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2004-03-25

Wondering about music 

The basket where we collect clothes that need to be ironed was bulging. Time for another boring, disciplined session of ironing my shirts.

The TV is broken, and nobody cares enough to have it fixed. So the only saviour was the record collection. Now it happens that I have strong, though not exclusive interest in, er, contemporary music - the serious stuff in the tradition of classical music. I must say that I have neglected this interest lately, and so I felt it was time to put a CD of, let's see, why not Wolfgang Rihm on, three violin quartets. I've always been inspired by his music in concerts, it's fierce and forceful, and at times funny.

Yet, as my ironing went on past the first half hour, my mind wandering as usual, I noticed that the music was getting on my nerves. I attributed it to having become unused again to atonal music, that my ear needed to re-accommodate, but it did not get better. So obviously it had to have something to do with my lack of attention to the music as I was working. I yearned for something harmonious, mellifluous I think is the word, to soothe my yawning, ironing brain. But wait a minute, that was so wrong, according to the dogma of modern music. Music is not supposed to be a background tranquilizer to comfort bourgois alienation, music must be existential and radical. But I did not want that right then, I wanted .. I already told you. So in a world where Wolfgang Rihm exists, what should the citizen do when ironing? Anything but listen to music? I'm sure neither Michael Nyman, Charlie Parker, Chopin, nor let's say, Lenny Kravitz would have minded if I was listening to their stuff, and I might have enjoyed it more for that. So is my entertainment-oriented use of music wrong, or is the mistake there in the contemporary music, which ignores all functions that music can have except its raw sensual and cognitive force and the potential to use that for analytical, philosophical explorations of the self? Music that requires the listener to train himself? Before I had a child, I was willing to believe that my emotional attachment to tonality in music was a result of childhood experiences, when I was exposed to a lot of classical music but to no Schönberg or beyond. But I have experimented with our son since he was born: his dislike of atonal stuff was there from birth, and it is getting stronger as he is becoming more articulate.

So maybe the scope of contemporary music is limited to highly attentive states of listeners, and in less attentive states there would always be different types of music that are appropriate at each level of attention and concentration, ranging from, what, Barber down to - hopefully not Shania Twain.


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