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Saturday, June 26, 2021


 I'm reading Christopher Small's Musicking. I"m pretty sure I'm allergic to this kind of writing, which actually tells me nothing that I do not already know. It's pretty much how we are supposed to feel about music, that it is a process rather than a product, that the Western tradition reifies it in often unhelpful ways.  I just happen to hate every sentence of it.  

For example, a parenthetical aside: "there is evidence that many of the early producers of sound films deliberately used classically trained musicians to compose music so as to enhance the social prestige of their product." This seems reasonable enough, but on closer examination it collapses. Almost everyone who could have or would have composed music for films in this period was "classically trained" in the trivial sense. It is not easy to compose a film score without such training, in the absence of later electronics generated by computers. Even Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn didn't write a jazz soundtrack for a full length feature until 1959.  

The "deliberately" sounds off to me, as does the implied motive. Maybe the movie producers simply had no different or better ideas of what kind of music to use. I even dislike the phrase "there is evidence" in this context. It lends almost too much weight to the insight, which otherwise might seem banal. 


Y. Smerdis said...

Do you find it useful to read books that you find overall uninformative and odious at the level of the sentence? Does it heighten your awareness of howlers, or desensitize you to them?

Does Small mention what that evidence is? The assertion that evidence exists is superfluous at best.

Jonathan said...

I do read books that I don't like for various reasons. Part of the process is deciding if I am wrong or right in my own reactions. For example, I could be missing something in the rhetorical situation in which Small is acting. Maybe people needed to be told this in 1998.

There is no evidence here for the assertion. What interests me here is the idea of "economies of prestige." In other words, choosing any music automatically puts into plays someone's idea of where that music fits in with the cultural hierarchies.

Vance Maverick said...

Literally everything in the movies is and was a calculated appeal to what the makers thought the audience would like. Sometimes that was prestige, sometimes it was spectacle, sometimes cheesecake, scandal, etc. This seems unsurprising! I wonder what the intended contrast was. Sincerity?