The Friday Morning Listen: Mystery Bear – Sublimation (2008)

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I have again entered the musical aesthetics zone. The usual question is “Why do I like that?” This time around, I want to get a little more general: Why does anybody like (or dislike) anything? How do people decide what is “good” or “bad”? Are there agreed upon standards?

You might think that the answer to that last question would be that, no, there really aren’t any agreed upon standards. Some people love Lady Gaga, others hate her. A single data point doesn’t prove anything, but thousands might. This is like Newton’s third law applied to music fandom: for every Rihanna fan, there’s the Metallica guy; fans of the Black Eyed Peas are counter-balanced with Radiohead lovers. On and on it goes, with the only conclusion being that people don’t agree about anything.

My ear parts tend to think that the true agreed upon standard is that music is good if it’s pleasing to said ear parts. Sure, this seems like a cop out to pure musical relativism, but take any well-known composer and it’s easy to construct a scenario where for every fan there’s a corresponding listener who is turned off by the music. Examples? Wagner and his Ring cycle. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Floyd’s great? No! Floyd sucks! Mozart was a genius. No, Mozart was boring. Wait, doesn’t everybody hate John Denver? No, TheWife™ loves him.

I’ve been making yet another pass through Michael Kimmelman’s The Accidental Masterpiece. A chapter dealing with these issues begins with the classic example of Duchamp’s “Fountain,” the famous urinal art piece/sculpture. Whatever your opinion of Duchamp (or modern art in general), “Fountain” was a true game-changer, causing upheaval in the art world while expanding the very idea of what might be considered art. When discussing what we think might be commonly held beliefs, Kimmelman points out that standards of beauty have never been static — the Romans thought of mountains as desolate or even hostile, while today we consider mountains to possess a certain majestic beauty.

This is why I shy away from the good/bad debate when writing about music. Why waste valuable energy dumping on so-called “bad” music when I can be introducing people to the “good” stuff. I’ve chosen Mystery Bear’s ambient drones this morning because it’s exactly the kind of music that has the propensity for setting off a good debate. Some folks might hear nothing but noise while others can appreciate the gently-shifting resonances and microtonal washes. Is it good? That’s really not the point.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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