It's. Only. A. Rock. Band.

Ok, so I liked their latest album as much as anybody else — but what is it that causes U2′s fans to indulge in such theological embellishment? — Consider America magazine’s Tom Beaudoin:

After a break, the band was interviewed by a Good Morning America personality. She asked Bono about the lively sense of hope in their music, and he, perhaps intuitively edging away from seeming to endorse (what Bonhoeffer would have called) “cheap grace,” gently reframed the question about the music’s spiritual power, talking not first of hope but of the imperative “to be real,” …

Is it the immersive and unctuous witness allowed by “it’s been all over you” that made so many yell the phrase with such force? It certainly can let through the immanent revel that characterizes not only college life well-lived, but also (per Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age) our secular culture, and even a secular Christianity. “You’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you” could indeed stand as mystical anointing of bodied postmodern cultural life, which is (must I add?) not a simplistic “blessing” of everything, but rather a releasement to worldly fragility, contingency, beauty, unpredictability, and the gorgeous strangenesses that we make, and that we are.

The yearning that U2′s music exemplifies and elicits need not be assumed to stand in for the whole of a theological life in order to be the pleasure that it is as both harbinger and holder of hope-in-the-wanting. Whatever salvation is, through such finite formations is it allowed.

191 Responses to It's. Only. A. Rock. Band.

  • I’m not disputing Balthasar’s essential point.

    Sometimes I do, however, wonder if some of these fans imbue U2′s lyrics — or every jot and tittle from Bono’s lips, for that matter — with greater theological weight than they can carry. =)

  • I would suspect, for the most part, they don’t go far enough with the theological possibilities involved with U2 (or any other band; U2 being the one which gets the most, granted, but perhaps it is because others are not given sufficient treatment that U2 seems to be given too much). I expect one of the reasons why U2 is the one which is taken seriously on this matter is because of Bono’s intentions, which is clearly religious, and I think similar to many of the playwrites Balthasar DID write about (such as Reinhold Schneider). Clearly, I think U2′s lyrics are the kinds which Balthasar would pick up and use if he could do an “Apocalypse of the English Soul” today. But I also think Nirvana would be there, too.

  • Clearly, I think U2’s lyrics are the kinds which Balthasar would pick up and use if he could do an “Apocalypse of the English Soul” today. But I also think Nirvana would be there, too.

    Perhaps, but despite all your rage I suspect that you are rather more than a rat in a cage.

    De gustibus non disputandum but more and more as I move on in life it strikes me that rock is only actually good at conveying a certain and rather limited range of thought and emotion. It’s a range one spends most of adolescence and one’s early 20s in, so it can seem rather all consuming at that point. It seems natural, as one grows older, to mostly transition to real music.

    Not that I don’t still enjoy turning on the Beatles or Metallica or Coldplay or occasionally even U2 (from the October – Atchung Baby era), but for a magazine like America to be writing Deeply Serious commentary on a rock band is, frankly, a bit embarrassing.

  • Darwin

    Your comments remind me of the silliness that one finds with some critics of Tolkien, who said all fantasy is “fit for children only.” Indeed, it just reminds me of someone who wants to desperately pretend they are grown up by giving away what they consider to be the “chidlish things in life,” proving they lack real maturity.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    I am both a fanatic of classical music (I own about 3000 classical music discs ( I worked in a record store and got tons of promos) and listen to such music about 25 hours a week) an absolute apologist for U2.

    One simply cannot say enough about No Line On the Horizon. Bravo to America Magazine.

  • Well, I certainly can’t dispute that my comments remind you of something, since that is, after all, something only you can know. Still, that some things are wrongly described as being only for the young does not mean that nothing is best suited to the more angst ridden periods of one’s life, but not to maturity.

    Be that as it may, my own experience (and hardly, I gather, a unique one) is that from my current vantage point in life rock music (not just in particular, but in its musical structure) is able to reflect only a small portion of what the human experience has to offer — and not necessarily the best or more interested parts.

    It now strikes me as rather thin broth compared to orchestral on choral music (or in the standard rather than technical usage of the term: classical music). Very suitable to certain moods, but generally not worth taking too seriously.

  • Mark

    Right, I love so many styles of music (though my favorite is world folk, and of them, Vartinna is one of the best). I’m still adjusting to the new U2 CD, so I can’t interpret it yet; I do like the tunes but it takes me a month or so before I absorb the rest of the content. Anyone who would say this isn’t “real music” to be taken seriously is absurd, to say the least.

  • paul zummo says:

    I love U2. I love Beethoven. Heck I love Metallica. One can appreciate all sorts of music, appreciate the deeper meanings where they are to be found, and still believe that some forms of music (even amongst the kinds of music that one likes) are simply better and much more provocative.

  • John Henry says:

    At the risk playing the prosaic neanderthal, I think the article is a little silly. Much as I love U2 and ‘Beautiful Day,’ the lyric ‘You love this town, even if that doesn’t ring true, you’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you’ is not exactly Tolkienish in its depth and complexity.

    And, while U2 is serious about their work, they don’t wax this pretentiously about their music either. I remember watching an interview with them several years back after HTDAAB came out, and they were asked about the creation of a song I liked on the album. Bono laughed and said, actually, we were drunk that night and I don’t really remember what we were thinking when we wrote that one.

  • Much as I love U2 and ‘Beautiful Day,’ the lyric ‘You love this town, even if that doesn’t ring true, you’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you’ is not exactly Tolkienish in its depth and complexity.

    Actually, now that you mention it, John Henry, perhaps there’s much more in this than I though. If we could get our boy Origen on the topic, we could probably start off with three to four pages on “You love” before moving on this “this town” for the following chapter. It’d be like Commentary on The Song of Songs all over again. Good times…

  • Did I mention I like the new album?

    I don’t doubt that Bono put some thought into his lyrics (he always does); I have to wonder, however, at the enthusiasm among some fans for detecting allusions to the thought of Edward Schillebeeckx or David Tracy or Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace.”

    America‘s are reminiscent of a student my father knew who tried to submit a paper on the philosophical implications of Trent Reznor (something I might have done impishly … two decades ago).

    If I put effort into it I can detect (imbue?) Balthasarian themes in a few lines from the hazy ramblings of Lungfish — but I wonder if my effort wouldn’t be better spent reading Balthasar instead.

    Here’s a related example of a theologian who deems U2′s album “the most overtly Christian album they’ve done YET” (clap hands in resounding joy):

    The basic message of No Line is that earth is not yet heaven, and therefore the album summons us to “Get On Your Boots” and work toward the day when things will fully be on earth as they are in heaven — when heaven and earth will be indistinguishable, and there will at last be no line on the horizon.

    Moving in that direction requires the triumph “of vision over visibility” (“Moment of Surrender”), an echo of an earlier formulation of the same insight: that the things that last and that come at the last constitute “a place that has to be believed to be seen” (“Walk On” from 2000′s All That You Can’t Leave Behind). It also requires an inner transformation wrought by a receptive hearing of the voice of God (“Unknown Caller”) and a faithful reception of the love of God which requires that one both “stand up” for it and “sit down” to receive it (“Stand Up Comedy”).

    The central eschatological metaphor of No Line is the sound of the divine song, heard only by those who have the ears to hear it, yet unconsciously sought by everyone, for all people were created to hear and sing this song.

    Is this theological explication or theological wanking?

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    Contrary to the tone of this post, the article’s author is rather humble and kindly in his assessment of U2, as positive as it may be.

    And I think this segues with what Henry (and I), I believe, are saying:

    The yearning that U2′s music exemplifies and elicits need not be assumed to stand in for the whole of a theological life in order to be the pleasure that it is as both harbinger and holder of hope-in-the-wanting. Whatever salvation is, through such finite formations is it allowed.

  • S.B. says:

    I love U2. One of my favorite bands.

    This is still absurdly over the top: a releasement to worldly fragility, contingency, beauty, unpredictability, and the gorgeous strangenesses that we make, and that we are.

    Darwin didn’t say that rock music is worthless, just that it’s not as deep or rich as classical music. If you want to use Tolkien in an analogy here, a much truer analogy would be this: John Grisham isn’t as deep or rich as Tolkien and Shakespeare, even if he writes some darn good page-turners.

  • S.B. says:

    And the America article is wrongheaded: If you were going to pick out a moment in the Fordham concert as particularly religious in its implications, it wouldn’t be the inane lyrics “it’s been all over you.” It would be Bono assuming the orans posture in the song “Magnificent” as he sang the words, “I was born to sing for you.”

  • Tom Beaudoin is no theological “wanker.” Anyone familiar with what is going on in contemporary theology knows this.

    So many ridiculous definitions of what “real music” and “real theology” are in this thread. I’m guessing most of those making such definitions here are not theologians nor do they have much knowledge of music beyond mere personal preferences. The “rock music” (whatever that is) vs. “real music” binary is, as Henry said, absurd, but it fits right in with all of the other dualisms that haunt the thinking of those who frequent this place.

    Theological reflection on rock music — and popular culture in general — is not new. The prejudices here simply flow from the standard high culture vs low culture, often classist, biases. We see it in the way you people talk about liturgy and liturgical music as well. That’s all it is — a more or less classist dualism. (“I used to like rock music, but I grew up.”)

    I agree that U2 is “just a rock band,” not because I don’t think rock should be taken seriously as art or even as a theological source, but because they are, in my opinion, boring and most importantly, they act like any other rock band. There are much more challenging and important artists through which to do theological reflection, both in terms of the music and lyrics themselves AND the way the music is made.

  • Darwin didn’t say that rock music is worthless, just that it’s not as deep or rich as classical music.

    Which is still a ridiculous comment. Some “classical” music is indeed rich and deep (I like it, as well as other types of “real” music you might have in mind), but a good bit of it was just the pop music of its day.

  • Let me amend my “U2 is boring” comment. I love U2 also, but much prefer their older stuff. War and The Joshua Tree in particular. Those records were no less “Christian,” and they had more bite. Now they pretty much write adult contemporary happy-Christian rock. Even when they’re “rocking,” it’s polite.

  • S.B. says:

    Some “classical” music is indeed rich and deep (I like it, as well as other types of “real” music you might have in mind), but a good bit of it was just the pop music of its day.

