Sunday, June 10, 2018

Peak Music

Over at Digital Music News (hey, I read 'em all) there is an article about when people stop being receptive to new music: So, When Will YOU Hit Your Musical ‘Peak and Paralysis Age’?
When it comes to discovering music, most people eventually hit a point of “musical paralysis.”  In fact, researchers have now pinpointed the exact moment when it’s likely to occur.
Did you know that you’ll likely stop discovering music right before you turn 28?  The strange phenomenon is called “musical paralysis”.  And researchers have found that users, on average, stopped discovering new music at 27 years and 11 months.
The research, commissioned by the streaming music service Deezer, surveyed 5,000 adults from the UK, the US, Germany, France, and Brazil.
Researchers found that music fans will first hit their “musical peak” several years before entering into a “musical paralysis.”  During the ‘peak’ age, they’ll listen to ten or more new tracks per week.  Then, they’ll stop discovering new music altogether.
They then go on to give some details about differences between different countries. No information about how they gathered these statistics so we can't judge their validity. I have heard some people say that most people's musical tastes are fixed forever at around age 17, but no idea where they got that from.

This is all, loosely, in the area of what musicologists call "reception history" or how music is received by listeners, whether aficionados or the general public. Musicians have quite a different experience as they don't just listen to music, but produce it. For example, while my interest in unusual (to me) kinds of music ebbs and flows, overall it is a continuous process that involves listening to music usually considered great or important (just now I am working my way through a box of 160 discs of Haydn), but that also involves listening to music I have long been familiar with (Beethoven, Bach) that also includes pop music (The English Beat, Cream) and music that I am not familiar with from contemporary composers (Sofia Gubaidulina). It also involves listening to music from non-Western sources (most recently a number of discs of Ravi Shankar) and current pop music (recently some oeuvre of Kanye West). I honestly don't see this process ever coming to an end! So the idea that people, most people apparently, just stopping the discovery of new music seems very odd to me.

Of course, most of us are very weighed down with work and a multitude of responsibilities to the point that we have little focus or concentration available to listen to anything unfamiliar. I suppose this also explains the very modest attractions of television that seems to require a nearly brain-dead audience.

A few questions come to mind: the researchers are likely defining "new music" as simply music that is unfamiliar to the listener. But does this always mean that is it just unfamiliar music in a well-accustomed genre? In other words, if you know the previous songs of Taylor Swift, will her new song count as "new music?" What about a song by an artist you have never heard of? What about a song in a genre you have never experienced before? Yes, it seems as if all the forces of commercial music are rallied against the intrusion of any genuinely new genre or style, but still, some may occur from time to time!

And what about the possibility of something genuinely new and fresh? Steve Reich's music in the 70s was very much new and different from anything heard before, but he won an audience that included people at a variety of ages and even some who were mostly listeners to popular music. In numbers, of course, these listeners were statistically insignificant.

I wonder a couple of other things: what was the actual motive or purpose of this research? How is going to be used?

Speaking of Ravi Shankar, let's listen to some of his music. This is the album Three Ragas. The first one is Raga Jog and Maestro Shankar is accompanied by Chatur Lal, tabla and Pradjol Sen, tamboura:


David said...

Bryan, you sneaky fellow. You know the average age of your readers is older than 28 and yet you still try to introduce "new" music to us with your envoi of Ravi Shankar!

Seriously though. This "research" sounded a bit half baked to me. Another reporting web site (Music Business Worldwide) described the musical paralysis stage this way: ‘Musical paralysis’ describes the point when these folks stop discovering new music, and start listening to the same tracks and genres over and over again."

This suggests that a listener's genre receptivity becomes paralysed. But new pieced in the old genres might be experienced or sought out. The whole premise of the petrification of musical experience seems to be undercut by the finding that a majority of respondents wanted to continue to expand their horizons but other demands on their time got in the way. The musical rut seems to me to be the place you end up when you are devoting your energies to children and career.

Here's to being more mature and having time to explore the universe of quality music.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh! Yes, you divined my secret purpose! And I agree, that research sounded rather weak.

I remember a conversation once with someone who said they really looked to music for a soothing experience. Fair enough, after a hard day of career and child-rearing--or both! But I find that while soothing music is ok occasionally, I usually want a more dynamic experience and one of the most dynamic possible is hearing something that is really unlike anything you have heard before, but somehow compelling. Music can also provide a very challenging experience, which I find uniquely satisfying.