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"What makes music boring?" An article from the A.V. Club.
November 18, 2011 11:27 AM   Subscribe

What makes music boring?
posted by seriousmoonlight (137 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lack of dynamic range doesn't help, that's for sure.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:36 AM on November 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


LACK OF ROBOT VOICES IS WHAT MAKES MUSIC BORING
posted by everichon at 11:40 AM on November 18, 2011 [22 favorites]


I had a friend who was something of a mentor to me in college who used to say: "to claim that something is 'boring' is to admit to a lack of perception or an unwillingness to observe closely." I've yet to see anything that refutes that dictum.
posted by koeselitz at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2011 [47 favorites]


Talking about it?
posted by longsleeves at 11:42 AM on November 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


Related, though perhaps not as much as you might think. I also like how most of that AV Club comment thread seems to be a war between rival sects of Phish fans.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:44 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


(And I WOULD like to see people dance about achitechture.)
posted by longsleeves at 11:45 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sometimes, in art, boring is the point. Not so much in pop music. I was just listening to 'Desolation Row' though and I wondered if Dylan was pushing against notions of what might be tolerable in a pop song.
posted by tigrefacile at 11:46 AM on November 18, 2011


Or it might sound like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom under the influence of weed and Sega Genesis.

I can't tell if they're referring to something like this or something like this.
posted by griphus at 11:46 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, the things that are boring are those that lack elements that are able to be or are deemed to be worth observing closely. Some things (songs, novels, paintings, whatever) are just too flat and bland to have those elements, and others have elements that have already been replicated elsewhere or before.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:47 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"to claim that something is 'boring' is to admit to a lack of perception or an unwillingness to observe closely."

koeslitz, that's basically what the article is saying. Thanks for the great quote!
posted by seriousmoonlight at 11:47 AM on November 18, 2011


*koeselitz
posted by seriousmoonlight at 11:48 AM on November 18, 2011


"to claim that something is 'boring' is to admit to a lack of perception or an unwillingness to observe closely."

I've been trying to articulate this for ages. I'm so frustrated/tired/angry with people declaring things "boring" as if it's an inherent trait of the object under discussion and not a failure to engage with something on the part of the speaker.

It's easy to fail to engage with things, but it is much more often due to looking for value in the wrong places, due to assumptions about where value lies, than anything else.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:49 AM on November 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Nyan Cat - 100 hours.

When you get to the 10 hour point, reflect on, "The reason you’re not connecting might very well be you. Your boredom could indicate an inability to appreciate a particular kind of music at this moment in time."
posted by crapmatic at 11:49 AM on November 18, 2011 [61 favorites]


History, attitude, and context make music boring. It is trivially demonstrable that without the time taken to familiarize oneself, a thing's salient features never become apparent; with overexposure something interesting can become tedious.

Once upon a time the polka was a controversial new music of a youth culture.

I wish the music world, (like the world of cinema, as he mentioned) had more advocates for pieces that take more active work on the part of the audience (AKA difficult music, the kind that works with my preferred style of listening).

Some of us like our vegetables.
posted by idiopath at 11:50 AM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is a point at which boring in music because a good thing. Dance music is often intensely and intentionally boring -- also called 'deep' or 'minimal' or 'tech-y'. There is something that transforms the music in your brain after a while of being exposed to it that the simple and repetitive becomes intensely interesting.

Though I think that's a different kind of boring than what he's talking about.
posted by empath at 11:52 AM on November 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Are you talking about radio-music, idiopath or just music in general? I go to concerts pretty often and damn if I don't see difficult performances. Seeing Jandek live, for instance, was one of the most emotionally intense experiences of my life. I've heard multiple stories of people bursting into tears during Diamanda Galas Performances. Xiu Xiu have an incredibly emotionally intense live set, as well.
posted by griphus at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think music being "boring" has something to do w/ how it is consumed nowadays. This was kind of alluded to w/ the cloud-music-services article earlier: music listening is frequently seen as a pissing contest, where people with more music have "better" taste.


---
Or it might sound like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom under the influence of weed and Sega Genesis.

...or this. A recent NYT interview with the producer (here), Lex Luger, makes it seem like the track was created in the aforementioned circumstances.

This track from LA wunderkind, Jonwayne, also falls under the weed/video-games spectrum. If you like videogame instrumentals, this is the track to go for. Which is to say... not all tunes created in a druggy, videogame-assisted haze are equal or terrible.
posted by raihan_ at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.

