Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Are Musical Opinions Objective? - part 1

Intro – Rock Appreciation
Rock music has not historically been thought of as being serious music. It was Classical music, or as I like to call it Academic music, that was most often scrutinized and discussed at length, and Rock was always the genre at which those scrutinizers were looking down their collective noses. But as Rock got older, and its audience much larger and wider, it became more interesting to compare songs, albums, artists, performers, producers, and to analyze and philosophize about different aspects of Rock music.

Unlike Classical music, appreciation for Rock music is a highly contextual affair. Rock is informed by so many factors that have little or nothing to do with the actual music and lyrics. Rock has more attitude. The bands/performers have attitude. Unlike Classical performers (at least until recently), Rock performers become Stars and Celebrities. The production (or over-production) of the records, the roots-sensibilities and influences, and even the political or social stance of the members (usually the singer) can also have input which affects the listener’s evaluation. It’s very easy for one person to think that a certain band is great while another person thinks the same band is horrible. There is less evaluation of musical content going on with regard to Rock music than Classical music, even though this isn’t perhaps generally acknowledged.

Objectifying Music
It is the former notion which spurred an email discussion with an online acquaintance regarding opinions about music. He seemed to think that what people say about music is somehow true or false, that there was a fact about musical quality, so that some people were wrong in thinking that some piece of music was good, and someone else was right. My immediate response was to think that opinions can’t be objectified, that musical quality judgments are subjective.

Although the discussion started out being about rock music, the principle of the idea should transfer to any music, as well as other art forms. The crux of my argument is that opinions can’t be objectified, and saying music is great, or beautiful, or cool, or horrible, is stating an opinion about it. The idea of greatness doesn’t exist in the objective world.

First, let’s be clear about the meaning of the terms we’re using. Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary says the primary definition of objective is “Of or pertaining to a material object as distinguished from a mental concept”. And the same source says of the word subjective, that it means “Of, produced by, or resulting from an individual’s mind or state of mind”. Thus we establish the polar character behind the meaning of these two words, in a nutshell, Mind vs. Matter.

The other main element in the argument is exploring opinions about Music (or Art), and defining their relation to the question of objectivity/subjectivity. Also, it is important to distinguish these opinion terms, which relate to mind or states of mind, from terms that relate to material existence.

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