Guess You Had To Be There

Earlier this week, Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette posted links to two different reviews (both written on assignment for the Post) of the same concert. One review is here on her blog, and the other can be read here. The he said/she said situation was not a new trend in classical music coverage at the Post but simply the result of a clerical error. Still, Midgette points to the contrasting reviews and asks readers to comment on the pros and cons of each, as well as for additional thoughts from audience members at the performance.

Although I normally attend concerts of the Verge Ensemble—they have been friends and colleagues for years—my travel schedule caused me to miss this one, so naturally I was interested to read about how the concert went. After reading both of these reviews, I still didn’t know how it went! The articles are for the most part descriptive, and share few actual opinions or insights.

Nevertheless, here is what I learned:

  • The program, entitled “When Kandinsky Met Schoenberg,” was carefully thought out. The word “challenging” was used, so do with that what you will.
  • Pianist Jenny Lin is awesome. Duh!
  • Pianist Audrey Andrist is also pretty awesome. Again, we know this.
  • There were percussionists!!! Apparently they played some percussion! Not a clue who they were or what exactly they did.
  • The music of John Luther Adams evokes its characteristic sense of Arctic vastness by being both “seismic” (according to one reviewer) and “too long” (according to the other).

In the interest of encouraging the sharing of opinions here, I will say that I found one of these reviews to be better written than the other, in that it offered a bit more information overall, and demonstrated a greater knowledge of contemporary music. However, as a composer, I find reviews like both of these to be wildy frustrating. Who wants to read an adjective-filled rundown of the program? Of course some description is necessary, but when there is no real viewpoint (whatever it may be) offered or commentary on issues such as audience reaction, performer interaction, or how the different compositions did or did not hold up against one another—this program was extremely varied, so did the pieces work together?—the whole endeavor seems futile. And this is not only the case for music—these sorts of reviews are published all the time about dance, theater, visual art, books, etc. Although obviously being a critic of anything has got to be an incredibly difficult job, which is made more so by conflicts of time and financial resources, when reviewers do not for whatever reason offer some insights into what they are writing about, it devalues the art form by implying that it isn’t important enough to warrant an opinion. A work of criticism, be it positive or negative, can actively engage and challenge the reader, the performers, and the composers! Whether or not we agree with the viewpoints, it is presenting them for public discussion that stimulates conversation, generates interest in the field, and as Midgette states, keeps it vital.

22 thoughts on “Guess You Had To Be There

  1. Colin Holter

    I read these reviews yesterday, and I totally agree with you. It’s like those film reviews that just summarize the plot: Rather than present an informed opinion/criticism/advocacy, they try to act as a surrogate for having seen the thing firsthand. It must be doubly frustrating if you were actually there to see it yourself, because you already know all the information in the review!

    Also, I have a strong suspicion that Poème eléctronique is the only piece of experimental electronic music that Charles Downey has ever heard.

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  2. ChristianBCarey

    It never ceases to amaze me. In the current media environment, there are so many knowledgable and talented writers – in many disciplines – out there working for free or for next to nothing. Websites, blogs, and specialist journals are enjoying the benefits of their hard work.

    Why would a newspaper hire someone who is ill-informed with such a glut of talent going underutilized?

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  3. cdowney

    As one of the talentless hacks under review, I thank everyone for taking the time to share their opinion. I will certainly take all of these comments to heart in future reviews of new music concerts.

    It may be helpful to put the capsule review exercise into some perspective. This sort of review has a limit of 250 words: in other words, less than half of what Alex wrote here in her response. Some of the space is required to identify where and when the concert took place and what it was about. A few words need to be given to the performers because — Duh! — many readers of the newspaper, who do not run in the rarefied circles of new music cognoscenti, have never heard of Jenny Lin or Audrey Andrist.

    With that out of the way and if you push the word limit just a bit (as I did), each of the six pieces on the program is left with a grand total of about 30 words to cover the numerous analytical goals listed here. (To offer a possible measuring stick, the previous sentence contains 45 words — in other words, still too many.) One also has to assume that the reader does not necessarily have any specialization in music (in “new music,” even less likely), so you should avoid any obscure technical language or music jargon without explaining the term in question, which is going to take a very large number of words. Any analysis that is too specific or too specialized is going to be flagged as obscure and not for the generalist reader.

    If you choose your words carefully, you might be able to give the reader a brief impression of the effect of each piece (with some descriptors that are as evocative as possible) and your opinion of the quality of the concert as a whole. The astute reader might decipher something between the lines as well, since I spent the most words on the Ligeti piece (66 words), which I admired for its ideas and the polish of the performer; the Carter piece presented pretty much a variation on the same idea (thus formed “a diptych,” only 40 words); the Schoenberg was the only link to the supposed subject of the program, largely left unexplored (41 words); the Cage piece was pretty uninteresting (only 18 words); the Adams piece took a simple idea that was expanded, perhaps too much, by processing (27 words); and the Antosca piece seemed derivative (thus the reference to “Poème eléctronique [sic],” not “the only piece of experimental electronic music” I have ever heard, but the one that a general reader may have a chance of recognizing — 27 words).

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  4. eaj

    As someone who used to write concert reviews (for a college newspaper, but still), it always irks me when people mock the results as insufficiently informative or overly simplistic or what-have-you.

    Not only is there the issue of draconian word limit that Charles describes above, but there is often also significant time pressure (I used to have to go to a concert, go to the newspaper’s office, and write the review there in about half an hour to leave time for editing before it went to press that night).

    To which I would also add that it’s worth remembering that if you are reading this on NewMusicBox, you are not the typical audience for a piece like this. There comes a point when one should be thankful that a concert like this is getting any notice in newsprint at all.

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  5. Alexandra Gardner

    Dear Charles, thank you so much for adding your voice to the mix. Your very excellent point that word-count for print reviews is severely limited definitely adds perspective to the inner workings of the reviewing process, and indeed makes writing something more substantial nearly impossible. I think this provides a good answer for Christian’s comment, in that people writing for blogs and other online resources don’t necessarily have the same confines placed on their writing, and have the luxury of producing as many words as they like for an audience of readers who are already familiar with the topic.

    Perhaps readers should push the papers not only to review more concerts, but also to free up more space for what does get reviewed.

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  6. MarkNGrant

    A composer-critic judges the critics
    As a composer who has been reviewed, has written reviews, and has written and published a book about musical criticism, I’d like to put in my own two cents. I think both reviews, within their (yes, draconian) space constraints, were responsible and insightful. Mr. Downey’s is actually a little better organized journalistically, a better read for the general cultural audience yet without being dumbed down. Ms. Porter’s writeup is intelligent and well-informed but manages the traffic a tad less well. Reading her account I felt the writer hadn’t organized her statements quite so clearly as Downey, straining to fit thoughts into the allotted space and leaving an impression at the review’s end that it was unfinished.

    Both reviewers did well and have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not their fault that we live in a soundbite culture where revenue considerations dictate space constraints. Bandwidth on NMBox-type forums expands almost infinitely. Not so on commercial newspaper blogs, as others above note.

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  7. colin holter

    the Antosca piece seemed derivative (thus the reference to “Poème eléctronique [sic],” not “the only piece of experimental electronic music” I have ever heard, but the one that a general reader may have a chance of recognizing — 27 words).

    ACCENT AIGU FAIL, MY BAD

    Why didn’t you just say it seemed derivative?

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  8. MarcG

    What Charles said
    Writing about classical music in the comically tiny space writers are usually alotted today is an impressive feat when done well, and Charles Downey did an equally admirable job defending just that. As to why he didn’t just use the word “derivative,” it’s because in order for something to be derivative, you have to state what it’s derived from. Which he did, using a piece that stood a chance of being recognized. (Duh.)

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  9. ChristianBCarey

    Folks,

    To clarify, I wasn’t critiquing both of these writers. I agree with Alex and several other posters that one of these reviews was clearly better crafted than the other.

    Rather than get into that, I’d prefer to focus my comment on the “word count” issue.

    Yes, word counts have shrunk in print media. And it is challenging to deal with a 2 hour long concert in a few hundred words. But I don’t buy the notion that word count is entirely to blame for poorly written and inadequate reviewing. Nor do I accept the notion that the blogosphere’s bandwidth inherently equals a bloated prose style.

    Look at Steve Smith’s writing for the NYT and Time Out or Matthew Guerreri’s articles for the Boston Globe. Both are constrained by word count limits and yet convey a great deal of information succinctly and effectively. As Alex points out, readers should be advocating for more space and for excellent writers.

