Music is not subjective

music_subjective_or_objective

One consistency in human behavior is a tend to lie about motivations and conceal them behind justifications, such as the kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar who claims he saw a mouse and tried to catch it. For this reason, most human arguments can be assumed to be not only wrong but malevolently deflective. One such argument is the “but music is subjective!” trope beloved of the internet’s zombie patrol of angry, isolated, lonely, vengeful and bitter people.

It is commonly used to retard the forward motion of anyone with an actual idea. When you find a great new album, and start talking about it, other people assume — as their glorious Simian ancestry would suggest — that you are attempting to seize power by appearing to be unique and wise. Perhaps you only want others to recognize the greatness of this album, but in their minds, that possibly is made remote. They retaliate by saying, “You might think that’s great, but it’s just your taste. Music enjoyment is subjective and so we are getting every bit as much enjoyment out of this album as you are from that one.”

This territorial response seems consistent across human times and ages. Any new idea is viewed as an incursion into the old, or if a realistic idea, as an assault on the fanciful vision of others which they want us to accept as literal reality. They fear that music might be shared and not entirely personal, because then it no longer serves as an expression for their own self-image. Most of the behavior you see in rock music is fans projecting themselves into the experience, and musicians attempting to use fan projection as a justification for self-esteem, mostly to themselves.

But is music subjective? The term subjective refers to any quantity for which appreciation by the individual is the only measurement. Nothing however fits this description because all quantities relate to something external to the individual; either events in reality, objects or concepts which in some way relate to elements of reality. The idea of subjectivity is in itself totally flawed. Even a priori conceptions are not subjective because they are intuitive and thus not properties of the individual, but pre-exist the individual. This calls to mind the troubling term “appreciation” which implies a type of preference, an action which itself requires an external referent, and also seems a typically human dishonest approach in that to “appreciate” implies enjoying something for its own sake only for the purpose of gatekeeping approval. That way, the individual can say “I recognized that truth, but I only appreciate this notion,” implying a truth-optional and reality-optional outlook. Obviously then the term “subjective” exists as a pre-emptive argument in defense of a choice rather than the reason for the choice itself.

This leaves us with the notion of objective, which in the human use is similarly flawed. Humans — being talking monkeys with car keys — view the objective as the universally recognized as true because it exists in reality. A more accurate assessment shows us that what is objective exists outside of individual humans, or in other words is reality itself. There is then no reason to label it “objective,” since it is merely real. However, the objective/subjective dichotomy arose as a type of euphemistic deflection designed to explain how something can be true and obvious, but appreciated by only very few because the rest are too distracted, narcissistic or physically incapable of the cognitive processes necessary to understand it.

We can then dispense with subjective and objective as a dichotomy, and look toward the question hiding in shadow behind the question that opens this article: is appreciation of music consistent between human beings? That is the definition of objective that people want because it translates into the statement “Beethoven is better than Bieber” not merely “most people prefer Beethoven to Bieber.” If music can be ranked in this objectivist way, then we can definitely say that Darkthrone is superior to Deafheaven or at least of a tier above it. On a social level, music becomes no longer “personal” because we the fans do not create it, or make it cool by our liking it, but discover it as it is and then alert others to that possibility. With “objective” appreciation of music, the music hipster fades away and the hype machine dies out, because both of these rely on projection by fans to make the otherwise unexceptional music they pimp seem important.

Certainly history seems to lean in this direction because the endless stream of favorites from the music labels tend to fade away, but a few bands that stand out seem to persist. History is not infallible because as any student of history knows, civilizations have a life cycle: at some point they start to decay and then die. When this is happening, they forget about all the good music and rush toward the trivial because people need distraction more than quality. In a healthy civilization however if a musician lasts for centuries it suggests something “eternal” about their music, as if it has a value beyond the immediate gratification of those who like it. Research suggests that humans recognize music as having certain attributes independent of culture:

Whether you are a Pygmy in the Congolese rain forest or a hipster in downtown Montreal, certain aspects of music will touch you in exactly the same ways. A team of researchers from McGill, Technische Universität Berlin, and the University of Montreal arrived at this conclusion after travelling deep into the rain forest to play music to a very isolated group of people, the Mbenzélé Pygmies, who live without access to radio, television or electricity. They then compared how the Mbenzélé responded both to their own and to unfamiliar Western music, with the way that a group of Canadians (in not-so-remote downtown Montreal) responded to the same pieces.