    That’s completely illogical. The fact that there exists some non-rich classical music (most of it, in fact) doesn’t change the fact that there is no piece of rock music ever written, or that ever could be written, that would compare to Bach’s B-Minor Mass in its depth and profundity. Nor that there will never be a rock/pop song written that could even conceivably compare to Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the sheer complexity and range that they exhibit. (If you’re not a trained musician, I doubt you would even be able to understand how unbelievably complex the Goldberg Variations are: every third variation is a canon beginning with an increasing interval, and yet it’s done with such skill that most people wouldn’t even notice.)

    I really like both John Grisham and Tolkien, both U2 and Bach, both Norman Rockwell and Rembrandt. Doesn’t mean I have to fall into the mindless and indiscriminatory relativism in which all works of art are equal.

  • Chris M says:

    I love U2. It happens to be my favorite band (my wife’s as well). I also happen to love their bluegrass roots and have a deep appreciation for Appalachian folk music. Michael Iafrate and I are in total agreement on the albums (although All You Can’t Leave Behind is a close third).

    That said, I have to agree that rock, as a musical genre, doesn’t have the capacity to carry the grandeur, subtlety, or depth that music in an orchestral style does. That’s not demeaning to rock, it’s just saying that, as a vehicle, it doesn’t have the ‘cargo room’ that some other types of music (which include a wider variety of instruments, longer pieces of music, and therefore the capacity for a more diverse arrangement of sound) have.

  • S.B. – There is nothing illogical at all about what I said. You’re merely expressing aesthetic opinion. There is, however, a lack of logic in your own view, as you reduce musical “richness” and “depth” to technical complexity. There is certainly more to music than that. Also, I never said all works of art are equal. But it would not be an S.B. conversation if you didn’t deliberately attempt to misrepresent what I said. At least you are consistent.

    Aside from the utterly stupid “rock music vs classical music” binary I am seeing here, I am concerned, too, about the elevation of Western “orchestral,” “classical,” etc. music over non-Western music, as if it were the pinnacle of music.

    Such views show a lack of exposure to other “real” music, a very narrow view of what music in fact is, and a reductionistic view of what makes music “good.”

  • S.B. says:

    I never said all works of art are equal.

    Then you should have no problem with the claim that some genres of art are on a different level than others.

    But it would not be an S.B. conversation if you didn’t deliberately attempt to misrepresent what I said. At least you are consistent.

    Back at you. I didn’t “reduce” richness and depth to “technical complexity” — I just pointed to one example of Bach’s technical mastery that would be unimaginable in rock music (if any rock musicians could even comprehend what Bach did, none could imitate it). That wasn’t my only example of “richness and depth.”

    There is nothing illogical at all about what I said.

    Yes there was. The claim was made that rock music, while delightful in many ways, doesn’t have the capacity for richness and depth that one finds in classical music. Your answer was that a lot of classical music was the pop music of its day — which is true but illogical, because the fact that some classical music is non-deep does nothing to refute the point that other classical music is deeper than rock music.

  • Then you should have no problem with the claim that some genres of art are on a different level than others.

    Why? They are not equivalent statements.

    Your answer was that a lot of classical music was the pop music of its day — which is true but illogical, because the fact that some classical music is non-deep does nothing to refute the point that other classical music is deeper than rock music.

    Nothing “illogical” at all. Initially you said, simply, that rock music is not as deep or rich as rock music. That’s an utterly simplistic, stupid statement. I replied saying that not all “classical” music is deep or rich. Nothing “illogical.”

    You are using empty terms like “rich” and “deep” and not explaining how you would judge whether or not a piece of music is “rich” or “deep” other than by technical complexity. I called you on it, and you said that’s not the only way you would judge a piece of music, but fail to mention any other criteria.

    All you are doing is speaking from your own aesthetic preferences. Which is fine. But don’t claim that you are speaking objectively in any sense.

    …because the fact that some classical music is non-deep does nothing to refute the point that other classical music is deeper than rock music.

    All one need say,then, is that some pieces of music are “deeper” and “more rich” than other pieces of music. As you would no doubt now admit, after I called you to clarify your points, some pieces of rock music are much more deep and rich than some pieces of classical music. By your own admission, your blanket claims about the superiority of certain genres are absurd.

  • S.B. says:

    All of this to avoid the point: I can imagine someone waxing eloquent about Bach’s B-Minor Mass. But waxing eloquent about U2′s line, “it’s been all over you”? Come on.

    As you would no doubt now admit, after I called you to clarify your points, some pieces of rock music are much more deep and rich than some pieces of classical music.

    Do you understand the concept of an average? Some U2 songs are richer than some pieces by Vivaldi; but there are many other pieces of classical music with a depth and range of emotion that simply isn’t expressed well in the limited format of guitar/bass/drums/4-minute song. If you’re not denying THAT point, then I’m not sure why you’re arguing at all. But if you are denying that point, then I think you’re guilty of mindless relativism — or just the incapacity to appreciate music.

  • S.B. says:

    I called you on it, and you said that’s not the only way you would judge a piece of music, but fail to mention any other criteria.

    Have you ever even heard Bach’s B-Minor Mass? Brahms’ 4 symphonies? Beethoven’s late string quartets? Mozart’s Requiem? vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”?

    If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to educate yourself. It’s impossible to write to an ignorant person and to convey, via mere words, the depths that can be expressed in great music, just as much as it’s impossible to truly describe the color red to a person blind from birth.

  • John Henry says:

    If we could get our boy Origen on the topic, we could probably start off with three to four pages on “You love” before moving on this “this town” for the following chapter. It’d be like Commentary on The Song of Songs all over again. Good times…

    heh. In retrospect, a second year college seminar was probably not the best place to appreciate Origen’s commentary.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    The question of the translatability of the Christo-form into various musical genres seems to be a different, much more complex issue than the battle over the purported superiority of the Bach to Brahms (plus a few post-extras) element of the Western classical canon.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    We really need to get back to non-controversial topics like abortion, Obama, homosexuality, etc. Obviously rock touches a nerve with a lot of readers!

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    I’d say Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” has as much, if not more, “depth” and “richness” to it as/than anything that came out of the classical tradition in America between 1900-1935.

    It is also evidence of a non-classical genre’s high suspectibility to communicating the Christo-form musically.

  • All of this to avoid the point: I can imagine someone waxing eloquent about Bach’s B-Minor Mass. But waxing eloquent about U2’s line, “it’s been all over you”? Come on.

    Here, you are talking about two particular pieces of music. Fine, compare them. Of course that particular U2 song has less depth than that particular Mass from Bach. But your generalizations are not helpful.

    Do you understand the concept of an average?

    Yes. But I don’t like it if it’s used to make ridiculous generalizations.

    Some U2 songs are richer than some pieces by Vivaldi; but there are many other pieces of classical music with a depth and range of emotion that simply isn’t expressed well in the limited format of guitar/bass/drums/4-minute song. If you’re not denying THAT point, then I’m not sure why you’re arguing at all.

    What I am arguing with is your previous blanket statement that classical music has more “depth” and “richness” than rock music.

    And here I would take issue with your reductionistic view of rock music, i.e. “guitar/bass/drums/4-minute song.”

    If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to educate yourself. It’s impossible to write to an ignorant person and to convey, via mere words, the depths that can be expressed in great music, just as much as it’s impossible to truly describe the color red to a person blind from birth.

    I know all of those pieces of music, of course. I love music. I’m a musician. You’re telling me I’m “ignorant” when it comes to music, but you’re the one who seems to have difficulty talking about music in any sensible way, making blanket statements along genre lines and then retreating into “you just can’t convey these things in mere words” territory.

  • S.B. says:

    And here I would take issue with your reductionistic view of rock music, i.e.“guitar/bass/drums/4-minute song.”

    But you wouldn’t take issue for any particular reason that you can state . . . which is why it’s difficult to “talk about music,” eh? Anyway, that’s what U2 does. Always. They have a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer, and they write songs. Sometimes they add keyboard sounds for a little sweetener. Sometimes they use an automatic drum sound (Pop album, anyone?). There’s not a lot of variety in the format here.

    I know all of those pieces of music, of course. I love music. I’m a musician.

    Great! Then maybe you do know what I’m talking about after all.

  • S.B. says:

    What’s behind the impulse of leftists to bristle with such indignation at the notion that some genres of art have a wider capacity and range of possibilities than other genres of art? Do they get just as mad if someone suggests that Shakespeare is more sophisticated than Danielle Steel?

  • Chris M says:

    How about a nice Anglicanesque compromise.. anyone ever heard the live version of “One” with orchestral accompanyment?

    How about “Strung out on U2″? (admittedly, I enjoy the “Pickin’ on U2″ tribute album..)

  • But you wouldn’t take issue for any particular reason that you can state…

    Um, perhaps because rock music is not limited to these characteristics? Thought it was obvious what I meant. But it is YOU we are talking about. I’ll spell it out for you more clearly next time.

    Anyway, that’s what U2 does. Always. They have a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer, and they write songs. Sometimes they add keyboard sounds for a little sweetener. Sometimes they use an automatic drum sound (Pop album, anyone?). There’s not a lot of variety in the format here.

    “Keyboard sounds for a little sweetener”? You clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

  • In retrospect, a second year college seminar was probably not the best place to appreciate Origen’s commentary.

    Indeed. Education is wasted on the young.

    All joking aside, I really enjoyed Origen’s commentary, but we certainly weren’t well equiped to discuss it at that point.

    On the actual point now being disputed at length:

    If anyone took me to be suggesting that all classical music is inherently superior to all rock music, that was certainly not my intention. There is a great deal of classical music which is mediocre — though since much of it is a couple hundred years old, a great deal of that has been mercifully forgotten by now.

    However, I do think there’s generally a quality ceiling above which rock music is highly unlikely if not downright unable to reach, and that ceiling is lower than the ceiling for classical music. To make an analogy which will doubtless annoy some people: There are certainly some very good comic books (or to be artsy “graphic novels”) out there, and there are a great many very poor novels, but the best comic books will never be as good as the best novels because the genre itself has limits imposed upon it the form.