--John Cage

Or, as my Granny used to say: "Only boring people are ever truly bored."
posted by Chrischris at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2011 [21 favorites]


Apparently John Cage never had to go to cataloging classes at library school.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:57 AM on November 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


more often due to looking for value in the wrong places, due to assumptions about where value lies

I think a big factor is the usually tacit point - what do you do with music?

Is it a distraction?

is it comfort?

a challenge, a tease, a reward, a focus for your attention, a warning, a massage, a therapy, a self destructive habit?

A signifier of your affiliations in highschool?
posted by idiopath at 11:59 AM on November 18, 2011 [17 favorites]


Metafilter: a thing's salient features never become apparent.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:59 AM on November 18, 2011


@Chrischris @koeselitz Or it could be that studios are churning out cheap pop that appeals to as many people as possible by offending as few people as possible, and thus washing out all the flavour. Less to hate also means less to love.

Also @The Card Cheat: Or did a titration, ran a column chromatography experiment or many other kinds of repetitive lab work.
posted by Canageek at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2011


What makes music boring, you ask? Peter Schickele knows.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:03 PM on November 18, 2011


Griphus yeah I see some great and challenging shows on a regular basis too. I was talking about the article and what he mentions about the critics (or more importantly thier role as advocates). My local indy rag loves arthouse cinema, but never reviews noise shows.
posted by idiopath at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2011


I've never liked the "nothing is boring" sentiment. I'm not bored easily and a lot of activities and works of art that many people would consider to be boring are not at all boring to me. But plenty of things are boring for any reasonable definition of boring. You can appreciate or otherwise get some sort of positive experience out of boring things, but that doesn't somehow make them not boring.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2011 [14 favorites]


Autotune.
posted by Splunge at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the themes in Michael Chabon's Summerland is "nothing is boring except to people who aren't paying attention."
posted by Navelgazer at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2011


If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.

When I was checking groceries-- probably one of the most boring tasksimaginable-- I found that I actually started to enjoy it after an hour or so. The beep, beep, beep, the constant hand motion, the slight level of mental engagement required to recall PLU codes for produce, the constant puzzle-solving of bagging groceries correctly -- it became meditative after a while. Like a rosary. Or like tetris.
posted by empath at 12:07 PM on November 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Pop-country is boring.

Or annoying.

Or both.
posted by mazola at 12:07 PM on November 18, 2011


I like this part and it applies to things beyond music:
If you hear a song and don’t get that elusive, enigmatic, deep-down-in-your-guts feeling, that’s an honest reaction, but it’s not necessarily a criticism of the music. The reason you’re not connecting might very well be you.
This is why it's good to give a song or album more than just one listen, 'cause you just might not be in the right place to appreciate it. It's also important, IMO, to figure what and/or when you're in that open frame of mind, so you grok some new tunes. The MeFiSwap is coming up soon, yes?

Boring is also such narrow description. I could say I find blue grass boring, but that doesn't cover my full range of feelings about the genre. I admire the skill of the players, the sound of the banjo and a lot of the sentiment of the music. But in terms of conversation between the artist and the listener, how the subject matter or sound or totality of the experience just doesn't hold my concentration. Hell, I was at concert of bluegrass greats (Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury Band and a few others) and my mind kept wandering off to other topics. The players were great, the audience was great but the music just didn't speak to me or my life experiences.

It wasn't boring, but it sure was annoying enough to the point where I don't seek out anything from the genre.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:09 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pop-country is exploitative and shitty, but I never think it is boring.
posted by jwhite1979 at 12:09 PM on November 18, 2011


My local indy rag loves arthouse cinema, but never reviews noise shows.

I think the fact that live shows are a lot more intense to the senses might be contributing in this. Even a hardcore-uncomfortable arthouse film -- Lars von Trier, let's say -- isn't going to require you to be standing in a giant crowd under very loud speakers. The volume in a theater doesn't need to be LOUD and there's comfy chairs and you can easily inch out of a row to use the toilet. The concert experience is basically the opposite. You need a considerably more hardy reporter to constantly send to avant-garde/noise/etc. concerts shows than the sort you would need to send to arthouse cinema shows.
posted by griphus at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everybody has their tastes. Finding something boring may be a function of it not being to your taste (which is hardly the music's fault), but that doesn't make you a bore. Well, maybe to diehard fans of the music, I guess.
posted by axiom at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2011


I could say I find blue grass boring

Funny you should mention bluegrass, because it's something I've always loathed, but I found myself listening to it the other day on NPR just kind of picking apart what was happening musically in it and it really kind of fascinated me, because structurally, it's really close to trance music which is something I love, just in terms of tempo, complexity, how repetitiveness, the way it has multiple voices interacting and risng and falling in emphasis.