This provides a good argument that music can be appreciated across cultures and across ages of a culture because its language is universal. This could explain why some music, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, find willing audiences across the globe. It also suggests that music which outlasts a generation and finds new fans who are unaware of its social, political and generational significance may possess qualities above the transient. Another source of support for the idea of universality of music comes from Arthur Schopenhauer, who wrote that music expresses pure thought:

That music acts directly upon the will, i.e., the feelings, passions, and emotions of the hearer, so that it quickly raises them or changes them, may be explained from the fact that, unlike all the other arts, it does not express the Ideas, or grades of the objectification of the will, but directly the will itself.

Without getting into a complex discussion of Schopenhauer’s use of the term “will,” we can roughly equate it to thought and awareness in the individual. Schopenhauer believes that music does not convey situations in which the will can be identified, but the will itself, meaning that it translates thoughts into sound and communicates directly. As written about on this site for two decades, music is a communication, in this case a metaphorical one in which can be seen many situations but which belongs to no one specific situation. This can be seen in many cases where musicians thought they were writing about a specific experience or condition, and found that people attributed the music to a broader state which appears in many types of situation. No matter how this is parsed, it reveals that the truth of music is not on the subjective side, and matches what people mean when they say “objective.”

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Music, Musick and “Ick”


by Andreas Languetus

Music serves many roles in our lives, but the one closest to our sense of well-being is a rediscovery of beauty and purpose in the world. While neither is universal, or experienced by all people, the former is closer to the objective, meaning that it concerns the world itself, and the latter is closer to subjective, in that we each find our own path and so our purpose — while a descendant of broader purpose like adaptation, excellence, or knowledge — reflects our discernment and choice of that path in the moment.

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Musical Theory: Misuse, Pitfalls and Power

chapelofSteColombe

The slow evolution of Western society (and in consequence of the whole world) into the post-modern paradigm arising inevitably from the purely mechanistic cosmovision of the Enlightment sciences, which in the best of cases allow for a Cartesian separation of the physical and the spiritual, pervade every corner touched by the status quo culture. This results in a relegating of anything which cannot be explained or described in purely mathematical terms to what is referred to as ‘subjective’. Anything that is experienced but cannot (yet) be explained is assumed to be subjective. There would be a certain justice to this if the phenomena that are still unaccounted for by science were squarely placed in a category under a truthful label by the establishment confessing: “We don’t know how to explain this in our terms, but that does not mean it is any less real or without possible objective basis.” What takes place is an arbitrary classification of these into morally-justified beliefs when they are in line with the status quo and into so-called subjective experiences when they are not.

The views held by society must be enforced in every discipline precisely because they are the result of dogma and not actual science (a word unfortunately hijacked by a corrupt establishment lead by weak minds elevated to positions of prestige and power by other weak minds). It follows that dogmatic belief cannot be challenged at any level since any divergence spells out potential intellectual catastrophes and conflicts that are not guaranteed to be won by the powers that be. As a result, not only does education suffer in the form of indoctrination but so do the supposed heroes of objective knowledge that the sciences are said to be comprised of turn into the priests of the temple to whatever the hive believes. It is only to be expected, then, that the humanities and the arts are the most easily and selectively suppressed, limited or made irrelevant, since the processes and phenomena studied by them are even further away from the grasp of mathematical explanations.

In the Western classical music tradition,  the tenets of the Common Practice Period have been put into question for a very long time in progressively derisive waves. Very often, revolutionary thinkers that spearheaded such contrarian views had transcendent and elaborate reasons that motivated and justified their moving-beyond. But the hordes of followers understood only a portion of this, often inclined towards its most easily understood materialist explanation. In the case of Beethoven, followers of his defiance of what was expected of music were shielded from degeneration by the very fact that the then contemporary German culture was a very spiritual one, and its artists still acknowledged the magic behind music — occult properties and processes that can only be perceived but not fully explained. Contrastingly, in the age of Anton Webern,  his decision based on artistic principle to move away from traditional harmony to work with a self-defined and logical set of rules that he would use without falling into an empty materialism was taken up as fashion — the next “big thing” in classical music development. This directly reflected the way Western society saw the world around it at the beginning of the 20th century: as its playground, where anything “I like” goes and the capricious human will is allowed to do whatever it wants because we are the nihilist masters of the natural world. Gone was the romantic respect of nature and its view of humans as part of it. We must ask ourselves what dissolved the old German mysticism? The simple answer is that they, too, had to change, even if slowly and reluctantly, in order to not be destroyed in a world dominated by French Enlightment and overarching Russian influences — both with primarily materialist tendencies.