    C

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  10. steve.antosca

    I have enjoyed watching the discussion develop regarding the VERGE “When Kandinsky Met Schönberg” concert at the NGA on Jan. 23 and the pair of Washington Post reviews associated with it. It is valuable for the contemporary classical music scene to have such a discussion, whether it is here on New Music Box, generated by Alex’s article, by the challenge from Steve Soderberg (VERGE Special Projects Advisor) on Facebook, or Anne’s original blog article.

    As Phil pointed out, it is a good thing to get two positive reviews in the Post from one concert. But there are other issues that should be addressed.

    While concert reviewers may have a legitimate claim that they are limited to only so many words per review, at least as far as the print version goes, that never excuses dispensing inaccurate information to the public.

    I have always felt chamber music concert reviews, whether positive or negative, have one great failing. They can only write to two classes of people, those who have missed the concert, or those who were there and probably don’t need their interpretation. But no matter which group you fall into, you deserve an accurate accounting of the concert, no matter what the space limitation may be.

    As the person responsible for the concept behind the concert, and one of the composers represented, I would like to weigh in with a few comments about reviews, from my perspective. First, the premise of the concert was to celebrate the effect of the 1911 concert in Munich where Kandinsky first heard Schönberg’s music. For the VERGE NGA concert, the starting point was Schönberg’s Drei Klavierstücke, then we performed a few pieces that represented some interesting and varied developments in keyboard music over 100 years. This was not, and was never intended to be a concert of Schönberg’s music, rather his profound influence on music. This was made very clear from the program notes and the pre-concert talks. As an introduction to the concert, I mentioned that the pieces being performed were selective and personal. Someone else would certainly have made a different set of choices, as they should.

    In an age of instant communication and access to almost everyone, I have found it astonishing that people who know they are going to write a concert review almost never contact composers, performers or others to get background or details about an event they are about to write about. For this concert, VERGE supplied the Post with extensive details about the upcoming concert well in advance and info was available online.

    There were numerous misrepresentations of the pieces in the reviews, but since it has been brought up, and I know a bit about it, I’ll limit myself to my composition circulation. Mr. Downey commented here “the Antosca piece seemed derivative (thus the reference to “Poème eléctronique [sic],””. When I read the reference to Varèse in the review I thought the same thing as Colin Holter, “Must be the only piece of electronic music he’s ever heard” – and he probably heard it at my concert at the NGA last March! What struck me as odd is that there is simply no relationship to my piece and anything Varèse ever composed. And to make that relationship up, only because it was “one that a general reader may have a chance of recognizing” is irresponsible and knowingly inaccurate.

    Mr. Downey, what you would have found out, if you were curious, is this: it is derivative, but not of Varèse, but of George Crumb. It is not important to the understanding of the composition if readers know about Crumb’s music, although they would be richer if they did, but it is important to be accurate when you can. Around the time I composed this piece (2003), I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Dr. Crumb about why he never used computers in his music and his thoughts about them as part of the composition process. I was interested in the idea that computers were the tool to take his sonic developments to the next level, to take for example, the extended piano techniques of Crumb into the computer age, which is what happens in circulation.

    In the context of this concert, all of the pieces, were, I felt, an extension of Schönberg’s 1911 comment: “we have already reached the point where we no longer make the distinction between consonances and dissonances.

    I hope this exchange generates further discussion, because this is an important issue for all of us: composers, performers, venues, and writers. And will hopefully push the issue further on all fronts.

    In the end, no matter what the concept, no matter the nature of the review, the real reason VERGE presented the concert is that we are musicians, playing this music for an enthusiastic audience is what we love to do, and I feel, do very well.

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  11. TJOG

    I wrote music reviews for a fairly small market newspaper for 25 years (although I must say I was given more space to work with than the reviews being discussed here) and maybe because I’m more used to being on that side of the fence than the other side, I’d like to suggest that reviewers/critics are perfectly well within their rights in reporting what their take on the composition is rather than what the composer thinks their take on it should be. If the reviewer in question refers to Varese and not to Crumb as a possible influence, that’s legitimate if that’s the influence he/she hears, regardless of the composer’s intention. If the vast majority of the readers of that review—those who were actually in attendance—hear something completely different (e.g., they hear Crumb’s influence with little or no trace of Varese’s), well, those readers will eventually come to question the musical judgment of the reviewer and the reviewer’s career will be in jeopardy. But the reviewer/critic has, in my opinion, no particular obligation to reflect the perspective of the composer, and the background information about Crumb is exactly that—background information that wouldn’t necessarily have any impact on how the reviewer hears the piece. And as far as Schoenberg’s platitude goes, that’s not really the sort of thing that’s going to help a reviewer penetrate deeper into the mysteries of a given piece.

