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View Full Version : Essentialism in Art & Music, Authenticity



muser
06-09-2011, 11:06 AM
Saw quite a good TED talk on the idea of Essentialism in relation to how we enjoy things, not a term i've heard before. You can watch it here
http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_bloom_the_origins_of_pleasure.html.

But hes basically talking about how we are predisposed to percieve things as having some external "essence" to its physical being. Which helps us to define its existance / value. I guess in psychological terms its a kind of cognitive bias but I think its a helpful way of understanding how we enjoy art & music. Or more one of the reasons why we enjoy certain music and arts and not others.

The idea of how we value, or how much are own enjoyment is affected by, our percieved essence of a track is quite interesting I think. Its pretty much what people are talking about when they are talking about authenticity. If the piece isn't authentic (even if it does sound authentic) then you're probably going to enjoy it less and we are incapable of escaping this, maybe.

I think this can be seen in loads of aspects of music, the equipment its made on (analogue/digital) the DAW it was made on, the format you are listening to it on, how popular it is, who else likes it, who made it, where they're from etc. All these things clearly can have definable differences in the audible result. I think equally they can have no discernable difference in a comparison between two songs but still have an effect on the persons enjoyment depending on their bias. A example could be someone saying they enjoy a song in FLAC format more than in 320kbps mp3 but in a A-B test they cant tell the difference.

I know I am susceptible to this all the time but still I dont know how capable people are of controlling their bias's for their level of enjoyment. maybe you can look at these things objectively and some people are better than others I don't know. I think being drunk probably helps

baboon2004
06-09-2011, 12:15 PM
Will have to watch this. One thing that perplexes me is people who point-blank assert they don't like particular genres. Talk about cognitive bias.

As to audiophile things, I'm fairly honest with myself in that front, i think. So many club/venue soundsystems are shocking, despite their Funktion One soundsystems or whatever (Plastic people's was genuinely great tho). But then maybe I like particular parts of the sonic spectrum more than others, which biases me.

muser
06-09-2011, 09:46 PM
Yea I think in alot of cases, especially of the pure sound spec, audiophile stuff, knowledge can override any possible bias.

Someone who hasn't developed an ear could think a shit sound system in a bad space sounds better just because the speakers are purple and angular. If you know what it should sound like and you are really listening then it's not going to have much of a effect, even if you think funktion 1 is the bomb.

slowtrain
06-09-2011, 11:32 PM
Yeah, I often catch myself thinking about these sort of things.

Often struggle with listening to a lot of rap music, still unsure whether I'm OK with the fact that I like it for the violent/exploitative nature of the music, (which I will have to admit I do - I find all the shooting and drug dealing etc exciting) because I understand that it is a very different culture to the one I inhabit (white, not much money but i still got it). As opposed to listening to NSBM or something, which I have no problem with the dodgy politics of it, because its made by people in a similar situation to me, so I can dismiss the politics more easily...?

Maybe. I think the 'authenticity' aspect is very interesting.

baboon2004
07-09-2011, 12:44 PM
Re rap, don't feel guilty - no-one ever criticises people for liking Martin Scorsese films! There's such a double standard in culture according to whether the violence is being (largley) carried out by white or black people. If white people do it, they can be in character - black people arent' allowed that.

That's kinda why I like Rick Ross (though being a correctional officer is fucked up), for challenging those perceptions successfully, albeit because others started questioning his authenticity.

zhao
07-09-2011, 04:20 PM
yes Essentialism can be an inhibiting and oppressive bias and prejudice. but at the same time there is very often a qualitative difference between that which is authentic and that which isn't, and this is where the prejudice comes from.

case in point:

Major Laser - inauthentic nu-rave blog-reggae - sounds like ass shit.

any average or even below average 3rd rate dancehall artist from Jamaica - i would much rather listen to.

baboon2004
07-09-2011, 05:13 PM
That's a fair example, but obviously hybridity does also produce some/most of the most amazing music ever made, and is often initially derided as 'inauthentic'.

Slothrop
07-09-2011, 05:49 PM
yes Essentialism can be an inhibiting and oppressive bias and prejudice. but at the same time there is very often a qualitative difference between that which is authentic and that which isn't, and this is where the prejudice comes from.

case in point:

Major Laser - inauthentic nu-rave blog-reggae - sounds like ass shit.

any average or even below average 3rd rate dancehall artist from Jamaica - i would much rather listen to.
There's an interesting symmetry between the two sides of authenticity actually - the double headed view that (for example) authentic hip hop is only made by black guys from ghettoes in the US, and and that black guys from ghettoes in the US must make a specific sort of hip hop to be authentic.

