Music and the Hugos: Accounting for Taste by Alpheus Madsen

Music and the Hugos:  Accounting for Taste

by Alpheus Madsen

While I was in my early days, I fell in love with what I would now call “Symphonic” music, but what most other people would call “Classical”.  I love the rich tones, the combinations of melody, and the wide range of emotion; I love the music that tells stories (such as “Symphonie Fantastique”, by Hector Berlioz) and music that is cerebral–music for its own sake–such as most of the works of Johann Brahams.  And I wanted to be able to compose that music, too!  (I still do, actually; I just don’t have the time to do everything I want to do…)  With that desire, I decided to earn a Music Minor while in College.

Now, I have a confession I must make:  much of the music I love, I was introduced to in my Music Appreciation and Music History classes.  It is also, incidentally, why I call the music I love “Symphonic”, because “Classical” music is pretty much limited to the time period of the lives of Mozart, Hayden and Beethoven, while “Symphonic” includes Baroque and Romantic periods…as well as Rachmaninoff, and Movie Scores.  Indeed, I say “Symphonic” because I specifically want to include movie scores, because movie scores are particularly what I have come to love in music.

The funny thing about earning a music minor, however, is that I wasn’t just exposed to the “Symphonic” music I loved.  I was also introduced to “Atonal” music:  music that deliberately took our expectations of harmony, chordal progressions, and rhythm, and threw it all out the window, in favor of experimentation.  Arnold Schoenberg, Charles Ives, and John Cage were the leaders of this movement.  Sergei Rachmaninoff was technically a member of this movement, too, although he eschewed atonal music, and insisted that he was born in the wrong era:  he should have been a part of the Romantic era years before.  Rachmaninoff was despised because he refused to reject tonality.  He was also despised for being popular with his audience!

This isn’t to say that atonal music was completely useless.  Schoenberg composed a lot of music for movies–apparently, it’s fantastic for inducing tension and fear in the audience.  And it can be a bit of an acquired taste.  At the end of a recital where I suffered through an atonal piece that I would describe as the warblings of a dying bird, I remember one of my professors telling this singer that she thought the piece was very beautiful.  At another time, I remember two professors discussing a piece by Schoenberg that was written to describe life in the ghetto of Warsaw…and how a class that was required to listen to that piece over and over again, couldn’t believe that the piece they listened to at the end of the semester was the same one that they listened to at the beginning.  (And no, I was not a part of that class, so I can only imagine what it was like!)

So, what does all of this have to do with the Hugos?  It’s a matter of taste.

As I have looked over the controversy over Sad Puppies, I have seen many comments to the effect of, “I don’t see what your problem is.  Don’t you like work X?  What about work Y?  Don’t you think Z deserves an award?”  Well, no, I don’t like works X and Y, and I especially didn’t think Z deserved an award–at least, not a Hugo.  Just because you like those works, doesn’t mean that I would.  Tastes differ, and you shouldn’t expect me to like a work because you do.  Indeed, if I started asking some of the same questions about the Sad Puppy works, what would your reaction be?  Don’t they deserve recognition, too, might I ask?

The problem is even deeper than that, though:  in order for me to appreciate “atonal” science fiction, I have to acquire the taste for it…but I don’t want to spend the time to acquire that taste!  I enjoy science fiction because it explores new ideas, generally recognizes the intrinsic value of the individual, celebrates heroes, has a sense of awe and wonder, and has a generally positive outlook towards the future.  Granted, I don’t mind the occasional dystopia (we need to remember that our actions can lead to dire consequences)…but I don’t want to be hit over the head, again and again, with such things.

(As an aside:  this is why I won’t want to become a Graduate Student to study Music.  I want to learn to compose music, and I want to compose that music in the styles of John Williams, Danny Elfman, Rachmaninoff, Berlioz, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Hayden, and Bach!  Even if my music will never become popular, if it languishes, I want it to languish because I cannot refine my skill to match the levels of these giants, and not because I deliberately sabotaged it for the sake of “art” and “academics”.)

Even beyond that, I want science fiction to thrive!  In order to thrive, it has to be popular–at least, it has to be popular enough, that authors can make a living–and “atonal” science fiction isn’t doing that.  Indeed, “atonal” art has almost killed off art, it has certainly nearly killed off “Symphonic” music (except in movie scores, heh), and it has pretty much killed off modern literature and poetry (I have yet to figure out how “free verse” is all that much different from “prose”).  I do not want to see science fiction to fall victim to “atonality” as well!

And, incidentally, this is why the Sad Puppies will likely win in the long, long game:  the Hugos are supposed to be the democratic “We are fans and this is what we like” awards, after all, and the Sad Puppy campaign’s initial purpose was to demonstrate that the Hugos have been controlled over these last few years by a small cabal of insular voters…and that, because of this, it is surprisingly easy to tip over the apple cart with a simple “get out the vote” campaign!  It won’t matter how that insular cabal attempts to change the rules of voting, because our message is clear:  “Here are works that are worthy of your time, and here is how you vote for them.  Now go, enjoy, and tell all your friends!”

So let us go forth, and show that perhaps there is accounting for taste after all..

207 responses to “Music and the Hugos: Accounting for Taste by Alpheus Madsen

  1. After examining the Classical/Symphonic masters, modern composers determined there was no way they could meet the high standards of the past. So they rejected it in preference to ‘atonal’. This way, they do not have to compete, and as a bonus, if you don’t like it, then clearly, the failing is in you.
    Or, as Heinlein (a.k.a. Jubal Harshaw) “”Because the world has gone nutty and contemporary art always paints the spirit of its times. Rodin died about the time the world started flipping its lid. His successors noted the amazing things he had done with light and shadow and mass and composition and they copied that part. What they failed to see was that the master told stories that laid bare the human heart. They became contemptuous of painting or sculpture that told a stories — they dubbed such work ‘literary.’ They went all out for abstractions.
    Jubal shrugged. “Abstract design is all right — for wall paper or linoleum. But art is the process of evoking pity and terror. What modern artists do is pseudo-intellectual masturbation. Creative art is intercourse, in which the artist renders emotional his audience. These laddies who won’t deign to do that — or can’t — lost the public.” (FE)
    Mmm, one does have to learn to look at art. But it’s up to the artist to use the language that can be understood. Most of these jokers don’t want to use the language you and I can learn; they would rather sneer because we ‘fail’ to see what they’re driving at. If anything. Obscurity is the refuge of the incompetent.”

    • > the high standards of the past

      The old guys could compose anything they wanted, within broad limits of what their patrons expected.

      Nowadays everything has to fit into rigidly defined cubbyhole. Horrors that someone might be exposed to something unexpected…

      Last time I paid any attention there were at least a dozen “rock genres.” I bet there are even more now…

      “Let’s all be different, just like me!”

      • Exactly. I find the music I enjoy listening to can’t be comfortably put into any specific category. If I play it for different listeners, I’m told it’s country, blues, rock, and occasionally something else even. And when the Mexican influence comes to the fore, they get even more confused. And let’s not even talk about the various admixtures of New Orleans and bayou sounds…

        • Spouse stuck her head around the corner the other night – “What are you listening to? You detest rock music!”

          Replied I, “This is not rock music! This is Lindsey Stirling! I love her music!”

          Unfortunately, I can’t have Lindsey on while I’m working – because I just have to watch the choreography too…

          • Years ago — back when I could still stand to watch SNL (original cast) I was abso=loot-lee blown away by musical guest Toni Basil. Man, that woman owned that stage like an Olympic gymnast doing floor exercise.

            I cannot describe how excited I was when she finally got an album release … nor my disappointment on hearing it.

            I could tell what she was doing with “Hey Mickey” but I just wasn’t interested in it.

          • Patrick Chester

            I have a mix of songs, including some Lindsey Sterling, playing in the background when I play Mass Effect 3 MP Silver matches. It works pretty good, though I suspect Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” is a bit too silly to use. I keep dodging or rolling from cover to cover to the beat. 😉

            • Patrick Chester

              …aaaaaaand I misspell Lindsey Stirling. *facepalm* *gets more caffeine*
              (I wonder if she gets that a lot?)

