Hate This Music—Please!

In the late 1990s David Soldier decided to create the world’s ugliest music, as determined by a poll that asked respondents what elements and factors were most unwanted in a piece. With results in hand, he created a work that embodied all of his results. To quote:

The most unwanted music is over 25 minutes long, veers wildly between loud and quiet sections, between fast and slow tempos, and features timbres of extremely high and low pitch, with each dichotomy presented in abrupt transition. The most unwanted orchestra was determined to be large, and features the accordion and bagpipe (which tie at 13% as the most unwanted instrument), banjo, flute, tuba, harp, organ, synthesizer (the only instrument that appears in both the most wanted and most unwanted ensembles). An operatic soprano raps and sings atonal music, advertising jingles, political slogans, and “elevator” music, and a children’s choir sings jingles and holiday songs. The most unwanted subjects for lyrics are cowboys and holidays, and the most unwanted listening circumstances are involuntary exposure to commercials and elevator music. Therefore, it can be shown that if there is no covariance—someone who dislikes bagpipes is as likely to hate elevator music as someone who despises the organ, for example—fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population would enjoy this piece.

My problem with this piece (listen for yourself here) is the inherent logical fallacy: That if you take undesirable elements x, y, and z and combine them, you will certainly get an unwanted piece. It’s actually not a full-proof recipe for disaster. In fact, I like certain elements in the piece and it has a solid sense of form, using repetition in a rather sophisticated way. Because the authors wanted to pack in so many parameters, the piece has wildly contrasting ideas, which adds a nice variety. All in all, it exhibits elements that are consistent with music that I (and most people) appreciate: repetition, variety, tonality, humor.

I would much prefer listening to this than a 25-minute long piece that is characterized by constantly gray, total-chromatic harmonies, one dense texture, and no repetition. Wouldn’t such a piece be considered ugly by more people than Soldier’s experiment?

As a side note: Soldier also created the “Most Wanted Song”—I think it’s worse than the Unwanted Song. Thoughts?

18 thoughts on “Hate This Music—Please!

  1. Chris Becker

    Yotam,

    I am sure you understand (?) that Dave (who in addition to being a composer actually is a scientist) presents this project with a high degree of humor and irony. The preliminary research is presented in the CD booklet with an almost ridiculous level of detail. His Mulatta label includes releases of music created by Elephants which – in addition to being quite lovely to listen to – raises all kinds of provocative questions about creativity, research and process.

    I guess I’ve only just recently come to understand that many scientists are not above seeing the humor in their own profession and its protocols. I’m also discovering that many hold creative artists in a very high regard. This June I’ll be doing a show here in NYC with chemist Roald Hoffman who is also a fine poet and playwright. His essays on creativity in scientific research are pretty inspiring (and you can find them on his website). And – believe it or not – he’s a funny guy :)

    Reply
  2. kontrabass47

    Most people don’t even know how to feel about what we do. I hated the hate music and I also hated the love music. I think we could all think of a hundered pieces which would literately force many people to scream in pain. The majority of the american population is so musically illiterate, that it is not even calculatable.
    jon crane

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  3. Chris Becker

    I’m confused now…do you guys understand that the point of the CD isn’t actually to create a piece of music that a majority of people will “love” or “hate”? That the people involved are satirizing a process, an attitude and/or level of literacy (both high and low) in order to (humorously) make a point (and not without a certain degree of self effacement)?

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  4. rtanaka

    Heck, even I write in styles that I don’t particularly care for all the time…the result is parody. The piece is pretty humorous, actually…:)

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  5. curioman

    This is priceless! :)

    Hey everybody, do all your listening… at Wal-Mart!

    (Oh wait, they don’t sell that one.)

    Reply
  6. Dave Soldier

    Yotam, I appreciate your discussion of my piece, but I think you are making what us scientists call a “Type 1 error” in assuming that your tastes are within the Gaussian (aka normal or bell curve) distribution of the vox populi.