The same thing happens when people from west africa are use drum machines and samplers and make western influenced dance music - some people (within their community as well as outsiders) get object that they 'ought' to be preserving their authentic folk traditions....

e/y
07-09-2011, 06:51 PM
http://www.littlewhiteearbuds.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/pull1.jpg

zhao
08-09-2011, 08:39 AM
There's an interesting symmetry between the two sides of authenticity actually - the double headed view that (for example) authentic hip hop is only made by black guys from ghettoes in the US, and and that black guys from ghettoes in the US must make a specific sort of hip hop to be authentic.

there's this dude i know who's been bugging me about appreciating "conscious rap" like low-key or dead prez. you know, unbearable adbusters self righteous preachy "wake up sheeple" kinda shit. and dude doesn't understand why the hood shit is the real shit, and that this type a back packing shit is and always will be some geeky marginal distraction. don't really know where i'm going with this but all i need is 0.5 seconds to tell the true shit from the whatever. go ahead give me the blind test.

"false metal" phenomenon needs a mention here as well.

and have been meaning to do a mix called "Tod auf falsch minimal" (death to false minimal) for ever... can't stand all this Paul Kalkbrenner fucking BULLSHIT i hear in the clubs these days.


The same thing happens when people from west africa are use drum machines and samplers and make western influenced dance music - some people (within their community as well as outsiders) get object that they 'ought' to be preserving their authentic folk traditions....

THAT'S WHAT I BEEN SAYIN!!!!

zhao
08-09-2011, 08:41 AM
http://www.littlewhiteearbuds.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/pull1.jpg

me too.

but i'm even more bored with people who don't know the difference between rubbish and great electronic music.

muser
08-09-2011, 09:54 AM
there's this dude i know who's been bugging me about appreciating "conscious rap" like low-key or dead prez. you know, unbearable adbusters self righteous preachy "wake up sheeple" kinda shit. and dude doesn't understand why the hood shit is the real shit, and that this type a back packing shit is and always will be some geeky marginal distraction. don't really know where i'm going with this but all i need is 0.5 seconds to tell the true shit from the whatever. go ahead give me the blind test.


Thing is people that like "conscious rap" probably dont see it as inauthentic so its not stopping them liking it. I dont think you can actually choose to dislike something because of its inauthenticity, but if you see it as inauthentic you're going to have a much harder time liking it.

Obviously this is different from someone finding out a painting is a forgery or whatever because you've learnt to see a whole set of sounds (type of beats, mcing style etc) as inauthentic therefore bad & you can instantly recognise this. I don't know maybe thats straying away from an essentialist arguement by that point, I guess it depends how well you can define what is specifically bad about the musical elements.

Clearly though this is not the sole reason why you can like or dislike a piece of music.

baboon2004
08-09-2011, 10:40 AM
there's this dude i know who's been bugging me about appreciating "conscious rap" like low-key or dead prez. you know, unbearable adbusters self righteous preachy "wake up sheeple" kinda shit. and dude doesn't understand why the hood shit is the real shit, and that this type a back packing shit is and always will be some geeky marginal distraction. don't really know where i'm going with this but all i need is 0.5 seconds to tell the true shit from the whatever. go ahead give me the blind test.


gotta stand up for Dead Prez here (no idea about Lowkey) - they're great. Discovered by Brand Nubian too, not backpackery (which i associate more with dictionary-swallowing wordplay wank type stuff), they just like talking about politics - which I think is refreshing when so few are. I'm not much of a fan of backpackery stuff either (although Co Flow are brilliant), but Dead Prez don't fit the bill. 'Hip Hop' was a massive anthem too...

zhao
08-09-2011, 11:31 AM
i WISH i could stand behind them man... i WISH they sounded half as good as the thug shit.

this is the vid dude posted on my wall.
i appreciate the effort and maybe the message, but can't deal with these preachy rappers. fucking embarrassing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bB-vYuYhdSE

baboon2004
08-09-2011, 04:14 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jNyr6BJZuI - this is still great - heard it over huge speakers on Saturday, segued into MOP seamlessly...

Not partic keen on that M1/Lowkey song though.

