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Objective quality of music

Objective quality of music
August 17, 2009, 08:04:52 PM
This came up on another board, but here I can talk to people with some experience in logical analysis, critical thought, debate and argumentation, philosophy and legal thinking:

How do we know music has objective quality, meaning that Britney Spears is not equal to Beethoven?

My pseudo-proof proof:

1. All things have quality; if not physical, quality of organization and truthfulness (correspondence to reality).
2. If Beethoven were played on a kazoo, it would still be good; thus, aesthetic surface qualities are irrelevant (production, voice, etc).
3. We can measure the degree of complexity, complexity of phrase, use of musical elements, etc., and finally derive artistic meaning.
4. Complexity and aesthetics in art are driven by this expression of artistic meaning.
5. Therefore, that which has artistic meaning is going to have quality.

Rejoinder 1:

"But that's subjective!"

Answer: everything is subjective based on the limitations of the perceiver. In other words, just because you can't tell the difference between Britney and Beethoven doesn't mean it does not exist.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 17, 2009, 09:43:48 PM
"But that's subjective!"

If I had a nickel...

I think you're right in that there is an objective ranking of music in terms of quality and that we can to a certain extent derive it despite our subjective viewpoints. When it comes to comparing Beethoven and Spears, the gap is so large that literally no one would argue otherwise, but as we compare pieces of music that are closer together in quality, our measurements become a lot less reliable. There is a limit to which our ideas of reality can overlap with the objective and it is (my goal at least) to push the limit as much as possible.

While the message is more important, I think that aesthetics are also important in presenting the message adequately. We can't escape our subjective nature completely and so the superficial qualities of music will always play some part in our judgments, especially when it comes to comparing pieces of similar quality.

This means our approach is a mix of the objective and subjective with the goal of tipping the balance towards the objective.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 17, 2009, 10:33:38 PM
When it comes to comparing Beethoven and Spears, the gap is so large that literally no one would argue otherwise

They WERE arguing otherwise on the NWN forums.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 17, 2009, 10:56:26 PM
Oh, excuse me.

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

- Albert Einstein

Re: Objective quality of music
August 17, 2009, 11:02:14 PM
Subjective has two meanings for people, which further confuses things. The first is what they personally prefer, which may or may not be shared by some others. The second is more abstract, meaning simply not objective. The use of this term is a method for passively, defensively avoiding powerful things we cannot control the basis of like quality. Fear of intangibles like truth and quality force us to understand we are individually less important, or less empowered than society would have us believe.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 17, 2009, 11:45:40 PM
2. If Beethoven were played on a kazoo, it would still be good; thus, aesthetic surface qualities are irrelevant (production, voice, etc).

I could not disagree with the second rule more. The spirit of music is not some abstract concept that exists outside or in spite of the music. As well as the written notation the way the music is sounded, the orchestration, the acoustics of the performance area all contribute to its spirit. Music unlike paintings and sculptures is not a static art; it only exists as it sounds and the way it sounds is dependent on not just the unchanging elements of the music but, as said before on the performance aspects. Would you honestly enjoy hearing the entirety of Beethovenís 9th performed by an ensemble of kazoos as much as you would its intended instrumentation? If aesthetic qualities are irrelevant it matters not how skilled a musician, how competent a conductor or well tuned an instrument is. It would matter not if the musicians play in time or in the same key so long as one can still visualise the original work. Composers write more than just the pitch and rhythm. They assign it to specific instruments for a reason, write specific tempo markings for a reason and write all the other hundreds of symbols used to give a more exact nature to the piece for a reason.

It is not a secret that the specific timbre of instruments during the baroque and early classical era held less (but not no) importance than in later periods. But in those later periods you cannot simply swap instruments lightly. If we look at the music of Wagner it is all about the specific nature of each instrument and how it compliments the specific nature of each other instrument.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 12:08:48 AM
On another note if life has no discernable inherent meaning then there cannot be an objectively greater anything including music. However that being said I want to be a happy individual. Naturally I want a life which brings the most pleasure. This may sound like hedonism however in the end so is every human pursuit. Christians view the grace of God as better than anything else. The Buddhist sees enlightenment as most noble path. A philanthropist finds more happiness helping others than helping himself and so on ad nauseum. I believe there are objective means to gaining a particular mindset and ethos.

I see the music of Beethoven as conductive to the path I have chosen, not that he is inherently better than anyone else. Before you talk about the objectivity of music you must designate a goal, or rather a path. Then it can be discussed what music helps one along such a path. I believe that this follows a worldly aim and can thusly be discerned with objectivity in the same manner as to discerning who the faster runner is etc.