I still don't 'like' it. But I no longer find it boring in the way that I did before. There's a lot more going on there to dig into intellectually than I expected, even though it doesn't speak to me.

It's amazing how much culture feeds into which music you like, even with music that has no words -- just the right instruments or chord changes can evoke waves of nostalgia and love in one person and at the same time send another person straight out of the room.
posted by empath at 12:27 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everybody has their tastes. Finding something boring may be a function of it not being to your taste (which is hardly the music's fault), but that doesn't make you a bore.

Finding something "not to one's taste" is an aesthetic judgement, one which implies a kind of critical engagement that being "bored by" something does not.
posted by Chrischris at 12:28 PM on November 18, 2011


"to claim that something is 'boring' is to admit to a lack of perception or an unwillingness to observe closely."

I disagree with this. As the article mentions, "boring" is entirely subjective and different tastes are not necessarily attributable to a lack of perception or an unwillingness to observe closely. Nor do I think that an unwillingness to observe closely is necessarily a bad thing. Some things are not worth the effort. There's some music that just does nothing for me, and I don't think I stand to gain anything worthwhile from observing a Kenny G album closely nor do I lack any perception for being bored by his music.
posted by Hoopo at 12:31 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or, as my Granny used to say: "Only boring people are ever truly bored."

No matter what you say, I refuse to believe that your Granny was not in Harvey Danger.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:31 PM on November 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


A friend and I were on a road trip, and I put on Abby Road. He'd never listened to the album before and really didn't give a damn about the Beatles. Halfway through the second half he started complaining about how boring it was. To me that's just silly, calling any Beatles album "boring." Silly, silly, silly. A couple years later he was telling me about how he'd discovered the Beatles, and he was going on about Abby Road and how great it is, oblivious to the fact that I'd played it for him once before. I never said anything because I was so pleased that he'd opened his ears to Beatles' music.

There are plenty of albums that I've thought were boring at first because I associated them with a kind of people I thought was boring, or because my mind was firing too quickly or slowly to engage with the sounds. Years later I listened to the same albums and thought they were the greatest things ever, and I'm kind of embarrassed to have been into Billy Joel's Greatest Hits as I used to be. Kraftwerk, Schubert, Otis Redding, Minor Threat, Satie, Dennis Wilson, Nick Drake, Gil-Scott Heron: these are all musicians that I have gotten into after initially thinking how boring they were. Eventually I figured out that "boring" doesn't describe anything intrinsic in music, nor anything else in the world really.
posted by jwhite1979 at 12:32 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


How can something be annoying and boring?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:36 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pet Shop Boys, Being Boring.
posted by benzenedream at 12:39 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


How can something be annoying and boring?

?? Listening to the steady beep-beep-beep of a truck backing up would be both. Five years ago I was living next to a construction site where there seemed to be heavy vehicles backing up for eight hours a day without interruption.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:40 PM on November 18, 2011


That is a fucking great CCR song.
posted by swift at 12:41 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had a friend who was something of a mentor to me in college who used to say: "to claim that something is 'boring' is to admit to a lack of perception or an unwillingness to observe closely.

I think a lot of it also stems from not having the experience or willingness to develop an ear for something. If I had a dollar for every person who has accused the genres I like of being "all the same" (usually after hearing all of two songs), I could buy a hell of a lot more records.
posted by vorfeed at 12:41 PM on November 18, 2011


How can something be annoying and boring?

I invite you to meet at least 1/3 of my coworkers.
posted by elizardbits at 12:43 PM on November 18, 2011 [31 favorites]


Gah! Well put, jwhite1979! I can't state it much better. All I know is, one Fleet Foxes tune makes me have to crank up something like Steely Dan's Caves of Altamira to scrub that sound from my brain.
posted by PuppyCat at 12:44 PM on November 18, 2011


shakespeherian: “How can something be annoying and boring?”

ricochet biscuit: “?? Listening to the steady beep-beep-beep of a truck backing up would be both. Five years ago I was living next to a construction site where there seemed to be heavy vehicles backing up for eight hours a day without interruption.”

