On Criticism (4)

Martin Mull is credited with the phrase, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  There are many variations on this theme around.  The crux is that it is “impossible” or “pointless” (or some such thing) to write about music.

I once knew a guy who published his own independent film magazine, and he pontificated about how music writing seemed pointless to him because music needed to be experienced and there weren’t adequate ways to describe the content of music.  I always found his views rather self-serving, as a way to justify his choice to write about film instead.  And for that matter, musical notation provides extremely precise (if boring) ways to describe musical content.

When people talk about how futile it is to write about music, I wonder if they feel the same way about menus at restaurants.  Can a menu ever really capture the “experience” of eating one of the dishes?  Does it matter if it cannot?

More often than not, people who decry music writing are simply uninterested in the sorts of things that music writing can do, such as contextualize the social purpose as to why the music is being made (for live performance) or was made (for recordings and composition/songwriting).  Moreover, the people who emphasize “experience” probably just psychologically favor feeling over thinking, which is a tad arbitrary, no?