Friday, December 11, 2009

A thesis for this blog?

I was listening today to the Eno-Fripp collaboration "No Pussyfooting," and thinking, "wow this really sounds like Kraftwerk." And it seems to me that for nearly 100% of the music-discussing world, liking this album and liking Kraftwerk would go hand in hand.

You can imagine the conversation in the record store.

"I've enjoyed other Eno albums, but I don't really like King Crimson. Is this good?"
"Yeah. Do you like Kraftwerk?"
"Of course."
"You'll like this. It sounds like Kraftwerk."

Which... it does. But I guess I want to say, there is NOTHING to like about (or "in") this similarity.

I've made this argument elsewhere, but no art should ever be evaluated on its *premise*. The Mona Lisa-- on paper, it's not so great. Blade Runner *should* be a great movie, instead it is boring and anti-profound.

The great hardcore band Black Flag realized this early on, changing their sound drastically and frequently in order to keep one step ahead of their own influence in the American punk scene. Only a crazy person would say, "You'll like My War. It sounds like Nervous Breakdown." They don't "sound alike." On the other hand, these two great achievements in American music are much more similar than Eno-Fripp & Kraftwerk, which are only apparently similar.

It should be possible to like 99 records in a genre without it being a foregone conclusion that one will like the identical-sounding 100th record. I am using mostly musical examples, because, to take literature for an example, only unserious readers (like "consumers" of any mystery novel) are so faithful to a given genre. But even children did not go for just every single Harry Potter rip-off which was flung at the market after the success of J.K. Rowling's novels.

I happen to like both Eno-Fripp & Kraftwerk. But this is (or should be) completely contingent, unrelated-- or else it is not real taste. Taken to its logical conclusion, genres would disappear completely as an indicator of taste. This should happen. Liking Led Zeppelin should be as much a predictor of liking Deep Purple as it is a predictor of liking Debussy.


Andrew said...

Similarity (in this discussion) is completely subjective. Two Black Flag records sound different to you because you listen to lots of hardcore. To my mother, Black Flag and Blink 182 are highly similar.

Likewise, to someone who listens to lots of Krautrock, Eno-Fripp and Kraftwerk sound nothing alike. This person would describe how Kraftwerk radically changed their sound from year to year, undermining the comparison.

It's not possible to like 99 records in a genre without subcategorizing. Someone who regularly listens to the genre tunes his ear to hear the differences between those 99 records. They may be subtle to you, but they're probably loud and obvious to him. While you can find a 100th record that is identical sounding to the 99, he can't.

B. Willett Parker said...

Too true, but I think you misunderstand. The point is that "similarity" (whether subjective or not) is not a value. Why? because I am defining similarity here as a "premise," i.e. something prior to the music. Eno-Fripp is DOING SOMETHING different than Kraftwerk, and of course I did not mean to invite needless hair-splitting over what is clearly an example. In reggae, most DJs are extremely similar to each other in "sound," i.e. their voices, their accents, their selections of rhythms to toast over... and here the only difference is what they DO over that music. And that is the whole matter.

Andrew said...

I don't see that statement anywhere in the original entry, though. I also don't understand your clarification.

Do you mean that similarity is not something that can be assigned value or that citing similarity is not a way of assigning value?

What does it mean to define similarity as a premise? Do you mean that the musics are only similar if Eno and Fripp intended to sound like Kraftwerk?

I disagree with that definition of similar. (I don't think that's what you meant either.) But I'd not be surprised to find out that E&F were in fact trying to sound like the atmospheric end of Krautrock since Eno was a big fan of that stuff.

I also don't see how that record sounds like Kraftwerk.

B. Willett Parker said...

First things first. Whether it "sounds like" Kraftwerk to you is pointless: as you yourself note, there is a fine and a coarse focus. Zoom out far enough, and everything sounds like everything else. And, at the closest level, a different record is a different record. My point was that any apparatus of recommendation currently existing would probably say "If you like Kraftwerk, you would like this album."

Similarity is similarity OF premises. That is, recommending Deep Purple to fans of Led Zeppelin is a recommendation on the similarity of basic starting-points (instrumentation, era, annoying vocalists, "First Wave of British Heavy Metal," etc.).

Whether music is "similar" or "different" is besides the point, however. Similarity and difference is quite unrelated to quality. In simple terms, a bad thing can be VERY LIKE a good thing. But this simple truth is occluded by genre considerations.