I agree with shakespeherian; I really don't think it's possible to be annoyed and bored at the same time. You can be annoyed at something being repetitive, but being bored implies a certain lethargy and lack of anything to engage you, whereas being annoyed implies that you're being engaged too much or in a way that isn't pleasing.

Ennui, however, is more than a mood. Ennui is something you can have no matter how you're feeling at any particular moment.
posted by koeselitz at 12:44 PM on November 18, 2011


There are pleasures of attention and pleasures of diversion. Trying to engage in the wrong way with something leads to it being boring. Infinite Jest is boring if you try to approach it in the same fashion as Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, and vice versa.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:45 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a less obvious example, in high school I loved Rage Against The Machine after hearing "Bombtrack". I played the shit out of that song, and the album to a lesser extent. The more I listened to the full album, the more I started to find that all of their songs were structured in the exact same way, like they plug in a riff and a chant to generic formula. Years later, I couldn't say if you played me a Rage Against The Machine a song I could tell you what album it came from. To someone who hadn't heard them before, one of their songs could come off as exciting and full of anger and energy. To me, all I can think of is "oh, this again." It's not that I'm not trying hard enough or not seeing something, it's that I know what to look for and I know what it looks like already.
posted by Hoopo at 12:47 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


This isn't a very accurate description of Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest or St. Vincent's Marry Me album.
posted by John Cohen at 12:47 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the trouble with these pieces is that there are two sorts of boring, and whether you experience one or the other will be based on what I call the Standard Deviation Theory of Art.

The pleasures of art come from a push and pull between the expected and the unexpected. And the truth is, on the whole as audiences, we don't really treasure the unexpected all that much. We watch movies with a pretty good sense of how they are going to end, and the pleasure is watching how it gets there -- how far it deviates from our expectations, and how it returns to them. Those are the ranges of deviation, and they mark the distance between pop art and experimental art, on a sort of rudimentary line.

POP[---------------------------------]EXPERIMENTAL

The closer you hew to expectations, the closer to the "pop" end of the spectrum you get. The farther you move, the more experimental you get.

We all have our own tastes. Some prefer stuff to be more pop, and some prefer more experimental, and some prefer their art to bounce back and forth between the two poles. So, in my case, I typically like my art to be further into the experimental end, but bouncing back occasionally into pure pop. I can't graph it in three dimensions, so we'll just place me on the line, represented by a pair of Bunny ears: "

POP[--------------------------"------]EXPERIMENTAL

If stuff deviates to far in either direction for me, I tend to respond with boredom, but for different reasons. If it is too relentlessly pop, I find it cliched, and grow bored because it isn't challenging my expectations at all. But if it is too experimental, I grow bored, because it's so far out of my comprehension that I get overwhelmed by the challenge and disengage.

And these experiments can be of many kinds. A song can played at such volume and with so little differentiation in its arrangement that I initially just hear noise. A music can be paced so slowly that it's an effort to keep focused. Sometimes, with repeated exposure, I grow to like this work very much, because the unexpected become familiar enough to become expected. I don't have the link just now, but scientific studies have been shown that, in the arts, people tend to respond badly to the unfamiliar -- at first. This is probably why something like test screenings are a bad idea. Test screenings for the original Batman television show -- now considered a camp classic -- we so bad that the results were shredded, rather than read, while one of the films that tested through the roof with test screening audiences was the Kevin Costner "Robin Hood," which is also camp, but not seen as a classic.

I find this push and pull between pop and experiment to be very interesting, and, in general, the larger the potential audience, the stronger the pull is going to be toward pop, which is going to be frustrating for critics, whose tastes tend toward experimental. This is the risk of being a critic -- you wind up being exposed to so much art that many popular elements becomes exhaustingly cliched to you, while they may be fresh and dramatic to an audience that has never heard them before. So the work that is popular seems boring to you, while the stuff you find exciting and challenging may be boring to an audience whose tastes are more pop.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:47 PM on November 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


I still don't 'like' it. But I no longer find it boring in the way that I did before. There's a lot more going on there to dig into intellectually than I expected, even though it doesn't speak to me.

Yes, this sums up what I was saying much better.

“How can something be annoying and boring?”

