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human nature debates; women & prog

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  • Landgraf, Virginia
    ... Actually, the analogy isn t that far off, at least with regard to what I was thinking about. I wasn t ruling out the possibility of a universal human
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 1998
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      Brad wrote:

      >>>there is a universal beauty that prevails in us all

      Bob wrote:

      >>this "objective, universal beauty" that you think exists for everyone,
      >>just isn't true. I used to think that some songs were inherently "good"
      >>and that anyone in their right mind would appreciate them. Then I got on
      >>the internet and discovered that people who's opinions I respected *hate*
      >>some of the music that I think is perfect. It's all subjective.

      Brad wrote:

      >Your analogy is understandable, but not quite apropos. We were more or
      >less talking about someone from one culture witnessing something new in
      >another out of their realm of experience....and their reaction to it. a
      >Thai's reaction to european composition or an anglo-influenced person
      >reacting to mawlum(sp?) Thai jazz:)

      Actually, the analogy isn't that far off, at least with regard to what I was
      thinking about. I wasn't ruling out the possibility of a universal human
      nature, but I said that I'd have a hard time identifying what could or
      should be a part of it.

      All the human nature debates that I've ever seen (across the spectrum of
      philosophies and religions) seem to break down into three camps:

      "A" says there's some universal element in human nature.
      "B" lists a counterexample and disproves universality. (And universality
      can't be proven empirically, because you can't wait around to sample all the
      human beings who are born after you die).
      "C" says that despite the counterexample, the element that "A" listed
      *ought* to be part of every human being's makeup, and if it isn't, it's the
      result of sin, evil, a bad environment, oppression, bad genes, God's
      inaction with respect to that problem, etc. [take your pick of the multiple
      explanations of deficiency].

      But once "C" has moved from "is" to "ought," he/she has moved from simple
      description to philosophy or religion. Even such a simple statement as
      "Every person ought to be able to react to octaves," which seems so
      plausible on the surface, gets complicated. If a person can't react to
      octaves, does that make him or her not a human being? [I can't imagine
      anyone saying yes]. Well, then, so reacting to octaves isn't part of
      universal human nature . . . then why should it be? Various philosophies
      and religions will have various explanations for why it should be -- e.g.,
      that not being able to hear the music of the spheres is an indication of
      out-of-tuneness with the universe; that music is one of God's good gifts and
      that the tone deaf will have their sense of music restored in the eschaton;

      The problem gets even more complicated when cultural artifacts are brought
      into play. Octaves, however "natural" they are sonically, are a cultural
      artifact insofar as they hardly ever occur in nature. And I would be the
      first to admit that plain octaves, nothing but octaves -- especially over &
      over again related to the same pitch -- sound pretty boring as I am playing
      them in my imagination right now. Making them interesting requires some
      more trickery in terms of rhythm, timbre, etc.

      Brad wrote:

      >but to encounter something new, unique, even startling, probably would
      >invoke the same jaw-dropping response in us all regardless of cultural

      This happens -- witness your example of the oud and the VFW's who dig
      foreign music. But the opposite also happens: bewilderment -- because there
      are harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic maneuvers whose subtlety is not picked
      up by those trained in another musical tradition. When I first heard mawlum
      I thought it was too harmonically static. That's because I was trained to
      hear Western chord changes, and the Lao music doesn't have many of those.
      But now that I can play the kaen I hear things in Lao kaen music (the
      instrumental accompaniment to mawlum singing) that are amazing.

      A rule of thumb that tends to work in human nature debates probably applies
      in music too: the more universality a category has, the less content it has.
      More people, across times and cultures, would probably identify octaves as
      harmonious than would identify major or minor triads as harmonious (despite
      the familiarity of triads in modern Western music, thirds required
      resolution into fifths or octaves in medieval music). But there are more
      possibilities for making music interesting with triads (including the
      component octaves, fifths, and thirds) than with octaves alone.

      Brad wrote:

      >So you're one of the very few women that subscribes to the GG list eh? I
      >applaud you. sometimes talking about prog can be like being in a smelly,
      >sweaty locker room. It's nice to have an intelligent female perspective.

      Thanks. They told me when I joined the GG list a few months ago (after it
      was touted on the Kansas list as a good place to hear about bands and not
      worry about going off-topic) that I was only the second woman currently on
      the list. I have a feeling that some others may lurk but not have time to
      post. I don't feel too out of place though, because after all, the
      percentage of grad students in the theology department of Princeton
      Theological Seminary, or of people who are six feet tall, who are women is
      fairly small too. (Most department stores and clothing companies have been
      effectually telling me I'm not female for half my life, if one is to judge
      by the lengths of their clothes). A few weeks after I joined the GG list
      there was an accusation leveled at another list member (apparently with a
      reputation for signing up under multiple e-mail addresses and spouting off
      ridiculous comments) that the various women who'd come on the list weren't
      real but merely alter egos of that list member. I was LOL & falling off my
      seat, because it's just like being called "sir" by a clerk at a bank or
      grocery store who doesn't look up -- which has happened to me countless

      The thing I feel most counter-cultural about with regard to these e-mail
      lists doesn't have to do with gender -- it has to do with consumerism. I
      used to be a college radio DJ and bought a lot of cheap used vinyl in the
      early 80's when prog and Britfolk were cheap. Then I went abroad for
      several years during the format change to CD. When I came back to the
      States, I had no space or money for a turntable and was working drudge jobs
      to pay for grad school, so consumer goods were something I wanted to stay as
      far away from as possible. It's only in the past year or so that I've
      become aware of the potential of the Internet for finding out about all
      these bands I lost track of. But with the knowledge comes increased
      opportunity to spend money -- which I'm not rolling in. Having spent
      fruitful periods of my life with only instruments and written music for
      company and no recorded music, I don't want to get into an accumulator
      mentality. But I do want to support bands that are doing things I like,
      because if people like me don't, who will? I've come to the realization
      that there's more good music out there than I will ever have the time and
      money to spend on -- which some might find frustrating, but I don't find a
      bad feeling at all.

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