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When someone tells me that they prefer Machine Gun by The Peter Brötzmann Octet to any kind of regular music, it’s like saying you prefer the sound of a lawnmower to Rebecca Black. While Rebecca Black is not on the level of normal music, “free jazz” of this particular variety is simply annoying background noise. It’s ridiculous to say you’d prefer it to better music (or to call it good music at all).

This actually happened: I was having an argument on the internet about good and bad music, and some guy came in and basically said free jazz was true art, and that “all rock music sucks.” He may or may not have been kidding, but I’ve met people like this in real life, and I’m taking a stand. When you get rid of melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, or song structure on the whole, what are you doing? You’re just making noise. That isn’t “good music,” that’s a distraction.

People who listen to this kind of thing are suffering from “Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome. They don’t want to admit that there is really nothing good about the song because they’re afraid of looking foolish in front of the musical elite, but in reality they’re forcing themselves to endure an atrocity while the rest of listen to real music. I don’t mean to criticize Brötzmann’s skill with the saxophone, but this brand of music is simply tricking wanna-be music snobs into thinking they’ve found the holy grail.

I suppose the theory is that Machine Gun is a complex piece of work that you have to listen to dozens of times before beginning to understand it, and the fact that it has no sense of cohesion engages your mind – or it’s just a fraudulent piece of art that hipsters listen to when they’re trying to seem intelligent.

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12 thoughts on “Taking it too far

  1. To those of you who commented to me on the side, I should mention that when I say “get rid of melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo,” I think it is clear I mean “as far as real music is concerned” (yeah, I went there). The fact that anything TECHNICALLY counts is not an excuse, but I guess it does serve as a great way to pretend this song is artsy.

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  2. Ok so the guy who said all rock music sucks is clearly a moron. I think we can both agree on that. Is comment that free jazz is true art is also erroneous. I don’t believe that there is such thing as “true” art. In regard to your comment on that Machine Gun song, yes the melody, harmony, rhythm and tempo differ greatly compared to the traditional sense, although it does sound orchestrated to me.. and an interesting (and dare I say slightly pleasing) use of syncopation and dissonance. Have you listened to much Aboriginal music? Living in Australia I hear it quite alot. The interesting thing about there music is that alot of the instruments are percussive or monotonic. The didgeridoo for instance can only play one note, but its textures are gently modulated using the mouth (not all too dissimilar from modern dubstep). But the interesting thing is that they use the instruments to tell stories of their dreamtime in a very rich and earthy manner. Now I would definitely consider their music to be art – and to say otherwise would be insulting to an entire culture. I honestly consider that song to be quite similar to it in the sense that it is telling a story that traditional melodies, harmonies, rhythms and tempos fail to convey.

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  3. Heres some Aboriginal music for you to compare:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFGvNxBqYFILike I said not all that dissimilar.What I have noticed about you is that seem to derive distinct displeasure in dissonance. Now while that is part of your own musical taste – let me remind you that dissonance forms a core part of musical theory and has been employed since classical times. Even your beloved Rock music contains many form of dissonance from the distortion to the cymbal clash, but used in moderation can actually enhance a musical piece. With regard to the Machine Gun song, Im not hankering to go out and listen to all their music, but I can form an appreciation for it and understand what the artist was trying to convey. Its not just a bunch of noises. That would be chaotic and have no meaning. This has meaning and a story to tell. In fact I actually feel this song was ahead of its time in many ways. If some hipster wants to listen to this all day and feel like he’s super artsy and superior then that is his prerogative. That still does not make this music any less artistic or inferior to rock music in any way and I believe it is narrow minded to say so.

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  4. Dissonance is perfectly fine, and most music makes excellent use of it – in small to decent amounts, dissonance can make any song much better.The problem with Machine Gun is that the ENTIRE SONG is dissonance. It completely fails to be musical, because musical by all standards, even in the case of aboriginal music (which is a lot more comparable to drone than it is to avant-garde free jazz), is something that people would actually listen to.I think that Machine Gun tricks people into thinking it has a story to tell, when in reality they each bang on their instruments for about a minute at a time then cycle into something else. Kind of like a psychic managing to predict every card in the deck wrong, the only interesting part about the song is that not one note seems to sound good with the next.The beginning of the song, and only the very beginning, does sound a bit like a didgeridoo. Aboriginal music does have rhythm, though. They don’t just play a randomly timed sequence, like this song. To say this song has rhythm or tempo is to rely only on the dictionary definitions of the words, rather than how they are applied in any music people like or have liked for centuries. The human ear finds certain qualities of music pleasing, and Machine Gun purposely avoids all of them. The aborigines don’t do that.

