Music Has No Value | Aaron Gervais, composer

Music Has No Value

This is an issue I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Can we actually justify saying one kind of music is better than any other, or that one piece is better than another? I wrote a paper related to this issue recently for my degree… perhaps I’ll post it on my website eventually. But I thought I’d summarize some of the conclusions, as I think this has been a driving force in the way I write recently.

I guess basically, I don’t believe music holds any value whatsoever. It’s just organized sound. People imbue it with value, however, when they use it. At times in history (e.g. the industrial revolution, the Cold War), certain uses of music have been so, well… useful, that people have developed musical canons around them. These people couldn’t see how something as useful as the appreciation of, say, Beethoven or the Beatles could be arbitrary, so they took the music to have fundamental value and canonized it. To make things worse, people with political agendas have always fought to have their music included in the canon as well, and when they had power, they often succeeded. This leads us to the convoluted thing we call the musical tradition.

But I think people are wising up to the situation. That’s why the record companies’ profitability has been in free fall over the past few years. I think part of the reason for the change is sites like MySpace: there’s just more access to more music, and when faced with an endless supply of musical variegation, it becomes harder to argue for inherent value. So people are more willing to create their own value, or at least adopt value from someone (person/media source/corporation) they consider an authority on the subject. And there are way more someones claiming to be authorities now than in the past.

So why should I write the kind of music that I write when I can get just as much value from listening to Justin Timberlake? After all, my dislike for Timberlake’s music obviously shows that my faculties of musical appreciation are inferior in some sense to many other people’s–they like him and I haven’t figured out how to like his music yet. Maybe if I practice listening to Timberlake I’ll learn to love it, as I had to practice listening to Beethoven and Mozart to learn to love that music. Then maybe I’ll finally reach true musical fulfillment.

The reason, I guess, is that most people don’t think of music as valueless, although in my mind it most certainly is. I create the music that I do because I want to hear it, plain and simple. However, the other people who hear it will find value in it for any number of reasons and often tell me about that value. That is fascinating to me, to learn about how other people imbue value. And what better way to do it than through something that I have a strong value relation with, such as my own music? Definitely not art for art’s sake. More like art as undefined, if art even exists… I simply like to see what comes out of the lack of meaningfulness.

Oh, and there’s also the problem that I write the music I want to hear and nobody else does. If you think you can write the music I want to hear, please do! Then I could be a lawyer or do something else that pays well and just enjoy the fruits of your labour instead. Sigh… the fantasies of the composer. 😉