You're annoyed because it's predictably boring. A lot of Hollywood movies and sitcoms are like this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:48 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Boredom is an encounter with the self" - Vibrissae
posted by Vibrissae at 12:52 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think the problem (I do think it's a problem, in a not-serious way) is judging something as boring quickly. I think placing a lot of trust in your ability to quickly identify whether something is interesting or not is really, seriously foolish.

It can be an accurate assessment, in the sense that you can quickly identify one thing as a member of a class of things that you've previously given a fair shake and dismissed as not being to your tastes. But there are assumptions in there ("this class of thing isn't interesting" and also "this particular thing offers nothing beyond what I think the class does"), and so I think it pays to bear that in mind whenever going that route.

But more often that quick judgment is a result of "for me, the value of X is in Y and this doesn't have Y so it sucks" and that's doing yourself a huge disservice. As in, "For me the value of a good song is that it has to have a complicated arrangement/an interesting time signature/a memorable melody/a dramatic progression/lyrics I identify with/a traditionally talented singer/etc." And if you approach things that way, you miss out on tremendous, deep treasure troves of interesting things. It's way more fruitful to say, "Enough people see the value in X that I'm going to keep coming back to it until I understand."

I think empath's example, which he was cautious about the relevance of, is exactly right. A lot of dance music seems boring because you look for value in "music" (as idiopath points out, this is really a broad thing that we turn to for different purposes) in a certain place and you're like, "dance music fails to hold that value". That's true, a lot of dance music doesn't develop in traditional musical ways, but if you stop there you're missing out on a whole ton of interesting things.

And that's true of so much. And that's the risk you take when you call something boring and change the proverbial channel. There are more interesting things in the world than any of us have time for, so I'm not suggesting we all have to take in everything. But I think there's often an arrogance associated with dismissal which is actually a closing of doors for yourself - every time I've realized that something I thought was boring was actually pretty interesting, it's felt like an actual moment of growth for me. That's what you risk cutting yourself off from.

And I'm going to turn to two pop culture monoliths that I'm not familiar with: Jersey Shore and Coldplay. I've never seen an episode and heard two full Coldplay songs. And I can say, "Jersey Shore seems like a celebration of stupidity from what I gather" and "Coldplay sounds like it should be on at my dentist" as ways of dismissing them. And that's not inaccurate and I'm not suggesting anyone is wrong (or that I'm wrong) to not spend a bunch of time studying them.

But the thing is, despite my lack of familiarity with either of them, I'm pretty sure they're not boring. I'm pretty sure if I make a good-faith effort to enjoy Jersey Shore that there's a whole bunch of interesting things to engage with in terms of its success. I think there's probably a bunch of production/direction level choices that are partly responsible for its popularity, and that it would be fascinating to piece those together. I think understanding why it's compelling would be interesting. And I could say Coldplay is bland, neutered Radiohead or something and maybe that's partly accurate but popcraft is interesting even if I don't engage with the music in the same way I engage with other music I like. It's produced by Brian Eno. It's massively catchy music that plainly affects a lot of people. That can't possibly be "boring".

So (for me) this isn't about saying things aren't to your taste. Jersey Shore is not going to be something I get into. But it's this "Zzzzzzz" reaction to things that frustrates me, partly because it often has to do with being on the cutting edge of things (when I see it), and partly for everything that I've stated above.
posted by neuromodulator at 12:55 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


"to claim that something is 'boring' is to admit to a lack of perception or an unwillingness to observe closely."

I dunno. That certainly can be true. I remember when research unearthed that birdsong is full of these little frequency changes of which we were previously unaware, so that even simple melodies actually contained a great deal of information. I don't know that people attached the label "boring" to birdsong previous to this, but it's certainly an example of lack of perception leading to the idea that something very complex was simple.

But in parallel universe A, enhanced perception and analysis reveals that birdsong is just as simple as we perceive it to be.

Again, that's not to say "boring", but I think the quality of being boring and lacking complexity are connected, for many people, so all this to say: sometimes things are superficially simple and sometimes things really are very simple, and no amount of paying attention, context, meaning, will generate sufficient interest (for some).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:00 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


“How can something be annoying and boring?”

You're annoyed because it's predictably boring. A lot of Hollywood movies and sitcoms are like this.


Yeah, I think people are conflating interest (or whatever the opposite of boredom is) with arousal. Boredom is not necessarily a state of zero arousal.