Music theory is one such set of occult properties. Yet it is only occult (hidden but observable) because there is no theory developed for the relation between arranged sound frequencies and mental states, especially at increased levels of complexity. Contrary to what scientifically-ignorant artists think, this is neither impossible nor irrational, just difficult. Contrary to the beliefs of Blank Slate – indoctrinated scientists, the study of innate human nature can yield explanations as to why, as a species, certain tastes, visual and sound arrangements and textures have certain effects on the mind (itself rooted in chemical states of the brain). The reason why both groups tend to back away from such ideas is not rooted in reason, but in the fear of not being acknowledged for who they are, which for them translates into what they want, like or prefer to believe to feel validated. In other words, reality is shunned in order to give way to a truth built on the necessities of feable human egos. The ramifications are manifold and most are out of the scope of this article.

Out of the accusations levelled against Common Practice Period theory, one of the most common and often accepted is that it somehow limits the imagination of artists. Presumably, this is because its rules define a perimeter around permissible options in a finite-state machine, thereby prohibiting the random allocation of space and time to music tones selected purely out of gut feeling. And that precisely is one of the defining factors of the post-modern vision of art. At this point, it may seem like I am contradicting my previous statements regarding the possibility of harmony rules being developed and justified on the basis of human nature. If they are, then an artist following only his gut feeling should arrive to at least similar results. First, that these rules are based on human nature does not mean they are free of the constraints of their historical context, including not only cultural implications but also material possibilities for the construction of certain instruments with particular timbres. Second,  the rules were developed through collective observations and philosophies over hundreds of years by many different people building on top and beside one another– in the same way that mathematics and modern science were gestated.

While older attitudes were nature-oriented, and tried to keep their understanding of human nature in line with what was then understood of the natural world, the Enlightment sees a rupture between them as a necessary effect of placing  human beings over nature as overlords to do as they please with it– thereby setting them beyond judgement within it. It was an ideology-based decision, not a scientific one. As a result, there are those, especially among the post-modernist classical artists, that are not guided by a free search for musical perfection, but by contrarian and politically-charged statements that can only be described as the ultimate incarnation of a hipster’s dreamworld.

The comparison to mathematics is in dire need of further elaboration as it contains the potential to elucidate much about what musical theory is and what it is not. We may start by stating that they are both tools and means to an end. Admiring the organization and arrangement of a music passage on grounds of technique is akin to feeling a sense of wonder when shown a beautifully and clearly derived mathematical formula. But neither of them by themselves attest to the accuracy of the connection of these to reality itself. Both musical and mathematical theory are dependent on premises — they are both arguments developed from a set of assumptions which may reflect conditions and events in the real the world.

Common Practice Period theory arose from organizing tones in the spectrum of perfect consonance to most extreme dissonance as perceived by human beings. Not one human being arbitrarily writing up rules, but scores of audiences reacting to the works of many different composers through lifetimes. Each composer taking notes on the triumphs and blunders of those that came before them and adding their own ideas. It was a veritable scientific effort of occult nature. The fact that the notes were taken not from one society at one point but by the cumulative effort many through many generations also somewhat lends to the tradition a tendency towards the transcendental. Of course, this is completely dependent on a healthy balance between acknowledgement of tradition (whatever that tradition is for the artist) and a continuation of its ideals with a progressive intent.

To round off the metaphor of mathematics, we should stress that no development invalidates or properly subordinates older techniques to newer ones. This fallacy is so pervasive that it is common to hear people referring to the use of newer techniques in themselves as a sign of superior expression. This is related to the malady that is born from the cult of novelty. In truth, when it comes to mathematics, if one person solves a problem using simple algebra yet another fails using calculus, it is obvious that the simple use of a more sophisticated technique is not in itself superior. It may be true that in art and music we do not have the luxury of calling something right and wrong, but the comparison is done in parallel and not on the same plane as mathematics. This is the same as when Newton developed Calculus, he did not ditch arithmetic and algebra developed hundreds of years before he was born, but used them to build this tool that would allow him to develop theories concerning abstract models of the physical world.