    Also, on a side note, I’m not clear how one can simultaneoously claim that classical music is just the pop music of the past (which leaves aside why there are to this day composers in the classical genre — again “classical” in the looser, popular usage of the term) and at the same time argue that the preference for classical music stems from a high versus low culture prejudice.

    In regards to this being a Western-centric view of the question: It’s probably significant in this regard that it is mainly only the West which has a tradition of writen/composed music going back for around a millenia. Without both the means to write down how complex music is to be performed and the cultural idea of composership (as opposed to a more tradition-guided approach to music in which particular performers are celebrated but composition is not seen as an individual enterprise) even those with the natural ability to produce such works will not find themselves able to fulfill those gifts and share the results with others.

  • S.B. says:

    Keyboard sounds for a little sweetener” You clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

    Of course I do. They often don’t have keyboards at all, and if they throw in keyboards on a few songs, it’s usually as background. In the music business, that’s known as “sweetener.” A little jargon there, so sorry if that threw you off.

  • S.B. says:

    And I heard it described that way when I happened to be in a studio owned by a producer who has worked with Celine Dion. I’m guessing that he knows quite a bit more about the music business than you do, so it might be wise to ditch the “you don’t know what you’re talking about” attitude.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    “And I heard it described that way when I happened to be in a studio owned by a producer who has worked with Celine Dion.”

    Now, that is laughable.

  • Darwin, I think part of what I have a problem with is that your view (and that of SB, etc) makes a lot of unstated assumptions about what music is for, for example, that music is like a text one reads or that it is generally a non-participatory activity where the audience “takes it in,” etc. It does not so justice to that variety of world musics, particularly those forms that are participatory.

    Interestingly, more and more parallels between ya’ll’s musical tastes and your liturgical tastes are emerging as this conversation continues.

    They often don’t have keyboards at all, and if they throw in keyboards on a few songs, it’s usually as background.

    Right. That that’s all they do, eh? Write guitar/bass/drums 4-minute pop songs and “throw in” some “keyboards” here and there. Their albums, despite getting more and more boring IMO, are actually much more complex than that in terms of their instrumentation as well as the musical traditions from which they draw.

    In the music business, that’s known as “sweetener.”

    Not where I come from.

    A little jargon there, so sorry if that threw you off.

    What “throws me off” is your “thought” process. But I’m learning to anticipate the gaps, overstatements, generalizations, mischaracterizations and flat-out lies with time. Do be patient with me.

  • S.B. says:

    Sure, snicker and chortle about Celine Dion, the only point is that someone who has worked with her is likely to know what a particular piece of jargon means in today’s music business. That’s all.

  • S.B. says:

    Write guitar/bass/drums 4-minute pop songs and “throw in” some “keyboards” here and there. Their albums, despite getting more and more boring IMO, are actually much more complex than that in terms of their instrumentation as well as the musical traditions from which they draw.

    Not really. To someone who knows something about music (as I do from many years of study and multiple degrees), talking about the complexity of U2 — as much as I love them — is like talking about the overwhelming dramatic complexity of Spiderman 2. Or, to put it in theological terms, it’s as if someone went on and on about the complexity of Rick Warren’s books.

    It’s a sign that you need to broaden your education and understanding.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    That does not entail that U2 too simply splashes
    in some keyboards as background-filler, in the same manner.

    Kitsch is kitsch. U2 is not that.

  • S.B. says:

    Do you have the same relativist and indiscriminatory mindset when it comes to theology? We can’t tell any difference, can’t make any distinctions, between Joel Osteen and Gutierrez? No one is any more complex or profound than anyone else, right?

  • S.B., that you have some “insider info” on a piece of jargon used by certain producers within the corporate music industry (probably dudes in their 60s — such terms are used by producers geared toward selling “sweet” sounding pop songs and are not used by people who actually make music) has little to do with my point which is that you don’t seem to understand that rock music can be much more “deep” and “rich” and “complex” than you make it out to be when you reduce it to “4-minute guitar/bass/drums songs.” I mean I understand that you probably don’t listen to rock music very widely, and that’s fine. That’s why I’m taking the time to challenge your generalizations.

  • No one is any more complex or profound than anyone else, right?

    No, I certainly don’t have a relativistic view of music. I’m one of the more discriminatory music fans that I know (my wife calls me a music snob regularly, and part of me takes delight in it). I believe in objective criteria for what makes music better than other music. But I think it’s much more complex than you make it out to be when you draw such lines simply according to genre.

    Your U2-Spiderman 2 comparison is absurd. Of COURSE there is rock/pop music that is comparable to such films. I just don’t think you’re giving U2 enough credit for the actual music that they make.

  • S.B. says:

    That does not entail that U2 too simply splashes
    in some keyboards as background-filler, in the same manner.

    They do too use keyboards as background. Listen to “Magnificent.” There are a couple of keyboard lines in the intro, but when Bono starts singing, the main focus is the strumming guitar, the bass, the drum, and way in the background, you can barely hear some sustained chords on the keyboard. Same with “No Line on the Horizon.” That’s sweetening the sound.

    Geez, I never thought I’d get so much disagreement from pointing out that U2′s songs often consist of guitar, bass, and drum. You guys ever check out the lineup? A guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    The point, SB, is that there is more artistic integrity to the final product of a Lanois/Eno/U2 collaboration or a Radiohead song than the stuff that makes its way onto a C. Dion album.

  • S.B. says:

    Absolutely, and I never said otherwise. Good grief, I wasn’t comparing U2 and Dion! I was just pointing out where I came across a bit of jargon.

    And I wasn’t even criticizing U2 on that point either . . . I was just using the term “sweeten” in a purely descriptive sense: sometimes keyboards are there in the background, but come on, you wouldn’t expect keyboards to be the main focus in a band that has no keyboard player.

    You guys are just jumping at the bit to disagree with anything and everything.

  • That’s cool. My dad plays classical guitar (among other instruments) and a fellow musician friend of mine finished a masters in classical guitar performance. We were in a metal band together and when we were on tour he had me turned on to Leo Brouwer for a while. Our lineup was 2 guitars, bass, drums, and keyboard but the latter was not used as “sweetener” but as an integral instrument.

    Geez, I never thought I’d get so much disagreement from pointing out that U2’s songs often consist of guitar, bass, and drum. You guys ever check out the lineup? A guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer.

    Yes, of course that’s the core lineup. What I disagreed with was your flat description of their music and your claim that they don’t stray too much from “the” rock format. It does not do justice to the traditions from which they draw, the variety of other instruments they use, or the variety of ways they use the “core” rock instruments. (We could spend days talking about The Edge’s guitar sounds, for example.)

  • S.B. says:

    OK, fair enough. I love The Edge’s guitar sounds.

    Look, maybe we’re all talking past each other. How about this:

    On a scale of 1 to 1,000 — with 1 being artistically worthless and 1,000 meaning “capable of representing everything about the human experience” — different genres are going to be at different levels.

    So, for example, 1980s hair metal is at about a 10 or 20; the human experiences it can represent are rebellion (“We’re Not Going to Take It”), sex, and occasionally sadness (power ballads). Indeed, it’s probably better at expressing rebellion than is classical music. But still, its overall rating is lower.

    Same for rock music as a whole. Let’s say that its rating is 200 (there are rock songs that express transcendence, or longing, or awe, or social discontent, or whatever, and some rock songs do this much better than classical music). But the best classical music is capable of representing a broader range of human emotions and experiences — maybe 300 or 400.

    That’s all. I’m not saying that rock music is a zero. I’m not saying that ALL classical music is at a 300 or 400 level (some is practically zero). And I’m not denying that there is great musical creativity involved in some of the best rock songs. I’m just saying that rock is a more limited genre — it is limited by style, by length, by the types of compositional techniques that are used (ever hear a rock song in sonata form? fugue form? etc.), and more.

  • S.B. says:

    It’s hard to put into words. Listen to the “Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” You can’t do that within the confines of rock music, any more than you can make a cathedral out of a cubic foot of stone. If you did try to do something that long and sweeping and orchestral in rock music, it wouldn’t be a rock song any more.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    “Listen to the “Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” You can’t do that within the confines of rock music, any more than you can make a cathedral out of a cubic foot of stone.”

    You pick a strong example. The is an achingly beautiful, extended piece of music.

  • S.B. says:

    You keep saying “human nature,” which isn’t the term I used. Not that it’s important. In any event, I already said that it’s hard to put into words . . . an ineffable sense of sadness and yearning, perhaps. There’s no rock song remotely like it; and if a rock song DID try to imitate it, it wouldn’t be a rock song any more, because it would now be a lengthy orchestral piece instead.

  • Pardon me. You said human experience, not human nature.

    Thing is, S.B., you seem to have no problem putting your musical sweeping generalizations into words, but when asked to get specific, you retreat into “you can’t put it into words.”

    I’m not familiar with the piece of music you are citing. I’d be happy to check it out tonight at home. But if what makes it distinctive is a sense of sadness and yearning, I’m puzzled as to how you can say that that quality is more present in that piece of music than any “rock” music you can think of. I could rattle off albums and albums of, broadly conceived, “rock music” that have that quality. Most of Radiohead’s music, for example.

    You also say that no rock song is like it (I’m assuming you mean the feelings it evokes) but then get into the question of imitation, which irrelevant. Of course rock songs would not imitate classical music, generally speaking. What is at issue is the question of whether or not rock music can express the same range of human experience as rock music. You say it can’t; I think it can. I think it can because I cannot think of a human experience that rock music is not able to speak to, and I don’t think you really can either. You might, subjectively, think that a piece of classical music does so, but I think this is more a matter of preference and familiarity rather than something objective.

  • Gabriel Austin says:

    Reading the discussion is a fascinating past-time for the first [or second] afternoon of daylight savings time. But what is interesting is a failure to recognize that if you can express something musical in words, it is not music.

    And discussions about musical taste run into the dictum De gustibus non est disputandum. You cannot argue someone [including yourself] into liking one form or other of music, no more than you can argue someone into liking zucchini.

  • Gabriel,

    On your first point, certainly. But we can certainly talk about music. S.B. tends to make gigantic claims about music and then when called on it says that he “can’t put it into words.”

