Do You Understand Music?

First I want to describe something that repeats happening with me when I listen to the relatively new music to me.

There are a few examples that I want to describe:

1. I've acquired a rare CD of Cluster "One Hour" which contains one track that lasts exactly 1 hour. No matter how hard I've tried to listen to it as whole i was getting tired or just simply did not understand what's going on and was postponing a listening to the next session. Next session something similar happens and in curiosity I'm just trying to fast-forward to the last minutes of the track to hear how it ends. After few more trials to torture myself i quit and exchange this CD to the different offered by one of my best friend(Wobble-Parker). He digged in(meaning was able to listen the whole hour) from the third listening session and reviewed this music as one of the most magnificient projects created by Cluster for what I envy him to have a patience to understand.

2. Nearly the same thing happend with double CD album "Cobra" which is a project of John Zorn.

Some years ago I couldn't understand Ornette Coleman but now I realize that his music is like surrealistic art and has a divine presence. Same I can tell about Kronos Quartet.

Please share with me if you had a similar situations. Would you listen to the music that you don't understand? Would you try to understand it? Would you honor a "different" music and accept it as an art?

For me I'd rather listen to what I do not understand and try later-on to understand instead of just simply go to the Wiz and buy some Ricky Martin or Marc Anthony...
But and listen to what you like... We only get one spin...


I try my best to give everything a chance. I will listen to any and every thing through till the end. I will admit that there are some "categories" I find consistently challenging.
I find most opera difficult. Perhaps the language barrier is to distracting, yet I still don't care for Gilbert & Sullivan despite the fact it filled my house as a child. I don't care for Ragge because it's too repetitive yet I like most minimalist music. I don't care for most Rap except for those rare examples when there is real poetry. Ditto Punk.
Avant Garde/Free Form ala Ornette Coleman, Chicago Art Ensemble etc. require me to be in a certain mind set, when I'm particularly open and not distracted. I have yet to come to the point in my personal development where I can control this state of mind. Often times I will give more opportunity to music that is less accesible to my cultural prejudice. I have found many things in life take many tries before appreciation can be found. Sometimes it works (Scotch Whiskey, coffee, etc.), sometimes it doesn't (fried liver).
An intriguing question. I've found that if I really can't relate to music on the first try, it generally doesn't get better on repeats. The fascinating part is that some of my favorite music started out as borderline on the first play. That is, it sounded OK but not great on the first try, then it grew on me. Examples include St. Germain (techno/jazz), Eva Cassidy (female vocal jazz), and Hugh Masekala (jazz with African themes), versus my nominal preferences for classical and smooth jazz. But the stuff that was far away to begin with, like FIM's Chinese instrumentals or very abstract jazz, never got closer.

I don't understand music in the way that musicians seem to. I don't have an appreciation for the detail and choices involved in the composition and performance. All I generally hear is the overall sound, the tone and direction of the music. I don't usually follow the play of individual instruments in a group performance. Maybe that's why good sound reproduction is more important to me than to a musician, who could get off on the artistry of what the musicians are doing rather than the overall effect. Somebody like that could be more appreciative of the stuff I can't relate to.
I've had similar experiences with free-form music like Ornette Coleman, etc. It took me a while to appreciate John Coltrane's "Ascension" album. The CD had two takes of the "song"...each about 40 minutes long. I find myself listening to things like that as background for awhile. I put them on and read the papers. They soak in subliminally for the first few listens, and after that I find myself putting them on and consciously listening to them. I think our brains need a bit of awarm-up period when we listen to styles that we're not accustomed to. I sometimes do the same thing with new rock albums, new jazz albums, unfamilar symphonies, etc.
I have a much simpler approach to music, if I like it I listen to it. If I don't like it I will not try to understand (listen) it. I simply, do not have enough time and what time I do have I would rather spend on something I like. There are already too many challenges in life and listening to opera shouldn't be one of them.

I like the analogy about food, I would never ever try to understand (eat) why fried liver is good for me.
I think I'm with you Marakanetz-I like to challenge myself musically.
I really cannot tell straight off the bat (not unless it really turns my stomach but that is usually stuff I find really derivative)wether I will like a piece of music or not.
In fact it takes some time for me to make a definitive decision about any new music(obscure or mainstream) sometimes I think I'm going to love something but that instant appeal can fade into mediocrity.
Of course as you grow older you understand better as your knowledge widens,if you continue to listen and to expand your tastes.
The 14 year old me would not have considered listening to jazz,now I'm a big fan but there is so much to take in.

