Music and Quality

One thing I have been thinking about recently is the idea of quality and how it applies to music. First we need to define what exactly quality is, and a definition of quality that I agree with is the definition from the author Robert Pirsig. He states:

“Quality is a characteristic of thought and statement that is
recognized by a nonthinking process. Because definitions are a
product of rigid, formal thinking, quality cannot be defined.” Zen and the Art of Motorcyc
le Maintenance

Of course this seems to be a very confusing statement at first because he says that quality has no definition and therefore this really isn’t a definition at all. He further goes on to state:

“But even though Quality cannot be defined, you know what Quality is…”

All of us inherently know when something has quality and when something does not. It is easy to say that the newest, large screen, high definition TV has more quality than a junky, old, black and white TV. So how does this relate to music?

Music, like anything else, can be evaluated, and from this evaluation you can decide whether or not it has quality.This quality is completely independent from personal taste for the music and vice versa. You don’t have to enjoy a piece of music to decide that it has quality. Likewise, a piece of music doesn’t have to have quality in order for you to enjoy it. If this is true, then how do you know if music has quality?

I believe music, ideally, is written to accomplish a few different things. It can be used:
1. As an expression of one’s inner creativity
2. To concoct emotions in the composer or the listener
3. And to express something that cannot be expressed through words

There are probably more things that could be included on the list, but these are the main points that I believe in. Any or all of these things must occur if a musical work is to contain quality, and any music that does not fall in to at least one of these categories does not have quality. I am not saying that you will only enjoy music that accomplishes something from the list, nor am I saying that you will not enjoy music that does not accomplish an item on this list. I am merely stating that the quality of music is exact, and is not opinion based, unlike personal taste.

For example, one composer that I have found a lot of enjoyment in is the musician Brian Eno. He does something with his music that is relatively unexplored in the musical world. He uses the idea that sound itself can create music rather than using harmony and melody to do the same. By using sounds and textures he creates vivid mental pictures that I would liken to paintings more beautiful than what can be witnessed by the human eye. Whether or not you enjoy his music I believe anyone can appreciate the quality of his works, and chances are that you have music in your own library that has been heavily influenced by the music of Brain Eno without you even knowing. Not only has he produced many great artists (Coldplay, David Bowie, Devo, U2) but he has even inspired a group to name a song after him (MGMT.) All of these artists were inspired by his ability to create sonic landscapes, and they used these ideas to add more quality to their own works.

The point I am trying to make is that quality is a definite characteristic that anything, including music, can have, even though it does not have a definitive definition. Your own personal taste has no effect on the quality of music, and music either contains quality, or it does not, there is no middle ground. Even if you don’t enjoy and artist, there are still things that you can learn from the quality, or the lack of quality, the artist has. Always look for inspiration from everything, even if it is not to your taste.


(P.S. If you have never read either of Robert Pirsig’s books (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and its sequel Lila) I would highly recommend them.


~ by Ben on May 27, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: