While I was driving earlier today, I was flipping through radio stations, rolling my eyes at the abundance of autotuned R&B tracks and overplayed classic rock hits, when I suddenly stumbled upon cacophony.
It was a three-part mashup of what sounded like a tuba, a baritone, and an alto sax – I’m not great at recognizing reed instruments, but pitch-wise, it makes sense. This “song” was utter chaos – it was loud, flatulent, squealing, angry, and atonal as fuck. The trio seemed to be playing together in some sense of that term, but there was nothing resembling a rhythm or a melody. The closest thing I know to it would be one of those nutso kinda-jazz improv freakouts that pepper Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, or maybe the blast of reed and horn instruments towards the end of Massive Attack’s “Girl, I Love You.” But neither of those examples come close to capturing it.
The song had no title, so the best I can do as far as sharing it with you readers is to link you to a review that gets into more detail about the musicians who created it – The Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet + 1. And it’s been several hours since I heard it, so I’m struggling to adequately explain how fucked up this piece of music was. I’m a champion of experimental music, there’s no doubt about that, but I have my limits. This track made me feel physically ill. My head started to throb and as a consequence my stomach began to hurt.
It was the soundtrack to Hell. Hell’s elevator music. It was dizzying and garish – before it petered out into a somewhat more traditional-sounding breakdown (y’know, with the drawn-out tremolo notes and the stuttering pause before the climax, etc), it was as if the musicians had found a way to transcribe and read sheet music based on throwing pots and pans around a kitchen. It was just unprocessable to me, as if it was music from another dimension and my brain and ears literally could not adjust to it.
When the track finally came to a close – I couldn’t change the station because I couldn’t help but develop a morbid curiosity about what would happen next – the DJ let us know what the song was, what album it was on, and the names of the musicians who played on it. He was outrageously enthusiastic about it, and delved into a lengthy discussion of the merits of the track, and the genius of this Peter Brotzmann guy. I assume it was on a college station, given the nature of the program, but anyway, here on one end of this connection you have me, sitting there in my car and wondering in abject horror about what on Earth could possibly have premeditated such aural craziness, and on the other, you have this DJ who’s enamored with the thing and preaching about how great it is.
And here’s why I bring this up: not because I want you all to rush out there and get your hands on this thing, which is what I usually do on this blog, but because it’s insane to me that someone out there willingly listens to – and furthermore, actually loves – this kind of music. I’m very open to most genres and the myriad styles within them, with a few notable exceptions, but I really couldn’t wrap my head around the artistic value and/or merit of a track like this. But yet this DJ wraps his head around it entirely, and consequently, he probably can’t comprehend the value and/or merit of the bands I listen to. Extrapolate that, and there’s a duality for any music taste scenario: there’s people who love indie and people who hate it. There’s people who love scat jazz and people who hate it. There’s people who love the aforementioned autotune-ridden R&B tracks and then there’s me. There’s people who listen to nothing but Herman’s Hermits and people who think such a thing would be akin to gauging one’s eardrums out.
Of course, this is nothing shocking. Even on a small scale, I’ve seen how diverse the range of human musical tastes can be. But it gets me to wondering about what allows this DJ to hear the artistry and enjoyability of a track like this untitled clusterfuck and what makes the rest of us want to throw up when we hear it. Is it a genetic predisposition to atonal, nerve-grating sounds that permits such a musical taste to exist? Is the propensity to listen to and enjoy hardcore death metal somehow ingrained in a person via his or her upbringing? Did the fact that my mom listened to a ton of NPR and classical music when I was growing up turn me into a music geek who requires more complexity and thought in what I listen to than does the average person?
I don’t think many inroads have been made when it comes to finding a psychological or sociological answer to any of these questions. I wonder if it’s untestable, but I doubt it – more than likely, the merits of such a test are as questionable to research funding agencies as the merits of this unnamed song are to me. Whether or not we’ll ever know what makes me an indie snob and what makes my boyfriend listen to bland meaningfulcore pop, it’s still fascinating to me that this DJ could so ardently embrace the sheer unmusicality of these piece while I sat reeling in the grotesqueness of its discord.