Nobody is saying there is a right and wrong dichotomy in music. In fact, this is where it is necessary to part from the analogy. Music is much more comprehensive and complex than mathematics (which only has a cumulative complexity, not a multi-dimensional one). Mathematics is comparable to music theory, the tool, and not to music. Music is the resulting idea crystallized, probably through the use of  music theory techniques, the same ways physics derive explanations of the universe by using different techniques from mathematics. By its occult nature, music’s domain being states of mind and evocation, what we do have in music is degrees of esoteric communication through sensory perception. It is a communication at many levels rather than only at the level of reason and goes beyond it and to our instincts and learned behaviors which as a total reflect a unique vision from a unique individual. “Personal taste” advocates need not get too excited as the variation can only be as wide as human minds allow — which scientific research shows is not as much as we like to think. Variation is wide with respect to how we see ourselves, but not that wide when we see the whole spectrum of possibilities. And as an occult discipline guessing at phenomena of the universe (and our mind in it) that we do not understand, music is more liable to wander off more than mathematics in its search for perfection.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGNh5BYJke0

Music as the manifestation of experience, as a gateway to purposely changing states of the mind in humans, is something that stands at odds with the idea of absolute music, for which music aesthetics themselves are the goal. This materialist vision based on the fact that current (this is a 19th century idea) scientific limitation of not yet having a mathematical model outside of aesthetics and certain organization cannot accept or encompass the higher-level processes of creation that reach for proportion, balance, direction and movement in an attempt to communicate. Ironically, it is rather this lack of tradition or significance that results in theory and rules being all there is that produces a much more limiting paradigm. The race of stretching aesthetics could only go so far and an artistic compound devoid of transcendental goals quickly gave up as they broke the boundaries of tonality, declaring music as we know it to be dead. Needless to say, this was as short-sighted as limiting literature to the number of “clever” arrangements of words — precisely the dead end of poetry without meaning, or poetry without form, all products of post-modernism. In any case, the disavowal of all meaning leads to music pursued as a sport, for the excitement that its physical acrobatics produce and not from what it communicates in and beyond its forms.

The other branch of a materialist appreciation of music surfaced more clearly in the freedom afforded by the post-modernist world to idiots to call themselves artists and plague us with moronic musical expressions supporting themes of self-pity communicated only through lyrics. Going further, many artists not only took this liberty but openly rejected any sort of tradition or knowledge as being only an obstacle for their expression. Again, ironically, their rejection of it resulted not in a revealing work transcending the ages, but an extremely simple product that even a child banging on the wall and singing with no thought or experience could produce.

This is not to say that you need theory to create good music. As was explained before, theory is only a tool based on cummulative observations over many lifetimes. We do fine geniuses and other people with an outstanding aptitude for music creation who will find ways to create solid music that is often technically rudimentary but complex in communication.

As with any mathematical techniques or grammar in language, theory augments and sharpens the natural talents of the person. But the catch here is that the artistic intent and vision of the artist is often as important as his natural aptitude towards creation. Whereas a Varg Vikernes consistently tries to find an ever-more ephemeral depuration of the essence of his music against the tides of trends in what is fashionable, a Luc Lemay gets lured in by what is chick, his talents wasted on kitsch. Granting a directed vision of music in a clear direction rather than with vague adjectives to justify fashionable aesthetics, the person with average talents can, with appropriate training and dedication, become a Franz Berwald, while the talented may reach the heights of Johannes Brahms.

The importance of following a transcendental route versus a materialist one are exemplified in two products of the 20th century. One followed the mechanistic descriptions of music to the point of absurdity and was hailed as a genius by the hipsters crowding the halls of academia. These were the many frauds of John Cage. Intellectually interesting experiments devoid of the basic dimensions of music: melody, rhythm and harmony. Contrasting the first comes a work that attempts to communicate a sense of wonder in nature without the vulgarity of dissoluting music proper for recordings of nature or other cheap tricks of post-modernism. This is the Fourth Symphony of the romantic Jean Sibelius, reviled by academic theorists and critics looking forward to the mechanistic augmentations of aesthetics and possible transformations rather than for the actual content of music. This was music for the music fan, not the ironic intellectual.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yybn6iKmYdQ

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On Appreciating Music and Reverse Engineering

04 Apr 2012, Athens, Greece --- April 4, 2012 - Athens, Greece - The famous ''Antikythera Mechanism'' is the earliest preserved portable astronomical calculator.The ''Antikythera Shipwreck'' exhibition takes place at National Archaeological museum in Athens. All antiquities recovered in 1900-1901 and 1976 from the legendary shipwreck off the islet of Antikythera, South of the Peloponnese will be presented for the first time in a temporary exhibition. The recovery of the shipwreck itself was the first major underwater archaeological expedition. It was undertaken by sponge divers with the assistance of the Greek Royal navy(1900-1901). The wreck is dated aproximately in 60-50 BC. (Credit Image: © Aristidis Vafeiadakis) --- Image by © Aristidis Vafeiadakis/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Music analysis and judgement (of any of its attributes or as a whole) can be done from different vantage points and with different emphases. Generally speaking, there are a few main approaches that are common in pop and metal reviews. Some judge it by its production qualities and its popularity, that is, mainly as a marketable commercial product. Others that are inclined to “feeling” the music will base their reviews on technically uninformed emotional impressions of the music. Others with a limited but comprehensive understanding of the technical will judge music as if it were a contraption, even being able to separate emotional impressions from material achievements of music. These are broad categories but individual reviewers usually fall in grey areas in between them with stronger tendencies towards one or another.