    • Patrick Chester

      I’ve mentioned before that I often see better art in fan works than I see in “professional work” by “real” artists. They can convey some pretty good emotions because they really like some series or book or game and their characters. The good “real” artists do the same.

    • I can appreciate the theory of atonal, and when it was described to me thought of atonal work based on pi and other math functions. Mandelbrot sets might be interesting and full of fugues.

      In actual practice, it sounds deliberately strident and seems to fit the theory of art as a reflection of the “human condition” and based on the theory “live sucks, then you die.”

      I prefer the more melodious symphonic pieces. Rite of Spring is about as far out as I can stand to get. This often includes sound tracks.

      BTW, learned something way cool this past weekend. It was a program of patriotic and gospel music, and a black singer came on stage and made the statement that all spirituals could be played only on the black keys on a piano.

      There was nervous laughter.

      It turned out he was quite serious. Spirituals are based on a pentatonic scale, which was common in African music. Then he mentioned something called white spirituals, which are gospel songs written by white composers using a pentatonic scale, and in the manner of black spirituals. Then using only the black keys, he gave an example – and played the melody of Amazing Grace, written by slave trader turned abolitionist John Newton.

      While my wife and I are sitting there astonished, one of the kids goes “Oh yeah. We learned about that. Some Asian music is pentatonic, too.”

      • One of two things I really like to do on a piano, when I’m just playing around with it, is to improvise with only the black keys. Pentatonic scales are such that you can’t create dissonant sounds. (Because of this, wind chimes are often designed to use pentatonic scales.)

        The other is to step on the sustain pedal, and then, starting at one end of the piano, play every key in a given chord (usually C major) to the other end, either playing the chord all at once, or playing the chord one note at a time, and sit back, waiting for all the resonance to fade. This can only be done on a real piano… 🙂

    • Jeff Gauch

      Good art can be appreciated on multiple levels.

      Great art can be appreciated at the most basic level.

      If a complete neophyte cannot approach a work of art cold and say “Hey, that’s pretty neat,” it does not qualify as great art. Great art must reward not only repeated experiences, but the initial experience as well.

  2. >movie scores

    Hm. I never really thought of them as “music” though obviously they are…

    Four appealed to me enough to pay retail price for CDs at the local music store:

    The soundtrack to “Heavy Metal.”
    The soundtrack to “A Clockwork Orange.”

    And… two that are probably more in line with what you’re talking about:

    The soundtrack to “Phantasm.”
    The soundtrack to “Escape From New York.”

    The last two are mostly single compositions broken up for scoring various scenes. They were interesting enough to track down after hearing them in the films; when heard all together, they’re much better.

  3. > It won’t matter how that insular cabal
    > attempts to change the rules of voting,

    It doesn’t matter what rules they set up; they declared both the votes and the counting are secret, and we have to trust them.

    We’ve seen how they betrayed that trust already.

    And that’s one of the reasons they fear Vox’s Vile Faceless Minions; they’re a statistically significant voting bloc, large enough to expose some of the fraud.

    • I would submit that they haven’t actually betrayed that trust, simply because they never behaved in any way that would incline me to give them any trust.
      I was peripherally involved in GamerGate (i.e. I bought 2 of the good ‘review’ games and found them to be total crap), but what stuck out when PuppyGate came along was that the same tactics and smears were instantly re-deployed.
      In both cases, the critics of the ‘system’ merely desired truth, integrity and transparency in the relationships between developers/authors and reviewers/editors. In both cases, the sleaze-artists attacked the criticism, not the problem.

      • (Waggles hand) Ehh. Not really. Gamergate came about because the gaming journalism industry decided to go on the offensive against their readers in an attempt to defeat an assault on their integrity, and in so doing revealed that they hated the people whose support they depended on.
        It actually bears a startling resemblance to the Trump campaign.

        • Eh, that was the double-down that turned the Five Guys scandal into the scourge of games journalism.

          We already knew they hated us.

        • Patrick Chester

          The infamous “Gamers are Over” “Gamers are Dead” articles posted within days of each other back in August 2014.

          You can still see the same thing via the #gamergate tag. Most recent is a “science disproves #gamergate” claim based on a study that found female gamers are just as good as male gamers.

          Problem: #Gamergate is claiming there are ethical problems within gaming journalism (like the collusion I mentioned above) and not that “gurlz” are incapable of playing video games. So the “study” was a nice case of Garbage In, Garbage Out. Or perhaps the articles trumpeting it were using GIGO, since the study itself wasn’t specifically aimed at #Gamergate, IIRC.

          • Jeff Gauch

            Don’t be too hard on them, if it weren’t for strawmen they wouldn’t win any fights.

            • Patrick Chester

              I’ve suggested using Straw-#Gamergate (“What a bunch of DICKS!”) citing the example of Straw Larry. 😉

  4. > What modern artists do is
    > pseudo-intellectual masturbation.

    “Anyone can paint a picture of a horse. This one shows the *essence* of the horse!”

    “Looks like someone dropped a lot of LSD and then threw up on the canvas.”

    “It’s so good, you have to take a course in it to appreciate it!”

    • I am proof that “Anyone” cannot paint a picture of a horse.

      No really. Trust me.

      Technical illustration and architectural stuff? I’m workmanlike. Trees get iffy. But dogs, horses, pigs, people, anything but most fish and some birds, I’m hopeless.

      • It helps to break down organic forms into basic shapes by lightly penciling them in, and using them to draw the final form.

      • You have fallen prey to a common grammatical fallacy. Anyone can paint a picture of a horse.

        Whether that painting is recognizable as a horse is an entirely different matter.

        • I think some of art’s problems came about because of photography. Now, anyone that is near a horse can create an image that is likely to be recognizable. Therefore, “artists” eschewed photo-realism and entered in to the art of drek and sloppy.

          • Not entirely. There’s one painting in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts of a diner entrance tat when viewed from about 5 feet is so photoreal that is you stare into it you feel like you’re standing wrong….

          • Sara the Red

            Photorealism in painting is insanely hard, and likely to drive one insane. But that’s the OCD photorealism, not the techniques of, say, the old masters, etc, which is a whole other bunny. 😀

          • I remember Ray Bradbury commenting about the “weird” confluence of youth liking SF&F and youth liking realistic paintings. People were wondering “Why is do we have this happening? Wouldn’t SF&F folk prefer abstract art?” Bradbury’s answer was that people who like SF&F would like to be able to see their worlds, and in order to get that, you need reasonably realistic art.

            Oddly enough, I dislike photographs for book covers. I’m not entirely sure why; perhaps it’s because photography has a certain realism that doesn’t match fictional material….

            In an essay, Tolkein mentioned that live-action fantasy doesn’t really work very well; I have since realized that live-action science fiction doesn’t work very well either. Both mediums seem to work best in animated form, and modern “live action” movies aren’t exceptions, because they have CGI and other special effects up the wazoo that they might as well *be* animated…

            • Yes. No photos for high fantasy, particularly.

              Indeed, I was once in a discussion of covers, and an aspiring indie writer found a chorus saying, “No photos!”

          • eh, some can make it realistic today.

            Check out Exactitude: Hyperrealist Art Today by John Russell Taylor and Maggie Bollaert

            Masters of Deception: Escher, Dali, and the Artists of Optical Illusion by Al Seckel and Douglas R. Hofstadter is also interesting

        • This. It’s like the question “Do you sing?” Most people can sing. Even dogs can sing and early this morning I heard a multi-part tom cat vocal*. The real question “Do you sing well?,” and that covers not only voice but in an entertaining manner.

          *The eerie thing was it wasn’t that bad. There was one or two cats doing a yowl thing that was like a bagpipe drone, and the “lead” went well with it. What was scary was they seemed to be matching pitch.

          • My parents’ dog apparently used to match pitch, or at least harmonize, with passing sirens.

            • All of ours did that. Maybe they taught each other.

