talk about music. We're in danger of approaching something REAL."


7:56 PM

AHP, I'm not sure what you mean. You make a valid point about reviews vs. criticism, but I'm not sure how it applies to Ryan's blog. He's writing about how music affects him, personally. He's not grading new releases, and he's not approaching anything academic. And isn't writing about how music affects him more personal and more real than the ironic distance you describe when you say, "Whoah with all that talk about music. We're in danger of approaching something REAL."

I don't recall seeing Ryan writing any anti-criticism screeds on here, anyway. He's not calling criticism bullshit, he's calling Pitchfork bullshit. If you want to argue, at least address the claims he's making. I don't speak for Ryan; maybe he does think criticism is bullshit, too.

8:08 PM

for the record: i did say "Music criticism is a crock of shit" in the previous post. that's Thornhill's fault for starting this thread under my Zapp & Roger nostalgia. fucking brazilians.

in defense of gabe's defense of me (!) however, i don't have a serious beef with music criticism the way pittman described it. i think it's a little overblown and pointless, but whatever, do what you want, i ain't gotta read it. it's the pitchforks and SPINs of the world i have a real problem with.


8:19 PM

and OH!, wes, i finally figured out what the fuck you were asking me in that earlier comment.

yeah there's kind of a science to music the way you described it...i mean music is all basically math. a minor chord sounds dark & depressing whereas a major chord sounds bright & happy. to most people anyway. there's no hard and fast rules for how music affects an individual, unless yr talking about the brown note, which is probably (hopefully) a myth.


8:40 PM

Hey Ryan,

You are hitting closer yes. It gets really complicated really fast, but i'll try to do this slow and how you make love, ahaha. Anyway.

So we'll work the way up the conceptual ladder, with all sorts of logical holes in my argument/question.

All music is merely ordered sound i'm assuming. I'm not sure what the smallest unit of sound is. But it can be judged on some scale between unbearable and perfectly pleasant. This judgement maybe be universal or subjective or some combination. A very high pitch sound is probably generally unpleasnt. Move on to chords or something. As you said one may be used to signal low, sad another high or excited. These are somewhat more subjective again, hard to say how much of this if any of it is cross-cultural or innate or very relative. Anyway, so as it gets more complex, so too does it become more complicated to find out WHAT it is that makes music pleasant or not to us. I mean it becomes readily apparent when you can like a song sometimes and not others even. All i was saying i guess is i wonder what that certain something is, what is it about the composite parts of the song (as well as our own personal characteristics) that makes it a good song, but to the effect that consensuses (sp?) come about as to what is good or not, the personal taste diminsh somewhat in imporantce of trying to understand why the music is "good" or well liked.

Ha, yeah, cause that was clearer.

11:13 PM

gabe, ryan already pointed out what he said, so no need to address it again, but as for whether or not it's more personal? yes. more real? meh, i don't know, i guess it depends on yr deeper philosophy/worldview. me, i think solipsism* is a pile.

besides, as a person who has conditioned himself to think about music more strenuously than his homework (ie, right now), i flat out disagree that documenting and engaging culture (any of it) is pointless; i cite the last two paragraphs of my previous post as evidence. ryan does. whatever, that's fine, ryan isn't my audience. (for that matter, no one in fredericksburg is, or at least i haven't met that person). i mean, really, i'm helping you guys out; who needs one more blog to read?

*i don't mean that as a fighting word, but this seems to be the launching pad of any debate hinged on knocking criticism, started by ryan or not.


9:40 AM

OK, my reading comprehension was a little poor on that one - Ryan did say, "criticism is a crock of shit." But what he was really talking about in that post was Pitchfork, he wasn't talking about criticism the way you are, which is why I think your point about buyer's guides vs. criticism is valid.

Your blog and Ryan's blog aren't necessarily written for different audiences, because the same person can like more than one writing style or subject matter - but, you're right, the two of you are talking about fundamentally different experiences.

I personally don't agree that criticism is a crock of shit - that's Ryan's opinion, and he can choose to stay away from it all he wants. Writing about music politically, socially, and personally as you describe is no less real than what Ryan's doing.

Also, I don't see that Ryan's engaging in solipsism. Writing about your own experiences isn't the same as denying that anything beyond the self is real.    

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