Friday, 16 July 2010

challenging music

One of the books I have on the go at the moment is Tibor Scitovsky's The Joyless Economy. From what I've read so far it fits very well with some of my own ideas about work and motivation. It was also what seems like a fairly early attempt to properly reforge the link between psychology and economics. It's quite interesting to read a book that takes issue with the rational economic man ideal that has no references at all to Kahneman and Tversky!

Anyhow, well worth a read if you share my interest in this kind of stuff. As an aside one thing I liked was his reference to different types of music. Part of his argument is about our need for challenges (though not too much challenge...) and how this complicates the understanding of work within economics. But he also applies it music:
In music, a melody never before heard and not fitting into any musical tradition we are familiar with is likely to leave us puzzled and uncomprehending. Some redundancy is already provided when a piece of music is written in (and recognised as written in) a given key, since the tones belonging to that key can be expected to occur with greater frequency than others, with the tonic and and dominant of that key occurring with even greater frequency. If, in addition, the piece belongs to a certain period the listener is familiar with, there is even more redundancy, enabling the listener to predict even more; and if he can also guess the composer, there is more redundancy still. Very much the same is true of painting, dancing, and any other artistic production. Usually, to enjoy such work, we have to recognise it as belonging to an artistic school or style we are familiar with, because that provides the necessary redundancy.

In short, some redundancy is essential to render anything new pleasantly stimulating, and the degree or amount of redundancy has much to do with how pleasant it is. Just as perfect originality or no redundancy is unpleasant because it is bewildering, so perfect banality or full redundancy is unpleasant because it is boring. The pleasant lies in between...
That sounds a lot like how I think I relate to sitar music!
I am aware, dimly, that sitar music involves a great deal of thought and structure. But to my untrained ears what is great about it is its complete difference to much of what I'm used to. Pieces start off slowly, have a mad fast bit, and then slow down again. And some of them go on for 25 minutes. And when there are tablas involved it's a similar story - they don't just mark time, or hold a steady beat, there are great surges and solos. I know there's plenty of non-sitar music that does the same kind of thing, and I like electronica in the same vein, but sitars have a bit of a hold on me. So what I really like about this kind of music is that it stubbornly refuses to fit into a structure that my mind expects/wants. (In sharp contrast I can remember ruining a track once by managing to identify the beat structure. After that I couldn't hear anything but the beats when I listened to it, and it destroyed the track for me).

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