    I’m sure I mis-heard and mis-evaluated a number of new compositions (and probably some older ones as well) in 25 years, although I probably erred on the side of being overly-enthusiastic simply because I knew my audiences would tend not to be. Nevertheless, I have remarkably little guilt about reporting what I heard rather than what the composer might think I should have heard.

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  12. cdowney

    Two final points, and then, really, this defense of what was a positive review has become tedious.

    In recent reviews, both Steve Smith and Matthew Guerrieri clock in at more like 400 or 450 words. That said, they are both excellent writers, no doubt about it, and I admire them both. Also, there are many benefits to having the word limit as low as 250 or 275 words. I humbly submit, however, that some concessions are necessary as far as what one can realistically accomplish in that space.

    Steve, I’m sorry I thought your piece was a little boring. Neither the program notes or anything I read on your Web sites mentioned anything about Crumb in connection with it, but now that I know, I doubt it would have changed my opinion after hearing it. What I was writing about was not your intention but about what I heard based on a single hearing. You focused here on the references to Crumb’s extended keyboard techniques, but there was a vocal part to the piece as well, the manipulation of which seemed to create the “creepy cries, moans and whispers” which I wrote about, and similar sounds are indeed heard in the Varèse piece. (No, I did not hear the piece at your concert but actually studied it, some time ago, in graduate school.) To make the comparison, just because you disagree with it, is neither irresponsible nor knowingly inaccurate.

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  13. Kyle Gann

    I’m not going to read either review, because no article on good music less then 700 words long is worth reading. No article less than 1000 words is worth writing. At 2500 words, it starts to get interesting – the writer actually has to think.

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  14. mclaren

    I’m really looking forward to those haiku-like 140 character twitter critical reviews.

    Everyone’s attention span has shortened, paying magazine and newspaper media are dying while hemorrhaging cash, and Web 2.0 has encouraged everyone to communicate in jots and tittles instead of complete sentences. Indeed, I confidently expect a music review by a major music critic to be written within the next 10 years which includes terms like LOL and ROTFL.

    The real story about music criticism post-1980, however, remains what Theodore Dalrymple calls “the rush from judgment.” Music critics (like all newspaper reporters) nowadays refrain from making any actual value judgments about their subject matter. I’ve quipped to various friends that if the Holocaust were to be reported today, headlines would run something like HITLER DEFENDS CONTROVERSIAL CAMPS FOR JEWS and CRITICS OF FINAL SOLUTION CALLED SHRILL: OPINIONS DIFFER SHARPLY.

    Making a value judgment about music implicitly requires taking a stand about absolute musical values. This raises hackles because, ever since 1945, contemporary music has found itself in the iron grip of what Steven Pinker calls “the blank slate hypothesis.” Namely, the belief system that any possible organizational structure for make can will produce pleasure upon sufficient familiarity, that no inherent biological or neuropsychological limits constrain the perception of music, and that with sufficient training any piece of music can be comprehended structurally — and that structural comprehension by the audience is the only significant value for contemporary music.

    It would be easy to cast this as a good guy-bad guy story about evil black hat left-brainers who tried to turn music into total abstraction vs good white hat right-brainers who cherish emotion and holistic impressions that can’t be well described by logical rational musical structure (the orchestral music of Henri Dutilleux offers a good example, ditto LaMonte Young’s pieces like the drift studies or the High Tension Transformer horn piece, Laurie Spiegel’s Bell Labs composition Expanding Universe or Eliane Radigue’s synthesizer pieces like Trilogie de la Morte and Adnos I-III. Logical rational analysis tends to bounce of these kinds of compositions. Which is to say, that even if you could break down these pieces into a left-brain structure, it wouldn’t explain what you hear or how it affects you.)

