Stephen Davies, “Rock versus Classical Music”


1.       OVERVIEW

2.       Rock & Classical do not have distinctive aesthetics

                    i.        Critique of Baugh’s central claim

          b.       At the level of generality in the Rock versus Classical debate, what separates these two are not distinctive aesthetics (different standards of appreciation and evaluation)

          c.       “Baugh is correct to insist that rock players harness distinctive skills in pursuit of goals different from those that concern classical performers”

          d.       See notes at end (#34 and following)

3.       James Young’s criticism of Baugh

          a.       Non-formal features are as present in classical as in rock music

                    i.        Classical is expressive of emotion

                              (1)     Composers and musicians have always regarded classical music as including expression and arousal of emotions, as have philosophers of music

                    ii.       Sheer beauty of tone is important

                    iii.      Loudness is sometimes of expressive significance

                    iv.      It affects the listener’s body (foot taping, head nodding)

                    v.       Considerable freedom from the score is tolerated

          b.       Classical music encompasses all features Baugh claims are distinctive of Rock and more besides

                    i.        A hint that Young thinks classical is better than rock?

          c.       Rock music has to be judged by standards which have always been used to judge music



5.       Can’t listen to music w/o concerning oneself with form (=the structuring of sound)

          a.       Music is patterned sound

          b.       One can hear the music in the noise it makes only by detecting its pattern

          c.       E.g., Music organized in terms of tones, harmonic combinations, meter; melodies; chunks of music which repeat or vary earlier material

          d.       Unless one can hear a tune–when begins and ends, when repeated-- can’t locate the music that is there

          e.       Not a more “intellectual” way of listening; no more intellectual than hearing a sentence in one’s mother tongue (both evolve enculturation, but it’s effortless hearing)

6.       Doesn’t make sense to say a person might listen to music in terms of one and not be aware of the other (formal and non-formal)


7.       Rock no less formal than another other kind of music

          a.       Might its forms be simpler?

          b.       Its typically tonal (has a home note or cord), common time, back beat, contains melodies, has repetitive structures


8.       Expressive character of music often depends on its structure (form)

          a.       Gives the blues as an example

9.       Formal/non-formal not= intellectual/non-intellectual

          a.       Can’t distinguish formal from non-formal by arguing that perception of formal is intellectual and perception of non-formal is not

          b.       Emotions (supposedly non-formal) have a large cognitive (intellectual) component

          c.       Need to understand and perceive lots of things about music to recognize expressiveness in it

                    i.        And to respond to it with appropriate emotions

                    ii.       Sad music versus uplifting music

                    iii.      Is appropriate/inappropriate here, but not much understanding involved?




          d.       Knowledge required is practical and not apparent to listener

          e.       Need knowledge of conventions

                    i.        Hear Japanese gagaku music first time can’t appreciate its nonformal (expressive features) as not knowledgeable about conventions



11.     Rejects idea that those who listen to classical music do so intellectually whereas rock engages feelings and noncognitive response

          a.       Person who listens to classical music needs to be informed by knowledge of relevant conventions, need not be intellectual in sense of requiring internal cometary referring to technical notions

          b.       Is he admitting that need more knowledge to properly listen to classical than to rock?

          c.       Much classical music to be understood and appreciated in terms of expressive or lyrical character


12.     Person appreciates rock does not listen to it, but has a physiological reaction to the noise it makes?

                    i.        Baugh view (according to Davies)

          b.       Rock affects the body

          c.       Reaction is somatic, visceral and in the gut

          d.       (This is distinguished from engaging the audience’s emotions for Davies, which is intellectual and cognitive)


13.     Davies rejects idea that rock is more intimately connected to dance than classical music

          a.       Thinks Beatles “Yesterday” or “Day in the Life” much less dance oriented than lots of classical music

          b.       Doubt that people who listen to rock on the radio irresistibly impelled to dance to it

          c.       Dancing is a socially sophisticated, self-conscious deliberate reaction to music (and not gut level response)


14.     Some rock music is primarily aimed at arousal of physiological response

          a.       But some classical music does this too

          b.       And this can be done by melody and harmony, not just timbrel quality, rhythm and loudness

15.     But many types of rock invited attention more to lyrics, melodies, expressiveness or self-conscious playing with conventions of genre than to the “materiality” of their sounds


16.     Baugh thinks rock is concerned with performances (singer, not song) and classical with the work (song)

          a.       Claim must be a matter of degree

                    i.        For few think all rock songs equally good (so they do care about song)

                    ii.       In classical music singers/performers are lauded (no one would turn out to hear Davies sing opera, even if great work)

