Music – a community thing or a way of curating self?

About a year ago I was reading the essay by Geoff Dyer called “Is Jazz dead?” from his book ‘Working the room’. He mentioned many contemporary and recent jazz and fusion artists that I was fully aware of, but kept coming back to a longstanding musical project from Australia known as The Necks. After checking them out I spent the next month literally immersed in their albums. Their music is mesmeric, soulful and cool – it just ticks every box for me. Others may wonder when the vocals are going to come in – or think that jazz doesn’t get better than Kenny G! Others may be angered by the mere suggestion that the music of The Necks could ever be described as Jazz (… or even music!).

Now I don’t want to get into a long debate justifying the quality of their music; you might hate it! But I think we have to concede that music is a huge part of our lives, but we accept this without ever defining the criteria by which we compile our spotify playlist or, dare I say it, our CD collections. How much does confirmation bias, peer pressure a need to belong affect our listening habits? The way in which our social, fashion and even political views, interconnect with our cultural consumption is well known – so is this all bound by the need to define oneself coherently and belong to a distinct and pre-defined social sub-group?

In this blog Robin Hansen says ….  “My students … don’t talk about music very eagerly. In class I can get a conversation going about God with no problem. And students love talking about alcohol and its effects on the human mind and spirit, theirs in particular. Yet when I ask what role music plays in their lives or why they listen to what they do, there is silence.” He goes on to present 7 different functions that music has.

In this great article “Can music save your life?” Mark Edmundsen concludes by saying “Schopenhauer says that most reading is letting other people think your thoughts for you. I’d add that most music listening is about letting other people feel your feelings for you”

Key questions

  • What is the key function(s) of music?
  • Can we agree about how to judge whether music is good or bad?
  • Is there a universal set of criteria for judging what is good music?
  • To what extent is new music driven by a need to subvert and challenge cultural and social norms?
  • How do individuals determine what music to buy? Do we use reason or emotion to make choices about music?
  • How do we determine musical genre?
  • Is harmony natural or cultural?
  • What is the role of emotion in the production and consumption of music?

Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band


  • How do we define what is music and what is not music?
  • What makes good music?

In 2012 ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine compiled a list of the top 500 albums of all time at #60 was Trout Mask Replica by Capatain Beefheart and his Magic Band.  When they first hear this album many people think that it is under-rehearsed, wildly improvised and that it has few saving graces. However some music lovers hail this work as an indisputable masterpiece. Contrary to first impressions Don Van Vliet (the band’s leader) was a hard task master and held is band of musicians to an exhaustive practice regime in a windowless hut in the period leading up to the recording. Many of the rehearsal sessions went on for upto 12 hours straight and meant that the band was able to play the arrangements with great intention and speed when recording.

At times the “Captain” recorded the vocal tracks when he could barely hear the instrumental track through the booth’s glass window and door. When asked afterwards about synchronisation problems by a music journalist, Van Vliet famously replied “Synchronisation? Isn’t that what commandos do before a raid”.

When I played this on Friday none of you could think of anything positive to stay about the album. How can this be? The album was voted as 60th best album of all time by various eminent panels of music industry experts! How can they be wrong – or how can you be wrong? How come we can’t agree about what good music is?

What is the purpose of Music?


Music and Identity

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Look at the images in the gallery above. I bet you can take a fair guess at what type of music each person likes? Music taste surely involves joining a social group or sub-cultural team?

Music and Emotion

More ..


Some of my all-time favourite music (don’t ask me to justify why!) – and the list could go on and on!

And thus I have curated ….



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