    On your second point, I also agree. And I’m not at all trying to get S.B. to like “rock music” any more than he does. In fact I think much of what he says is coming from his personal musical tastes, but he makes his claims as if they were based on objective facts.

  • As has been pointed out by several people, we’re in part talking about something in which taste and perception play a great role. Even taking it (and I would argue it to be the case) that are are elements of objective quality and range of expression at play here, that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be fully attuned to them or that everyone will enjoy a thing equally.

    I would argue that it’s pretty clear that novels and short stories are, as a matter of form, capable of greater power, beauty and range of expression than comic books. But that doesn’t mean that individual people may not enjoy comic books more and prefer to read comic books to prose. Nor does it mean that there aren’t good comic books — it just means that the best comic books will necessarily fall short of the best novels and short stories.

    There’s always an element of apples to oranges comparison involved in these discussions, and I think SB is right that rock is better at evoking certain emotions than classical is. Perhaps it’s that rock is better at expressing stronger/blunter emotions.

    Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis which I tend to think of in pairing with his Lark Ascending (in part because I have them on the same CD, but also because I tend to associate the former with sunset and the coming of darkness while the latter with sunrise) both play out a subdued range of imagest of longing, loss, hope and also I think a strong sense of place: one feels the English countryside and the love for quiet and natural things while listening to these two pieces.

    I can think of rock songs with somewhat similar emotional palettes (flipping through the stuff I have on my work machine I’m sampling through Coldplay’s “Clocks” and “Rush of Blood to the Head”, Fastball’s “Sweetwater, Texas”, some Everclear, Dave Matthews, etc.) but we’re talking a much blunter or broader presentation of emotion — kind of like how even in comic books characters always seem to SHOUT one word out of every sentence.

  • I can think of rock songs with somewhat similar emotional palettes (flipping through the stuff I have on my work machine I’m sampling through Coldplay’s “Clocks” and “Rush of Blood to the Head”, Fastball’s “Sweetwater, Texas”, some Everclear, Dave Matthews, etc.) but we’re talking a much blunter or broader presentation of emotion — kind of like how even in comic books characters always seem to SHOUT one word out of every sentence.

    Well, if that’s the kind of rock music you’re talking about (Coldplay, Dave Matthews, Everclear, etc.) then I wholeheartedly agree with everyone here that classical music is far more deep and rich than these bands. No comparison. But I would encourage you to listen to — um — better rock music. I suppose it’s a futile conversation indeed if this is the sort of taste in rock music that you have! (See, S.B., I am a music snob and hardly a relativist. Not all music is equal!)

  • S.B. says:

    And I’m not at all trying to get S.B. to like “rock music” any more than he does. In fact I think much of what he says is coming from his personal musical tastes

    That’s completely missing the point. I love rock music of all styles; pop music; country music; bluegrass, jazz, big band, classic spirituals, you name it. I even enjoy Winger (Beavis and Butthead allusion there).

    So it’s not a matter of not “liking” rock. It’s just a matter of recognizing the limitations of a relatively narrow genre from a relatively narrow time period from a relatively narrow cultural framework, compared to a genre (classical) that encompasses everything from solo piano sonatas, songs, string quartets, medieval motets, Gregorian chant, Italian operas, classic and romantic symphonies, atonal modern music, and more, across 1,000 years and widely differing cultures.

    Like Darwin said, you don’t have to dislike comic books to think that as a genre, they don’t have as much possibility as novels and short stories.

  • Well, I can never claim to have been a rock snob. Even when I listened to it almost exclusively, I never really thought it was as good as classical music, it’s just that I never felt like sitting still long enough to listen to it. Except for an early love for Brahms, most classical music struck me as “borrrrrring” until I hit around 24 when gradually found myself switching.

    However in my slight defense, the only rock that lives on my iPod at this point (and thus that I had available to compare with Vaughn Williams while finishing up at work) is the “workout mix” which doesn’t include the “serious” rock that I used to listen to: Beatles, Metallica, Pink Floyd, U2, and (only the very early) Elton John.

    Still, that’s all very standard stuff. I was never one of those who could claim that he knew of all the groups that no one had yet heard of. One can’t be a snob on everything, though I try hard… ;-)

    [Looking up Michael's list of theological bands above on iTunes, I find that my junior year roommate was apparently a big Radiohead fan. Creep, Karma Police and High and Dry prove to be _very_ familiar.]

  • S.B. – You obviously cannot follow a conversation very well. Look: I am challenging the claims you are making about musical genres. I realize that you like rock music. I am saying that your claims, however, are based more in your personal tastes and experience with music rather than in any objective set of criteria.

    For example, you seem to have developed a differentiated consciousness about classical music as a complex genre. You don’t seem to have developed a differentiated consciousness with regard to rock music, which is also a complex genre. When you take into consideration the complexity of both “genres” (if we can even speak of them as “genres” at this point) and the fact that all genres of music are open to the expansion of possibilities, are always in motion and never fixed in one place, your simplistic claim that one genre of music, by its nature and/or history, has a greater “possibility” is exposed as nonsense. Real music, of any genre, is itself the questioning and opening up of possibilities.

  • S.B. says:

    Well, it’s certainly less plausible (and less objective) to try to suggest that rock music (a ridiculously recent invention in one human culture) is as wide-ranging and complex as the classical genre that I already described (existing in many different forms for many centuries in different cultures). If someone doesn’t have the capacity to see the vast differences that I described in my previous post, then it’s like trying to explain the color green to someone who is color-blind.

  • …it’s like trying to explain the color green to someone who is color-blind.

    Here you go again. Oh well. I guess you won’t be able to explain the color green to me, and I won’t be able to explain the color red to you.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Michael I,

    Real music, of any genre,

    now you’re going to make an objective judgment as to what is and is not “real music”? If you can make that objective judgment then it is entirely reasonable for SB to make an objective judgment about rock music’s qualities.

    This argument is ridiculous. We all, you included, recognize that there is objective qualities which we can use to discern the quality of any musical genre, those same qualities can be used to judge quality between genres. These qualities are not necessarily going to determine the popularity of a particular performance, as we all know there is far more to popular rock than the music itself. Rock is a genre which ranges from jazz/blues to what most people will call a clanging din, not music at all. Are you going to argue that this last category is of equal quality to the first?

    SB’s analogy to comic books is poignant… so poignant that Michael must ignore it.

    I believe Michael’s problem is personal taste combined with a relativistic worldview. SB shows a great deal of objectivity in his discourse, Michael’s is void of it.

  • S.B. says:

    Michael’s view smacks of musical bigotry. He’s disagreeing with the claim that a huge and capacious genre of music (encompassing everything from solo songs to massive symphonies) from across the world and many different centuries isn’t any broader than a new genre of modern and mostly American music. It’s quite a provincial view.

    It’s as if one were to claim that the American sitcom has just as much capacity to represent the human experience as the entire history of human playwrights (encompassing plays written in many different countries stretching back to Sophocles). “Why, of course, I can’t think of any human emotion that can’t be represented in a sitcom. Sad? Sitcoms have an occasional sad episode. Poignancy? Why, did you see the episode of Friends when Joey, etc.”

    Well, the point is that sitcoms (like rock music) are usually in a pretty limited range. It’s fine if a sitcom tries to do poignancy or if rock music tries to create a sense of awestruck wonder, but they’re going to be inadequate compared to other and more sophisticated genres.

  • You people are seriously claiming that all rock music is comparable to american sitcoms and comic books? Bob Dylan is like a comic book? Springsteen? Joni Mitchell? Rock music is “mostly American”?

    I ignore such remarks because they speak for themselves in revealing your ignorance.

  • S.B. says:

    Bob Dylan is like a comic book? Springsteen? Joni Mitchell? Rock music is “mostly American”?

    So are you suggesting that a few American artists from the 1960s to the 1990s are able to match the best works from many different classical genres from the past thousand years from many different countries? Again, that’s a narrowminded and bigoted suggestion.

    Nothing those artists have ever done can even begin to compare to the best of Bach. So that proves my point.

  • S.B. says:

    Comparing Springsteen to Bach would be like comparing a comic book to War and Peace. Or comparing a kindergarten fingerpainter to Rembrandt. They’re not even remotely in the same league of accomplishment, skill, etc.

  • You people are seriously claiming that all rock music is comparable to american sitcoms and comic books? Bob Dylan is like a comic book? Springsteen? Joni Mitchell? Rock music is “mostly American”?

    Of course, there are also those who insist that comic books (or to use the artsy term, “graphic novels”) are just as good as novels and short stories.

    I think it’s actually a pretty good comparison. There are some very good comics out there, from the classic works of the turn of the early 20th century like the full page, full color Prince Valient spreads from Sunday newspapers, to modern graphic novels like From Hell and Sin City or graphic short story series like Optic Nerve.

    However, the genre simply lacks range and subtlety of prose forms.

    Now, I would assume that you take it as a possibility that one artistic genre could have less possible expressive range (even in its best examples) than another similar genre. Do you, for instance, agree that comic books are a genre with less range than novels and short stories?

    Or that the violin is capable of expressing more than a tuba.

    So if I understand the state of conversation right it would seem that SB and I are asserting:

    1) Different artistic genres can have differing abilities to express artistry and human experience.
    2) In the specific case of rock vs. classical music, classical music has a wider range than rock.

    If I understand right, you agree with 1), but would hold that in fact rock has at least as wide a range of expression as classical.

    Is that right?

  • If I understand right, you agree with 1), but would hold that in fact rock has at least as wide a range of expression as classical.

    I sort of agree with #1. I think S.B. (and you I guess) is defining genres is different ways at different times to suit his arguments, defining them broadly at one moment (“rock music”) and narrow in another (“’80s hair metal”). OF COURSE ’80s hair metal has a narrow “artistic range” but rock music as a whole does not.

    Does rock music (widely conceived, to me, because I listen to a lot of “rock music” that does not fit S.B.’s narrow descriptions) have “at least as wide a range of expression as classical”? I think it does. I have asked S.B. to give me some type of human experience that classical can express that “rock music” cannot, and he can’t do it. All he does is say “I can’t put it into words.” I think he has a narrow view of rock music and that’s part of the problem with us being able to understand one another.

