Bruce Baugh, “Prolegomena to Any Aesthetics of Rock Music”


1.       OVERVIEW

2.       Rock music has its own aesthetic standards, that either uniquely apply to it or do so in a specially appropriate way

          a.       It has different concerns and aims than classical music


3.       Classical formalist aesthetics don’t apply

          a.       Using aesthetic standards of traditional (classical) music, i.e., “formalist aesthetics” to evaluate/understand rock is a misunderstanding


4.       Form versus matter is a basic difference classical and rock

          a.       Classical: concerned with form and composition

                    i.        Form: arrangement of parts

          b.       Rock: concerned with matter

                    i.        Way music feels to the listener, way it affects her body


5.       Matter in rock involves three (bodily) elements

          a.       One: Expressivity of notes themselves (“materiality of tone”)

          b.       Two: Rhythm

          c.       Three: Loudness

          d.       All three more properly felt by the body, then judged by the mind

          e.       Rock’s three material, bodily elements constitute rock’s essence and basis for a genuine aesthetic of rock


6.       One: Expressivity of notes

          a.       Sound of a musical note as vehicle of expression

          b.       Making a particular tone sound a certain way

                    i.        Via voice or guitar

          c.       How the tones are played, not the tones themselves (or how they are arranged–form), that makes the music successful



8.       Rock aimed at arousing and expressing feelings

          a.       Prejudice critics think this is cheap and unworthy

9.       Judged by feelings the music produces in listener’s body

          a.       Visceral properties registered in gut, muscles and sinews of arms and legs rather than any intellectual judgment



11.     Rock is a performance oriented tradition

12.     Performance is key aesthetic object for rock

13.     Not addressing what makes a good rock song

          a.       But what a knowledgeable listener finds important in rock music

          b.       Almost always performance rather than composition

14.     Explains why singer, not song, which is important

          a.       Scruton uses this as a criticism!



16.     Classical aesthetics excludes from musical beauty what is central to rock

          a.       How music feels and sounds (!)

          b.       Emotional reaction music provokes

17.     Compositional form is crucial

          a.       Beauty is in form, that is tonal relationships

                    i.        Not in any feelings aroused or emotions expressed

          b.       Too much attention to individual notes distracts from proper object: compositional form

18.     Matter does count in classical music (it’s not exclusively formal)

          a.       Timbre (tone quality of musical note–e.g., sax vs trumpet) of voice or instrument is important

          b.       But matter is in the service of form, judged in relation to form, formal considerations predominate

19.     Performance also matters in classical music aesthetics

          a.       But typically judged in terms of adequacy to the composer’s intention or composition, rather than creative independence from it



21.     Mistake to judge rock by standards of classical music aesthetics (e.g., form)

22.     Rock dismissed as insignificant because of simplicity of its forms

23.     This simplicity of form is real in rock (not a misperception)

24.     Condescending to suppose rock music has value only when approximates compositional forms of baroque/romantic music

          a.       Don’t judge rock music by standards appropriate to the music of Handel

25.     When Rock musicians made this same mistake they tried to produce “art rock” or the “rock opera” which was silly

          a.       E.g., adding strings when did not fit

          b.       E.g., incorporating classical music

          c.       E.g., Buckingham’s “Susan”



27.     Rock music is for dancing

          a.       Good rhythm is key

          b.       Bad rock song is one that fails to inspire the body to dance

          c.       Connection between music and the body of the listener is immediate, felt and enacted rather than thought

          d.       But Baugh also says: “Significant body of highly regarded rock music not meant to dance to”


28.     When classical music meant to be danced to, the music regulates the dancers rather than the dancers regulate the music (as in rock)

          a.       Rhythm, beat, and timing and dance also important in traditional aesthetics, so not distinctive of rock?

          b.       Some classical music written for dance, e.g., ballet or waltz

          c.       But dancing to classical music involves form: Precision, intricacy of movement, ordered pattern

          d.       Somatic or visceral aspects not key, but body subject to form and intellect

          e.       Music and performance regulated by formal structures to which musicians and dancers must accommodate their motions

29.     With rock, the music is regulated by dancers (instead of other way around)

          a.       Musicians will vary beat, rhythm and tempo until feels good to dance to

          b.       Rock has no correct tempo, independent of effects on body of listener or dancer

          c.       Explains why when non-rock musicians play rock often sounds flat/dead

                    i.        Not playing wrong tempo or notes, but no standard score captures subtleties a good rock musician can feel

                    ii.       Good classical musicians cannot usually transfer their skills to the successful performance of rock music



31.     Rock has performance based standards of evaluation, not compositional or formal ones

          a.       Good rhythm can’t be achieved by formula

32.     Bad rock band’s beat not quite right, even though correct time signature and tempo being observed

          a.       Less matter of tempo than timing, of knowing whether to play on beat or slightly ahead of it or behind it

33.     With rock, faithfulness to the music rarely arises

          a.       Rather quality depends on if the performance/interpretation is convincing

          b.       E.g., no one too upset when Joe Cocker performed Beatles “With a little help from my Friends” in way not at all suggested by original recording

          c.       With classical music, some deviation from original score allowed but within limits established by score itself, rather than effectiveness of performance


34.     Unimportance of virtuosity (outstanding skill/technique)

          a.       Performance standards of rock have little to do with virtuosity of musician, with ability to hit the not indicated at time indicated

          b.       Some of best rock vocalists –Muddy waters, Elvis, Lennon, Joplin–are technically quite bad singers (Joplin)

          c.       How does one tell the difference between technically bad and ugly (unappealing) voices?

                    i.        Greg Brown is a great singer, but not a pretty voice

          d.       Standards have to do with amount and nuances of feeling conveyed

          e.       Virtuosity of a sort: connects directly with the body

35.     Wrong notes are okay

          a.       Take chances and make mistakes

          b.       So unpredictable an exciting in way flawless musicians are not

          c.       Even when hit wrong notes do so in interesting and exciting ways that can add to musical expression

          d.       Even when hit right notes great guitarists (Hendrix and Clapton) not because notes are right but way notes sound and timing of notes