Gregor XIII
09-09-2011, 05:53 PM
So, I wrote a little thing, that somewhat relates to this discussion: http://centrifugue.blogspot.com/2011/09/sufjan-dream-shins-wrens-how-to-scream.html . Though the discussion I talk about is one I had on a Danish site. And my point has probably been made before, and I probably use the word 'authentic' wrongly, and the examples are indie and The-Dream, and therefore a bit different from the music normally discussed on this site, but still...

baboon2004
09-09-2011, 08:49 PM
The problem with anyone who talk about authenticity is that they always stand to be proved wrong, cos they'll never know if it's authentic or not truly (unless they know every last detail about an artist's /author's life etc.). Therefore it's quite a boring and pointless thing to latch on to.

The other problem with the notion of authenticity, as said above, is that it is often and easily allied to very dubious politics (as well as poltiics that are both dubious and cringingly dull, such as nationalism). Hybridity and inauthenticity are the lifeblood of most that is good and alive.

To me, the only way in which authenticity has real value is in being authentic to yourself, and who you are. As soon as it is applied to groups of people/ideas/movements etc, it is a mechanism for inclusion and exclusion, and therefore central to fascism (eg heterosexuality as authentic/'natural' sexuality, and the implications wrt 'race' barely need to be spelt out).

Slothrop
09-09-2011, 11:21 PM
The problem with anyone who talk about authenticity is that they always stand to be proved wrong, cos they'll never know if it's authentic or not truly (unless they know every last detail about an artist's /author's life etc.). Therefore it's quite a boring and pointless thing to latch on to.

The other problem with the notion of authenticity, as said above, is that it is often and easily allied to very dubious politics (as well as poltiics that are both dubious and cringingly dull, such as nationalism). Hybridity and inauthenticity are the lifeblood of most that is good and alive.

That's where hip hop gets interesting, though.

Because normally the idea of 'authenticity' and 'realness' is something that's constructed by white middle class straight male types (like me) to explain why the comparatively unpopular music that they like - be it folk, classical, Radiohead, the Stereofuckingphonics, 'conscious' hip hop, blues, thai-disco, whatever - is 'real' music while the stuff that large numbers of people - including poor people, black people, gay people and girls - seem to like is just 'cheap plastic entertainment' or whatever. So undermining it is something that you and me and k-punk can all do and feel like we're speaking truth to power and undermining bourgeois hegemony and all that jazz.

Whereas with hip hop in particular (and grime to a lesser extent) realness and authenticity are a really strong part of the culture and the identity politics of the whole thing. Deconstructing the ideas of 'realness' and 'authenticity' in hip hop basically implies questioning the importance of cultural identity and hence of cultural 'ownership', which is getting you on to rather controversial ground...

Or is there a fundamental difference between the two notions of authenticity that are at work?

I'm thinking out loud a bit here, stop me if I'm going off on one...

baboon2004
09-09-2011, 11:39 PM
Well, certainly true that alleged musical inauthenticity is brandished as a stick to beat certain musics with. But (1) all those musics, as every musical form is at some level, are deeply hybrid anyway; (2) using it as a stick can only work if those being criticised believe that so-called 'authenticity' works as a value judgment. So, obviously (taking a totally random example that came into my head), Bowie used 'plastic soul' as a positive, preferring that sound to Memphis soul for Young Americans. Another reason why he's brilliant, by the by. Also, authenticity is tacitly linked to 'musical ability' etc, whereas anyone who does understand music theory even a bit (ie me) realises that acid house is 1000x more avant-garde musically speaking than most rock, and 'Cry me a River' is astonishingly complicated harmony-wise.

As you say, authenticity is important to hip hop (well, in theory anyways), but this is authenticity socially speaking (having lived a 'real' life) and not musically, so it's different categorically (obv hip hop is self-consciously inauthentic under the standard music rules - not that these really carry any weight - having been created from breaks in funk records and looped samples etc). And I think the reason hip hop is stil wedded to this idea is complex, but conencted to what I said above, about black artists not being allowed (in some way) to be playful vis-a-vis identity, in comparison to white artists.

But this is changing (or maybe was never as ubiquitous, this idea of 'keeping it real', as white people looking in liked to think)... I think an essay on Rick Ross would be a good read - it doesn't matter that he's not authentic, cos he fakes it so real he is beyond fake (to quote a perhaps uncharacterisitclaly brilliant Courtney Love lyric).