    I’ll also point out once again that S.B. is making assumptions about what music is for and how it is experienced, and drawing the conclusion that rock music ultimately “lacks” something that classical music “has more of.” But there are multiple ways in which classical music “lacks” something that rock music “has more of,” and that this is every bit as important as S.B.’s concerns.

    So are you suggesting that a few American artists from the 1960s to the 1990s are able to match the best works from many different classical genres from the past thousand years from many different countries? Again, that’s a narrowminded and bigoted suggestion.

    Match them HOW? Again, you are working with unstated assumptions about what makes music good.

    Nothing those artists have ever done can even begin to compare to the best of Bach. So that proves my point.

    You “prove” nothing. They don’t compare HOW?

    I can’t take S.B. seriously when he says that Bob Dylan is like a comic book or a kindergarten fingerpainter. These are obviously statements of his personal taste, not objective facts.

  • Or that the violin is capable of expressing more than a tuba.

    Another example of problematic comparisons. Each instrument’s purpose is different. Violin is designed to be able to function as a solo instrument, where the tuba is not. Of course the violin can “express more” than a tuba. But we’re not talking about individual instruments. S.B. is making gigantic blanket statements about widely conceived musical genres.

  • S.B. says:

    I think S.B. (and you I guess) is defining genres is different ways at different times to suit his arguments, defining them broadly at one moment (”rock music”) and narrow in another (”’80s hair metal”). OF COURSE ’80s hair metal has a narrow “artistic range” but rock music as a whole does not.

    No, wrong. I used 80s hair metal as an EXAMPLE that would prove the point (and it seems you agree) that some genres are more limited than others.

    I have asked S.B. to give me some type of human experience that classical can express that “rock music” cannot, and he can’t do it.

    I gave you an example: Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.” Listen to it (check Youtube for live versions). Now name a rock song that even remotely do the same thing as that piece . . . create as much of a sense of foreboding ominousness combined with lyrical beauty.

    I can’t take S.B. seriously when he says that Bob Dylan is like a comic book or a kindergarten fingerpainter. These are obviously statements of his personal taste, not objective facts.

    These are comparisons that try to point out how much greater classical music can be. In any event, I can’t take anyone seriously who thinks that Bob Dylan represents some great achievement of human culture. He was a decent lyricist, an average tunesmith, and an unspeakably bad vocalist. No more than that.

  • I gave you an example: Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.” Listen to it (check Youtube for live versions). Now name a rock song that even remotely do the same thing as that piece . . . create as much of a sense of foreboding ominousness combined with lyrical beauty.

    Though to be fair, the “listen and you’ll see” approach can be difficult in that one sometimes needs an appreciation of a genre in order to understand everything that’s going on with a piece — even a clearly very good piece.

    If you’d challenged me to listen to Fantasia on the Theme by Thomas Tallis ten years ago, I might have acknowledged that it was “good music” because I knew it was supposed to be, but if you’d asked me to pick something that had “a sense of foreboding ominousness combined with lyrical beauty” I would have picked something from a soundtrack where I could hear that sort of thing evoked more bluntly.

    Which is not to compare Michael to the 20-year-old me, (he clearly knows far, far about music than I did — and indeed probably more than I do) but to emphasize that just tasting something doesn’t always solve the matter.

    Not that it’s completely a matter of taste. I think you’re right that classical music (in part because of the time available, types of instruments, number of instruments, and the subtlety of style is able to be significantly better than rock ever can — but I’m not sure that even asserting that’s objectively the case means that everyone would necessarily recognize it as such.

    You surprise me throughout, considering your liturgical preference for the more “elemental” chant.

    Well, I like polyphany as well — but actually I’d tend to say that one of the great advantages of chant is that it does have a limitted (or at least, very subtle) emotional range and generally puts the text first and sense of verticality foremost.

    While I love listening to mass settings by classical composers, I’m not sure that they’re actually well suited to liturgical use — certainly not on a regular basis — in that they turn the mass into too much of a performance.

    I would think very simple chants for most masses, and then bringing in more complexity and polyphany on high feasts and such. But though both liturgy and music involve active listening, it strikes me they’re of different sorts — though I’d have to think for a while about how.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    As a side note, hitting on a vein of the argument awhile back, one need not employ the whole (or even most) of the orchestral palette to exploit the full expressive potentialities of the classical genre.

    Think of the Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”,or, more radically, even Bach’s “Chaconne” (Partita #2).

  • S.B. says:

    The Chaconne is wonderful; I’ve played it on classical guitar.
    For someone who is sensitive to music and capable of appreciating its beauties, listening to Bach’s Chaconne is an amazingly powerful experience. There is no piece of rock music that even remotely compare. Rock music has its own emotional powers, to be sure, but it’s not the same.

  • I think you’re right that classical music (in part because of the time available, types of instruments, number of instruments, and the subtlety of style is able to be significantly better than rock ever can…

    Again: “Better” how? “Better” than rock music at doing what?

    No, wrong. I used 80s hair metal as an EXAMPLE that would prove the point (and it seems you agree) that some genres are more limited than others.

    Some genres are more limited than others, of course. As I said, I am no relativist. But “hair metal” is a limited genre. It’s also a much narrower genre than “rock music” which is a HUGE genre and not a helpful category, in my opinion, and yet it is THIS genre that you keep talking about. This is PRECISELY why I am arguing with your blanket claim that classical music is some kind of higher art form than “rock music.”

    In any event, I can’t take anyone seriously who thinks that Bob Dylan represents some great achievement of human culture. He was a decent lyricist, an average tunesmith, and an unspeakably bad vocalist. No more than that.

    I rest my case that when it comes to rock music, you know little.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    Dale,

    Binders without the CD cases, which hold 250 each. It’s only 13 binders overall. That’s when I am fully organized. ;) (Otherwise, there are cases everywhere).

    I regret that I did not give first the Nathan Milstein version of the Bach Chaconne, whhich I just found:

  • S.B. says:

    Nah, I’ve heard plenty of Bob Dylan, but never anything that interested me in a second listen . . . his voice is just too scratchy and out of tune. It grates on the ears. Other people like him, I know, and I can well understand how mediocre rock musicians would think he’s wonderful (because he’s far above them). But it reminds me of how when I would tell someone that I played classical guitar, and they would say, “Ever hear that tune ‘Classical Gas’?” or “Ever seen that movie ‘Crossroads’?,” and I would be thinking, “Wow, how can I convey to this person that there’s a whole world of music that is light years above and beyond anything they’ve ever heard.”

  • His voice is “scratchy,” eh? Is that another bit of jargon that Celine Dion’s producer taught you?

    More evidence that, although you have degrees in classical guitar performance, you aren’t very thoughtful about what music is and what makes it good.

    Of course Dylan’s voice was not the best in terms of a particular dominant set of Western musical values. And no, I’m not suggesting at all that Dylan “was” (he still makes music, you know – might want to catch up) a great musician. But it is objectively true that he made, and continues to make, great music.

    Are you able to catch these distinctions? Or is it just that you are intentionally misrepresenting me again?

  • S.B. says:

    His voice is “scratchy,” eh?

    No, it’s just an observation that would be shared by anyone who knows anything about vocal technique.

    But it is objectively true that he made, and continues to make, great music.

    No, it’s not “objectively true” in any sense whatsoever. He makes often-amateurish-sounding music that somehow seems to appeal to a particular subset of Americans in a particular cultural framework at a particular time and place. That’s not objective. If his music is still idolized in many different cultures in 300 years (as is Bach’s), then maybe he’ll have created something of value, but it’s too early to know that yet. And even if that were to occur, it would still be objectively true that his music isn’t very complex or difficult to replicate (no one could say the same about Bach), and that his only appeal (such as it is) derives from his lyrics.

  • No, it’s just an observation that would be shared by anyone who knows anything about vocal technique.

    Oh, ok. “Scratchy.” [rolls eyes]

    And even if that were to occur, it would still be objectively true that his music isn’t very complex or difficult to replicate (no one could say the same about Bach), and that his only appeal (such as it is) derives from his lyrics.

    So what if it’s not “complex” or “difficult to replicate”? You have already admitted that such things do not automatically constitute “good music.” Oh, unless you “admitted” it but don’t actually believe it. Which I could see you doing, considering you seem to have taken on a set of musical values that comes from academic study of instrument performance. But such values are not the only values involved. Technical complexity does not equal good music. Simplicity can indeed be better than complexity. (An example: the recent sub-genre of “math rock” within post-rock circles is largely a bunch of garbage.) You — simply, objectively — have a narrow view of what “good” music is.

  • S.B. says:

    What’s your deal with Dylan’s voice? No one who is remotely competent or knowledgeable thinks that Dylan has a good voice. It’s just awful — scratchy, thin, etc. It lacks power, range, depth and quality of tone, ability to create different vocal sounds, and everything that you find in a good vocalist. This is as objectively true as anything can possibly be about music. Just as objective as pointing out that someone who fumbles around trying to play Chopsticks isn’t as good at the piano as Vladimir Horowitz.

    The point about “difficult to replicate” is that any number of songwriters (myself included) can come up with tunes (just the music now, not lyrics) that are every bit as good as anything that Dylan wrote. His tunes just aren’t that creative or memorable. Think of “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” — the tune mostly consists of two notes. I could write a tune like that in my sleep. The only reason anybody pays any attention to it is because it’s “Bob Dylan.” (There are experiments where people can’t tell the difference between a cheap and expensive bottle of wine unless they see the label first.) If Dylan hadn’t written that song, and if Britney Spears came up with the exact same tune, you’d think the tune was crap.

  • As I said, I agree that Dylan does not have a “great” voice. Can you not read? Or is your memory just bad?

    The point about “difficult to replicate” is that any number of songwriters (myself included) can come up with tunes (just the music now, not lyrics) that are every bit as good as anything that Dylan wrote.

    But the music as a whole is not reducible to the “tune.” The tune, the accompaniment, the lyrics, the performance (and even aspects beyond these, like the personality of the artist, etc) are all part of what makes music music. So what if the tune is simple? The music as a whole is good music. Paul Simon wrote classic songs that have ridiculous lyrics. It doesn’t mean the music is bad. If Britney Spears came up with the tune of “Knockin’ of Heaven’s Door” but sang her type of lyrics to that tune, with her style of instrumentation and production, and her style of performance, the music as a whole would be transformed and not at all the same as the music that Dylan made.

