In the 1973 film Wicker Man, a British policeman meddles in a culture he doesn’t understand with drastic results.
Last week I expressed my puzzlement at the way the S21 Wiki was taking shape, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t been burned alive. But I’ve certainly learned where the flames are.
Here’s what happened – almost a month ago, Jerry Bowles got the beautiful idea of creating a musical version of Wikipedia. We were all encouraged to put our bios on the S21 Wiki. A few intrepid souls went further, putting tremendous amounts of time and effort into making the wiki look good, be consistent and reflect well on everyone involved.
I thought it was wonderful, and figured I would put up a page for myself once I returned from my work at the illuminations festival. Much to my pleasant surprise, the wikimeisters went ahead and put up a page for me, with an outline of my background and work. I figured, what the hell, I’ll just copy the bio from my website onto this nice page they’ve made and head out to my festival, with the expectation that I would refine the page further when I returned.
Once out on the coast, I had a moment to check into the wiki and see how my page turned out. To my surprise, I found that a few things were missing. I couldn’t remember what exactly was missing, but there were a few dangling sentence fragments I knew weren’t there when I left. Unfortunately, my internet service and laptop weren’t allowing me to do any wiki work, so I posted a comment about my befuddlement on my blog, the only place I had available to register my concern.
And, as I said, I learned where the flames are.
Turns out the wikimeisters decided that there shouldn’t be any press quotes in the wiki, which is a perfectly sensible decision, since most press quotes are garbage. Presto – my quotes were eliminated, and I was left puzzling over the ways of the world.
For personal reasons, I have had to return home from the Outer Banks early, so there will be no more illuminations reports. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I now have my usually reliable internet service and can behave like a gentleman at all times.
So here’s a wiki question for the meisters. Are all quotes necessarily bad?
Music is an art form, which makes it a subjective experience. Unlike an encyclopedia article on, say, the vibrational modes of isotopes, an article on music is missing essential information if it sticks religiously to the facts. In a sense, the subjective experience of how the music feels to the listener is the whole point.
Is the composer the best person to say how his or her music feels to the listener? I am very fortunate that Kyle Gann wrote the wiki article under my name – he brings enormous experience and skill to the task of describing music. But other composers may not be so fortunate. Should those composers attempt to describe how their music sounds to the listener? If they don’t, they are leaving out essential information about the music. But if they do, they are bringing in a subjective point of view without the benefit of quotes to indicate that subjectivity.
So, again, are all quotes necessarily bad? Can’t we imagine a quote that would illuminate the experience of hearing the music, while making it clear that the experience being described is that of one listener?
Mind you, I’m not lobbying for the restoration of quotes in my article – I’m perfectly happy with it as it stands. I’m not even advocating a change in wiki policy. I know, for one thing, that evaluating each quotation individually would take a ridiculous amount of time. And, as I said above, most press quotes aren’t worth much.
I’m just reacting the way I always react when someone tells me that x is bad. I want to discuss the issue further, because for me, badness is never a simple thing.
But maybe it is my fate to be burned for that belief.