    But the truth is more complex. The “rush from judgment” occurred not just because of narrowmindedness or a putsch by the Darmstadt-Princeton-IRCAM mathematical structuralists, but also because of an exponential explosion of musical forms and musical materials and musical media. Most important of all, the musical mainstream has disappeared, so there no longer exists a stable reference point to which to relate a concert. As Leonard B. Meyer predicted in 1967 in Music, the Arts and Ideas, no style in contemporary music today enjoys any special cultural status within the classic music community. We have entered a “fluctuating steady state” in which many different styles and musical value systems coëxist without any one style predominating.

    Critics and audiences have learnt to withhold expressing judgment about new music because in many cases the musical materials and the structure differs so radically from what they may find familiar that a snap judgment becomes treacherous. The audience reaction to a performance of Steve Reich’s Four Organs in Boston in 1973 offers a good recent example:

    A 1973 performance of Four Organs at Carnegie Hall in New York City nearly caused a riot, with “yells for the music to stop, mixed with applause to hasten the end of the piece.” One of the performers, Michael Tilson Thomas, recalls: “One woman walked down the aisle and repeatedly banged her head on the front of the stage, wailing ‘Stop, stop, I confess.’”

    No one wants to make that kind of mistake again. This has led to a “failure of outrage” in which grossly awful music gets praised for irrelevant details like “its provocative sonorities” (some guy applying a belt sander to a cymbal) or “its fascinating new performance techniques” (beating baby harp seals with baseball bats).

    Above all, music critics today are absolutely totally 100% prohibited from ever saying something like “the composer lacks even the slightest vestige of musical talent.” If you say something like this today, and back it up with some evidence, people become hysterical. Sauve well-spoken PhDs go absolutely bananas. Their heads rotate 360 degrees and they spit up pea soup like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

    So it’s absolutely understandable — in fact, predictable and just about inevitable — that music reviews today utterly eschew even the most nebulous value judgments in favor of a “just the facts, ma’am” approach. The first piece used high-pitched sonorities with dense timbres and noticeable rubato. The second piece employed Javanese percussion and was parked ppp. And so on.

    At the same time, much of this “rush from judgment” in music criticism has resulted from the trend Richard Taruskin identifies in his great chapter “Explain Nothing” in Vol. 5 of his History of Music. By avoiding trying to do anything other than factually describe the sonic events, some modern composers like Elliott Carter ran a successful con game in which they managed to evade the entire issue of whether any putative structures in their music could even be heard. If you never talk about the structure, and if you never explain your music in other than mathematical terms, then anyone who says “That music sounds like crap!” or “I can’t hear those musical structures” can be successfully dismissed by pointing out “that’s not the point of the composition.”

    Above all, taking a strong stand and making value judgments disturbs people today. We’ve all been marinated in a cumbayah-type politically correct culture of tolerance in which saying “That composer is grossly incompetent” qualifies as “musical hate speech” instead of a critical judgment.

    When I point out that composers like Milton Babbitt or Karlheinz Stockhausen or Pierre Boulez have no discernible musical talent and lack basic musical competence, people go berserk. And when I cite hard evidence to back up my claims, as for instance by pointing out that the 16-value permutational rhythmic row Babbitt uses in All Set exceeds by at least 7 items the limits of human short-term memory as set out by George Miller in his article “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information,” The Psychological Review, 1956, vol. 63, pp. 81-97, tenured PhDs become hysterical. The 35-note pitch matrix used by Stockhausen in Studie I proves entirely inaudible because it greatly exceeds Miller’s limits and systematically ignores the gestalt laws of perception, and when I point this out, fans of new music go wild. And when I point out that this is clear evidence of Stockhausen’s gross incompetence as a composer, people go nuts. Otherwise reasonable musicians undergo musical lycanthropy: we witness spontaneous doctoral combustion.

    Pointing out that the loudness rows used by Babbitt or the metric modulations of Elliott Carter or the coin-flipping sonic excretions of John Cage have no audible organization because they ignore the basic properties of the human ear/brain system, incites contemporary music mavens to real fury. And when I use Cage against himself by noting that since Cage himself defined music as “organized sound” and since his sounds typically exhibit no audible organization because the chance processes he used are ergodic and thus have such low redundancy that from the point of view of Shannon’s information theory we can prove mathematically that they contain no information beyond the short-term limits imposed by Ramsey Theory, that therefore Cage’s sonic excretions don’t even qualify as music according to his own definition…well, at that that point, the PhDs start screaming obscenities.