    Are you serious that you actually studied music academically?

  • S.B. says:

    Yes, that’s why I have the intellectual capacity to analyze whether someone has written a beautiful or interesting melody, without being unduly biased by the fact that he’s famous, or the fact that he wrote interesting lyrics, or all the rest. (And good grief, the “style of performance” isn’t something to compliment Dylan on . . . talk about something where Dylan was mediocre at best.)

    As I said, I agree that Dylan does not have a “great” voice. Can you not read? Or is your memory just bad?

    No, I read the posts in which you’re sneering at my criticism of his voice as “scratchy.” Why are you doing that, if you agree with me on that point?

  • S.B. says:

    And again: The music as a whole is good music.

    Says who? That’s not an objective judgment. The more I look at YouTube videos of Dylan in the 1960s, the more I’m baffled that he ever became famous. There’s nothing there worth further attention. Just mawkish screeching.

  • S.B. says:

    Also, the “difficult to replicate” phrase applies to the performance and instrumentation . . . in terms of performance and instrumentation, I haven’t seen anything from Dylan that couldn’t be equaled or outdone by thousands of cover bands across America.

  • …without being unduly biased by the fact that he’s famous…

    I actually listen mostly to music by artists who are not famous. As a good deal of my musical roots come from participation in local, independent and/or punk rock communities, it’s safe to say I am relatively free of bias that might be inspired by the fame of musical artists.

    On a side note, do you think you might have a bias or two at work in your musical opinions?

    …or the fact that he wrote interesting lyrics, or all the rest.

    The fact that he wrote interesting lyrics is not something apart from the music Dylan made/makes. It’s part of the music. If one recognizes the strength of his lyrics and considers this aspect when making a judgment about Dylan’s music as a whole, this is not a “bias” but part of the process of judging his MUSIC.

    Why are you doing that, if you agree with me on that point?

    I don’t think “scratchy” is a helpful term. Leonard Cohen’s voice might be kind of “scratchy.” Dylan’s is certainly whiny, nasally, out of tune, etc.

    Says who? That’s not an objective judgment.

    My judgment is certainly debatable, but the burden of proof is probably on you considering the fact that Dylan is held in high regard almost across the board. My judgment contains both subjective and objective aspects and I don’t claim that such judgments are easy to come to. I do believe in objective criteria and that some music is surely better than others, but I think such judgments are debatable, obviously.

    I don’t see much objectivity in your judgment on Dylan. You criticize him for “screeching” (see, now that’s much better than “scratchy”). Does screeching equal “bad” music? Why? Should music always be pretty? You admit that he wrote good lyrics. Where do you draw the line? What sort of calculus do you use to add all these things up?

    Enjoy YouTube.

  • Also, the “difficult to replicate” phrase applies to the performance and instrumentation . . . in terms of performance and instrumentation, I haven’t seen anything from Dylan that couldn’t be equaled or outdone by thousands of cover bands across America.

    Well that’s just silly. I’ve heard countless covers of Dylan and most of it is trash. Ahh… maybe we’ve found the root of your dislike of Dylan. You;ve heard one too many cover versions of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

    Personally, I don’t like that song much either.

    How old are you anyway, S.B.?

    I’m surprised more folks aren’t sticking up for Dylan here.

  • S.B. says:

    I’m still waiting for someone to tell me what is the supposedly objective reason that I or anyone else should think that Dylan is so great. His tunes are simplistic, his voice is pretty awful, his performing is nothing special. I don’t see anything about his “music” that is objectively good, except that he has interesting lyrics. So why am I supposed to be impressed?

    Again, if anyone else came up with the average Dylan song, no one would care. It would languish on some unknown MySpace page. It’s only because it’s “Bob Dylan” that anyone pays attention. Same as with the wine experiments . . . tell people it’s an expensive wine, and they ooh and aah; tell them it’s a cheap wine, and they don’t like it.

    But if an unknown came up with something like the Goldberg Variations, the classical world would bow in awe.

  • S.B. says:

    I’ve heard countless covers of Dylan and most of it is trash.

    I’m not talking about Dylan covers necessarily. I’m just saying that in terms of technical skill at playing instruments and singing, or stage presence, or anything that you supposedly like about Dylan’s performances, there is nothing that sets him apart from thousands of bands across America (whether they’re playing their own music or whatever).

  • John Henry says:

    I’m surprised more folks aren’t sticking up for Dylan here.

    I think Dylan’s great as a lyricist. But his voice, arrangements, and performance skills are nothing spectacular. Dylan’s importance, imo, is very contingent on timing and the influence he had on other bands. I know that’s sacrilege among people who think rock is the. greatest. music. ever., but, then, I think rock is inferior to classical music as a genre. I listen almost exclusively to rock, play rock, and prefer to listen to it. But I think it’s a limited medium. I read (and enjoy) blogs more than I read papal encyclicals in an average week; that doesn’t mean the former is superior to the latter.

    I think Dylan’s poetry falls short of the best poets, and his melodies, harmonies, etc. are child’s play compared to the best classical composers. Granted, part of the point of rock is that the music as a whole is better than the sum of its parts. But I still think classical music is superior, although I see no need for either rock or classical enthusiasts to speak ill of each other.

  • But I think it’s a limited medium.

    AGAIN: Limited how? In its ability to do what?

    I read (and enjoy) blogs more than I read papal encyclicals in an average week; that doesn’t mean the former is superior to the latter.

    Papal encyclicals are “superior” to blogs? This is comparing two things that do different things. You can’t really say that encyclicals are “better” than blogs. What remains unspoken, in this case and in the musical debate we are having, is what they are “superior” at doing No one is addressing this point.

    It’s only because it’s “Bob Dylan” that anyone pays attention.

    I definitely think that’s true of many rock music “stars.” As I said, I am highly critical of the mainstream rock music world. I don’t think you are justified in saying that Dylan is just like any run-of-the-mill rock musician.

  • S.B. says:

    A good way to think of it would be this:
    Listen to hundreds of rock songs, and think how often you hear something musical that can’t be done within classical music. Maybe the feeling of rebellion, maybe the feeling “this rocks!,” maybe something else. Not much.

    Listen to hundreds of hours of Gregorian chant, Italian operas, Renaissance motets and masses, Romantic symphonies, 20th-century Russian composers, atonal music, solo piano sonatas, string quartets, Bach cantatas, violin concertos, piano concertos, etc. With every new piece, try to appreciate what the music is doing, and think to yourself, “Is there anything within the comparatively much narrower genre of modern American rock music that can do the same musically?”

    If you have any capacity to appreciate music at all, there will be many more times when you realize that the classical genre is much broader, much more varied and representative of different cultures and places and times, etc.

  • Rick Lugari says:

    I’m too low brow to get into classical music, but am a bit of a rock snob. I can appreciate the argument that classical as a whole is more sophisticated musically speaking than most, even all rock – even the rock that I find brilliant and moving. However, I was hoping Michael Iafrate would be able to make a case that would bring rock a little more credibility because there really are some rock artists who know music and can stretch the capacity of rock and/or supply some very poetic lyrics that are accompanied by appropriate musical arrangements. Sorry, Michael, I don’t think you’ve made much headway – but then you sort of really lost me when you cited Dylan and Springsteen. Dude, it’s hard to escape tastes when evaluating any form of art, and it’s admittedly hard for me to give those guys more credit than my personal taste will allow, but if you’re going to convince someone that there exists rock that is worthy of consideration by classically trained musicians or has power to move in profound or not-so-base way, you missed the boat. I was really pulling for you on this one…

  • With every new piece, try to appreciate what the music is doing, and think to yourself, “Is there anything within the comparatively much narrower genre of modern American rock music that can do the same musically?”

    I hope you would do the same with various types of rock music. You might find that some rock music evokes more than feelings of “rebellion” or “this rocks.”

    I’ll cite two examples of rock music that evoked for me, in a live setting, the same feeling. I saw Radiohead a few years back. Not sure if you’re familiar with their music or not. You might call it “post-rock.” The other band is called Godspeed You Black Emperor. They would also be considered “post-rock,” but even more so than Radiohead, as they play long, instrumental “pieces” rather than songs. The latter, at the time, was a band of about 10 members. Called themselves a “collective” rather than a band. Various instruments, including guitars, basses, drums and various percussion, cellos, violins and violas… maybe other things. Both bands evoked for me, through the music itself (and lyrics in the case of Radiohead) as well as through the way it was played (incredibly loud), a sense of apocalyptic. Both bands push the boundaries of rock music in their instrumentation, the structure of the music itself, use of electronics and sampling and sometimes visual imagery. Despite what you might think (without any evidence, of course), I have pretty wide musical tastes. The apocalyptic feeling of these two bands, especially the live experience, I have not experienced with any other type of music.

    I can appreciate the argument that classical as a whole is more sophisticated musically speaking than most, even all rock – even the rock that I find brilliant and moving.

    Now THERE you go. I would definitely agree that classical music as a genre is more sophisticated than rock music. I don’t know, though, whether this means that it can express a great deal more of human experience than rock music, or that classical music, as a genre, is better than rock music.

    Sorry, Michael, I don’t think you’ve made much headway – but then you sort of really lost me when you cited Dylan and Springsteen.

    Well, they’re not my favorites by any means, but they are names that are familiar and certainly artists that I think are among the greats of rock music. I am certainly not suggesting that either artist’s entire canon is perfect or consistent in terms of quality. Who, then, would you cite, Rick? Help another rock snob out! :) The Beatles are an obvious possibility… I’ve already mentioned Radiohead who I think are one of the most important rock bands of all time, and still in their prime.

  • S.B. says:

    I checked out the Godspeed group. Many of their pieces sound exactly like stuff that you’ll hear from modern classical composers. It’s not really helping your case to point to so-called “rock” groups whose musical talent seems to consist of importing sounds, instrumentation, etc., from classical music!

  • Both bands evoked for me, through the music itself (and lyrics in the case of Radiohead) as well as through the way it was played (incredibly loud), a sense of apocalyptic.

