Friday, December 26, 2008


A nice story (here) about someone with a cilantro problem: he thought he didn't like cilantro, but turned out that he was simply physically unable to detect the scent that attracts others to cilantro and covers up the scent that repulses him from the herb. (I wish the article had discussed other controversial foodstuffs: in my experience, eaters are even more divided by jackfruit and durian, for example).

Lessons like this one, about the individual constituents of taste can be usefully transferred, methinks, from scents and tastes to sound, indeed, to music. Not everyone is predisposed to the same auditory likes and dislikes, and, like an animal or vegetable or fungus that some can use as a food while others cannot, there are sounds and assemblies of sounds that one set of ears digests with gusto and others cannot.

The positive upshot of this variety in taste is the enormous range of choice we find in musical materials, styles, and forms. But instead of celebrating this diversity, too often there is friction and anger. For example, too few unhappy audience members were able to take John Cage seriously when he emphasized the intimacy (eyes, ears, nose, palate, touch) between beauty and the beholder and, in all friendliness, invited those who found themselves in any discomfort to leave rather than to hang around in order to instead share their discomfort with others. This particular form of masochism is mystery to me, quite unlike the pleasant touch of pain associated with a hot chili pepper, wasabi, a good dissonance, or a grand noise.

1 comment:

sfmike said...

I've tried to explain over the years to friends that personal musical taste is just that, neither good nor bad but as different as people, which is what makes for such a great variety in this world.

I also don't understand people who insist on sitting through a movie or a concert or a play or an opera when it's just not their cup of tea. "Art is not like medicine, where you are supposed to take the whole dose," I want to say. "It's like food and if you despise it, eat something else."