DMU’s approach has traditionally been one of judging music as romantic-era (19th century) literary and music critics would: an attention to evocative results as a function of technical means with a holistic emphasis. What this means is that what is most important is the final and total result and not the individual merits.  Additionally, we focus on the lasting evocative power arising from a layered and technically (at the composition level) competent work that moves beyond the technicality itself while not disregarding the musical balance it provides. In music we see the construction of Gothic cathedrals and not modern skyscrapers.

A useful analogy can be made between detailed music appreciation and reverse engineering in software engineering. Some might jump at the thought of comparing the two since “music is not a computer program” but these are nonsensically reductionist complaints. Anyone who truly understands how an analogy works knows that the source of its power arises from the insurmountable distance between the two obviously disparate objects being placed beside each other. The distance and disparity only serves to bring to the fore and underscore the characteristics we are interested in, achieving greater clarity by a negation of the irrelevant. The objects are not equated, they are superimposed. More precisely the main object under analysis is transposed into the space of the second one being used as an analogy.

To understand reverse engineering we must understand the order and direction of original construction. A vague idea is conceived usually behind a foggy screen since the builders have not yet figured out the details of how they will bring this into reality. Then, a step a time and usually with deviations from the original concept, the “material” shape of the concept comes into being. At the other end, when we are presented with a piece of software to reverse engineer, that is to say, to analyze and understand in terms of its parts, what we can see is the materialized concept only. The first step is to understand what this piece of software exactly does as we do not know how it was built. We get to understand what it does by categorizing input and output relations, which direct us towards an understanding its behavior in different situations — different contexts. The result of  a successfully reverse-engineered software program is a piece of code whose compiled object behaves the same as the original one in every conceivable way possible. This code is most probably different from the original one, but this is irrelevant since the importance of this code is the understanding and reproducing of the final piece of software. Original software building moves from details and into the solidification of a vision. Reverse engineering moves from the solidified vision and into the details.

In other words, what matters most is the total end result (as in music or software engineering) and not the judging of parts for their own sake (but only in relation as to how they affect that end result). This is why it is important as an analyst to move in a backward manner. But for this to be valuable, the person must understand this holistic result first, and this is only achieved through study and knowledge. This is comparable to the analyst of software who needs to not only see the input and output relations but understand higher-level concepts and probabilistic tendencies derivable from those. In the same way the analyst of music must through his own lenses and knowledge grasp a picture of the whole in its relations between harmony, rhythm and melody derive a map of sequences of movements and balances.

Going from the general to the specific enables us to keep a holistic view in focus. It helps us place the sum of the parts over the individual parts themselves. Trying to pick out the traits first and then judging the whole by making a recapitulation of these is not only obfuscating the whole which some with a more limited understanding judge to be impossible to put in objective terms but can be deceiving of just what the true quality of this work actually is.

To illustrate this point we can observe how appreciation of many so-called progressive acts is carried out. The positive reviews of these usually entail a shopping list of traits to be filled. Tempo changes, signature changes, contrasting moods, variety of instrumentation, instrumental competence, catchy and captivating melodies perhaps, too. An album like Dream Theater’s Images and Words fits these requirements to the letter and yet the result is a messy carnival train wreck that expresses nothing in particular precisely because there is no view of the whole in mind as a musically-balanced entity, but only as a sequence of cool moments.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh3c0eys-8o

This phenomenon can also occur through ignorance of what music constitutes. This happens in pop and the so-called symphonic metal, which I will re-baptize with a more honest name: metal-like pop, or just metal pop. In this vein, an album like Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful is received by its fans and judged primarily in terms of how catchy it is. How effective its hooks are and how much they will like its melodies. Arguably a more musically honest affair than the pseudo prog of Dream Theater, this reduces music to only one of its many aspects and judges the whole by its effectiveness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewd0z6fJbR4

Finally, I would like to mention the often mis-appreciated Obscura by Gorguts. Ignorant and pretentious journalist twats like Anthony Fantano spewing almost nonsensical and musically irrelevant descriptions such as “intense technicality”, “noisy surprises” and “dizzying structures” of Gorguts’ music in Coloured Sands represent the epitome of the post-modernist hipster’s appreciation of the band’s music. While popular arguments in favor of Obscura include how “technical” it is (while most fans barely even grasp what this actually entails, they think it has to do with how difficult it is to play or hear), how foreboding its atmosphere is while remaining “brutal” (an obviously superficial judgement of quality) or even worse, how “original” (by which they mean different) it is. They’ve basically reduced a masterpiece to “difficult to play and listen to, brutal and quite different from most stuff out there”.