              Every Wednesday at noon when the city tested the Civil Defense sirens, dogs all over the city sought harmonious baying.

          • Dogs sure can sing… Look up the band Caninus. (disclaimer: If you aren’t into hardcore metal, please take care. Caninus can be a bit… um… harsh… yea, that’s the word… harsh)

          • Sara the Red

            Honestly, most humans can sing decently well. It’s just that most of us get told that only ‘real’ singers can sing, so most of us end up convinced we can’t do it. Someone who truly cannot carry a note in a bucket is rare, in my experience. I’ve only ever met one: my grandmother. Even my mother, who tends to wander off key, doesn’t actually have a bad voice–it’s just that she wanders off key.

            • Someone who truly cannot carry a note in a bucket is rare …

              Less rare now that people imagine it is a talent rather than a skill which can be learned if not mastered. Oddly enough, fewer people seem willing to apply themselves to learning that skill than was the case before recorded music became common. Now that you no longer have to provide your own entertainment people are less easily satisfied with investing the effort to learn to adequately do something.

              • Sara the Red

                I agree–I think the human race as a whole was more musical when there weren’t many (many, many) other forms of entertainment on offer to keep folks from murdering other folks in the dead of winter… 😀

                But yeah, as I learned when I actually joined a choir to fill out a short college schedule…it *is* a skill. Sure, someone can have a natural gift in that direction…but rather like drawing, anyone can learn it with the right applications of instruction and/or practice. Certainly, a single stint in a choir took me from hunting around constantly for the alto part while singing hymns at church (too dang many hymns are *way* to high on the soprano end!) to being able to do it most of the time without much trouble. Granted, I had long years of piano/band behind me and knew how to read music, but I finally learned that my voice was much like those instruments: natural talent was a nice bonus, but even if you didn’t have it you could become competent or even good at it.

                • SheSellsSeashells

                  Don’t TALK to me about hymns. I can swing second soprano if I’m warmed up, but most church hymns as sung are too squeaky for me. This would be more of a problem if my church weren’t into doing worship choruses all the time and making me cry, but I digress.

                  (For further digression, my child insists that the only reason I liked “Frozen” was that it was nice to see the alto get the showstopper for once. She may be right…)

            • Ah, the joys of growing up in a small church where everybody sang. My wife’s family used to go to what were called singing conventions where attendees sang gospel songs, and they had gospel singing at their reunions decades before Bill Gaither had his reunion specials.

              The point is, singing was viewed as a participation event. Oh, sure, there were sings and we’d listen to exceptional singers, but mostly everyone just joined right in.

            • Once they invented Auto-Tune, even the talent-less hacks that pass for singers now days can ‘sing’.

            • If only I could find the key in the first place to wander off of it…

              I’m probably going to be one of those murders that happens just before Christmas, some year along here. So far, they have tolerated me…

          • SheSellsSeashells

            Our dearly(ish) departed Fat Cat used to sing in the bathroom, and only in the bathroom. It wasn’t caterwauling, it was an entire array of trills and chirps and crescendos. We could only conclude that he liked the acoustics…

            • We had a Mama Cat that was even more particular – only in the bathtub.

              • SheSellsSeashells

                I believe it. Our bathroom was long and narrow, which is probably why Fat Cat liked it. He had a very specific spot set aside for his musical efforts, and would carol joyously every morning for about ten minutes before going about his day.

        • FlyingMike

          The “I’m not a incompetent artist – I’m an Abstract artist!” phenomenon.

          For clarity and unification of meaning, I vote we just redefine the phrase Abstract to mean …um… an anagram for Carp.

      • Jeff Gauch

        My painting of a horse involves a couple of rectangles, some lines, and the word “horse”.

      • Better than me. I can’t even do trees. There’s a reason why Winter’s Curse, my only all-self-done cover, has a magical wand sending off blue and purple among snow.

    • I hold to the Red Green definition of art. “If I can do it, it’s not art.”

    • “Do not, for heaven’s sake, imagine I was going to sketch from Nature. I was going to draw devils and seraphim, and blind old gods that men worshipped before the dawn of right, and saints in robes of angry crimson, and seas of strange green, and all the sacred or monstrous symbols that look so well in bright colours on brown paper. They are much better worth drawing than Nature; also they are much easier to draw. When a cow came slouching by in the field next to me, a mere artist might have drawn it; but I always get wrong in the hind legs of quadrupeds. So I drew the soul of a cow; which I saw there plainly walking before me in the sunlight; and the soul was all purple and silver, and had seven horns and the mystery that belongs to all beasts.” G. K. Chesterton

  5. thephantom182

    Taste is entirely the point. The Hugos, by proclamation of the World Science Fiction Convention (which proclaims itself to represent the whole world) is supposed to chose “The Best” in SF/F for the year.

    For most of my adult life, and certainly since the 1980’s, one clique of contemporary taste has ruled at WorldCon. Which is fine, really, I didn’t participate. Most of us didn’t. But it was a problem, because that taste isn’t mine, and all the publishers kept going that direction. Hard for me to find something to read. But I thought “oh well, maybe I don’t get it about the literachure stuff” and ignored it. Life is busy, right?

    Lately we find that it is -not- a matter of taste. It is political. A Conservative can’t win a Hugo, despite quality, popularity, despite anything, whereas a devout Lefty can get a Hugo for… Fanfic. Dinosaurs. Worlds turning upside down for no reason, where grown men forsake rescuing women about to die, to save a goldfish.

    Yeah. That pissed me off.

    So I paid $40 and nominated, and voted, things that are to my taste. Which I read, as I understand the unwritten rule to be. I understand this rule, Hugo is supposed to be about books, not politics. It’s like hunting: you shoot it, you eat it.

    So I and others voted by the rules. And didn’t the entire world suddenly come to an end. Didn’t the Noble, Tolerant, Elite Worldcon voters suddenly turn into block voting, snarling weasels willing to lie, cheat, steal and more to prevent a political enemy from winning a Hugo. Didn’t they cheer five times, louder each time, when No Award won a category with a Sad Puppy nominee in it.

    It seems the Hugos are not about science fiction. They are about political correctness, feminism and a few other cherished policies of the American political Left. So much for the ‘world’ part in Worldcon, eh?

    This year will probably be the year No Award takes even more categories. And the politicians will cheer even louder.

    Which is fine, really. As long as we are no longer pretending the Hugos are about books, and we’ve stopped kidding ourselves that Worldcon is about science fiction, I’m happy to let the snarling weasels have their Lefty Propaganda awards in peace.

    • > As long as we are no longer pretending
      > the Hugos are about books,

      One of the many things I learned about the Hugo process was how *few* Worldcon members bother to vote.

      Worldcon isn’t *about* books. It’s not even about SF. “Fandom” has taken off in its own direction; Worldcon and the other conventions aren’t about SF, they’re like RenFaires, not connected to any actual thing any more.

      (not slamming the RenFaire people; they’re not trying to set themselves up as arbiters of popular taste…)

      • This kind of keeps popping up in my mind…

      • I’ve thought this for a long time. I’ve enjoyed SF for many decades, but always observed fandom about like you would the primate house at the zoo. The fans bear some resemblance to people who like science fiction, but that resemblance is often only superficial.

      • I’d go as far as to say that the Hugos are a fan award held captive by publishing professionals.

        • Worldcon: “We represent all of fandom!”

          Othercons: “You don’t represent us; we’ve never been to a Worldcon, we have our own, thankyouverymuch.”

          99.44% of SF readers: “Fans? Aren’t they the weirdos who wear furry costumes and Spock ears, and talk in made-up languages?”

          Worldcon is does not represent all fans.
          Fandom does not represent all SF readers.

          • thephantom182

            But but but… Truefen!!!! And… stuff!!! Worldcon!

            “It’s a small world after all….”

            Right? [Oh crap, now I’ve got that f-ing song stuck in my head.]

          • 99.4%? no, not really.

            • The Other Sean


              • I always liked 99 and 44/100 % pure. It floats. Of course, that may be because I am allergic to perfumes, deodorants/anti-antiperspirants or phosphate in my soap.