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  5. To be perfectly honest, I don’t like this song. So I’m not even going to bother trying to defend it. What gets me is how you can just dismiss it as an art-form completely. You also tend to make very generic statements. Like when you compared Adagio For Strings to Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger and said that it showed “Trance was superior to House music”. The two songs are completely different to each other and are targeting completely different crowds. It should be possible to appreciate both genres without saying one is better than the other. Its like comparing apples to oranges. Which is the better fruit? The apple? Or the orange? I agree that there are bad songs within each genre, but all attempts at art are STILL art. My other passion is cooking (if you hadnt guessed already) and sometimes I like to experiment with different flavour combinations and recipes and combine elements that I wouldnt normally expect to work. Its hit and miss. Sometimes its fantastic. Alot of the time its downright horrible. But regardless of whether the product was bad or good, it is still art. I think experimentation is a good thing in music, and whilst that song may be at the far end of experimentation I still respect that they were able to take explore different territories. Instead of judging that song against so-called “Real music” why not compare it against other Avante Garde Free Jazz songs. I am sorry to rant on so much but I see a very poor quality of music journalism on the blogsphere.

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  6. If you recall, my point in this blog is to target people who listen to specific genres that I’d consider weak or boring and make them try something else. It’s not easy to do.What makes things worse is the conclusion that people who like pop or house, for example, may not honestly be that interested in music so much as the culture, and they would never really care to try anything else.So, for Machine Gun, I’m really not trying to attack Peter Brotzmann so much as the people who listen to this (and only things like this). They’re obviously not getting anything out of it. I did listen to other free jazz, and basically all of it that I found other than this was pretty good. Everyone is experimenting on one thing or another, but this song was the only one that actually threw all preconceived notions of “music” out the window in that experimentation. The result was unpleasant, and there are musically defined reasons for why.As for Free Jazz I did like, John Zorn was very cool. I also liked Archie Shepp and Ornette Coleman. As for Brotzmann, I have to say: either I found the wrong songs every time, or he is always trying to raise the hair on the back of peoples’ necks.

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  7. Then what should people be listening to? What would you consider to be the top ten musical styles? What do you mainly listen to?

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  8. I don’t listen to one music style. People that listen to pop do. Incidentally, my criticisms hold for TRVE KVLT metalheads, ravers, ska fans, indie fans, or any counterculture that revolves around only listening to one type of music all the time.Allowing me to say ten musical styles that are good is being too nice, so I’ll just give three that I currently like a lot: post-rock, ambient electronica, and modern classical. I wouldn’t listen to just one of those three, because it gets boring, and sometimes the degree to which certain aspects of the genre’s sound get overused is a turn-off.There are plenty of good genres. Most genres, in fact, are good. I like “world” music like the didgeridoo stuff. I like folk music. I didn’t really dislike the variety of steampunk music I looked at. I like hip-hop, etc. On the other hand, most of the music that gets listened to (or makes the most money) is in a few genres: pop, rnb, dance music, country. It’s just obnoxious to me that these people will talk about music when they only listen to one kind of those four, and don’t try other genres, or in some cases don’t even LIKE other genres. For example, one of my first articles here was about how I can’t stand people who criticize hip-hop without giving it a chance, and base all their opinions off guys like Lil Wayne or 50 Cent.If a Rihanna fan got converted to Peter Brotzmann somehow, I probably wouldn’t care. The people I was talking about in this article are the opposite end of the spectrum: technically-minded listeners who might want to try some music that sounds “pleasant”.

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  9. If thats the case then you should do more to show why they are limiting themselves musically, and what richness is present in other forms of music that they are missing out on. All I see is you bagging the genres that most people tend to listen to, and alot of those genres have some pretty talented artists in them if you look hard enough.The music you most like does seem to follow a trend. You like cerebral forms of music that dwell more on the mellow, introverted side and favour intricacies of technique and melody over brashness and big sounds. You prefer your Filet Mignon medium to well-done with a glass of Merlot on the side and you tend not to eat at curry houses and will usually skip dessert altogether.Thats all very well, but your criticisms come across as very biased sometimes. Instead of bagging a genre that doesn’t meet your personal taste criteria, why not right an article to show where said genres succeed. Or break it down further and explain to us what you think is integral to good music.I can tell you now that no matter how hard you rave on about how great post-rock or ambient electronica is, there is no way you are going to convert the contemporary rnb and electro-house afficianado’s in to listening to it. Its simply not a type of music that matches their personality. They like curry, not fancy french cooked steaks.What you can do however is show them why they should listen to Frank Ocean instead of Usher, Aphex Twin instead of Skrillex, Aretha Franklin instead of Adele and Alice in Chains instead of Nickelback.

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  10. What I’ve attempted to do so far (since I am making it up as I go) is either pick a genre that pissed me off and make fun of it, or pick a genre I recently looked at and talk about what I liked.I could certainly go ahead and talk about some stuff I liked in more popular genres. I hear them often enough.

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  11. Pingback: The /mu/core essentials (1/3) | Listen To Better Music

  12. Pingback: Approaching the sound barrier | Listen To Better Music

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