However to say that the will of music is entirely objective is to say that will is entirely objective which is to say there must be a reason for it to be entirely objective. Outside of some metaphysical force I cannot think of a reason how any human will can be objectively better than anything else. It goes without saying that I reject the idea of some omnipotent and omniscience metaphysical force.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 12:16:21 AM
I say we use the scientic method.  We take whatever somebody says is Britney Spear's "master work" and compare it one of Beethoven's symphonies (3rd, 5th, 7th, or 9th) and have one person get aquainted with both pieces, then have them listen to them more times than a person normally would in one day, and see which one leaves the listener more fullfilled.  Repeat with someone else many times.  Compare percentage. 


Viola. 


Just kidding.


But seriously, time will pluck out Britney Spears, though not fast enough.  No one will know who she is in one hundred years, but Beethoven will stil be everywhere.  Seriously, how can anyone expect Britney Spears to stand out among all the other modern static.  Because she was more famous?  What musician can you name from the 1800s who was famous, did not write their own music, only pretended to sing, and pretty much only amounted to nothing more than an over-priced stripper?

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 12:50:13 AM
You're never going to hook up Hell Awaits to a machine and see how many millibachs it generates or something. The point is to develop internally consistent criteria for gauging music and these premises might vary with stylistic, period, culture and class conditions. For the purposes of pop and art music, the questions are obviously something along the lines of effective communication of the artist's ideas, how the artist affirms or negates the expectations of the audience given the style he's working in, etc.

I actually found this blog post pretty spot on:
http://www.artsjournal.com/postclassic/2009/08/the_epistemology_of_elitism.html

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 01:10:42 AM
I say we use the scientic method.  We take whatever somebody says is Britney Spear's "master work" and compare it one of Beethoven's symphonies (3rd, 5th, 7th, or 9th) and have one person get aquainted with both pieces, then have them listen to them more times than a person normally would in one day, and see which one leaves the listener more fullfilled.  Repeat with someone else many times.  Compare percentage. 

But seriously, time will pluck out Britney Spears, though not fast enough.  No one will know who she is in one hundred years, but Beethoven will stil be everywhere.  Seriously, how can anyone expect Britney Spears to stand out among all the other modern static.  Because she was more famous?  What musician can you name from the 1800s who was famous, did not write their own music, only pretended to sing, and pretty much only amounted to nothing more than an over-priced stripper?

If the person listening to it is not on a path that is consistent with the music of Beethoven they are likely not going to find very much use and enjoyment in it. I think if we did this experiment of yours the numbers would not be kind to Beethoven.

Will people really not know who she is in one hundred years? We still remember The Beatles, Elvis and Robert Johnson (whom was born one hundred years ago) and I cannot foresee them being caste into oblivion any faster than Beethoven. To say that we only remember the great I think to be a naive statement when we talk of music. I think we remember the truly gargantuan and famous with only the occasional minor figure becoming a star.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 03:41:33 AM
Quote
Where subjectivity comes in is that there is no objective criterion by which we can proclaim that craftsmanship is a higher virtue than innovation or sensuousness.

http://www.artsjournal.com/postclassic/2009/08/the_epistemology_of_elitism.html

What about all three? Innovation doesn't exist by itself; it is driven by the need to express. Sensuousness similarly. Further, craftmanship; we've seen too many cases of musicians playing below their ability to make a point. Maybe what art seeks to do, as W.S. Burroughs suggests, is represent some aspect of reality in an exciting and poetic way.

Regarding the "scientific method":

I think it might work. Subjecting someone to a week of Britney Spears and a week of Beethoven might knock the lint out of their heads. Then again, if they're dumb as bricks, they might end up hating both or neither. Dumb people have a high tolerance for disorganized sound.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 06:23:16 AM
Here's a much more practical proof:

1) Listen to a piece of music

2) A month later, do you still find yourself listening to it? (if yes, it's good)

3) A year later, do you still find yourself listening to it? (if yes, it's great)

4) Could you see yourself listening to it everyday for the rest of your life (if yes, it's godly)

When you try to quantify what separates "good" and "bad" art, all you get are silly descriptions like "innovation" and "complexity," but when it comes down to it, all that really matters is that the art has some sort of depth or profundity in its execution and intent--qualities that are best felt, not described in lists.

I could, for example, try to tell you what makes an album like Discharge's "Hear Nothing..." profound, but until you come to understand it through your own experience, my words will mean nothing to you.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 06:30:28 AM
The solution would be to kill off the Britney fans.

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 02:58:13 PM
The solution would be to kill off the Britney fans.

That is the most logical idea so far

Re: Objective quality of music
August 18, 2009, 02:59:58 PM
Will people really not know who she is in one hundred years? We still remember The Beatles, Elvis and Robert Johnson (whom was born one hundred years ago) and I cannot foresee them being caste into oblivion any faster than Beethoven. To say that we only remember the great I think to be a naive statement when we talk of music. I think we remember the truly gargantuan and famous with only the occasional minor figure becoming a star.


People remember those men because there are a lot of people who claim that those men created art.  Whether that's true or not, no one thinks Britney created art, and while a lot of people remember Frank Sinatra, his contemporaries are getting hazier by the day.