Music is amoral in essence

The debate over the musician’s social responsibility is moot. Music is an aesthetic phenomenon and should be judged on that ground alone. To pollute the experience with political consideration is to bring it just that much farther out of the transcendental sphere that is its rightful station. A creator may be inspired by certain causes; he may channel the reasoning behind those causes into the framework of musical expression of his choosing (metal, punk, pop, etc); but the transfer from idea to expression isn’t without a certain amount of redaction, intentional or otherwise; by the time the original impetus has found physical form in the manner of a riff, a movement, a song, it has lost much of its definition. For example, a band denounced as racist may start the composition process with clearly delineated extra-musical ideas, but the translation of those ideas into actual music necessarily erodes away at the sheer virulent detail of the original “grand” idea. How could it not? The process of actual composition is far more dependent on actual musicianship and adherence to genre norms than any political prejudice; the latter may be an inspiration in the beginning and perhaps even throughout the process of composition and arrangement, but it remains in the background, a far and away second to the musical event itself.

To overcome this inevitable erosion of the original premise, musicians supplement their music with words and images. Music remains open to interpretation, but words are a rigid formulation of the first principle that has become obscured over the process of composition. They allow musicians to convey to the listener that which may not be self-evident in the music as finished article. In fact, a case can be made that words are an afterthought and an embellishment, shoehorned on to the music yet entirely separate from it, in order to ease the listener’s navigation; this indeed is the case for the many metal bands where the singer is not necessarily an integral part of the songwriting, and comes into his own only to lay down a lyric and sing it out.

The ancients regarded music as the most ineffable and hallowed of art forms, the one most in touch with the harmony in nature, for precisely these reasons. Modern popular music riddled with words – political or apolitical – is stripped of this vital quality and therefore downgrades its lofty heritage to a strangely commingled one, in line with more “blatant” modes of expression like prose, poetry, painting, and sculpture. In the context of our music and the politically-vitiated climate it finds itself in, this makes the desire for an absolute metal even more pressing, a desire which will soon be realized with full effect by The Chasm. But broadly speaking, listeners ought to acknowledge to themselves that if they truly admire a piece of music, it is for its virtues as a piece of music alone and not for any external associations that may be made, through words and images, with its creators. They may choose to not support the musicians financially because they have somehow managed to trace the music back to its first principles, principles which they find sufficiently repellent to their personal beliefs, but neither should they lose sight of the large leap of regression, from the abstract now (music) to the actual then (idea), that they have just made.

It is cliche to say that music should possess and be played with conviction, but how many of us realize that this supposed conviction is a perfectly amoral, colorless quantity? Causes, both “good” and “bad”, can be invested with the same amount of conviction; fine, we can say so and so cause is good, and such and such, bad, based chiefly on the impact they have on society as a stable, functioning organism, but what testing framework are we to devise to call one expression of that same underlying conviction legitimate and another dangerous?

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One Response to Music is amoral in essence

  1. Seth says:

    I think there is also beyond the moralization of music and the pitfalls you mentioned, an artist holding the precept of the qualitative good/bad dichotomy during the creative process has a similar effect on the overall quality of a piece. Trying to be “the best” in any genre, in my opinion, has resulted in albums that mostly borrow from the oeuvre of other artists, and even they had a vision of their own, it becomes itself muddled by “trying” to be good in a comparative sense, rather than an inward-out crystallization of whatever noumena and/or mythos they had originally intended to bring into a physical expression. Tryhard “good music” and the moralization of it seem more two sides of the same coin

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