    Your error is that you assume that “I (and most people) appreciate: repetition, variety, tonality, humor.” As Chris Becker sagely points out, some lack the last, which suggests that your assumptions could be incorrect, and your population model unrepresentative. A second concern is the appropriate mathematical handling of [repetition]*[variety], which is difficult, but I assure you our new wavelet models strongly correspond to our earlier ones, and confirm that increasing the number of attributes that listeners don’t want will combinatorially produce music that fewer people like.

    I thus continue to stand by our earlier assessment that the Most Wanted Music is the most popular music ever created (you call it “worse”, but quality is not our concern here, and to derive the components of quality would require a different experiment), with statistically hundreds of millions of humans who love it (you can hear many imitations on radio and TV ), whereas the Most Unwanted Music had at most 200 people who could enjoy it in 1997, and 325 people in 2008. I an encouraged that you disagree with the world at large, but even if due to outstandingly good taste, I’m afraid that you are an outlier, and for these purposes only, statistically insignificant.

    Art for the people! your pal, Dave

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  7. AmericanInUK

    Why attempt to produce music that no one likes?

    Sorry, I don’t get it. IMHO, that’s just anger at the establishment, sort of saying “FO for not liking my music. I’m gonna write something you’ll really hate.”

    Well, if the stuff you like to write didn’t make it in the first place, then maybe you don’t have what it takes.

    Also, why are we listening to this music??? If it was designed to be hated, then – sorry – there is too much good music for me to listen to to waste my time on something I’m expected to hate.

    I realise I’m probably gonna get flamed for this opinion, but the huberous of composers that write like this amazes me.

    flames to my email or
    http://interchangingidioms.blogspot.com welcome!

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  8. macwnj

    Hate this music—please
    I am really curious to see the original poll used to gather this information. Is it posted anywhere?

    Reply
  9. rtanaka

    It’s sort of interesting that some people aren’t getting that the work is supposed to be a satire. George Lewis (who’s at Columbia now, I believe) did mention once that Americans often have trouble grasping the concept of irony…maybe there’s some truth in that.

    I’ve met some people who had no idea that Stephen Colbert’s reporting is supposed to be sarcastic. They listen to his words and strongly agree or disagree with an absurd statement…which is kind of absurd in itself and it kind of blows my mind in a lot of ways. Then there are cultures in the world where the concept of sarcasm doesn’t seem to exist. (Why would you say something that you don’t mean??) What a strange world we happen to live in.

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  10. Dave Soldier

    Chip Clark only half understands our project: we are not only making music people don’t want, but also the world’s Most Wanted Music! So exactly half of our efforts may be to tell listeners to “FO” (with the exception of Yotam, who is statistically insignificant), but during that other half, we are telling them precisely the opposite of “FO”, whatever that would be. We have been amply rewarded by the love of hundreds of millions of listeners.

    For macwnj, you can get some of the data, including Powerpoint slides prepared for you and other aficaonados to present by the links within
    http://mulatta.org/peopleschoice.html

    and when I have time, I’ll post the questions from the old survey as well, plus Nina Mankin’s Most Wanted and Most Unwanted lyrics.

    Finally, for rtanka, some of my current musical research uses brainwaves to compose music, along with co-composer Brad Garton – brainwaves are so much faster than a pencil and it becoming very hard to buy score paper – and a piece made unconsciously by my brain while reading Stephen Colbert’s new book can be heard at

    http://davesoldier.com/experimental.html#EEGl

    Art for the people’s will, half of the time!
    Dave

    Reply
  11. Patrick

    It seems from most of the comments here that people haven’t seen any other Komar and Melamid work, but on listening to the Most Unwanted Song I thought it was interesting how I was immediately reminded of their Most Wanted Painting – it was especially apparent when reading the description of the Most Unwanted Sng.

    This is ‘America’s Most Wanted Painting’ http://www.diacenter.org/km/usa/most.html – featuring George Washington, children and a deer in a landscape. Seems interesting the similarities between what people most want in their imagery and what they least want in their music.

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  12. Frank J. Oteri

    Patrick,

    Thanks for pointing people to Komar and Melamid’s Most Wanted American Painting.

    Actually, the assemblage of artwork comprising the most and least wanted paintings from various countries on the globe speaks volumes, I think. I found it particularly interesting that the most wanted painting by Americans was a representational landscape and its least wanted was geometric whereas in the Netherlands the most wanted painting was a color field and the least wanted was a work of neo-realism.

