10 seconds to self esteem

by pieces of moments

So a colleague of mine sent me a super intriguing little experiment that a friend of his is executing. Basically, there are 12 excerpts of contemporary “classical” music, each 10 seconds in length. You listen to the 10 seconds and answer only one question: do you want to hear more? Yes or no.

In all my years of listening to recorded music, and in all my years of basically answering that question in play by hitting “skip,” I’ve never had the experience of observing my own reactions in a contained and isolated environment like that cultivated by this experiment. Did I learn anything new about my listening habits? Yes and no. What I already knew about myself in an abstract sense was confirmed when I answered “no” to the two excerpts that sounded like ordinary movie music to me: I’d rather hear something new, have my ears challenged, than listen to something  jam packed with idioms that I can hear in any piece written over the last few hundred years. This is why, in part, I am obsessed with new music. It’s not that I think it’s so great across the board. Some of it is really, truly, amazing art offering a new angle/perspective on the familiar (like the kids standing up on their desks in Dead Poets Society), and some of it is just garbage and a sad excuse for “invention.” But either way, at least there is some kind of effort to seek new ground.

Okay. So, now here’s where it gets all personal reflection-y.

I think it’s important to ask ourselves why or why not we like or don’t like certain idioms or pieces of music. I’ve passed through my ornery period already. You know, that era where adventurous minds buck tradition just because it’s tradition. I’ve passed my days of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. That doesn’t mean that I’m sitting around listening to Tchaikovsky  symphonies (because I’m not, you literally have to pay me to do that…and that “literally” is in the proper sense of the word) and I still get a perverse kick out of saying flat out really ridiculous blanket statements like “I hate Mozart” (it’s true that a lot of Mozart is boring to my ears, but I also think he wrote a few of the most beautiful pieces ever written…”Ave Verum Corpus” for example…that piece transports me).  I fully recognize and confess freely that there have been plenty of times in the past where I probably “liked” or “didn’t like” certain things just for the sake of being contrary. But you know, I’d like to think I’m more subtle and mature these days, and that I now recognize that cultivating “good taste” as a musician is a more delicate procedure than saying “I like Lachenmann but not _____________ {insert something conventional here}.”

When I answered “no” to those aforementioned two excerpts I stopped to consider why I had that knee jerk reaction. In this case, I think it’s honestly that those 10 seconds sounded lazy to me. I’m not interested in someone’s lazy work that’s just a copy of something else (in my world they call that plagiarism). Do I look like the kinda girl that’s got time for lazy? Um, no. Or maybe it’s not as simple as lazy, but just a lack of real engagement. I think if someone is really engaging with the world around them, their art will reflect that sense of curiosity in some way, shape, or form. That is a life fundamental to me, and I’m very blessed to have friends who also seek to bring their A game and engage life with gusto. What’s the point if you don’t carpe diem? But, I digress.

What I’m trying to get at (in a round about way…I always start conversations like this that are too involved too late at night…sorry, dear readers) is that I’m frustrated with some new music kidz. I’m frustrated that there’s this bizarre code of conduct that is basically an “us” vs. “them” stance on music. Having said that, I’m also tired of the over-use of the label “elite,” which is often hurled at people interested in obscure and often hard to listen to new music.  I dislike that the word is thrown around like an insult when really, what’s bad about wanting the best? Where’s the balance? Can’t we all just get along? I wish we could reach a place where we recognize there is such a thing distinguishing between music that is well crafted/wonderfully executed and music that is poorly crafted/lazy-imitative and let everyone hold their opinion regarding personal ipod choices otherwise. Because, let’s face it, as much as it might hurt certain egos to confess it, there are some really well crafted pieces of pop music out there floating around on the mass radio stations. To write a catchy tune is actually a really hard procedure. I would like to live in a world where new music kidz would feel totally comfortable saying in the same breath “Stockhausen and Brittney Spears,” or rather, Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winnberg, Cathy Dennis, Henrik Jonback, the actual song writers of “Toxic,” because let’s all confess right now: that is one solid song. Do new music kidz have such fragile self-esteem issues to inhibit confessions like that? I’d love to know what everyone listens to in secret. What’s on that undercover playlist, huh?

You know what else I love? Jay-Z. It’s true.

Yup…and Beyonce.