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Music criticism

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." --Frank Zappa

Related: music - music industry - music journalism

People: Lester Bangs - Phil Cheeseman - Brian Chin - John Corbett - Albert Goldman - Steven Harvey - Dave Marsh - Simon Reynolds - Jon Savage - David Toop - Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton - John McCready - John Peel - Peter Shapiro - Mark Sinker - David Toop

Music criticism

A music critic is someone who reviews music, songs and albums, and writes about them. A music critic may also write entire books analyzing music styles and discussing music history.

At least in the realm of rock music, critics have not garnered much respect. Indeed, Frank Zappa once famously declared that, "Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_critic [Nov 2005]

The Rock bias

Some of the great days of disco, in 1976 and 1977, coincided with punk, but if you read any received history of popular music, you wouldn't know it. The inveterate rock bias in the music papers, magazines and academia has left much dancefloor history still undocumented. The trad agenda set by commentators in the sixties, heavy with value judgments - glorifying the work of the Velvet Underground over Motown releases, the production skills of Brian Wilson over those of Norman Whitfield, and the social significance and songwriting talent of John Lennon rather than James Brown - persists. Clearly, too, most rock writing foregrounds lyrics, whereas most dance music works through texture, beats and effects. Back in 1976, punk set itself against disco wholeheartedly. In July 1979, at the home stadium of the Chicago White Sox baseball team, thousands of disco records were set alight while the crowd chanted 'Disco sucks, Disco sucks!' The 1989 edition of the Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music describes disco as 'a dance fad of the Seventies with a profound and unfortunate influence on popular music'. -- (David Haslam, 2000)

Criticism [...]

Is there an actual thing called Music Criticism and what is its scope?

Fred Frith:
“There is, but it's applied in very specific and specialist circles - mostly academic, and invariably concerning serious "classical" music. Music has quite an array of analytical techniques, they are the staple of university musicologists. I'm sure you could find equivalents, along the lines of how many times certain words appear in Shakespeare, for example!”

This actually doesn’t seem so far removed from the conservatism that plagues lit departments, where, invariably, 95% of the classes will be dedicated to old literature and theories. So, music schools do have a kind of music criticism, it’s just that it’s very backward looking, even jazz is analyzed “rather conservatively”. As a bright spot though, Frith does say that depending on the context (such as his classes) more vibrant forms of music are discussed.

Jonathan Sterne:
I also e-mailed Jonathan Sterne, a musician and cultural studies professor at my alma mater, The University of Pittsburgh; Sterne backed up what Frith had to say about criticism in music schools, “Music criticism in Music Departments means the criticism of canonical music, or noncanonical music in canonical styles (by transcribing it, for instance, which would tell you almost nothing of significance about a rock song).” However, this is not the only place to look. “There is...a whole field called ethnomusicology that encompasses both musical anthropology and the ethnographic study of music in the United States...And there are individuals in Music departments who have crossed over. The first major feminist text in academic musicology was published in 1991 (to give you an idea of how far behind that field was)....” While Sterne cautions that “for me and lots of other cultural studies music scholars, music does NOT follow in the steps of literary criticism, but it does share some of the same theoretical points of reference (especially French and German authors).” [...]-- andrew beckerman in http://www.fakejazz.com/articles/critics3.shtml

Rock crit

Why is music journalism almost always called rock criticism. Is music only about rock? Why is disco at allmusic.com filed under rock?

The Wire

The Wire Magazine first appeared on news stands in 1982 and over the last 20 years it has developed from a quarterly fanzine specializing in avant garde jazz and modern composition into an award-winning and widely influential monthly that covers a vast array of underground, experimental and alternative music and culture. This 3 CD box set is the Audio Edition and spans the magazine's 20-year history. Artists include Ennio Morricone, Coil, David Toop & Max Eastley, Fela Kuti, Pan Sonic, AMM, Derek Bailey, John Cage, Diamanda Galas and more. Slipcases housed in a slimline box embossed with the word Adventures. Mute. 2002. [Some of the best music writing in print.] [...]

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