Merriam-Webster includes "mind-numbing" and "monotonous" as synonyms for "boring". Thesaurus.com includes "repetitious".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:06 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"What makes music boring?"

Philip Glass.

*ducks*
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:07 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Boredom is an encounter with the self" - Vibrissae

Vibrators are an encounter with the self
posted by longsleeves at 1:08 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


rick
rick
rick
rick this
rick this
rick this
rick this is my Phillip Glass impression
rick
rick
posted by griphus at 1:10 PM on November 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


Hoopo: "...Some things are not worth the effort. There's some music that just does nothing for me, and I don't think I stand to gain anything worthwhile from observing a Kenny G album closely nor do I lack any perception for being bored by his music."

ctrl-f "Kenny G". BINGO!
posted by symbioid at 1:10 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have maintained for years that all dance is to some degree "about" architecture.

All human societies talk about music. The boundary between music and speech is murky, and song -- the only true human musical universal -- is to begin with both verbal and musical. Talking about music is human. It's not anathema to anything except a particular European aesthetic perspective that flourished for about 100 years and is still enshrined in what's left of Western "high" culture.
posted by spitbull at 1:13 PM on November 18, 2011


The Boredoms. /obligatory
posted by swift at 1:15 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and re: Kenny G or pop country or whatever else you don't like -- someone else *does* like it, find it compelling or interesting or soothing, or whatever. It's fine to be bored. Don't generalize your boredoms as aesthetic universals.
posted by spitbull at 1:15 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Merriam-Webster includes "mind-numbing" and "monotonous" as synonyms for "boring". Thesaurus.com includes "repetitious".

I guess for my part I think that once something becomes annoying, it's interesting. Even something that bores me is interesting, because how can something with so much stimulus cause me to lose interest? So it immediately becomes interesting again. That doesn't mean I actively want to listen to boring music, but there's something worth investigating there, I think. This conversation itself seems to indicate that there's nothing really boring about being bored.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:15 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nickleback.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:20 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't generalize your boredoms as aesthetic universals.

That's the thing; I don't think anyone does classify it as universal. The article and I both said that boredom is a subjective thing. A statement that something "is boring" is a statement of opinion. With Kenny G it is a very commonly held opinion. I'm not sure why it should affect anyone else's enjoyment that I find it boring.
posted by Hoopo at 1:21 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aaron Sorkin: "Our responsibility is to captivate you for however long we've asked for your attention."

Perhaps he's talking about screenwriters. Perhaps he means entertainers more generally.
posted by nthdegx at 1:23 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude--poor Feist. This article gives a long list of artists, but she's the main photo. Same with Nitsuh Abebe's piece on "the new adult contemporary". Same with Carl Wilson's "Reluctantly Feist", which, while more nuanced, is as much about Wilco. The critics could at least spread the meh.
posted by Beardman at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aaron Sorkin: "Our responsibility is to captivate you for however long we've asked for your attention."

Yes, make it worth the time and money, that's all I ask.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2011


The closer you hew to expectations, the closer to the "pop" end of the spectrum you get. The farther you move, the more experimental you get.

I dunno if it's that cut and dried. There's a lot of out-there pop music and there's a lot of 'experimental' music that's really formulaic. The best pop artists break the mold and sometimes it only sounds like formulaic in retrospect (after others copied them)
posted by empath at 1:36 PM on November 18, 2011


Along with Kenny G, don't forget his brothers in crimes against humanity: John Tesh, Yanni, and Michael Bolton.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:36 PM on November 18, 2011


I dunno if it's that cut and dried.

It's not meant to be. It's a rough map.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:43 PM on November 18, 2011


I think when people are making firm arguments that something is boring they are usually arguing "the things that I could be interested in about this are not worth being interested in" - ie, I could conceivably read Lucky and get really interested in how the pages are laid out, why the clothes are chosen, precisely what messages about class and aspiration they send, how the magazine is marketed, etc. I could do a detailed comparison with other fashion magazines, or other lifestyle magazines, or other countries' magazine distribution. And in the end, I'd know more about aspirational pop fashion magazines in all their nuance. Is that something I think worthwhile? If it is, I develop theories about it; if it isn't, I dismiss it as "boring".