    I’d defer to SB and Mark, who both probably have wider experience than I, but I’d tend to say that apocalyptic is something that rock music is going to be better at than classic. (While classical is probably able, for instance, to be far more pastoral — as in countryside, not running a parish — than rock.)

    However, it’s always interesting to try a challenge. The two things I first thought of in regards to apocalyptic is the sacrifice section from Rites of Spring:

    And the Dies Irae from Karl Jenkins’ Requiem:

    I have the feeling there some other very obvious 20th century piece which is right beyond my memory at the moment, but thus it goes.

    I’d be curious what others thought of, if anything.

    And Rick, I’d be curious to hear what bands you would consider outstanding rock. (I confess, Michael, that while I basically enjoy Radiohead I’m not deeply moved by it. Though the fact it strongly evokes a roommate I didn’t get along with doesn’t help any…)

  • Many of their pieces sound exactly like stuff that you’ll hear from modern classical composers. It’s not really helping your case to point to so-called “rock” groups whose musical talent seems to consist of importing sounds, instrumentation, etc., from classical music!

    No genre of music is self-contained. If you studied music, you should know this!

  • Michael I

    Correct; no genre is self-contained; indeed, most of my favorite bands are quite diverse (world folk rock tend to be). I wonder, for example, how one would go about describing Hoven Droven.

    You get some rather heavy tunes like KOTTPOLSKA

    Somewhat lighter with their Vasen

    Turbo is interesting

    Some of their songs are more jazzy (perhaps Malort works for this, though not the best example

    And they do their own covers, like Wish You Were Here:

  • Rick Lugari says:

    Michael and Darwin,

    Maybe I’m not qualified to speak on the subject because I’m not an accomplished musician – unless being able to play Smoke on the Water on anything from a guitar to a child’s xylophone counts for something. ;)

    But really, the whole genre of Progressive Rock was (or is, as far as it can be found these days) about was expanding the scope of rock as a musical vehicle. Most of my taste lies in that genre. Among my favorites are Pink Floyd, old Genesis, Supertramp, Rush, Yes, etc.

    While Pink Floyd has been at the top of my list for decades if I decided what my favorite band was by both appreciation and how often I listen to them, then that would be Marillion from the Fish years (first four albums – mid-1980s). I don’t argue that they’re better than Pink Floyd, Genesis, et al (in fact they were influenced by those bands), but they were awesome and there is an extreme personal connection in my case.

    Anyway, I’d argue that in the Prog Rock genre there is a wide variety of talented musicians pushing the envelope of Rock and Roll. In some case you might find it done in sophisticated structures that would have more in common with classical than average rock, other times you might find some hard core jazz influence (you know, the kind of stuff you pretty much have to be a musician to appreciate), other times you may find that orchestral arrangements are an integral part of the work (but that really says something about the capacity of classical to transcend too).

    And Mark D., personally I didn’t like that Radiohead tune you posted, though the imagery in the video was reminiscent of Pink Floyd in a number of ways – almost seemed a rip-off of them, in fact. Pink Floyd had an album called Animals, which was based on the Animal Farm thing too. Notable songs, Dogs, Pigs, and Sheep. Anyway, many of the images in that video seem to have been deliberate mock-ups of the animation in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I can’t help but to wonder if that was intentional – a tribute, so to speak.

  • S.B. says:

    No genre of music is self-contained. If you studied music, you should know this!

    At the edges, yes, but genres are obviously different, or else we wouldn’t be able to talk about “genres” in the first place.

    Anyway, what you’ve done here is as if I talked about the superiority of classical music, and then my example of good classical music consisted of a modern so-called “classical” group that consisted of an electric guitar, bass, drums, and that sounded just like the Eagles.

  • S.B. says:

    By the way:

    I’m surprised more folks aren’t sticking up for Dylan here.

    Well, I’m continually surprised when certain members of the Vox Nova crowd, who supposedly agree with the Church’s teaching on abortion, can’t bring themselves to criticize Obama with even a thousandth the same fervor that they have when criticizing SUVs or Sarah Palin’s preacher — or just about anything, for that matter.

    But everyone has different priorities, I guess.

  • S.B. says:

    A: “Chairs are nice, but couches seat more people than chairs.”

    B: “No, they don’t.”

    A: “Huh? Obviously they do. Have you never seen a couch?”

    B: “Check out this great example of a progressive ‘post-chair’ that is 15 feet wide, and that seats more people than a couch.”

    A: “Um, that’s actually a couch. That doesn’t prove your point at all.”

    B: “So what? Genres aren’t self-contained.”

    A: Sigh.

  • Michael I

    When all else fails, and the conversation isn’t going so well, bring it back to abortion and if people complain, tell the world “it’s the most important thing in the world to talk about.” The question of course is, why didn’t you say so in the first place?

  • S.B. says:

    Amazing that you are now attempting to cast Godspeed You Black Emperor as classical music.

    Why? The tunes I heard all have classical instrumentation, and sound exactly like oodles of stuff that I’ve heard from modern classical composers (maybe a little less adventurous). They’re clearly knock-offs of modern classical music. So it’s just funny that one of your best examples of good “rock” music consists of a group that makes modern classical music but, for no apparent reason, seems to have some followers who use the label “rock.”

  • S.B. says:

    Yeah, that first clip clearly sounds like classical music (i.e., modern experimental music, although this wasn’t very experimental), much more than it sounds like the typical rock song. So you’re absolutely right: you didn’t know.

  • S.B. says:

    Stop trying to be a smart***, Henry; you’re just showing that you don’t know anything about modern classical music.

    And what’s the point of this, anyway? It’s like amateur philosophers who think that because they’ve identified a particular point in the day where the sun has set but it’s still somewhat dusky in the sky, therefore there’s no difference between day and night. The fact that a few fringe bands at the edge of a particular genre borrow heavily from other genres shouldn’t deprive us of the intellectual ability to see how the majority of one genre differs from another.

  • S.B. says:

    I don’t have an answer to what? I don’t see an intelligible or intelligent question anywhere. If the question is whether the boundaries of genres can be blurry at the edges, I already said that of course they can . . . that’s why you see modern classical composers using electric guitars, or why you see wanna-be rock bands using a violin. That doesn’t change the fact that we can still distinguish between genres, nor does it change the fact that when a supposed “rock” group uses classical instrumentation and musical structure and style (along with the absence of anything resembling a typical rock song), it’s really closer to modern classical music than anything else.

  • I’m not sure if either one of you is going to be able to cast much light on the topic by examining the muddy intersections of the question.

    After all, Paul McCartney is a rock musician — but he released a couple of explicitly classical albums.

    Apocalyptica uses only instruments generally used in classical music (four chellos) but their music is pretty clearly rock.

    Back in the late 80s the rock group ELP did a very faithful cover of Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War”, a classical piece.

    One could play with muddy examples all day, but unless we assert that the terms are meaningless (and that hardly seems to be the case since I think most people could successfully divide 99% of classical and rock pieces into the appropriate buckets if asked) there must surely be a basic set of characteristics that most “classical” shares and another that most “rock” shares.

    Given that, even if there are a few weird cases where one could make arguments that a group’s music is either rock or classical (and settle it only based on what the group self-identifies as) it should still be possible to make general statements about both groups of music. And some of those statements might have to do with subtlety and range of expression.

    (Though to be honest, I find most of the really experimental classical stuff rather un-involving — so the middle ground is hardly something I feel like fighting for anyway. I was listening to a 28 minute a-tonal piece for asian flute and orchestra the other night on the classical station and simply had to turn off the radio after ten minutes. There’s only so much a-tonality this fellow can take.)

  • S.B. says:

    That’s just a semantic label; it doesn’t change the underlying reality that their music sounds much more like classical music than “rock.” Deal with it.

  • S.B. says:

    And again, if the best you can do is say that music labeled as “rock” is interesting to the extent that it sounds like and/or draws from classical music, then that proves my point. The lesser genre is having to draw on the greater genre in order to expand its range and capacity.

  • S.B. says:

    Whereas when classical performers try to draw on pop influences, it just looks like they’re slumming, selling out to try to appeal to the young and ill-educated.

  • “That’s just a semantic label; it doesn’t change the underlying reality that their music sounds much more like classical music than ‘rock’ Deal with it.”

    And there you have it, folks. The tautology. Rock can’t do it, because if it does, it “sounds like classical so it is classical.” Get it? If it has the depths, it’s not really rock!

  • John Henry says:

    I don’t think bands that fuse classical and rock really prove a point one way or the other in this discussion. Sure, some music is both, but that doesn’t mean the genres don’t exist or that we can’t discuss the relative merits of the genres in general terms.

  • That’s just a semantic label; it doesn’t change the underlying reality that their music sounds much more like classical music than “rock.”

    You must not have listened to very much of it.

    And again, if the best you can do is say that music labeled as “rock” is interesting to the extent that it sounds like and/or draws from classical music, then that proves my point.

    Well, that’s just it. I didn’t say that. As usual, you’re putting words in my mouth. Fact is, Godspeed draws from a lot of influences. I’m not really even convinced that they’re drawing much from “classical” music. I mean, they use violins. So does bluegrass. Regardless, Godspeed is clearly a rock band.

    Whereas when classical performers try to draw on pop influences, it just looks like they’re slumming, selling out to try to appeal to the young and ill-educated.

    Well this is clearly the most direct statement you have made. And it reveals you to be a classist prick.

  • S.B. says:

    A better word would be “elitist.”

    Anyway, if you asked me to provide examples of the beauties and wonders of classical music, it would be rather pathetic if one of my chief examples was Luciano Pavarotti’s duets with James Brown and Sting.

    Henry:

    The tautology. Rock can’t do it, because if it does, it “sounds like classical so it is classical.”

    How stupid. It’s not a tautology at all to point out that if a supposed “rock” group in fact consists of instrumentation that imitates classical music, melodic lines and structure that imitate modern classical composers, and nothing that resembles a traditional rock song, then it’s closer to classical music regardless of whether some people prefer (for inscrutable reasons) to use the label “rock.”

    Again, if I come up with a “pop classical” group that consists of an electric violin, an electric guitar, drums, and a bass, and that plays covers of Sting and the Police, only a complete idiot would think it tautological to point out that the group’s music was more pop/rock than actual classical music.