One thing I find that proves your knowledge has expanded is if you listen to some music you loved back in your teenage years( or a decent distance back) and haven't played it for a long time,you'll find you will hear a lot of influences in it you've never heard before, even though you know the music really well...............
I remember vividly being about 14 and hearing Led Zep 3 for the first time-it seemed like the weirdest thing I'd ever heard,in fact the first few listens just didn't register at all,some 24 years later I can't imagine how that could ever have been, but it was.
So everything is relative.
My biggest problem now is my tastes are so eclectic that finding the time is the biggest problem,my collection grows and grows.
The other problem in the contemporary popular/rock field for me is that I am very aware of most of the reference points,that can get in the way when listening,you can dismiss stuff unfairly and without repeated listens.
As for difficult stuff, if you take a band like Autchere,(pretty harsh electronica),I have about 5 of their CD's and I doubt if I like much more than the odd track per album but I'm glad I've heard them even though they haven't widen my tastes but rather signaled the end of the line on a particular adventure.....................
I have found that in music, as in some "art", there are some pieces that are works of genius, and some that are gibberish. In music, simply flailing away with abberrant musical scales is similar to flinging paint at a canvas and calling the result, art. Sometimes, if you're lucky, it might come out okay. But mostly, it looks like paint flung at canvas. It is inaccurate to assume that all avant-garde music is art. Perhaps this is why some of it seems to be impossible for you to understand. I think that many times the "artist" himself does not understand it. He's just hoping that someone will see something in it. Sort of like an audio Rorshak(sp?) test. In many other cases, just a few well placed notes in a song can be the most artistic expression you've ever heard. With a music lover, like yourself, it is unlikely that you would be completely ignorant of the meaning of a piece. Unless that piece was meaningless. I have read your posts, and you are an intelligent guy. I doubt you would fail to see the meaning in an artistic piece.
Good thread. I guess it's pretty common not to be real absorbent or appreciative when initially exposed to unusual or brilliantly put together artforms.
IMO, the sense of discovery that comes when you really dig something that was previously inaccessable is hard to beat.
Can, Massacre(w/Frith), Herbie Hancock-Sextant, Miles Davis (Jack Johnson, On the Corner, Agharta), Present, Blast, Ruins, Squarepusher, most Van Vliet (Beefheart) and FZ's Uncle Meat taste alot better now than they did at first. Still can't seem to get through an opera without tripping the ol' gag reflex though.
I push my boundaries, but slowly. There's nothing better than putting on an artist you've never listened to before and being floored - that's at least as fun as the latest equipment "revelation". I will often not be as blown away as I would like, but I kind of have a token system - any new music starts out with some tokens (say 3) - every time I play it, if I don't like it pretty well, it (mentally) loses a token. When something gets down to 0, I probably won't play it again for a while. There are definitely cases where music or genres grow on me, and I try to never forget that. -Kirk
I once briefly lived in a home with a chellist who performed
world-wide, and I noticed that he had NO electronic equipment on which to play music. This was when the film "Amadeus" was released, and I rushed home excited that he & his wife (who was also his manager)go to see it. She informed me that he would not go because he would spend his time criticizing the performance. Ever since, I have felt so fortunate simply to be able to listen to and to enjoy music. It is, after all, very personal and touches each of us differently.
To all Jackson Pollock fans: good evening. It takes all kinds. Some folks stick to what they know and only consume more of it. Some folks try different things when they get bored, only to convince themselves that what they are used to is way more likable, so they scurry back. Some folks will sample everything and rush to the most peremptory of verdicts. Some folks will give it their best shot and listen with their hearts and minds. I don't know that you have to understand a piece of music to like it. I am convinced no one actually is required to understand music, in the broadest sense, to like it. If this was so, a great majority of people who claim to like music but don't have a clue about it, would have given up long ago, and the recording industry would be in even worst condition. Sometimes the most hermetic, least approachable music turns out to be the most rewarding. Liking or loving and understanding are very different things. Part of the enjoyment of music is discovery, and the more run-of-the-mill music you know, the more you have to go off the beaten track to get that sense of discovery. Once you get there, I think you owe the music you find a good listen. One hour for a piece may be stretching things though, if the enjoyment is simply not there. I don't believe in suffering for art that much. Understanding is good, but may be harmful if swallowed. In the end, I fear that, as someone once told me many years ago, " to know a living thing is to kill it". Maybe that's what Sjorgensen means. Now where is that Anthony Braxton album...
Twl - I listen to alot of flung paint, and cast a very wide net. Some of the wildest: Magma: Their skin is to machines what machines are to man. Disharmonic Orchestra: Brain smelter. Os Mutantes: Everything is possible. Amon Duul: The priest, he's escaping! Flower Travelin' Band: Japfro. Esquivel: Whatchamacalit? Negativeland: I'm not naked, pal. Nektar: Elephants are very fond of oranges. Nik Turner: I have come forth by day, my name, my name is Decay-eth Not.