That's why at various times women's writing, popular novels, critical theory, etc etc, all get dismissed as "boring". It's not a statement about the experience of the thing; it's a statement about the perceived worth of the thing and whether it's morally/socially appropriate to develop a theory and a critical vocabulary. (I mean, we all have theories and critical vocabularies for things, from music to peanut butter to socks.)
posted by Frowner at 1:43 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


(That is, a theory and a critical vocabulary are precisely what make a thing interesting - "has a good beat and you can dance to it" is theory and critical vocabulary.)
posted by Frowner at 1:44 PM on November 18, 2011


Along with Kenny G, don't forget his brothers in crimes against humanity: John Tesh, Yanni, and Michael Bolton.

Three more musicians I'm perfectly comfortable listening to in the right context, usually with my parents or grandparents in the room. Hearing it through their ears can be very pleasant.
posted by jwhite1979 at 1:45 PM on November 18, 2011


I'm the only person in the world with my musical tastes. My tastes are broad enough that I'm likely to have a small number of artists I admire in common with a lot of people, but they won't understand what I see in most of my other favorites.

On occasion, I can expose someone to music they hadn't experienced before, and they'll come to enjoy it. When they don't, it's not a personal affront to me or to the artist; it's just another area where our tastes don't coincide. It's not something I take personally.

The reason this is hard to detach yourself from is that, every so often, you find someone who shares a lot of your tastes in music, and the process of introducing each other to new things you can both love is so ecstatic that it's very disheartening when it doesn't occur. It's so exciting when it does happen, though, that it's worth pursuing.

To me, the National is layered, subtle and powerful music about what it means to be adult; to someone else it's boring dad-rock. From their perspective, they're right, and not liking The National doesn't mean that their tastes won't coincide with mine in other ways, and they may be able to introduce me to great stuff I'd never have heard of otherwise. After all, they're the only person in the world with their particular musical tastes, too.
posted by MrVisible at 1:46 PM on November 18, 2011


Faze's take on easy listening might be applicable here.

I worked in a shipping office in the early 1970s, sorting and filing documents all day long. There was a radio in the office. It was turned to WPAT, the easy-listening station out of New Jersey. That music saved my sanity. I used to scorn it like everyone else. Bu listening to it eight hours a day, changed my mind. It is not pap. It is not soulless. If you turn off your hipster status filter, you'll realize that "easy listening" music is 100 times hipper than you are. The arrangements are (more often than not) the creative product of highly skilled musicians and arrangers, who manage to make melodic chestnuts new with interesting instrumentation, time signatures, and aural textures. The musicians are -- to a man and woman -- virtuosos on their instruments. The rankest hack guitar player at a Muzak session was probably a thousand times better musician than Eric Clapton. The horn players were probably ex-big bandsmen who'd smoked pot with Cab Calloway and spied on Doris Day in her dressing room.

We could use a lot more easy listening music at places like Trader Joes. I adore Americana and roots music and hip stuff from all eras, but not while I'm shopping for frozen peas, thank you.

Since the 1950s, middlebrow would-be hispters have tried to signal their sophistication by putting down easy listening. But really, there is nothing unsophisticated about easy listening. Rock and pop are about sexual display. There's a place for that. But easy listening is about -- easy listening. And there's a place for that, too.

posted by winna at 1:47 PM on November 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm so frustrated/tired/angry with people declaring things "boring" as if it's an inherent trait of the object under discussion and not a failure to engage with something on the part of the speaker.

Well, I'm frustrated with the idea that the middlebrow-ass art that ageing music critics now deign to surround themselves with can't be flawed except in lazy listeners' simple minds. How is the metric of interestingness any more subjective than any other one we might evaluate music by, or any less relevant? It's perfectly legitimate to say something is boring. If you disagree, the actually thoughtful response is "Well, here's what I find interesting about it...", not "No, YOU are". (Assuming you're interested in really talking about the art in the first place, which you don't have to be.)

Fans of "good" art, which has always simply referred to art appreciated by the right people, have been far too used to the luxury of dismissing criticism of the things they like on the grounds that its detractors just aren't smart and curious enough to appreciate it (or aren't being smart and curious enough in their criticism). But who among them hesitates to refer to a Michael Bublé album, a Lifetime MOTW, bad stand-up comedy, an episode of "Two and a Half Men", a Thomas Kinkade painting, or an instalment of "Twilight", as "dull", "tiresome", "tedious", "listless", "monotonous", "sterile", "hackneyed", "slow", "cliché", "arduous", or "meh"?** Perhaps the problem here is exactly the opposite of naysayers laying claim to some sort of godlike objectivity in their criticisms of the Bon Ivers of this world; perhaps it's yaysayers chafing against others' readiness to voice their (obviously and necessarily) subjective opinions because they've gotten away for so long with thinking that the art they like is objectively worthwhile. Well, it's not 1997 any more, taste is all democratized and shit, and they get to justify that like everybody else.