    So for a variety of reasons, these kinds of essentially informationless music “reviews”
    represent the wave of the future. They’re here to stay. Look for more of this kind of thing, not less. In fact, I predict that we’ll gradually segue into reviews of contemporary music consisting of descriptions of dB values and frequency ranges. “The first piece had a maximum sound pressure level of -7 dBm and exhibited intense energy around the 4Khz and 3.1 Khz band.”

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  15. harold.meltzer

    Thanks for pointing out that Babbitt and Stockhausen and Boulez have “no discernible musical talent”. I had no idea.

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  16. pgblu

    If you say something like this today, and back it up with some evidence, people become hysterical. Sauve well-spoken PhDs go absolutely bananas. Their heads rotate 360 degrees and they spit up pea soup like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

    It’s funny. Here’s a relatively innocuous column decrying the brevity and/or shallowness of concert reviews, and it causes a 20-odd paragraph rant about music you hate. I’d say the ‘hysteria’ and the ‘going bananas’ you speak of are being mis-attributed.

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  17. gborchert

    On this point I have to agree firmly with the father of us all, Virgil Thomson, who maintained that description–as vivid as possible, of what a piece sounded like and/or how a performer played it–was a critic’s first duty: “Your feelings will come through automatically in your choice of words.” It may not be the only duty, but it’s the necessary foundation of any further discussion. Judging by this comment thread, the encouragement to critics to be more opinionated boils down merely to the need to see one’s pet hatreds validated in print. . .

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  18. harold.meltzer

    To expand my previous comment beyond the merely sarcastic (though mclaren’s publishing an attack on, among others, Milton Babbitt a few days after Babbitt died is tasteless and disrespectful): Art is not easily invalidated just because it is based upon faulty science. Should our deepening understanding of the nature of sound lead us to dismiss eighteenth century music, based on fundamental opposition of tonic and dominant, as in part acoustically spurious? Late in the nineteenth century Mahler, among others, regarded orchestration as a a science, re-scoring Beethoven symphonies in accordance with newer, better understood scientific principles — should we throw out the original versions. Science is a human endeavor, and artists’ understanding of the science of their time, imperfect at best, can inform their work. But even a paradigm shift in scientific understanding doesn’t make wrong or bad the music that existed before. So if you need to say “Carter ran a successful con game,” or something like that, go ahead, but with a nod to Thomas Dolby, please don’t blind me with science.

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  19. dB

    Not to pile on, but I suspect the reason mclaren’s comments bother PhDs (or anyone with half a brain, really) is how wildly faulty his logic is. Individual pieces, long creative periods, or even an artist’s entire professional output can’t be evidence of “no discernible musical talent” any more than one, ten, or one million empty glasses can be considered evidence of a complete lack of water on earth.

    Moreover, the gestalt theories mclaren mentions are only applicable in the way he describes if each tone in a row is heard as a distinct unit. If that were the case, many of the most famous romantic melodies or baroque fugue subjects were equally cobbled together by composers with “no discernible musical talent” like JS Bach, simply by virtue of them being more than nine notes long. Gestalt units aren’t the smallest possible units you can break something into (say, atoms, for instance), they’re the groupings we naturally make when observing something larger than we could otherwise perceive. Both the alphabet and the melody we apply to it are evidence of this phenomenon.

    Frankly, I don’t understand why these gestalt principles matter. We don’t apply them to any other artforms as a test of their artistry. Should the fact that I don’t specifically remember the 37th word of Macbeth indicate to me that Shakespeare was a con? I don’t know how many shots (or even scenes) there are in Citizen Kane, nor do I recall the expressions of each individual face on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Heck, most people need some kind of character list to keep the names in War and Peace straight, but we still rightly hail it as a work of genius. We don’t consider those works failures because there’s no pretense that they should have to obey gestalt principles randomly applied to some aspect of the work. I suspect that music is only held to this standard so people like mclaren can point to something to justify their opinions.

    Getting back to what was ostensibly the point of mclaren’s post, I think the main reason reviewers no longer write things like “the composer lacks even the slightest vestige of musical talent” is because it adds nothing to the reader’s understanding of the piece or the performance. I do think there’s room for opinions, but I also think the role of the modern review lies mostly in giving the public enough information to decide whether or not they should seek it out themselves.

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