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12 February, 2004

Is some music 'superior'?

This topic came up in a moderately heated discussion recently: discounting outright poor playing, accidental bum notes, etc., are some styles of music 'better' than others?  The following is a transcript of my views, slightly edited for clarity.

Someone else, speaking of hip-hop:

Playing around with drum machines and Q-Bass is not craft. I can do this. It's easy.

Anyone can put pen to paper; not everyone can write a publishable novel.

To belittle a genre because it doesn't necessarily require advanced technical skills is either missing the point or refusing to accept it. Music isn't a craft, it's an art; it's not the way you do it, it's what you do (to mangle the Bananarama lyric). By the same argument, anyone can take a photo, but that certainly doesn't define photography as automatically inferior to painting.

I don't like hip-hop. I don't see the attraction at all. I feel precisely the same way about (technically-complex) 'prog' - I can respect it as a 'valid' musical form, quite independently of my personal dislike.

An analogy might be, say, da Vinci's Mona Lisa, compared to Tracy Emin's unmade bed.

They're radically different, with different objectives. I don't think it's even relevant to compare them. Is the music of Holst 'better' than that of Ian Anderson? Anderson doesn't operate in the same area of music so there can be no direct competition; there's no common criterion upon which to make an objective judgement, merely personal choice. Plus social convention, but that's a separate issue.

A viewer may prefer one over the other, and in this example, I'd agree with you 100%, but personal taste can only speak in terms of like/dislike, not good/bad or valid/invalid.

Emin's art focuses on sensation (and undeniably succeeds), and on confronting the raw, often disgusting, aspects of humanity existing as animals in an artificial environment; our inability to transend the squalid physicality of our existence. That doesn't mean I like what she does, but I can't accept that it's reasonable to dismiss it.

It's important to remember art is about creativity, not merely technical ability; the distinction is one that has often been used to distinguish art from craft, artists from artisans.

[Contemporary 'Brit-art' is]... rubbish; craftless 'art' made by ambitious skill-less nobodies

See above. Art isn't craft, and ability isn't necessarily skill.

Hip-hop for 80 minutes? Listening music is it?

No, it's not! This is precisely my point. No-one went to Cream, the Ministry of Sound, etc. (major UK clubs) to listen to trance/garage/house/etc. music, they were there for the whole experience. The music fitted the context, and set itself objectives that are simply incompatible with sitting in one's favourite armchair listening to every nuance via thousands of pounds worth of audiophile sound equipment. That's plainly not what it's for, so it makes no sense to judge it in those terms. Experiencing rave music, or hip-hop, or opera, or cajun, or 'prog' are entirely different situations - not objectively 'better' or 'worse', just different.

Really progressive trance. I find it dull.

That's absolutely fine. that's your opinion, and no-one can take that away from you.

No form, no music.

I'd totally disagree. Banging two rocks together can be music.

no melody

Not a defining characteristic of music.

The development of the craft of musicianship, the creativity of song writing and music composition, the imagination and spontaneity required in improvisation puts Yes, Tull and all those classic bands in a league of their own.

Some value craft and technical ability above all. Again, that's a standard set by personal preference, which is fine, but with which others might disagree.

They all have a quality of substantial back catalogue that has left the bar too high for most others. So they [subsequent musicians or the media, I presume] lower it....

No, it's an entirely different bar, in a different stadium.

Not to worry; music does not cease to be progressive merely because of some imposed time limit.

Very true. If an artist keeps pushing, and changing, that's progressive.
To go from blues to jazz to 'prog' to folk-rock to electronica to hard rock to AOR to Eastern-inspired rock, all in a unique style, certainly is progressive (and oddly familiar...) [In case anyone misses the reference, it's a summary of the Jethro Tull back catalogue].
To record 'Tubular Bells' is progressive, but to record 'TB2', 'TB3', 'The Millennium Bell', then rerecord 'TB1' isn't progressive - but I like it.

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