AC Douglas of “Sounds & Fury” is on a roll with three painfully elitist postings all in one day. It’s been too long since I last debunked him, so let’s take a gander at all three.
Cal Performances, an arts presenter in Berleley, CA, is installing and state-of-the-art amplification system in Zellerbach Hall, which is designed to compensate for the hall’s shortcomings and enable “a uniformly excellent acoustic environment for its wide range of recitals, chamber music, symphonic music, opera, theater, dance, world music and the rest.” ACD calls this “another victory for pop culture” and “repulsive.” First, I don’t see what this has to do with “the iPod Sensibility” aside from the fact that both use electricity. Second, pop culture has nothing to do with it – they’re not talking about replacing classical repertoire with Justin Timberlake. They’re not even using it to generate a “pop” sound, but rather to make a wider variety of ensembles sound natural in one space to compensate for the fact that concert halls are emphatically one-size-fits-some. If you’re a sticker for Historically Informed Performance (HIP), the electroacoustic reinforcement isn’t for you – but neither are modern instruments (including steel strings on your violins), or modern concert halls. Chamber music is called that for a reason, so if you play, say, a Mozart string quartet in, say, Disney Hall, you’re already miles away from historical accuracy, and the amount of reverberation might make the music sound significantly worse than it would in a salon. Furthermore, the study of concert hall acoustics only got seriously underway in the 20th Century, so modern halls sound better than most of their pre-modern counterparts. Why is making halls sound better with electronics any different from making them sound better with architecture? If your goal is HIP, then do what you have to do. If your goal is to make music sound as good as possible in the space available, electronic reinforcement is a very useful tool.
ACD wonders why Alex Ross’s witty mock-analysis of the feline minimalism video reminds him of “any number of “˜rock critics’ (absurd concept!) waxing eloquent in technically detailed, highfalutin “˜elitist’ language over the latest piece of same-as-the-gazillion-pieces-before-it rock crap with the same earnestness as if it were some recently discovered piece by Bach or Mozart or Beethoven or any other of the pantheon of immortals.” Sigh. The reason, Mr. D., is that you believe these analyses are only appropriate for “serious” (i.e. classical) music. Sophisticated analysis sounds silly when applied to things that lack sophistication, and you perceive rock music as similarly insignificant to the katzemusik. I don’t mind ignorance about rock music, or dislike of rock music for superficial reasons. Heck, I dislike both Country music and Debussy for superficial reasons (La Pickup Truck Engloutie). I mind the presumption that ignorance yields valid analyses. If it all sounds the same to you, that should be your first clue that you aren’t qualified to pass meaningful judgment on it. Furthermore, I have yet to hear a persuasive argument that classical music is inherently superior to popular music. I hereby renew the challenge.
The study by British scientists Adrian North and David Hargreaves of the correlation between musical taste and other biographical attributes has been mentioned by many people, and ACD now chimes in with a quote noting the correlation between classical music fandom and higher level of education, higher income, and higher consumption of current affairs magazines. His only comment is “duh,” and it’s true that these results are pretty unsurprising. Based on his usual attitudes, however, I suspect he means something like “classical music, due to its inherent superiority, appeals more to people who are smart because they’re smart enough to appreciate it, and smart people generally get more education, earn more money, and read current events magazines.” Maybe I’m wrong about ACD, and sincere apologies if that is the case, but even if I am wrong this analysis deserves debunking as a public service. Reports of this sort demand great care in the attribution of causality. What’s really happening is that taste is very malleable, and is largely determined by socialization. A major component of our musical taste is our associations of musical style with social groups, so we should be unsurprised to find musical taste correlating with social and economic groupings. Classical music’s alignment is a product of cultural history, not of the intelligence levels of the current members of the group.
On the other hand, he’s completely right in this analysis of Harry Potter, he has a beautiful prose style, and he obviously like Wagner, so Sounds & Fury isn’t a complete waste of bandwidth.