                • I’m allergic to ivory soap. Apparently I’m not alone. shocked h*ll out of Dan when we got married, though.

                  • I don’t like Ivory, because it seems to dissolve too easily and also because it seems to dry out my hands. I prefer Jergens, but it seems to be a bit of a crapshoot whether a given supermarket carries it…and I’m not aware of any other soap that’s dye and perfume free…to be sure, though, I haven’t been looking too hard, because I like Jergens, and have had no reason to look for an alternative…

                    If Jergens were to disappear altogether, I’d probably resort to making my own soap, if I couldn’t find an adequate replacement.

                    (Of course, Bernie is going to make sure that we have only one kind of soap, because we don’t need 23 kinds of soap, right? And both Ivory and Jergens are probably on the chopping block, because *everyone* likes a nice-smelling perfumed soap! Why would anyone think otherwise?

                    Bernie’s kind of reasoning drives me nuts!)

                    • I;ve had great pleasure with Crabtree & Evelyn’s Sienna scented soap — good rich lather and its scent matches well with my body chemistry. A trifle pricey but nicely in the category of inexpensive luxury.

                      They no longer make it, alas. I’ve resorted to trying their Sandalwood, which has the same good lathering quality but leaves me smelling like a hippy … a clean hippy, but still a hippy.

      • Fandom has always been its own world. One SF house used to forbid its employees to go to cons for fear of distorting their view of their audience.

    • I cannot say my own thoughts better than you have.

    • Don’t forget, they immediately set about changing the ‘rules’ as well.

      • The funny thing about changing the rules, is that if you’re changing the rules because you don’t like the outcome of a process, your attempted change might just backfire.

        My favorite example involves Ted Kennedy, who was diagnosed with cancer. Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts at the time, and the Powers that Be in Massachusetts said “We can’t have a Republican Governor appoint a successor to Ted Kennedy! He might just appoint a Republican!” So they changed the process, so that the Senate seat had to be filled by a special election. When Kennedy passed away, Romney was no longer governor — indeed, a Democrat had succeeded him — and the special election went on to elect a Republican!

        I’m *very* wary of changing the rules just because you don’t like an outcome. Most of the time, it simply won’t matter, one way or the other. (As a side note, it’s also why I dislike Trump attacking Cruz for working to get delegates on his side, and why I dislike Bernie and Trump for attacking the Democrat process, when Hillary (as much as I dislike her policies) did the legwork to secure *both* the superdelegates and the regular delegates. The process is what it is, and it’s not as bad as everyone is making it out to be. Indeed, it may even *resist* corruption to a certain extent, even on the Democrat side!)

        This is especially true if you think the problem is something like “slates”, when the real problem is that people are noticing that you could vote for Hugos for the first time, and they are making a concerted “Get Out the Vote” campaign.

        Of course, there’s talk of limiting voting and membership as well, but that’s assuming that Sad Puppies have no desire to fulfill the conditions to vote. While this Sad Puppy adventure has made me sour a little bit on WorldCon, it’s also convinced me that I’d like to go to WorldCon, if I could find the time and money to go, and I’ve even wondered what I could do to get WorldCon to Salt Lake City or Provo. Who am I kidding? I just realized that WorldCon is too worldly to go to either of these places! Perhaps we’ll have to see if we could get them to Park City…

        The only reason why I don’t vote in the Hugos is because I don’t have the time to read the works I need to, to nominate and vote on. (It’s also why I don’t pursue the Utah WorldCon venue as fiercely as I would like…)

        • I have to disagree about the superdelegates. for most of the primary run, the superdelegates were just barely giving Hilary! the victory.

        • My favorite example of changing the rules goes back a little further. To avoid another debacle like 1968 the Dems changed the rules …

          Before 1968, powerful people and party bosses around the country picked delegates to the conventions. Their delegates then choose the nominee. There were factional battles at party conventions, but civilians were not involved until the general election.

          In 1968, Democrats decided future conventions should fairly represent Democratic voters. South Dakota Senator George McGovern chaired a reform commission, which ended what he called presidential selection by middle-aged, middle-class white men.


          At the 1972 Miami convention, Senator McGovern was himself the nominee, but chaos reined. Disputes and speeches went on so long, he made his acceptance speech in the wee small hours.

          So they changed the rules again for the 1976 campaign, giving more emphasis to caucuses and primaries and getting Jimmy Carter as the result.

          The super-delegates were an effort to give the professional pols a stronger say in the process, which has had mixed results. This year Her Royal Clintoness had the in the bag and sealed away before Sanders ever announced his candidacy, so he is right, the fight was rigged.

          I take candidate complaints about “process” with a grain of salt; often the complaints are not made seriously but rather as an effort to distract attention from the results and direct it to the candidate complaining. It is simply a different variant of the expectations game that allows a candidate finishing third in a primary to be declared a victor.

          As for the Hugos, yeah: I haven’t time to read all nominees and vote fairly, I lack inclination to read works that annoy me, and my standards of fair don’t allow me to vote down works I haven’t read.

        • I think most Sad Puppies, us included, have moved on to Dragon

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Saving goldfish? Please tell me you’re making that up. Please.

    • ” you shoot it, you eat it”

      Much as I admire the idea of someone who eats all of their kills, (and dislike on general principle those who just pry the gold out of their teeth and leave the rest to waste.) I can understand the killing of varmints to save livestock, kids, and general property. You’re not supposed to eat feral hogs until after the 1st frost around here… but it is immoral to pass up the opportunity to kill one. I know someone who lost a farmhand when a small utility tractor turned over from a hog wallow.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Or disease vectors.

      • ” you shoot it, you eat it”

        This does not apply to tax collectors nor government environmental inspectors. (I can just imagine Lazarus Long’s discourses on such pests.)

  6. > And, incidentally, this is why the Sad Puppies
    > will likely win in the long, long game:

    I just read “More Issies at Critical Studies in Contemporary SF” by James Blish, printed in 1970. It’s a set of “literary criticism” essays Blish did, mostly under the pseudonym of William Atheling.

    Much of it seems… promotional. Some of it seems to be deconstruction of people that irritated him somehow. But many things are eerily resminescent of the last few years; it could be the Torlings vs. the Puppies, with bell bottoms and tie dyed shirts.

    One of Blish’s rants was that SF had established a double standard; crap that wouldn’t even make it out of the slushpile at a “real” publisher would be printed by an SF magazine or publisher, and might even become a best seller, within the insular pool of SF. He felt that SF should be held to the same literary standards as regular fiction, and that before Gernsback, SF didn’t even exist as a genre; science fictional stories were printed right beside conventional fiction.

    Blish seemed to utterly miss one huge point: the fact that “crap” could be printed and would sell was due to the fact that SF readers didn’t want mainstream fiction, they wanted SF. And rather than read Amis or Waugh, they’d lower their standards as much as necessary to get their next fix.

    The whole book is a good example of how not just publishers, but successful SF writers misjudged their audiences. Blish saw “literature” with SF elements; the people who were *buying* saw SF, and didn’t give a damn about literature; SF was mandatory, a good story was a bonus, and “literature” was the mind-numbing crap high school tried to ram down their throats, generally causing a permanent allergy to the stuff.

    • That would be James Blish of ‘Cities in Flight’? I will admit he knew about writing ‘crap’.

      • Yeah, that kept going through my mind the whole time I was reading his criticisms of authors he wasn’t fit to dine with… “If you can’t compete, criticize.”

      • Hey, Cities in Flight wasn’t that bad (Once you get past the liberal handwringing of the first part, anyway).

        • The last volume had a huge postscript about how the whole series was an homage to Spengler, and gobbled on and on about stuff that looked like some kind of cross between Marx and Neitzche.

          Apparently it never occurred to him that some casual SF reader might not be so familiar with “Spengler” as to be able to pick up on it through a horrendously bad space trilogy. I’d never heard of him.

          I’m sitting here with three browser windows up and a broadband connection; I find I care so little it’s not even worth typing the name into Google.