Because normally the idea of 'authenticity' and 'realness' is something that's constructed by white middle class straight male types (like me) to explain why the comparatively unpopular music that they like - be it folk, classical, Radiohead, the Stereofuckingphonics, 'conscious' hip hop, blues, thai-disco, whatever - is 'real' music while the stuff that large numbers of people - including poor people, black people, gay people and girls - seem to like is just 'cheap plastic entertainment' or whatever. So undermining it is something that you and me and k-punk can all do and feel like we're speaking truth to power and undermining bourgeois hegemony and all that jazz.

Whereas with hip hop in particular (and grime to a lesser extent) realness and authenticity are a really strong part of the culture and the identity politics of the whole thing. Deconstructing the ideas of 'realness' and 'authenticity' in hip hop basically implies questioning the importance of cultural identity and hence of cultural 'ownership', which is getting you on to rather controversial ground...

Or is there a fundamental difference between the two notions of authenticity that are at work?

I'm thinking out loud a bit here, stop me if I'm going off on one...

baboon2004
09-09-2011, 11:43 PM
I was thinking about Primal Scream in terms of musical authenticity today - how Give Out But Don't Give Up got panned precisely for trying to be too authentic, which only worked as a criticism because it came after the deeply 'inauthentic'/avant garde Screamadelica., whereas of course PS had been ripping the Byrds off for years before that anyways, and no-one had criticised them much then! So it's as if they were being criticisied for being inauthentically authentic....

all of which is to say, authenticity is all in people's heads, desperately trying to make sense of a world that doesn't lend itself to clear categories or boundaries.

gumdrops
12-09-2011, 12:17 PM
an essay on Rick Ross would be a good read

actually i think with ross you know hes not real but he delivers such a compelling fantasy you dont really care - its so well executed and put together that with ross its more about him making good songs/albums and having a great presence/image/persona than one thats grounded in 'authenticity' per se

baboon2004
12-09-2011, 01:55 PM
absolutely, but to extend from that, one can then more clearly see that that's been the case for a whole lot of rap artists, few of whom were living the lives they claimed to be (at least prior to stardom). Rap has always been about persona and fantasy, which is why the constant criticism of rap's misogyny and violence, while it has its points, is really irritating when white filmmakers get away scot-free, when making art with exactly the same obsessions. Except of course, they're just playing make believe....

gumdrops
12-09-2011, 03:25 PM
yeah absolutely a lot of rappers personas have been bogus (not that it matters necessarily - not sure why rappers are so obsessed with calling other rappers out for not being 'real', not sure why i should care about that as a fan exactly apart - do i need to only listen to those with criminal records?) but with ross its like no one really cares about him not being real, although he has of course attempted to show he is real, wasnt a prison officer etc etc. i suppose the thing with ross that makes him diff to other rappers, or previous rap eras at least, is that the pressure on him to be REAL, for the authenticity to be true, doesnt seem to be there. everyone knows its gangsta dress up, which is part of what makes him ring hollow to me, but at the same time also makes him more easy to warm to, or less threatening. im sort of of rambling as i havent got time to think about this properly just now but hes more like the firm than say raekwon in terms of that kind of crime mob fantasy thing. maybe its just cos the whole 'getting the streets on your side' thing is no longer that important as it was back in the 90s say, or even early 00s when 50 cent etc was king, or maybe its just cos ross is so good at delivering the whole black mafia fantasy thing. its knowing but not so knowing that its irritating.

baboon2004
12-09-2011, 03:50 PM
I must admit I dont' know everything about Rick Ross himself, except having followed some of his beefs with 50 Cent, the Game, Eminem and, er, everyone else. When he got found out, for about five seconds he denied it (as I recall, may not be right), and then jsut embraced it, with a 'so what' atttiude. If he'd kept on denying it, I think it would have killed his career.

"not sure why rappers are so obsessed with calling other rappers out for not being 'real' " - i would say it's something that has been partly driven by the vicarious wishes of mainly white people and record execs, to have rappers who are almost like movie stars, dangerous and allegedly 'real'.