The merits of Obscura are far more subtle than that, as are any real merits resulting from true excellence. The degree to which it sounds superficially different comes from a use of the riff that I would call mystical. That is to say, the riffs and their harmony here no longer represent what they traditionally do, but they remain significant in terms of the operations they build in the context of their neighboring riffs. They stop being translucent symbols that show the way into a harmonic and melodic conclusion and they become opaque, acquiring new meaning — a specific musical function dictated by their author– determined by their positions at different moments that instead causes the mind to reach that conclusion on its own through coherent indirection and dissimilitude of expression within a consistent language. In this, Obscura is the death metal counterpart to Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXpnR695uj4

Stepping away from the dynamic picture that music is and listening for the total results and relations in the big picture enable us to know exactly what to look for as explanations for these. In a way it implies focusing on an interplay between the subjective (our impressions of the whole) and the objective (the music structures themselves) to locate music — itself an expression of beauty, to which the dichotomy of objective and subjective is inapplicable — somewhere in between.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q3LeWKYyCQ

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Is death metal essentialist music?

essentialismDuring the second world war, while most of humanity was involved in mass warfare, the writer and thinker Jean Paul Sartre was instead laboring away in the libraries of occupied France. He was solidifying what has become known as the philosophy of ‘existentialism’. One of the main tenants of existentialism is that ‘existence precedes essence’, or in other words, that there is no fixed and immutable basis from which human life proceeds and from which it derives its meaning.

According to an existentialist, an individual human being is borne, becomes conscious, and then creates his or her own meaning from a point of reference of personal choosing, in a subjective act of pure freedom. Indeed according to Sartre, existentialism is a form of humanism, and we can see why. Secular Humanism, or modern humanism, is the normative or ethical ideal that individuals have the right and responsibility to give meaning and purpose to their own lives, free from tradition, scripture or ‘higher’ authority. So ‘existentialism’ and ‘humanism’ are both cut from the same cloth, the former being a complex (and some would argue, intentionally obscure and obfuscate) philosophical justification for the latter.

Existentialism is a reversal of the traditional metaphysical notion of ‘essentialism’, or the idea that there exists a fixed point from which values and meaning can be derived, by an objective act of intellect or rationality. The most commonly encountered form of essentialism is, in fact, religion. In the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, God is the basis for existence. He forms the immutable point from which values and meaning are derived. The actions of individuals, their lives, even the actions of entire cultures and cultural movements, derive their value (Good or Evil) from their particular relationship to God. A figure representing the extreme end of the essentialist spectrum, in so far as absolutely positioning life in relation to something prior and fixed, might be Osama Bin Laden. For Bin Laden there is one Word, one Truth, one measure of values. Human ‘choice’ is only as valuable insofar as it leads to a life proscribed by the Word of God. You are beheaded with a bread knife, held down on a concrete floor in panic and terror, if, in choosing to give your life ‘its own meaning’, you align yourself against God. Needless to say, Bin Laden and Sartre would not have got along.

In light of the issues discussed above, death metal is a curious art form. Its position on the existentialist <–> essentialist spectrum is unclear. In its aesthetic outlook, it mocks religious sentiment and tears down religious imagery with truculent glee. Its lyrics praise Satan, evil, darkness and anything, it would seem, that runs against the grain of monotheism. Hence it could be swiftly concluded that death metal is anti-essentialist art, par excellence, tearing down that that last barrier to human freedom: religion.

With a shift in perspective, however, death metal could be viewed in a thoroughly different light. It could be viewed a form of essentialist art. If this is true, then what prior structures could death metal be said to worship? Firstly, death metal posits an immutable essence from which individual human existence stems and from which it cannot escape: biology. Death metal abounds in morbid liturgical hymns about dissection, disease, the tearing of flesh, and the wrenching of bone. Secondly, death metal posits an ‘absolute’ point of reference from which all human actions are judged: death. That ‘all life ends’, is embodied in roaring sentiment in the whole show of death metal. Everyone dies, and reality cares not one whit for the individual. So you, buying your coffee table and matching coasters, beware; your time is finite. Death metal might well be an artistic conduit for spiritual readjustment in the face of something inescapable that, whether we like or not, at some point we are going to have to judge our lives in reference to.