          • Blish was hardly unique in this. Asimov’s Foundation stories are ‘just’ Gibbon with spaceships. Van Vogt’s Clane stories are I, Claudius with spaceships. And these are just some that are more or less contemporary with the Blish work

          • Oswald Spengler wrote The Decline of the West. He was a German historian who predicted the popularity of dictators and a second world war.

        • “A Life for the Stars” was serialized in Analog in 1962. I thought it was pretty good, but then I was 12 at the time. Wonder how it would hold up now?

      • Cities in Flight was just a retread of the ‘Grapes of Wrath’.

      • Randy Wilde

        I don’t think I’ve read any Blish other than Star Trek stuff. Because, well, it was Star Trek stuff.

  7. > this is why I won’t want to become a Graduate
    > Student to study Music. I want to learn to
    > compose music,

    Asimov mentioned that he loved science fiction until he sold his first story. After that he couldn’t enjoy a story any more, because his attention was on how the author built the story, not what the story was about.

    From time to time I’ve thought about trying my hand at fiction, but besides the fact that I’d probably stink at it, that comment always comes back to haunt me.

    • Maybe, maybe not. Being a musician lets me appreciate music in ways that others really can’t.

      • Yeah, I’ve been around some of those. They have the volume cranked way up and they’re totally grooving on it. All I hear is a wall of noise obliterating the vocals.

        It might be really really hard to torture a musical instrument into doing something, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea, or cranking it up to “11” is necessarily desirable.

    • This isn’t a fear I have, although part of it may be that the few times where I’ve experimented with composing music or writing stories, I really liked it. Unfortunately, I seldom have time to pursue such things.

      Now that I think of it, though, I remember Larry Correia (either on a panel or on his blog, I can’t remember) saying that he doesn’t read much anymore, because writing full-time makes reading seem too much like work…

      My guess, though, is that it depends on the person…and, now that I think of it, learning to “analyse” something (either as literature or as music), if overdone, can ruin what you once loved, even if you have no intention to create it, because you’re constantly over-analyzing things. Indeed, I remember hearing a story of an amazing golfer disappearing from the national scene because he decided to write a book called “How to Golf”, and apparently he became so focused on *how* he golfed, that he could no longer concentrate on hitting the ball…

      • I should also add, though, that knowing a thing or two about how something is created can also help you appreciate it more, because you can see how the creators are bringing their work to life using the techniques they use…

      • I am a musician, even made my living at it for several years. I still write songs and perform but it is my hobby nowadays not my job. However, if I could make a living at it I’d rather do that than anything else.
        I took music as my major in college. While I really enjoyed many of my classes, especially music history, I ran into too many closed-minded people, this included many of the instructors (I once got into a screaming argument with a fellow who believed that Bach would have scorned the synthesizer as an abomination – idiot, what do you think a pipe organ is!). I dropped out go on the road with a top 40 band. I wish I had stayed in and just majored in something useful, ah youth!
        I still have to make a conscious effort to just listen to a piece of music without analyzing it, but I’m getting better at it. 😀

        • Bach would have loved synths and samplers.Might have gotten trapped in voice programming tho.

          • Wendy Carlos created Switched On Bach: 2000 playing the same pieces from her earlier analog Moog on a modern synthesizer. In the remake, she uses Well Tempered/Intonation Tempered tuning. In one song, she changes the frequency of a single note to conform to the proper chord frequency since that chord was non-standard for that specific tempering.
            Sadly, I admit I can’t really tell the difference between it and Equal Tempered, which is the modern scale, where apparently notes are exactly 12/√2 apart. In theory, long chords on an organ would reveal subtle beat frequencies since the chords are not the simple platonic fractions.

        • Sara the Red

          Something about college, I swear…I’m a visual artist, and studying it in college damn near killed it for me, because of having to contort oneself into the appropriate boxes to get the passing grade… >.<

          • ^ suppressed his political opinions long enough to get through film school….

            • ditto to get a Masters in Literature and then to get published. BUT you shouldn’t have to. Not to that extent.

              • well, the tech is just barely there now to not need access to pro equipment- mostly, cameras lenses etc- and i was sick of the suppression enough to not go to grad school.

  8. In addition to the movie score composers John Williams and Danny Elfman whom you mention, I suggest Hans Zimmer (Crimson Tide, Batman Begins, and many many others) and Basil Poledouris (Hunt for Red October, Flight of the Intruder, and many others as well).

    Also, there is excellent work being done in video games–an area you might be less familiar with. I am particularly fond of the soundtracks for the Mass Effect series, composed (mainly) by Sam Hulick and Jack Wall–not exactly household names, but give them a shot!

    • I listen to a LOT of soundtracks, almost always that “symphonic” style ones. Because that is where you can now find new music in the style of the romantic era composers, something like an evolved form of them, but a form which has evolved without losing the part which makes the older composers’ music so pleasant to listen to.

    • Don’t forget Ennio Morricone or Akira Ifukube (Godzilla).

    • Alan Silvestri, Henry Jackman, James Newton Howard and Harry Gregson-Williams have also produced some of the best movie scores of recent memory.

    • Sara the Red

      I especially adore the Mass Effect 3 score–it’s amazing. Most of the Assassin’s Creed scores–but particularly Revelations and the AC3 one–are also gorgeous. (Those are Lorne Balf and…crap. Someone else, I forget the name.) And the Dragon Age scores, with Inquisition being thus far the best of the three (in my opinion, anyway).

      And I definitely second Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams, and James Newton Howard. The latter’s score to The Village is easily one of the most beautiful things of the last couple of decades. (I find the movie tolerable, but the score…ah, that is magnificent.)

      And of course, let us not forget Howard Shore and the very fine job he did on the Tolkien films.

      • Any mention of awesome video game music that doesn’t mention Jeremy Soule is automatically declared invalid.

        It’s in the rules. Let me fix that.

        Soule has done the music for a number of games, including Total Annihilation, Icewind Dale, and perhaps most notably, all of the Guild Wars music.

        Guild Wars Prophecy Theme –

        Also, Baba Yetu, used as the main theme in Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, gets an honorable mention, It’s The Lord’s Prayer, sung in Swahili, and it is absolutely gorgeous.

        The animations are from the game (the start-up animation, iirc).

        • Well that was a surprise. Apparently my copy of the second item didn’t work like it was supposed to. >.<

          Here's the corrected Baba Yetu link…

        • He also did the soundtrack for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which is amazing.

    • Patrick Chester

      Yoko Kanno is pretty good. (LOTS of anime, game and some commercial music.)

      Ah yes, Sam Hulick. Creator of the main reason why I always save the Citadel Council in the first Mass effect game:

      (That and I figured Shepard would consider “letting your bosses die on your first mission” to look bad on a resume.) 😉

      • I love Yoko Kanno’s music

      • Sara the Red

        Well, and let’s face it: letting *Udina* run things because you let the Council die…no. Just no. Bad enough that he STILL ends up on the friggin’ Council because Anderson didn’t like politics. ::facepalm:: Even the jerk Turian with his air quotes was better than Udina…

        But also, yes, that piece of music right there.

        • Patrick Chester

          One of the minor disappointments with the third game was no way to “air quote” the Turian councilor back. 🙂

          • SheSellsSeashells

            I’ll just leave this here…

          • Sara the Red

            Ohhh, I’d never even thought about that. But it WOULD have been lovely for a chance at a nice “I TOLD YOU SO” moment…

            But of course, he had to start out being the most reasonable one of the bunch, for once, even if he had to offer aid under the table and in exchange for a favor (which, okay, was kind of a necessary one anyway, but…)

            Although getting to tell the Salarian dalatress to go get stuffed was satisfying, even if you hadn’t ever encountered her before that. (And it made me wonder: considering that the Salarians are more matriarchy than not, it’s a bit telling that they’d send one of their many, many excess males to serve as Councilor. Kind of shows how much value they put on that particular governing body…)

            Ahem. Sorry. I like geeking out over the very rich world they created for the Mass Effect universe. ^_^

    • The Other Sean

      Let me add Elmer Bernstein to the mix. The main theme from the soundtrack of The Magnificent Seven is awesome, and I don’t think I’ve heard a bad soundtrack for anything he’s done.

