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In the early years of rock music, musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and the
Jefferson Airplane turned up the volume to arouse political or social
rebellion against a repressive and superficial culture. The musicologist
Richard Taruskin said in classroom lectures that after the violence of
World War II there was a reaction against the unbridled emotions of
expressionism. Postwar musical culture emphasized the control of emotion,
as emotion was not considered something to be trusted. The evidence of
this in classical music was the rise of twelve tone serialism and the
aesthetic of mathematical structures. Even a mystical composer like
Messiaen turned to serialism and other unemotional structures. The
rebellion against this in classical music was postmodernism, with
composers such as Glass or Goercki. In popular music, controlled emotion
was epitomized by Frank Sinatra and even, in jazz, by Louis Armstrong.
The rebellion took the form of the return to emotional expression by
Hendrix, Janis Joplin and others.
However, rock music today has taken a different direction. With the
increasing cutbacks of music education in the schools, music has become
more primitive structurally even if this is hidden behind increasingly
expensive and complex technology. There are rock performances involving a
large degree of spectacle, where the music often consists of the singer
repeating the same note, occasionally making a departure to sing another
note or two. The audience does not notice that there is no melody present
because the attention is directed to the spectacle. Similarly, the rhythm
is very repetitive and a 1-2 rhythm with the accent on the second beat is
considered as novel by the audience.
Aesthetically such music feeds into the increasing forces of conservatism
opposing sensitivity in our society. People are accused of being
oversensitive if they complain about a slur based on race or gender.
Reality TV shows feature authority figures who are granted the power to
insult the contestants, who are supposed to be able to take it and even
appreciate it without being hurt. Workers are supposed to be like
interchangeable parts with no preferences or feelings about their office
space or their work environments.
Loud, repetitive music stamps out sensitivity or the ability to perceive
and react to subtle differences or variations in the social environment.
What passes for music actually has the opposite effect of what we normally
consider to be the purpose of music. Whereas we have traditionally
thought of music as something that stimulates elevated toughts, puts us in
touch with our feelings, and increases our sensitivities, this so-called
music has the opposite effect of protecting the listener from such
feelings, which may impede one's ability to function as an interchangeable
part that does not make any demands on the system. Remember that for
people without college degrees, work often means having to produce
repetitive tasks in small spaces, with the output monitored by computer.
Factory workers and mail sorters, for example, have their work monitored
and they can't drift into the normal ebb and flow of slower and faster
outputs in the course of a day. Retail workers are forced to listen to
whatever music or muzak the management chooses to broadcast over the
loudspeakers during the entire time they are working, and they never have
the right to silence. Silence is the pathway to introspection and
analysis, which such freedom of thought being a luxury commodity available
to those with access to leisure time and a quiet living environment.
For this reason I question whether the current loud rock "music" is
actually music at all, or, to put it another way: perhaps the varities of
uses of organized sound are so diverse that there is no such thing as
music, and several of the different cultural approaches to organized sound
and its effect on people are different phenomena. This a question that
may be answerable by numerous scientific studies in the future.
What can be said at present is that the current forms of loud rock music
result from the decrease in quality of our educational systems and the
increase in the percentage of students dropping out of high school, in
some areas, 20%. For such individuals music is a means of numbing their
emotional responses to the alienation and stress they experience on the
outskirts of society and of toughening themselves for a society that does
not tolerate their humanity.