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 involved with the broad classification “Rock” and “Classical,” what separates these two are not distinctive aesthetics (different standards of appreciation and evaluation)

          c.       See notes at end (#35 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

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

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

          d.       Not a more “intellectual” way of listening

                    i.        No more intellectual than hearing a sentence in one’s native language

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

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

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

          b.       Might its forms typically be simpler?

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

          a.       E.g., Blues

          b.       Consider Muddy Waters - Hoochie Coochie Man (1970) 

9.       Formal/non-formal not same as intellectual/non-intellectual

          a.       Can’t distinguish formal from non-formal by arguing that perception of form 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.      There is appropriate/inappropriate here, but not much understanding involved?

          d.       Knowledge required is practical and not apparent to listener

          e.       Need knowledge of conventions to appreciate expressiveness

                    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, but need not be intellectual in sense of requiring internal commentary referring to technical notions

          b.       So too a person who listens to rock music needs understanding of relevant conventions

12.     Davies wonders if Baugh’s view is that those who appreciate rock do not listen to it, but have a physiological reaction to the noise it makes?

          a.       According to Baugh

                    i.        Rock affects the body

                    ii.       Reaction is somatic, visceral and in the gut

                    iii.      (This is distinguished from engaging the audience’s emotions, for Davies thinks this is intellectual and cognitive)

13.     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

14.     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

          a.       And this requires knowledge and intellectual understanding


15.     Davies rejects idea that rock is always 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 (e.g., ballet, or waltzes)

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

          c.       And people do dance in their homes to classical music

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


16.     Davies does not completely reject

17.     Baugh’s claim that rock is concerned with performances (singer, not song) and classical with the work (song)

                    i.        Davies insists this is only a matter of degree

          b.       In rock, songs do matter: Few think all rock songs equally good (so people do care about the song, and not just the performance/singer)

          c.       Singer/performances do matter in classical: In classical music singers/performers are lauded

                    i.        No one come to hear Davies sing opera, even if great work


18.     Davies rejects Baugh’s claim that playing right notes far less important in rock than classical

          a.       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

20.     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


21.     Is appreciation of rock more performance based than appreciation of 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?)



23.     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

                    i.        Is this true? On any given night in Charleston, can’t one hear more rock performances than classical performances?

24.     Recordings are thick with properties

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

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

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

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

          a.       Though performances can be transmitted by recordings

          b.       Note this turns Baugh’s view on its head for he claimed what distinguished Rock from Classical is that it was for performance

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

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



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

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

          a.       False idea that ideal classical performance is one could be generated by a synthesizer

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


32.     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

          b.       Rock musicians as inseparable from their guitars and practice as much as violinists

33.     Still, 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”)

34.     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 works they record



36.     At high level, principles of evaluation and appreciation are not radically different rock and classical

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

37.     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

38.     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.       Examples

                    i.        Appreciation of blues requires different aes than from hip-hop

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

39.     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

40.     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

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



43.     Generalizing wildly!

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

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

Study questions on Baugh, “Prolegomena to Any Aesthetics of Rock Music” and

Davies, “Rock vs. Classical” (These are identical to questions after Baugh notes.)

1.         Explain Baugh’s ideas about the differences between how one should evaluate and appreciate rock music versus classical music. How does Davies respond to each of these suggestions? Do you think his responses are successful? Do you side more with Davies or Baugh in this debate, if either. Explain your reasoning.

2.         Contrast Baugh and Davies on whether or not rock music has different aesthetic standards than what govern classical music. Do you agree with one more than the other? Why or why not? Does Davies think useful generalizations can be made between these two types of music? Why or why not?

3.         Describe what Baugh means by “classical formalist aesthetics.” What is involved in appreciating and evaluating music with these standards?

4.         Explain Baugh’s distinction between the form and matter of music. What are the three elements of matter that Baugh thinks are central to rock music? (For example, what is “expressivity of tone?”)

5.         Explain Davies response to the Baugh’s form/matter distinction and to Baugh’s use of it.

6.         According to Baugh, what sort of intellectual skills, if any, are involved in paying attention to rock music. What role, if any, does the body play in appreciating rock?

7.         Where do Davies and Baugh stand on the claim that rock is a performance oriented tradition, while classical is focused on the music as specifically notated? Does either think that the primary art work in rock (or classical) is the recording? What considerations are brought to bear on this issue?

8.         Baugh argues that matter and performance do count in classical, but in a derivative sort of way. Explain how.

9.         What would Baugh’s response be to the claim that rock music is for the most part formally simple and thus musically insignificant?

10.       Explain the difference Baugh claims exists in classical versus rock concerning how dance is related to music. What does Davies think about this claim?

11.       What is Baugh’s view of the importance of faithfulness to the music/score in rock music and the importance of avoiding missing the notes the score dictates? What is Davies response to the position Baugh takes on this issue.

12.       Explain what Baugh might mean when he claims some rock singers are technically not very good, but nonetheless great singers. How is this possible? Give an example.

13.       Does Davies think that perceptions of musical expressiveness are non-intellectual? Why or why not? Does convention and socialization play a large role in hearing the expressiveness of music or are emotional responses to music built-in to human nature? What does Davies think about this? What do you think? Use examples.

14.       What do you think of Davies claim that Baugh’s view is that the person who appreciates rock music does not listen to it but rather has a physiological reaction to the noise it makes? Explain the difference between listening to music and responding with emotion on the one hand and having a physiological reaction to the music on the other.

15.       Explain Davies distinction between music that is either thick or thin with constitutive properties and give examples. Is a recording of music thick or thin? Is Jazz thick or thin? Why?

16.       What are some reasons Davies considers for why some might have doubts about the quality of the musicianship in rock music? Are these doubts legitimate in your mind?