  • S.B. says:

    And again:
    Well, that’s just it. I didn’t say that. As usual, you’re putting words in my mouth.

    Not so. I’m just pointing out the logical implications of the fact that in attempting to point to artistic rock music, you come up with examples of so-called “rock” groups that are imitating modern classical music in terms of style, melody, instrumentation, etc. You couldn’t do a better job of proving my point: Music given the label “rock” can be broad . . . when it cribs from a superior genre.

  • It’s not a tautology at all to point out that if a supposed “rock” group in fact consists of instrumentation that imitates classical music, melodic lines and structure that imitate modern classical composers, and nothing that resembles a traditional rock song, then it’s closer to classical music regardless of whether some people prefer (for inscrutable reasons) to use the label “rock.”

    For those who aren’t as familiar with the really modern composers (I’ve heard some stuff on the radio that sort of fits your description here, but there are only a few pieces I actually have copies of which were composed since 1965 and most of them are fairly traditional) what might be some examples of the sort of modern classical you’re talking about?

  • S.B. says:

    I’m thinking of a bunch of avant garde stuff that my fellow music graduate students composed and performed (sometimes I was in on the performance).

    Henry would be right about the tautological point IF, and only if, I had said something like this: “Rock music can’t be emotional [or deep, or lyrical, or whatever.] Oh, here’s something that is emotional, and therefore by definition it’s classical, not rock.” But of course I said nothing even remotely like that.

    What I’ve said — and this isn’t a complicated point — is that labels matter less than reality. If something is given the label “rock,” but its melody and structure and instrumentation resemble some modern classical music, then that reality is more important than the mere semantic fact that some people have, for no apparent reason, fallen under the spell of the four letters “r” “o” c” and “k.” Conversely, if something is given the label “classical,” but the musicians involved are playing electrified music, with lyrics, in verse and chorus form, and that sounds more like Johnny Cash than anything classical, then that reality is more important than the mere label “classical.”

    That’s not even arguably a tautology.

  • Henry would be right about the tautological point IF, and only if, I had said something like this: “Rock music can’t be emotional [or deep, or lyrical, or whatever.] Oh, here’s something that is emotional, and therefore by definition it’s classical, not rock.” But of course I said nothing even remotely like that.

    Actually, that’s a great summary of what you did actually say.

    If you think Godspeed resembles “classical music” because it features strings, then I need to question your claim to have done academic work in music.

  • S.B. says:

    What an illiterate. I never said that “Godspeed” is classical because of its emotional power or anything even remotely like that. I said repeatedly that it sounds like modern classical music because it does — as a matter of musical substance, as a matter of listening to it and thinking, “Gee, that sounds like modern classical music I’ve heard before,” as a matter of not just instrumentation but of structure and form.

    Anyway, parsing the details of one obscure wanna-be “rock” band is neither here nor there. As I’ve said — to no disagreement — the mere fact that a few fringe bands are hard to classify tell us nothing about the rest of the genre, any more than the existence of dusk makes it impossible to tell the difference between day and night, or the existence of hermaphrodites makes it impossible to speak of men and women.

  • Interestingly enough, SB never answered my questions. I asked what genre one would place various bands and songs— from Hoven Droven’s work, to the song “Clubbed to Death.” No answer. His tautology would have to classify them as classical, I am sure. But that is also patently ridiculous, so… here we are.

  • S.B. says:

    There’s no tautology, and you know it. And are you still not grasping the point that classifying fringe bands is a pointless exercise? There can be blurry boundaries between genres, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can still tell the difference between genres the vast majority of the time. What you’re doing is as stupid as saying, “Look at this hermaphrodite! Therefore we can’t say that male anatomy on average differs from female anatomy.”

    (How would I classify “Hoven Droven”? They’re not nearly as close to modern classical as Godspeed; they use a mixture of folk melodies and rock sounds with acoustic/classical instrumentation. Big deal.)

  • gary says:

    “…there must surely be a basic set of characteristics that most “classical” shares and another that most “rock” shares. ”

    For rock’s basic characteristic, let’s go to Magister Berry himself: “It’s got a backbeat/You can’t lose it.” That, the fundamental lineup of guitar/bass/drums, and electronic amplification are what make rock rock, imho. Since the Beatles started messing with the form in 66/67, the backbeat will occasionally disappear, other instruments will surface, and the volume will vary, but music entirely without these three features generally is not categorized as rock. I think that it’s these characteristics which gives rise to the belief that rock, as a genre, is more limited than classical, since overriding, propulsive rhythm and volume tend to overwhelm sonic subtleties and nuance commonly found in orchestral, choral, and chamber music. Of course, since classical rarely partakes of these features, rock can definitely go to places which classical does not. But I believe that a case can be made that a fairly metronomic backbeat and high volume can be seen as limiting factors of the style.

  • Interestingly enough, SB never answered my questions. I asked what genre one would place various bands and songs— from Hoven Droven’s work, to the song “Clubbed to Death.”

    I’m not sure I fully agree with SB’s comments here (though I’m not in a position to know either way for sure since I generally avoid the modern exprimental classical stuff) but you’re overly simplifying his position. To run down:

    Clubbed to Death: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt-NvcuDVBc
    No, I wouldn’t see this as sounding very classical. The percussive bassline and some of the other repetition/development elements strike me as sounding more like your standard electronica/instrumental rock/new age cross-over area.

    Godspeed You! Black Emperor live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nUml7Ijznw
    This does, despite the use of traditonally rock instruments, strike me as sounding fairly similar to some modern/experimental classicla music. Though it’s more melodic and less dissonent and abrasive than much of the stuff that I was hearing looking around through experimental classical stuff last night. However, if you asked me to classify it, I’d certainly put it in the rock category due to the eventual take over of the percussion and guitar line, and the ending which strikes me as a very rock-like close: hit a crescendo and then fade out with an electronic interference noise.

    Hoven Droven with orchestra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4LlELP3gzc
    The first couple minutes sound in some ways like some experimental classical, but once they settle in the main themes are clearly derived from folk, jazz and rock. No question there.

    I don’t think there’s a lot of insight to be gained either way by looking at the muddy fringes between genres — but at least don’t simplify SB’s point to “if it has strings, it’s classical” because that’s not remotely what he’s saying.

    That said, I can hardly blame anyone for not being familiar with experimental classical because (having spent yesterday evening browsing around through examples) I am re-enforced in my idea that it’s mostly pretty un-likeable stuff compared to “real” (used as prejudicial term) classical music.

  • Mark DeFrancisis says:

    DC,

    This Steve Reich piece, Music for 18 Musicians, once considered pretty experimental, as was his tape-looped stuff is moving into the ‘mainstream.” Try it:

  • S.B. says:

    Darwin is right about the “Clubbed to Death” link. Not that it matters: Classifying whatever obscurity you dig up is a waste of time. Doesn’t affect the fact that genres differ enough that the overwhelming of the time, we can tell them apart. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be different “genres” in the first place.

  • Rick Lugari says:

    Let me take an amateurish approach to see we can (especially the warring parties) reach a mutual consensus that doesn’t necessarily negate anyone’s thoughts but incorporates the nuances.

    I’m not a musician, nor a music scholar, but I do appreciate music. My understanding is that there are recognized three major components of music. Rhythm, melody, and harmony. Each has it’s own primary effect on us (but that doesn’t mean they can’t work in concert). Rhythm primarily affects us at a physiological level (we want to tap our feet, might make our pulse rise, etc. – it’s primarily what makes rock moving, though rock can move us with harmony and lyrics, etc.). Harmony moves us on more of an emotional and intellectual level (a major part of classical music. This is why in movies when they’re trying to move the audience on an emotional level like sadness, jubilation, etc. there’s a sweeping harmonic score playing. It’s so effective you really don’t need to have been involved in following the movie or identifying with the characters to feel the jubilation of a homecoming or victory – or the sadness of a charecters loved one, etc.)

    Am I on track so far – more or less? If so, let’s proceed further, if not disregard me and call me an idiot.

    I think examining these elements and traits of the two genres in question we find why Michael can honestly question SB as to the ability of rock to move vs. classical. We also can see why SB claims and can claim that rock will never be able to move like classical does.

    I think SB is mostly right in that while rock can certainly move at a physiological level (very powerful thing, but rather base) and can and does utilize harmonic structure to move, the nature of rock still can’t make as effective use of harmony as classical can.

    If convincing y’all can say, I can agree to that characterization and be done with the conversation. If not, you can call me an idiot, and proceed to run up the comment count to the 200 mark.

  • paul zummo says:

    If not, you can call me an idiot, and proceed to run up the comment count to the 200 mark.

    I agree with you, but I will call you an idiot just because I wanna see if this puppy can make it to 200. ;)

  • S.B. says:

    Check this out: a full video of Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, a magnificent work. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1838768546135838793&ei=hE65SY39JY2grwKMmfTfBA&q=copland+third+symphony You’ll have to fast forward to 1:11:50, at which point you’ll get to hear the conductor’s comments about all the feelings that the music evokes in him. I was impressed with the brass; this is a difficult piece. (Trivia: I once got roped into playing the bass drum for an orchestra rehearsal of this piece, because one of the percussionists was absent. It was quite challenging: you had to count for interminably long periods of time, and then suddenly bang the heck out of the drum on an off-beat.)

  • Mark,

    Interesting. I quite like the Short Ride on a Fast Machine, but I think Shaker Loops gets too “weird” for me if you’ll forgive the non-technical term. :-)

    Being a pretty traditional kind of guy, I usually don’t get much past someone like Hovhaness. He’s his Alleluia and Fugue:

  • Rick Lugari says:

    Heh. Listening to Copland piece in the background as I work. They said in the beginning that it was a reflection of life in bustling NYC in the 1920′s. I’m just not getting that. While listening, what’s going through my mind is a stuff like coyote getting an ACME anvil dropped on his head, a duck getting his bill blown off by a shotgun, and a mouse pulling the tongue of a cat. oops… I just heard the sound of a bulldog getting smacked in the head with a garbage can lid. Pretty violent music there, SB!
    :)

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