    • SheSellsSeashells

      I am a total Mass Effect fangirl, and got the giggles when somebody on TVTropes (don’t go there, ruin your life, etc.) described the Suicide Mission track as “15 minutes of Because Fuck Reapers, That’s Why”. I gave it a non-gameplay listen and decided they were right. Then listened to it about four more times.

      • Sara the Red

        That is an awesome track, and it makes a regular appearance on my playlists. (I’d never heard that title for it, though, but it’s accurate. Especially if you get through the “suicide” mission without losing anyone AND rescue your crew, AND then go tell TIM to f*** himself and the horse he came in on. With Miranda enthusiastically backing you up.)

        And “A Future For the Krogan” never fails to give me chills. (Same with the “Leaving Earth” song, but for different reasons.) And I’ll load up a savegame of ME3 just to watch the “Arrival of the Fleets” sequence because it’s awesome.

        It has its flaws, but the Mass Effect series is still the best example I’ve yet seen of ‘epic storytelling in a video game format,’ and the closest most of us can ever get to giving rousing speeches before going off to face impossible odds. Complete with awesome and epic music.

        • SheSellsSeashells

          Yes, I figured out after a while that my issue with Dragon Age II was that you *couldn’t* be an all-saving hero, even if you busted your butt six ways from Sunday. I get enough of that in real life and would prefer not to deal with it in my escapism, thanks. 🙂

          And yes, the Mass Effect trilogy was awesome in many ways that had nothing to do with gameplay. I am a sucker for story, and few things have beaten that first Sovereign reveal. Or the characterization and character development over the trilogy. I’m pretty excited for Andromeda, when I’m not biting my nails and going “DON’T SCREW THIS UP, Y’ALL.”

      • Patrick Chester

        I’ll admit to bringing up the menu so I could have this playing in the background after starting the initial assault on the Collector Base.

        (“It sounds nice, Shepard. Can we get moving now? The Galaxy needs saving again!”)

      • Patrick Chester

        Oh and since you mentioned “Suicide Mission” it goes well with this video:

        “I AM ASSUMING DI-” *BOOM*

  9. …Oh…I forgot to mention: there are some orchestral arrangements of rock songs (!) that are outstanding–I suggest the very fine version of “Dust In The Wind” by Kansas that they did with the London Symphony Orchestra (!!) as well as the baseline arrangement of Alan Parsons Project’s iconic “Ammonia Avenue” which has an orchestral track…though as with many of their scores, i believe the original was synthed.

    • Joe Wooten

      The Moody Blues “Days of the Future Passed” album.

    • “Days of Future Passed” by the Moody Blues employed a full orchestra for backup. And Kiss used the Melhourne Symphony Orchestra in one of their concerts… all decked out in evening dress and Kiss makeup.

      “Beth, I hear you calling
      but I can’t come home right now.
      Me and the boys are playing
      and we just can’t find the sound…
      Just a few more hours
      and I’ll be home to you…”

      • Check out the DVD entitled “Symphonic Yes” it is a concert that included an entire orchestra accompanying the band.
        They performed “The Gates Of Delirium” which I’ve always loved but with an orchestra I believe it rises to being one of the finest pieces of music ever written.

      • So… I found that the official concert video for “Kiss Alive IV” was up on YouTube. And I just spent two hours watching the whole thing.

        I laughed with delight. The video was from 2003, and they’d been touring 30 years then; they really knew how to put on a show. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra seemed a bit uptight to start with, but loosened up a lot as they played.

        Telstra Dome’s official seating capacity is 53,359, and it was a sold-out show. I don’t think the orchestra was used to the feedback from a crowd that size… maybe they ought to perform in Kiss makeup all the time.

  10. The fact that so many art forms have undergone the same progression of “elevating” their craft to irrelevance is prima facie evidence of a coordinated effort.

    And this essay relates well to Sarah’s recent The People Are Alright. The ‘elites’ of any art form are usually as hopelessly detached from the hoi palloi as political ‘elites’. And it’s no surprise that they all seem to feign the same tastes and illusory superiority.

    • Less a coordinated effort than a similar dynamic. It derives from the fact (mentioned elsewhere here by others) that folks who do a thing professionally utilize a different approach from those who are merely dilettantes/fans.

      The professional writer notes nuances of word usage, grammatical structure, characterization and other tools of the trade. The professional musician hears chord changes and progressions, echoing of themes, use of keys to change moods and far far more. The fan simply thinks, “Cool story!” and “Great beat, easy to dance to.”

      This is because the fan only cares if the story/song “works” — achieves its desired effect. The professional is more interested in how a piece achieves its effects and whether that helps or hinders its working. Two very different approaches to the same piece.

      Over time the professionals meet, discuss, compare notes and strive to impress each other, a process which engenders the more rarefied works which are — being exercises in technique — largely opaque to fans.

      Jimmy Cagney discussed this in terms of certain dance moves which are impressive as hell to audiences but merely elicit yawns from other dancers, and those which make dancers’ jaws drop but bore audiences — it is all a matter of whether the “audience” appreciates how easy or difficult a particular move can be.

      • The problem is who are the beneficiaries of their professionalism? Our politicians seem to be very good at enriching themselves and family, but poor at actually governing. An audience can enjoy music that works with standard chords, diminished/augmented chord and key progressions and sounds mostly predictable; occasional deviation for dramatic effect, not every note for dramatic confusion. Word usage, grammar and characterization are wonderful, provided they tell a story that is compelling.
        The dancing example reminds me a lot of Olympic ice skating commentary by Dick Button. Obviously he was quite impressed with the ‘triple lutz’ or some such, but other than knowing he was ‘excited’?

      • Having been a professional musician for a couple of decades (a more formal background), I’m familiar with the argument and agree to an extent. However, there are plenty of artists in various forms who appreciate, study, and practice their “craft” while still retaining the fundamental elements which make it ‘work’ for the ‘lowly commoners’.

        John Cage’s ‘work’ impressed no one who was proficient in the art of music composition. The skill required to produce ‘celebrated’ solid white paintings hanging in galleries lies more in convincing someone that it is art than in its production. And who can forget this scream:

        No accomplished vocalist would be impressed by that. It’s jaw-dropping alright.

        And yet, in all cases, the bien pensants of the art world lavish praise on such abject nonsense. The BBC aired that as a serious piece after all. (It’s funny to watch the full clip of that feminist choir standing there, receiving the validation of a male music critic after the performance, his extraordinary level of pretension aside)

        It’s the direct result of Leftist intrusion and influence on the art world to undermine traditional conceptions of art to make way for the infusion of politics. The timing of the degradation of the arts and the rise of the Left is no coincidence.

        Thanks for the mention of Cagney, since I’m going to go look up that clip of him and Hope from The Seven Little Foys. It’s been awhile. 🙂

        • For the bien pensants the purpose of art is to demonstrate their superiority to the masses. Esotericness (esoterocity?) is its own reward.

          People tend to forget these days that oper was once one of the most widely popular art forms, just as Shakespeare’s plays were performed for mass audiences of all classes (because that’s where the money was to be made.)

          My comment was not intended as condemnation of professional artists, merely those who hold their audience in contempt as excuse for inability to reach that audience. You know the ones — those who add an “e” to their job description and forget their first duty.

          Too many arts supporters take seats in the front row not because those are the best seats for seeing a performance but because they are the best seats fr being seen at a performance.

        • I’m going to go look up that clip of [Cagney] and Hope from The Seven Little Foys.

          For those not familiar … or those who think it is only women who dance atop tables.

        • FlyingMike

          Re the Beeb clip: I can see why the performers had to have their books out for that – how would they possibly remember the words?

        • The Sirens… been there, done that. Recall Yoko Ono in one of Lennon’s concerts, where she took the microphone under a blanket and proceeded to fake an orgasm for about 10 minutes. Same avant garde mindset.