Thirdly, in compositional method and production death metal seems to be inspired, if only implicitly, by prior natural forms. Compositionally, a death metal piece evolves via the linking of riffs according to geometrical shape as opposed to the normal way of linking parts in rock music which is harmonic. This is what give death metal its atonal and, at first, unattractive sound to the uninitiated. Production wise, nihilistic individual units of distorted tone depend on their relation to other such units, or the overarching structure of the song, to achieve beauty in death metal, a bit like matter and the physical universe where a piece of matter, taken by itself, is unremarkable and unsexy.

The list of ways in which death metal could be viewed as an acknowledgement of prior and apparently inescapable aspects of reality is a long one. Battle, night, winter, solitude; all are frequent topics of lyrical subject matter and fodder for imagery. Of course, there are all sorts of aspects of reality that are fixed and inescapable yet which death metal ignores: love, growth, joy, etc. But this is because death metal is concerned with those prior structures to human life that we choose to ignore because they are uncomfortable. Hence its ominous and brooding aesthetics. But while death metal is dark music, anyone who cares to pay enough attention can apprehend that the most worthy contributors to the genre are a world away from writing protest music.

Death metal is not ‘rebelling’ against the uncomfortable parts of life that we are doomed to face up to at some point. It is an attempt to give these aspects of life an artistic redemption. In this, and only this sense, can death metal be said to be ‘humanistic’. It is an attempt at representing those aspects of reality that we often ignore, in order to give them some relevance in human affairs so that we might adjust our lives accordingly, in full awareness of the place of human live in the cosmos.

If all this is correct, then death metal may very well be ‘naturalist religious’ music: A ‘yes’ to, and artistic redemption of, life as process, renewal, conflict and reductive energy.

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Participation

A followup to the much-hated Half a mind

When people say they detest elitism, it’s easy to show them that this is not the case.

Slocrates: Tell me, Thrashmyasscus, why do you think elitism is wrong?

Thrashmyasscus: Clearly, it prioritizes some people above others.

Slocrates: But were you not opining that Justin Bieber sucked cock earlier?

Thrashmyasscus: Yes, but that’s Bieber. His music is beyond bad.

Slocrates: Ah! So we agree that some music is good, and some music is bad.

Thrashmyasscus: Yes, but —

Slocrates: And so we also fuckin’ agree that it’s just a matter of degree between hating Bieber because he’s a useless talentless faggot, and hating “Radikult” because it’s a moronic Marilyn Manson ripoff fifteen years too late?

Thrashmyasscus: Of course. Both of those are worthless.

Slocrates: So then it is only a matter of degree when I say that Necrophagist, Cannibal Corpse, Cradle of Filth, Pantera, Meshuggah and Craft are douchebag low-IQ trailer-dwelling shit, and that Demigod’s Slumber of Sullen Eyes is a work beyond compare?

Thrashmyasscus: That’s not the point. You’re comparing apples and oranges.

Slocrates: Fine, then. What about if I say that black metal from 1990-1994 produced many great bands, but that since 1994, black metal has produced very few?

Thrashmyasscus: Then I’d say you are being judgmental.

Slocrates: And yet when we pointed out that Cannibal Corpse was whale dreck, and Bieber was shit, and yet praised Demigod, you did not mind?

Thrashmyasscus: Slocrates, these are night and day differences. You’re splitting hairs.

Slocrates: To someone who disliked all metal, the differences might not appear so great.

Thrashmyasscus: Well, that’s true, but the point is that elitists are too discerning.

Slocrates: In your view, elitists are not wrong because they choose good music over bad, but because they raise the bar too much?

Thrashmyasscus: That’s not what I mean at all, — but I take your point. Music is subjective, Slocrates. You can’t judge it.

Slocrates: It seems we are having a different debate. If music is subjective, why are any bands at all popular?

Thrashmyasscus: It’s purely random.

Slocrates: And yet both of us agree that Justin Bieber is a cock-horfing turd of a musician. How do we know this?

Thrashmyasscus: The simplistic songs… the moronic lyrics… his wailing voice… I must rape…

Slocrates: As you say, it’s then a matter of degree. Much as from a distance a man and a dog appear closer in height, from a distance “Radikult” and “Chapel of Ghouls” appear closer in quality. Then what you think is wrong with the elitist is that he is too close to the music at hand.