I think the inability to be allowed fantasy by the mainstream media can be really tragic too - most obviously, Biggie and Tupac and Big L (and Dre and Snoop etc) were dragged into a world of real gangsters adn serious beefs, whereas that wasn't really their background, tough as their backgrounds may have been in different ways. If they could have gone 'oh, it's just a character, obviously', then they wouldn't have felt the pressure to step to everyone who called them out. 'Hit em Up' always strikes me as the ultimate death wish.

gumdrops
12-09-2011, 04:00 PM
but its music, and its hip hop. its not like films, where directors can hide behind their scripts and characters that act out their beliefs and values and opinions, they have to BE that person, otherwise its just fake. i think theres much more expectation in music in general for artists to be who they are on record than in film - no one expects arnie to be the terminator. or for cronenberg to be a sicko like many of his characters. the whole 'people dont criticise movies' analogy/defence doesnt really work because the whole movie making setup is so different. and for rappers to basically deny the truth of their recording personas, they do obv get too caught up in being that character, but if they all just said it was fake, then im not sure it would be as compelling - it would be a cop out almost. we expect music to reflect something of the person making it's personality. then again i love lots of old jazz and theyre just singing songs by songsmiths but it doesnt make me think less of it. hip hop and prob rock too are maybe too caught up in that whole authenticity/confessional trap. reminds of vincent cassel saying he could never be a rapper like his brother cos he would have to be 'on' all the time, he could never just relax and retreat to his normal self.

baboon2004
12-09-2011, 05:58 PM
but its music, and its hip hop. its not like films, where directors can hide behind their scripts and characters that act out their beliefs and values and opinions, they have to BE that person, otherwise its just fake. i think theres much more expectation in music in general for artists to be who they are on record than in film - no one expects arnie to be the terminator. or for cronenberg to be a sicko like many of his characters. the whole 'people dont criticise movies' analogy/defence doesnt really work because the whole movie making setup is so different. and for rappers to basically deny the truth of their recording personas, they do obv get too caught up in being that character, but if they all just said it was fake, then im not sure it would be as compelling - it would be a cop out almost. we expect music to reflect something of the person making it's personality. then again i love lots of old jazz and theyre just singing songs by songsmiths but it doesnt make me think less of it. hip hop and prob rock too are maybe too caught up in that whole authenticity/confessional trap. reminds of vincent cassel saying he could never be a rapper like his brother cos he would have to be 'on' all the time, he could never just relax and retreat to his normal self.

well, i guess it's a case here of clearly separating prescriptive and descriptive. I agree that in reality, there is much more pressure upon (particulalry black hip-hop) musicians to walk it like they talk it (though i think you're overstating the divide with movies a little, as many actors get typecast precisely because audiences can't separate actor and character). What I guess I'm saying is that (i) i think this is quite fucked up in a way, and (ii)that the reasons it's so are v complicated, and that's the part that interests me the most.

edit: one reason music and movies are slightly different is that people don't separate songwriter and performer (obv in most cases they're the same, but even where they're not people don't make the distinction,w hich is what you've said about jazz), as easily as they separate director/writer/actor/etc etc in the filmamking process. But I dont' think it's the entire reason.

edit 2: also, the oversimplification of what real/fake even means, in the media, contributes to a lot of confusion aroudn these notions. It's like the old chestnut about an author's first book being about himself, and the endless specualtion over whether this is so in some cases. The answer is yes AND no, usually.

zhao
25-11-2011, 10:51 AM
during the course of the evening last night i kept thinking about this thread.

went to an exhibition entitled "Hommage CAN" where some old hippie Kraut-Rock band came out of the wood works, dressed as if it was 1975 with leather pants, long hair, tie-dye, beads, etc., and played a really nice set of analog electronics, guitars and effects, and syncopated grunting. proper spaced out weird "drift-rock" (term i hadn't heard until last night actually), to a gallery full of older art-world types age from 40s to 60s.

and then i met a friend of mine to check out a new venue where we might do something, and it was jam session night. 2011, Berlin, Germany: a group of students looking musicians playing that good ol' rock and roll, with stand up bass, not only the singer sounding 100% authentic with Southern accent, perfectly inflected, and guitar, bass and drums tight as hell, even the moves down to the hip twist, the clothes down to the cowboy boots and western collared shirt. sounded really good, and the audience, also mostly students looking, were loving it.

a lot to think about here with these 2 performances... German cultural identity, American cultural hegemony... Kraut-Rock, to me some of the most amazing "rock" music of the 20th Century, and something original and unmistakably GERMAN, was vastly ignored in Germany back in the 70s, where bands imitating American and British rock got all the fame... a lot of other angles and thoughts too... not ready to commit all of them to screen.