Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Neutral

Nearly everything I write on this blog is essentially about making aesthetic distinctions between the good and the bad. If music means much to you at all, you will  be doing the same. Basically there are three categories. Much music is neutral; it does its job without making a big fuss. Like this:

Good, solid craftsmanship. The Baroque and Classical eras are full of this kind of thing. Pop music always pretends to be special, but a lot of it is just decent craftsmanship too:

Good, solid rock n roll. A lot of soundtracks to movies and tv shows fall into the same category. But there is also the bad, of which a sterling example is the electric-violin-miniskirt group Escala that I just posted on here. The group that says, "we are going to present our music in such a way that you will barely notice how bad it is." It is not so easy to find really bad classical music because most of it doesn't make to YouTube. Of course I mean bad compositions, YouTube is littered with bad performances. Littered? I mean carpeted! But here is one piece that Beethoven can't be enormously proud of:

In the pop music field there are lots of unfortunate performances. This one is just mediocre, but it combines a formulaic video and predictable choreography with uninspired songwriting.

So that is the neutral and the bad. The neutral takes the basic methods of creating music and executes them in a workmanlike fashion. Nothing great, but nothing to be ashamed of either. Bad music usually is a mixture of bad choices. Poor musical structure, indifferent execution and random gratuitous elements. What, for example, is Hindu Goddess/Shakira doing in that last one?

Good music is created by making good choices. The composition itself has a unique, individual character. It is based on some fundamental musical truths, but comes at them from a new perspective. Every element is activated to create musical purpose. There are no extraneous or unnecessary details. Here is an example:

You may not like it, but it fulfills the criteria I mentioned: all the elements are precise, tightly focused. The video is stark black and white and the choreography is focused on a few elements. The lyrics are on a single theme (heh) and the musical accompaniment is spare. The song is tightly structured with just the traditional elements of verse, chorus and bridge. There are an absolute minimum of jump cuts in the editing and the set is minimal. Nothing gratuitous! The equivalent in classical music might be something like this:

A single theme of great simplicity unfolded in invertible counterpoint and perfectly done.

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