It never gets wierd enough for me. Music is one of the few places left where society is powerless to contain you. Go as far as you wish, and stay as long as you like.
Mwilson, if you want to try a real cool record that is very creative and "out there" in the rock/jazz/blues fusion genre, then try David Sancious' album "Transfiguration: The Speed of Love". This is a killer album that has unique stylings and improvisations with a basic fusion theme, with some blistering guitar and keyboard work by Sancious. I saw these guys in concert in 1975, and they were as good live as on record. He also does some Dobro work that has to be heard to be believed. This album has been out of print for a long time, so check the good used record websites. It is worth the trouble to get this one. He was once the keyboard player with Springsteen, and he makes Springsteen seem like a musical toddler with this individual effort. This band is ultra tight and the music and themes are complex, with unlimited expression by the musicians. Very highly recommended. Not available on CD, it is on LP only.
...some day usually on weekend I go to the East Village and check(mandatory to check) a huge number of "underground" downtown musical stores; yes, searching for the bargains and rarities, recognizing them by the record labels, producers, credits, discovering discovering and acquiring. Sometimes my "shopping cart" riches 500 CDs and LPs sometimes doesn't rich 10. I know definitely that even if I won't like it I will be able to punch it through ebay even with the profit.

Discovering a new music is always interesting. There were a thousands even approaching to 10000 CDs and records bought and nearly 90% sold. Some of records and CDs were acquired for information purpouses only and than sold after one listening some of records and CDs are being placed into collection. Some of the collection records or CDs will NEVER be sold.

Thanks you all for understanding and participating in this discussion.

Ultrakaz, To anyone who is too addicted to eat burgers I would strongly suggest to try out fried beef liver or veal liver. I possess a knowlege of a very tasty recipie of how to cook a fried liver so you can e-mail me if you're interested:)

Twl, your statement is too contraversal: I was surfing through the Cluster albums and CDs for a long time already and I do realy consider music of Roedelius, Moebius, Plank is to be on one of the top levels of intellegence. Seing their names together or individually on CD or record means that this record or CD I should listen. Their albums are so different that you should have a certain mood and motivation for each one of them i.e. "tune yourself up".
"One Hour" CD album was something that I've never expected from them and I do not realy know how to interpret my feelings. Very often that could happen if you're listening to Richard Kirk(Cabaret Voltaire) or even Klaus Schulze.
I think that Zorn & O Coleman are extreme examples for some, who like myself, were more accustomed to classical music with a preference for things before 1940. I listen to jazz (D. Cherry, Miles, etc) and Blues -- but the sound of Spy vs. Spy by Zorn was a totally different experience. Although each piece lasts a few moments (let alone an hour), it took me a long time to get used to... Similarly with Webern, for example (I haven't got used to!).
It took me a while to appreciate Ornette Coleman too. I'm glad I didn't give up on him the first time I listened.

I enjoy listening to challenging music that will broaden my tastes. Some of it I've really enjoyed through repeated listenings (AMM, Cecil Taylor, Evan Parker), but some stuff, no matter how much I listen to I just cannot get. This is mostly modern-classical stuff (Xenakis comes to mind) or extreme-electronic music.
Ultrakaz: I agree completely with your "simpler" approach to music. However, the food analogy does not do it for me as I like fried liver.
i have found,especially with classical music,that it helps to learn as much as possible about the composer.his life's ups and downs play a big part in his music.pieces that when first heard are difficult,become understandable and accessible,there is a trancendance and makes the experience of music more enjoyable.just my opinion.
Rout9, How would you analyze Alfred Schnittke ups and downs in his music?
I believe that he's one of the pioneers of avant-grade and musical abstractions. Isn't he great?
i'm not familiar with his works,but you are in agreement with what i'm that seem difficult came be understood[trancended]if we can know at least a small part of their lives.obviously this always can't be done,but that's part of the fun.i don't comprehend everything i hear,but i usually get something out of a work.