Insulted Sensibilities

Last night a DJ broke my heart - he played some ugly music.  Actually people have been doing that one way or another for a long time.  But what is ugly music?

Some of you might think this is ugly (I did when I first heard it)

Berg: Piano Sonata Op 1

And others may think this is ugly music

Prodigy: Smack My Bitch Up

Or indeed this

Varese: Poeme Electronique

I like all of these.  So last night I got to thinking about what is the common thread running between the music I don't like.  The examples might help:

Elgar: Symphony No 1

Billie Jo Spears: Blanket on the Ground

Bobby Goldsboro: Honey

Bjork: It's Oh So Quiet

Thinking about it a little overnight the problem is neither musical nor in the lyrics of the songs: it is the sentiment.  In each of these examples it is the way the artist composer or performer has chosen to take the listener not on a journey, but for a ride.  These four examples are full of the kind of arch emotional pulling of heart strings which I find worrying (at best) and at worst cynical.

I'm not sure why Mahler, Tchaikovsky or Vera Lynn don't fall into this category.  For reasons I can't explain I will tolerate Tchaikovsky's milk of a sobbing melody and heart crushing - perhaps because my opinion of his music is that of a flawed genius not a master of his art.

Its interesting too that I also associate this overdoing of sentiment, the sentimental or the wistfully nostalgic with Tango - where the music has become a perpetual imitation of its own nostalgic longing.  For many dancers this is the core of the dance: I manages to suspend my disbelief for some time but eventually my commitment dried up.  I carry the same feeling for many of Walt Disney's films - though there the sentiment, for me, has much more sinister origins.  And I suspect there's much light opera which dallies idly with strophes and cultural nods and winks which reference a discredited cultural short hand of sentimental origins.

But am I alone in this discomfort, or is it just that sentiment will appear in different forms and others find just as much which is arch and manipulative in The Sex Pistols, Motorhead, Berlioz or the Band of the Black Watch.

Why don't you like the same music as me?


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