    • I recall a blog post by Eric S Raymond where he described how a brilliant genius can kill a genre. Having mastered the traditional forms, the Genius pushes the boundary into something new. Younger artists then ignore the traditional forms (which largely anyone can do, if they put some effort into it) and try to outdo the genius in the boundaries of the new…and, as a result, the entire art form is corrupted.

      If I remember correctly, Picasso was given an example of such an artist. His early work is more classical, but he then pioneered “cubism”, which then inspired abstract art that is practically meaningless.

      I think there is a lot of truth in this, although the more I think about it, the more I wonder how much the “genius” art produced in the later phases of a genius would be considered art, if we didn’t know the name of the artist. (I suspect that some of it probably will be, but some of it would be considered something a five-year-old wouldn’t do, because they have better taste than that…)

      Now, having said that, I have also encountered documents from Communists desiring to corrupt American culture, and this type of artistic “expression” has been something that they push. Thus, I think it’s fair to see the destruction of our art forms as evidence that this is the result of coordinated effort, at least in part.

      I would add that these people have succeeded in part, but have failed in part, too, because we always have pockets of artists who want to do *real* art for art’s sake, not necessarily because it will be popular, but because it will be *art*, and because it speaks to people, it *becomes* popular, and so while “real” artists dismiss it, it thrives, because people *desire* art.

      • Free-range Oyster

        we always have pockets of artists who want to do *real* art for art’s sake

        Here is an example; there are others. The human spirit longs for beauty, and all the self-important preening of onanistic poseurs won’t change that.

      • “I think there is a lot of truth in this, although the more I think about it, the more I wonder how much the “genius” art produced in the later phases of a genius would be considered art, if we didn’t know the name of the artist.”

        That reminds me of a story by an art professor who asked his students to criticize a Pollock painting in class. Only after all the usual manufactured praise did the professor reveal it was just a cropped photo of his own painter’s apron.

        “I would add that these people have succeeded in part, but have failed in part, too, because we always have pockets of artists who want to do *real* art for art’s sake, not necessarily because it will be popular, but because it will be *art*, and because it speaks to people, it *becomes* popular, and so while “real” artists dismiss it, it thrives, because people *desire* art.”

        Precisely why I thought your post meshed well with Sarah’s earlier one. A lot of “geniuses” do manage to push entire genres out of public consciousness. The positive effect is that sometimes something better moves in to take its place.

  11. Originally i Iwas going to say that they weren’t going for atonal, because a lot of them are certainly all in the same tone…

    But in essence, they were. They were going for the ‘throw off the shackles of conventional composition and make music our work way’ sense of it, except with SF.

    The problem is, nowadays they are all remarkably in the same tone, and sending the same messages. Kind like all the alt-rock bands that sound remarkably the same.

    (I’ve gone to some synth nerd events where people have performed atonal stuff… ten minutes of them fiddling with their modular and striking random noisemakers does not make music.)

    • I call them, “phobharmonic.” 🙂

    • I believe it was Arnold Schoenberg that discovered that, when you abandon rules altogether, all you get is a mess of random noise. He tried to counter this by imposing a rule on himself that he couldn’t use a note again until he’d used the other 12 notes first.

      I appreciate the experimental nature of atonal music — exploring what can be done, what rules are necessary, and so forth, can be a useful exercise — but throwing out all the rules of a given music system is like throwing out spelling, grammar and sentence structure in writing. Sure, language is 100% arbitrary, when you really think about it…but the arbitrary words, structure, and so forth, all combine to make *communication* possible. If you don’t have communication, all you have left is noise.

  12. Well-written piece.

    The difference between sane people and SJWs is we don’t care what music they play alone, what books they read, what salads they eat. They, on the other hand, cannot exist without banning the things they dislike (whether they’ve listened, read, or tasted), and forcing all of us to have only their choice.

    They might have good taste or not; but it’s unAmerican to misbehave like that.

  13. atonal and non-tonal works well for jazz though.

    • Much of what’s thought to be atonal and non-tonal in jazz is actually modal, or the application of different scale structures* to an existing chord progression.

      Atonal is squeezing twelve unique tones into a measure, running a number of math routines on the original, and playing the result. It’s a challenge to get any musicality out of that.

      *I know, it’s the five second explanation that’s completely wrong in every aspect, but modes are a bitch to explain without resorting to heavy duty music theory.

    • Jazz does not work for me. It mostly sounds like a group of random people all playing unrelated… somethings.

      I realize some people are serious about jazz, but my feeling is best summarized by this quote:

      “I played lead guitar in a band called The Federal Duck, which is the kind of name that was popular in the ’60s as a result of controlled substances being in widespread use. Back then, there were no restrictions, in terms of talent, on who could make an album, so we made one, and it sounds like a group of people who have been given powerful but unfamiliar instruments as a therapy for a degenerative nerve disease.” -Dave Barry

      • I think Jazz is like Scotch… an acquired taste.
        Syncopated rhythm and way too much Saxophone (Disclaimer: I played Saxophone in 5-8 grades).

        • “Jazz” covers an awful lot of territory, from Swing to Bee-Bop with Bing, Ella and the Velvet Fog in between. Some I likee veree muchee and some … me no likee.

          And, as with all genres, some subgenres I can take or ;eave without any particular pattern. (This tends to be especially true of music, which tends to become emotionally associated with whatever hell or heaven I was going through at the time a particular song was on the soundtrack.)

          I used to have pretensions of taste, now I simply like what pleases me without any urge to justify it. Life is too short to spend time on such arguments as where to file music.

      • That’s a reason why some jazz purists refuse to listen to anything in the genre after 1950. I’m not that far gone, but I do prefer big band and swing versions of jazz, mainly because the large bands require arrangement.

  14. Danny Elfman? Oh! You mean the lead singer from Oingo Boingo!

    Gee, whatever became of him?

    • I guess he’s dead?

      • The best and last concert I attended was Oingo Boingo in St. Louis at a club called Mississippi Nights. They had a very small stage and at the time Boingo was travelling with a full brass section. Danny Elfman got tired of being cramped on stage and hopped down to the dance floor. So I got to dance with Danny Elfman while he was singing “On The Outside”. After that there wasn’t any point to going to concerts–anything else would be an anticlimax.

        • Oingo Boingo was brilliant! One of the handful of bands that really knew what to do with the “New Wave” style of rock music. Though Danny Elfman overshadowed everyone, all the members were monster players in their own rights.
          On a related note, their original bass player Rob Wasserman died last week.

    • Sara the Red

      I…holy crap, I never connected the score-composer Danny Elfman (*love* his Sleepy Hollow score!) with the lead singer of Oingo Boingo. How did I miss that?!?

      • If you want something really weird… back long ago when I was digitizing my LP collection I typed all the label notes and other information into a database. We’re talking mostly 70s-80s rock and roll.

        One songwriter kept recurring over and over, from George Thorogood to Stevie Ray Vaughan and even less likely performers. And that songwriter was… Hank Williams Jr. There were a few others who were minor rockers, but apparently their main metier was to provide songs for more talented performers; their names cropped up regularly too.

        • Sara the Red

          I did not know that. But it doesn’t surprise me. Neil Diamond, I seem to recall reading, probably wrote more songs for other people than he did for himself…and he was (is?) a pretty darned prolific musician himself, once he started performing. (Also, apparently, an Olympic class fencer, but never really wanted to go to the Olympics…)

          • Go take a look at the folk writing the songs for The Monkees and you find some very impressive pop composers — Carole Bayer Sager, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Michael Martin Murphey, Harry Nilsson and Paul Williams, to name a few.

            Pop songwriting is an oft under appreciated craft. I never particularly liked Barry Manilow’s work but the man sure knew how to build a song.

            • Anyone that likes to listen to Barry Manilow is clinical proof that a person is brain dead.

            • the difference between appreciating the talent, and actually liking the stuff.
              I, long ago, work with jazz musician Jim Snyder (The Clarinet Guy). We were working for a Schwinn Shop and there was a highschool student also working part time (I was the only full time guy) named Brandon with us. Jim comes in one day and asked if I knew of Shot Down In Ecuador Jr.
              I knew of them, but had never heard them play.
              Jim says “They’re a really good band. Very good musicians.”
              Brandon was surprised and says “You like their music?”
              Jimbo goes “No, it sucks!, But they play it really well.”
              Brandon had a hard time grasping that Jim could appreciate the quality of the talent, but not what the talent was playing.
              I think my Liberace analogy finally got through Brandon’s skull that, yes, Liberace was a talented piano player, but he(Brandon) didn’t like that kind of music.

        • Willy Nelson started as a songwriter. Only much later did he break into performing.

  15. Free-range Oyster

    A personal question if you don’t mind, Alpheus. IIRC you’re in my general area (the Wasatch Front); are you kin to Anne and Truman? I ask because my brother and his wife rented from and worked with Anne when the Oysters fled California, and they just adore her.

    • If I recall correctly, I’m not related to Anne and Truman. It’s my understanding that Madsen is Danish for “Matt’s Son”, so it’s a common last name, for some vague definition of “common”. Having said that, I’m only somewhat cognizant of my family history, so it’s not impossible that I’m a distant relative.

      I attended a conference a couple of years ago where someone asked me if I was descended from a particular Madsen relative. With such a specific request, I naturally had to look it up, and discovered that this person and I were fourth cousins…

  16. I think the best atonal music is when the orchestra is warming up / tuning. Atonal Improv. Improv atonality? The duration is about as long as it should ever last, too.

  17. I think the term here is polytonal. You get a mixture of scales and the hard bits from whatever pieces are on the next few concerts. (But. interestingly, not usually from this concert.) It’s something that might have been written by Charles Ives on a bad day.

  18. Kate Paulk

    There’s some awesome work being done by classical musicians working with metal rock: Tarja, Within Temptation, Nightwish… Within Temptation really hits all my buttons with the combo of full orchestra, full choir, and heavy rock as sung by an astonishingly clear, pure soprano.

    Soundtrack composers are likely to be counted as the “major composers” of the current era – Elfman, Williams, Zimmer and company do wonderful work and their soundtracks so often stand alone. Yes, I do own soundtracks for movies I haven’t seen and have no intention of ever seeing. The likes of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Alan Boublil (Les Mis) are probably going to join them in that crowd – Les Mis in particular is an opera. It’s an opera of the old style, that tells a damn good story and has tunes people sing.

    There is a bit of a drawback to the level of knowledge, though, at least that I’ve run into. The level where something is good enough that I stop caring about its flaws and just enjoy the thing is set rather higher than it used to be as just a fan (for what it’s worth, as a musician I’m at ‘could probably sing in a pro choir but the voice isn’t good enough’ – I can sing about 80 – 90% of what I read correctly on first run through, and get it 99% on the second run, but my voice is one of those thin screechy soprano things that doesn’t do anyone any favors. As a trombonist, at my best I was not-quite-pro. I’m way the heck out of practice). Also – as a musician it totally sucks being good enough that all the local amateur groups are boring but not good enough for professional. At least as an author Amazon has taken that problem away.

    This has been your obligatory disjointed ramble, brought to you by a Kate.

    • I recall hearing a song on the radio and not being able to place why it was so damned familiar. It was by some band I had not heard of called Imagine Dragons.
      Later I realized it was that I heard Within Temptation’s cover of Radioctive before I heard the Original.

      • Within Temptation also did an awesome heavy-metal cover of Adele’s “Skyfall,” which is available on YouTube (but not, alas, iTunes; I had to resort to a YouTube-MP3 conversion program to download it). Sharon den Adel’s vocals are just incredible. I’ve got most of WT’s catalog, actually, and most of Nightwish’s for good measure.

        And thanks to the discussion back up the thread, I’ve now got “Suicide Mission” from the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack on my iPod. The funny thing was, when I played it on my iTunes after downloading it, the next song up was WT’s “Radioactive” cover. Which was a definite improvement on the original, BTW . . . 🙂

        • I like both as different songs. sorta like Days Go By from Dirty Vegas, the Acoustic version is great stuff:

          quite different from the dance version (to follow)

        • That acoustice vdersion is busier than the one I have somewhere as a mp3. I got mine from a radio station session and it was just the two guys, no production.
          Here be the original:

    • > thin screechy soprano

      I could do a creditable walrus imitation…

      “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

    • I like both Within Temptation and Nightwish, and Tarja (if we’re talking about the same person) came out of Nightwish where she used to be the female lead singer. They show a certain class and sophistication that are far beyond anything heavy metal was when I first encountered it in the 1990’s.

      You can add to this Sabaton, who does what amount to military ballads in a very old tradition, celebrating heroism and highlighting both the glory and the horrors of war. The modern version of Homer, I’d say.

  19. I sing well enough for the shower, the radio, sing along musicals, and ward choir.

  20. Dawn Dreams

    So is atonal music truly keyless (as I had always understood), or is it actually in A minor?

  21. Two very different films scored by two very different artists awoke my passion for jazz–Herb Alpert’s score for “Casino Royale” and Vangelis’ score for “Bladerunner”.

    From there I went everywhere from Dave Brubeck to Wynton Marsalis to Phillip Glass to Andreas Vollenweider. I’m not a “real” jazz aficionado, I don’t know the different schools and philosophies, just know what I like. I enjoy music that plays around with the form and tries out new techniques–but I still expect a melody line and a recognizable structure.

    In the same way, I like the New Wave of science fiction because I enjoy fiction that uses different techniques and plays with the structure, but I expect a story, with recognizable characters and a sequence of events that makes sense. I expect artists–literary, musical, graphic, film–to have mastered the basics of their craft before they start experimenting.

    I can appreciate an artist who breaks the rules of composition in order to achieve a particular effect, but I have no patience with artists who fail to follow the rules because they haven’t bothered to learn what the rules are.

  22. Christopher M. Chupik

    And let’s not forget Person of Interest, which always managed to chose the best possible piece of music to play during a dramatic sequence.

  23. It always struck me that the modern movie soundtrack genre traces back to Soviet art, and folks like Prokofiev.

    Which I find amusing, but hasn’t stopped me. Stalin’s memebots may have destroyed our own native art, but Soviet-descended art is still alive. (The first record I ever bought with my own money, allowance money in this case, was the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ soundtrack.)

    • I think it owes more to silent movies and choosing music increase the impact of the events on the screen. There were even player piano rolls for some movies. Then there was radio and the use of music to help paint the mental canvas.

      Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Some like the score for Disney’s The Black Hole, but to me it’s so repetitive I want to say “Yeah, I get it. Can I go now?”

      • At least some of the movie theaters in the larger cities had a pit orchestra that played, and some of the more prestigious movies had orchestral scores written especially for them. Smaller venues had theater organs, and smaller still had just a piano.

  24. Thank YouTube and random links because you get stuff like this:

  25. My involvement with music has fallen off to a distressing amount. Between reviving the Electronic Music Club in my high school (Until some asshole broke into the lab and stole the synths), my time in College Radio, and when I hosted the “Torture Test” sessions for Electronic Dreams (An e-Music review ‘zine). These days I have CD’s I haven’t opened yet, and that’s without buying new music in years. 😦

    But I think the whole point of the Atonal Music and Modern Art movements is to avoid measurable standards of quality. “Being Art” or “Being Music” is a positional good. How often have you heard something said to be meritorious even though it’s crap because it’s “Art”? “Bad Art” and “Good Art” have been banished from the lexicon. Decades ago I read an article about the horrible comics in the back of weekly papers, and the theory was that it was “Anti-art” because “Comics are for Kids”. And that’s why Lynda Barry was in more papers than Carol Lay. (And I recall a story about how David Boswell, of “Reid Fleming: World’s Toughest Milkman” fame got into an alternative artist party at San Diego by drawing with his left hand.)

    The short form, being crap is proof that you’re breaking with tradition, and therefore good. Because Tradition sets a standard that is too high for them to live up to and must be rejected, and the harder you reject it, the better you must be, QED.