Essentialism in Art & Music, Authenticity

muser

Well-known member
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

Darned cockwombles.
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

Well-known member
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.
 
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slowtrain

Well-known member
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

Darned cockwombles.
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

there are no accidents
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

Darned cockwombles.
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

Tight but Polite
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

Well-known member
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zhao

there are no accidents
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!!!!
 

muser

Well-known member
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.
 
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baboon2004

Darned cockwombles.
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

there are no accidents
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
 
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baboon2004

Darned cockwombles.
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).
 
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Slothrop

Tight but Polite
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

Darned cockwombles.
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

Darned cockwombles.
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.
 
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