October 24, 2002

From the Horse's Mouth

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If locked in a room with a typewriter, a record player, and a stack of unmarked records from the Western musical tradition (Amadeus to Amnesiac), I could with decent accuracy pick out which ones are consideredclassic. I could probably even write, with some coherency, why Western peoples consider these pieces of music moving, inspiring, and influential. Interestingly enough, the music doesn’t need to affect me at all before I know it is considered great. I could even disqualify certain personal preferences that, despite being important to me, have no bearing in defining “classic” music. Simply put, I’ve learned to listen to Western music and I’ve learned to hear what people listen for. The result is a balanced relationship between objective appreciation of merit and subjective taste. They sometimes correspond, sometimes don’t. The result: I enjoy Oasis in my subjective closet and don’t argue that they are “great” (because they’re not), and I get downright pissed when anyone has the gall to say the Beatles aren’t that important.

This subjective/objective dynamic becomes pretty predictable, and sometimes a downright bore. It is uneventful to pick up a record and without a listen know why it is considered great. For example, the importance of Dylan is known via word of mouth before you discover him yourself. In cases like this, it is easy for the little subjective guy within to get lost and that’s a shame.

About a month ago I had the good fortune of seeing a performance of classical Indian music at Barnes Hall. It was a wonderful performance, I think. For the first time in a long time I was confronted with my pure subjective taste. There was no objective standard to apply. I didn’t really know how to listen to the music presented. My mind could not really follow the logic of the music. It was tough to parse where the musicians improvised and where they were playing a classic movement in perfect harmony. I picked up bits and pieces, but was at a loss to put them together in a way that would make sense. It was at once a fascinating and frustrating struggle. A very pure struggle with simply my mind and ear — past experience left behind. The frustration came from realizing that I might be hearing a masterpiece equaling Bethoven’s Ninth and just lacking the capacities to realize it. Again, such a shame.

Peace, “the dark horse”

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin