July     27, 2000
                                                  Rev: July      4, 2004
                                                  Rev: December 21, 2004

Musical conventions are just that.
A culturally determined language.         This fact (definition? analogy?)
                                          suggests that you can learn
Difficult to grasp sometimes.             musical languages, with practice,
                                          much as you can learn any other
You get very                              kind of language.
visceral reactions    CONCRETE_MUSIC
to music, more so                         Though perhaps also: you will
than from words.                          always have trouble learning a
                                          foreign language as well as
No one needs to be told the               your childhood language(s).
meaning of a major chord to feel
the meaning...                               And there may be musical
                                             languages which are more
And yet I'm told by                          difficult to learn than
ethnomusicologists, that                     others... analogs of
there is no culturally                       Chinese, say, which a
independant meaning of     With the          typical Westerner must
a music interval.          exception,        give up on the idea of
                           perhaps of        ever truly mastering.
The difference between     the beat
a major and a minor        frequencies          So, something you
chord is not a matter      heard when           don't like may simply
of physics or biology.     two notes            be in a language you
                           are very             don't know.  Yet.
                           close to
                           each other.             EXPLAINING_THE_INEXPLICABLE

              And yet, even there: the            To me, there's an unholy
              male and female gongs of            triumvarate of bad music
              the gamelan use this                genres: metal, disco and
              feature intentionally in            blues.
              their low, shimmering
              melodies; but in the                But it may be that even
              West we try to make it              these are ranked low by me
              go away, listening for              just because of my inability
              it is just a trick for              to hear them as a "native"
              tuning instruments.                 would.  It could be, for
                                                  example, that the musical
                                                  tedium I experience
                                                  listening to blues (same
                                                  chord progression, nearly
                                                  the same melody, heavily
                                                  standardized lyrical
                                                  subjects) is a shallow

                                Indeed, I sometimes defend other artistic
                                genres that use a standard framework:
                                It doesn't mean there's no creativity
               (A kind of       involved, it just means that it's built on
                minimalism?)    top of the framework, rather than embedded
                                in the framework.

                                           "[The formula] says there
       What about the                      must be a monster, but it is
       esthetic/ethic                      the individual hack who
       of "eclecticism"?                   searches his own heart for
                                           what it is that frightens."
       Literally it means ranging            -- Algis Budrys, F&SF Aug 1976
       widely and selecting the
       best.  But how do you know
       what the best is?

   A devotee of hip-hop
   will undoubtably have
   at least a somewhat
   different conception
   of the "best" than I do.
                                                        Relativism is hard
At KZSU, the hip-hop DJs                                to accept in the
tend to be purists, they       Eclectics and purists    things you hold dear...
like traditional/old-school    are necessarily always
hip-hop, and dislike           at war with each other.
attempts at cross-over say,
by using a pop-lyrical
chorus as a refrain to the

                                                                  Are there
                                                                  patterns in
                                                                  art?  A
                You can't select                                  philosophy
                the "best" of an                                  of beauty?
                artform without                                   A human
                understanding the        Unless: understanding    esthetic?
                artform.                 is portable among
                                         artforms, much as
                     And you can't       learning two or three
                     understand a        European languages
   Further: no way   single particular   will make it much
   to know a field   artform while       easier to learn yet
   without knowing   trying to           another.
   all related       understand
   fields, and one   *every* artform...
   thing leads to
   another, as it           Time constraints
   will...                  alone make this
                                                And there's another bad
                                                problem: the badness
I sometimes                                     problem.  Almost by
think: "I just                                  definition, a fan of a
don't know much         So people like          genre is someone who likes
about X" where X        myself, who are         even the worst examples of
is a type of            inclined to             it... otherwise they
music.  "If only        claim to be             couldn't stand to become
I really focused        eclectic, to            familiar with it.
on X instead of         some extent
listening to a          we're fooling                  Someone coming
dozen different         ourselves.                     from outside the
kinds of music,                                        genre, trying to
I could get          If I do a piece                   find the best
really expert at     influenced by the                 examples of it
it, like the         sound of the                      runs into a wall
real fans."          classical music of                because you need
                     India, it's                       to rely on these
X could be           possible (perhaps                 fanatics for
a lot of             likely) that I am                 guidance... and
things.              not really                        they can't see
Goth music,          influenced so much                it the way you do.
Jazz, Western        by Indian culture,
Classical,           but rather using                        They're using
all of the           Indian culture as                       a radically
different            a kind of random                        different
World                noise generator,                        definiton of
Musics...            a way of finding                        what's good.
                     "exotic" sounds
But let's say        that are different                But: these strange
that I decided       from the usual                    definitions of
I was going to       music I'm familar                 the good are not
really focus on      with.                             necessarily bad
"industrial                                            definitions.
ambient" music.      I'm not going to
That's still a       hear the sounds
pretty broad         the way a person
field, but if        from that culture
you worked on        hears them.           Understanding     A problem that
it, you would                              an art may be     arose in trying
know most of                               in essence        to "elevate" the
the important                              learning to       science fiction
stuff after a                              embrace that      field: the demand
year or so.                                alternative       that SF be good
                                           esthetic.         in the same way
                                                             that "literary"
Can you really judge                 Learning to             fiction can be
something like an                    see what's              good, ignored the
"industrial ambient" piece           good even in            right of SF to be
without a broader                    the worst               good in the ways
background in different              examples.               that SF can be
fields of music, including,                                  good.
for example, Experimental
Classical music?  A fan of                                    (A paraphrase
industrial starts out                                         of a point by...
thinking that Throbbing                                       Delany? Budrys
Gristle invented nearly                                       again?)
everything of importance,
and only belatedly realizes                                   Compare to the
that people like Edgard                                       problem with
Varese got there earlier.                                     "progressive
                                                              rock": an attempt
                  Just like an ambient                        at infusing the
                  techno fan might feel                       values of
                  that the world began                        classical music,
                  with Brian Eno, and                         that nearly
                  miss out on Morton                          destroyed the
                  Feldman,  Pauline                           value of rock...
                  Oliveros, John Cage,