Thrashmyasscus: Fuck you!

They have no idea why they detest elitism. At first, it just seems unfair; next, the standards are too high; finally, they accuse you of being an elitist so you sound cool to the kids at school. They will probably do this while holding an Opeth or Obscura record, which they will just have finished beating about the heads of their friend group, telling them how enlightened and musically proficient it is in contrast to whatever crap those morons are listening to.

I have a different supposition: they hate elitism because it says participation alone is not enough.

The participation alone people want to believe that all music is basically the same, and if you learn to play guitar and make some songs, then record them, you’re part of the club.

Elitists say “not so fast” and demand instead that you do all of the above, and also make quality music.

For an elitist, the focus is on the music; it’s on the end results. Who cares about the rest?

The problem with this of course is that it means participation is not enough. One has to get good. That requires that one have certain innate talents, and apply oneself.

Naturally, this isn’t popular with the Crowd. They’d rather hear that you can get out there with a guitar, record whatever sloppy and incoherent crap runs through your mind, and then be part of the club. Everyone else then owes it to you to support you, because you tried. Everyone is equal on the level of participation.

What irks such people is that to history, and any sane observers, participation is nothing. Achievement is all. And not all can achieve, and this upsets them to learn, because they came to metal to get away from the achievement-requiring standards of (life|school|social groups above 105 average IQ|the Dayton-Hudson Corporation employee handbook).

Metal is their escape, and you’re ruining it for them.

But if you don’t, they’ll ruin your metal by inundating the scene with low quality music.

When that happens, no one will find the good stuff, and good musicians will go elsewhere. Why work hard to make good music so a bunch of participation-is-everything fans can blow it off?

Participation is nothing; the end result is all.

If you were playing basketball, you wouldn’t want a guy on your team who thought “trying” to get the ball in the hoop was enough. No; you want the guy who gets it in there.

When someone fixes your roof, you don’t want some guy who “tries” to do it right. You want someone who succeeds.

Music is no different, and it’s a secret hidden in plain sight that this is true, because there are so many participants (who have nothing else in life but a job making sandwiches, a dingy apartment and a string of failed relationships) who want to force us all to believe that participation is equal to achievement.

It sounds like they have a mental health problem, doesn’t it?

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Dusk-Bound

The success of endeavors that carry with them the implication of development or transformation, such as the evolution of an artistic genre (without any relation to the ‘progress’ of dialectical materialism), requires the constant testing of strength, the crossing of one’s boundaries. Contrary to the beliefs of the simple minded, this does not mean that the act of crossing those lines is in itself enough for a fully-formed conclusion to be presented, although there is indeed great value in violation itself. But one could argue that the great weapons of the mind, enacted, come as a result of a full digestion and re-application of invaluable experience and information that comes from the crude testing of strength, directed towards the intuited limits of the yet unexplored.
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Hate Mail (#10): Panzer Division Memminger

A German poseur with a stick up his ass calling himself Memminger Huette emailed us a review he had written of Marduk‘s comical Panzer Division Marduk. I at first assumed his review was a parody of how mainstream rock publications write about metal but that soon proved not to be the case in the brief email exchange that followed between him and me. His emails are the ones quoted after the jump.

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Aversion to Advent Parallax


Article by Lance Viggiano. Read his take on Transilvanian Hunger here.

I was essentially swindled into purchasing the gorgeous gatefold edition of this Averse Sefira LP which showcases some rather magnificent and captivating artwork as well as an above average execution of the band’s themes, concepts, and symbolism in visual form.

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Traversing the Underground: Roots and Origins

tolkien-tree

Article by David Rosales.

A trend in the modern conception of anything has been that the newer something else, the better we expect or assume it to be. Experience in reality, however, has also given rise to another perception: that the new tends to be worse and not better. Attempts at rationalizing this drive the pseudo-intellectual, pro-sheeple crowd to say that times just change, but ratios of quality do not vary. This is not only unscientific but an obvious politically correct answer that has as its premise that everyone is equal, and hence, that the resulting products of these “equal” people must also be probabilistically equal. Impermeable external influence seems to them the only changing factor, with the internal being either infinitely constant or practically negligible. This is assumed and then possible causes are haphazardly and desperately pieced together, the answer is assumed and then anything is either positive evidence or brushed aside if too problematic to incorporate into the fairy tale. Ignorance compounded with pretense and emotional insecurity always results in capricious imposition of an arbitrary and dogmatic concepts and scale of values.

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