human nature debates; women & prog
- Brad wrote:
>>>there is a universal beauty that prevails in us allBob wrote:
>>this "objective, universal beauty" that you think exists for everyone,Brad wrote:
>>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.
>Your analogy is understandable, but not quite apropos. We were more orActually, the analogy isn't that far off, at least with regard to what I was
>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:)
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.
>but to encounter something new, unique, even startling, probably wouldThis happens -- witness your example of the oud and the VFW's who dig
>invoke the same jaw-dropping response in us all regardless of cultural
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.
>So you're one of the very few women that subscribes to the GG list eh? IThanks. They told me when I joined the GG list a few months ago (after it
>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.
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.