17.     Baugh thinks playing right notes far less important in rock than classical

          a.       Davies: “Bum notes are just that and rock musicians try as hard as others to avoid those notes or chords that are deemed clangers within the style they adopt”

          b.       Perhaps Rock audiences tolerate wrong notes because they recognize the pressures of live performances and value it for its enthusiastic and energetic style

                    i.        But same could be said for classical performances



          a.       Davies thinks Baugh should focus on ontology of music

19.     Thick versus thin music:

          a.       Music thick with constitutive properties,

                    i.        The performance will rely heavily on the notation which specifies it in detail

                    ii.       Many but not all classical works are thick

                    iii.      The work will be as important as the performance

          b.       Constitutively thin music

                    i.        E.g. Jazz –specifies only a melody and basic cord sequence

                    ii.       Performers valued above composers and focus on performance

                    iii.      That Cocker’s rendition of the Beatles “With a little help from my friends” was so different from the original, does not show that faithfulness is less valued but that this song (and rock in general?) are of the ontologically thin variety


20.     Is appreciation of rock more performance based than classical?

          a.       Does rock differ from classical in allowing more freedom to performer, so performances rather than songs are properly of more interest?

          b.       Davies reply: Depends on ontology of rock music (what is the relevant artwork?)



22.     Perhaps what distinguishes rock is that primary work is the recording (Gracyk’s view)

          a.       Two works, the song/music and the recording

          b.       For rock, the focus falls on the recording

          c.       Rock is much more often presented as, and transmitted via, recordings

23.     Recordings are thick with properties

          a.       Every aspect of sound captured and is constitutive of work

24.     Piece (artwork) of this kind is not for performing, it is for playback

          a.       (Performing may or may not be involved in creation)

25.     On this view, rock is distinct from classical which remains mainly for performance

          a.       Though performances can be transmitted by recordings

26.     Classical accepts electronic works but these are a minority rather than mainstream

27.     Rock pieces depend essentially on electronic medium for creation and dissemination



29.     Inappropriate to view rock as employing a crude version of classical technique (Davies agrees with Baugh)

30.     Davies rejects Baugh’s claim that classical technique involves mechanical, heartless efficiency

          a.       False idea that ideal classical performance would be one might be generated on a synthesizer

          b.       Classical music is judged bad if it is mechanical and unmusical


31.     Rock musicians virtuosity? (Given use of sampling and synthesizers)

          a.       Achieving sonic ideas of rock in convincing fashion requires virtuosity–almost all musical styles make demands on performer

32.     Use of sampling and synthesizers raise doubts about rock’s musicianship

          a.       Increasingly rock musicians make extensive use of sampling and synthesizers not only in recordings but in live performance

          b.       What one hears is by no means transparent to what was done

          c.       Studio manipulation rather than musicianship is on display even in case of live performance (“knobs on instead of hands on”)

33.     Classical music has different conventions about use of technology

          a.       “Classical musicians exploit the advantages of recording technology, but they are expected to be able to play live works they record



35.     At high level, principles of evaluation and appreciation are not radically different

          a.       Aes important properties like narration, representation and expressiveness, and unity in diversity are common to many genres periods and styles

36.     At low level, we attend to different features in appreciating and evaluating

          a.       Attend to specific genres, periods, styles and this will usually involve attention to different properties

37.     Rock is a broad classification and includes many different genres and styles, some of which require distinct aesthetics at low level

          a.       Pop, art, progressive, alternative, and experiment, blues, metal, punk, techno, ballads, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, reggae, grunge, hip-hop

          b.       E.g., Appreciation of blues requires different aes than from hip-hop

          c.       Expressive tone, loudness and rhythm might be crucial for heavy metal, not obvious so important for some Beatles songs

38.     Classical also covers many kinds some of which have distinct low level aesthetics

          a.       Sonata, concerto quartet, symphony madrigal mass, overture, ballet opera

          b.       Distinctive style and periods

          c.       At low level each requires own aesthetics

39.     Properties as specific as ones Baugh points to fail to capture difference between rock and classical, for they apply only to much more fine-grained types

40.     Differences between the broad categories are likely to be rather trivial and not deep/distinctive enough to be basis for different aesthetics



42.     Generalizing wildly!,

43.     Rock prefers dirty timbres and bent pitches more than classical

44.     Distinct techniques to some rock instruments, e.g., special timbrel qualities on electric guitar via volume and feedback.