    What leads certain populations to be more predisposed toward abstraction? Or can we even glean such information from such data?

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  13. ymh2

    As Chris Becker points out, Soldier’s work does foster discussion on ideas of creativity and aesthetic — I salute him for that.

    Nonetheless, I stand by my point — THE point of my post — that there is a logical fallacy in his project: combining unwanted things will surely produce an unwanted product.

    As far as Soldier’s quirky, well-crafted project being totally sarcastic, I’ll take that as a given, though perhaps the informality of my own post should be taken with a grain of salt as well.

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  14. philmusic

    Hey Dave! In the “most wanted song” I did not hear the words…”Carry on.”

    I thought that phrase was in every hit?…I’m upset–did I miss them?

    I quess I just have to soldier on.

    Phil Fried

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  15. dalgas

    I think he’s pretty clear that the result is simply what it is; that is, though the input is all “least wanted” in no way demands that the result will be least-wanted. And it says even less about “liking” or good/bad. The whole project reminds me of The Simpsons, where Homer gets to design a car exactly like he thinks cars should be made, and creates a monstrosity that sinks the car company.

    It does provide insight into a slightly deeper analog, which is when we build utopian rules for what should be good and bad in a society; there’s the same risk of reality running counter to what we were sure would happen.

    Steve Layton

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  16. rtanaka

    There’s also the aspect of the juxtaposition of “good” things which often result in something ridiculous. I like burgers and I like ice cream, but do you eat them together? I think that the “most wanted” song is funny too, although more subtle. The “most wanted” American painting seems pretty bland at first, although if you look closely you’ll notice the ridiculousness of George Washington hanging around in the painting.

    The most unwanted song is just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard though…in a good way. :)

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  17. Dave Soldier

    Yotam, if you accuse someone of a “logical fallacy” twice, you better have your rationale straight. We have two solid pieces of evidence to counter your, to date, unfounded claim.

    1) Math of the survey data: Multiplying a normal distribution by another normal distribution yields another, smaller, normal distribution.

    2) Empirical studies: To excerpt my article in the peer-reviewed music journal, Leonardo:

    “The classic performance of these two works was for a production of a VH1 television show, Rock Candy, at Shine, a dance club off Canal Street in New York City. Doug Stone brought in a camera crew who filmed the unsuspecting club goers dancing to disco until they became used to the camera. Then, the DJ slipped in the Most Wanted Music. Although for all of the previous dances couples danced separately, they started to hold each other & nuzzle. When the song was finished, the audience broke into applause, something that hadn’t occurred following any of the other songs the DJ played.

    This was followed by a return to about 20 minutes of typical club dancing music, lulling the crowd into a sense of normalcy. Then, the DJ slipped in the Most Unwanted Music. About 5 seconds into the piece, the dancing stopped. Forty seconds after that, someone screamed to the DJ booth: “Turn it OFF!” Turn it OFF!” Brilliantly conducted by Maestro Stone, who took no bow, and it plays on reruns.”

    Data is data, pal.

    You can download the entire article, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: how nefarious nonartists cleverly imitate music” – which includes research on bird, child, and animal “music”.

    Yotam, if you continue to accuse Komar, Melamid and me of “logical fallacy”, I suggest that you disprove us empirically:
    demonstrate the existence of more than 325 people in the world’s population who want the piece. As Frank Oteri points out, we may need to exclude the Netherlands, apparently a nation of statistical outliers.

    If Yotam and the New Music Box staff consider my theories so critically, I’m worried what you will think of my upcoming “The Essential String Quartet” which we will compose by boiling down 2 violins, a viola, and a cello, and displaying their component proteins on a western blot. Should be precisely equivalent to the traditional form of the quartet, but more compact and in a more easily analyzable form.

    Erratum for Phil Fried: you are right, we neglected the term “carry on” and we further neglected including the word “fool” from the lyrics of The Most Wanted Song. I blame my oversight on grant deadlines.

    Art for the future of science and peoplekind!

    Dave

    Reply

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