For the past week I’ve been on a Reply All email list in which experimental musicians are being loudly abusive of those who don’t like their music. (I’m one of the latter, which is how I got on the list — the exchange started with a concerted attack on me, but it has now broadened its scope, and I’m mentioned only occasionally.)
I don’t mind the bashing too much, but it does strike me as a curious pastime. Today’s crop included an email (I won’t say from whom) that included this gem: “These hateful assholes should ultimately be ignored – after they’ve had their legs broken….;)”
The question that needs to be asked is not, I think, “Why are these people so angry?” Some people are angry at the world, for one reason or another. Some of the angry people make music. This is not surprising. Their anger does seem to spill over into their music; it quite often sounds angry. That’s okay too.
A more appropriate question might be, “Why do angry musicians insist that their music should be admired?” If you’re going to make angry music, shouldn’t you just sort of take it for granted that your outpourings won’t be enjoyed, except perhaps by other angry people?
Why go to the trouble of bashing people who don’t appreciate what you’re doing? Why take it so personally that your work is being dismissed as ugly and irrelevant?
To get a reality check, I visited the website of the individual who wrote that angry sentence. Sure enough, his music is filled with loud crashing noises and exhibits very little in the way of perceptible syntax. There’s some nice sound design in his music, but there’s not much else to hang your hat on.
Syntax is important. That’s why people still listen to and enjoy Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms — the musical syntax these composers employed makes sense. It is perceptible, it is logical, it nicely balances predictability and surprise. If your music is all surprise, non-stop, shouldn’t you just accept the fact that very few people are going to want to take the trouble to understand it?
Assuming there’s anything to understand. I’m not sure there is. You can write a short story by throwing together randomly chosen emotionally laden words in no particular order — that’s okay. But if you then proceed to get angry and hostile because no one appreciates your literary genius, it’s hard to avoid the impression that you’ve missed the boat somewhere.
If you don’t want to be misunderstood, make it your business to create works of art that people can understand. (To be sure, that’s hard work. But I don’t think for a moment that these musicians are lazy.)
To understand a work of art, one must be able to perceive its syntax — its method of organization. Events within the work must relate to one another in perceptible and cognizable ways. If you’re using the kitchen sink method of “organization,” in which anything goes, you really have no right to complain that you’re being misunderstood.