There's also the possibility that they don't care about Bon Iver, etc. at all and have merely got the idea into their heads that their personal aesthetic exercise of arbitrarily excising a perfectly useful idea from their critical vocabularies is anybody else's problem. But, it isn't.

* When was the last time anybody found themselves philosophically opposed to the idea of calling music they liked "exciting"?

**Don't bother starting now.

posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:49 PM on November 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Mrs. Sauce and I saw the minimalist composer Steve Reich perform "Music for 18 Musicians" this year.

We were about 2/3 of the way back into the space, so we had a good view of the audience. While Mr. Reich played, the crowd thinned and thinned as the individual listeners got bored and left.

It was like doing a probability distribution experiment with the attention span.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:50 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


This isn't a very accurate description of Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest or St. Vincent's Marry Me album.

Those threw me off too. Most of St. Vincent's material isn't exactly easy listening. Not sure if the author's definition of boring is most accurately put "would not sound out of place in Starbucks," but a lot of her material is fairly abrasive and not very pretty. And Grizzly Bear's sound is all over the place. Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Feist are much more in the genre of an overall pleasant sound, for better or worse.
posted by wondermouse at 1:54 PM on November 18, 2011


I considered a few things, but perhaps slow harmonic rhythm?

Then again, I find U2 incredibly boring, but their harmonic rhythm isn't so slow. Hm.
posted by pipian at 1:55 PM on November 18, 2011


word, Sauce. I went to a Morton Feldman concert back in April. I love Feldman but a lot of people there had to leave after just a few minutes of Crippled Symmetry. And then others left around the 45-minute mark...and still others kind of fell asleep in their chairs....

...also, I've been to a lot of shows like this, and they range from fascinating to painful to boring, or some combination of all three, without being in the least pop-derivative.
posted by daisystomper at 1:55 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away." -- Walter Benjamin
posted by spitbull at 1:56 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since the 1950s, middlebrow would-be hispters have tried to signal their sophistication by putting down easy listening.

Since the 1990s, would be hipsters have signaled their sophistication by embracing the formerly middlebrow.
posted by spitbull at 1:57 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


to me, I note "boring" in things my music-schooled brain detects as an attempt to mimic the popularity of an extremely similar piece that has previously been done - but with no detectable difference in content anywhere, even on repeated listenings. Just changing the lyric content doesn't do it for me. Sorry Mr. Cage.

Heck, I'd appreciate something that I thought was "terrible, but interesting" vs. a blatant clone of something else. Doesn't mean I'd buy the record, or even like it.

In pop, for example, which in at least the US where the western-european based music system has resulted in craploads of done and redone chord progressions and melodies for quite a while now, I will every once in a while here a song which sounds cool and new and fresh to me, either because I've forgotten other things that were like it, or because the piece writer has done some genius arranging or sonic sculpting to make me think it's something 'new' by couching it in a crafty structure of some kind. And that's great and ok by me. : )

On a related note, my most (in)famous phrase that I use all the time is "Everybody likes what they like." Whether they've considered why they like whatever it is they like is another story.
posted by bitterkitten at 1:58 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, I had actually resolved today to be a sweeter, kinder, more cheerful, pleasant and positive person, but I forgot. So let me add to what I said up there: Bluegrass is great.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:00 PM on November 18, 2011


I'm pleasantly surprised that we've got onto Feldman. Much to my chagrin, I've never made it to a performance of the 2nd quartet, which I'd love to hear live.
posted by ob at 2:00 PM on November 18, 2011


I like the point about "adult contemporary" though. My Mom used to always listen to one of those stations that play that "lite" audio slurry when we were on long car trips. Before Walkmans and earbuds were commonplace (yes kids, it's true, there was such a time) we were stuck with it. A lot of it was really, really boring stuff. Some of it though was pretty great. In addition to the bland stuff, they also play a lot of Sade and Steely Dan for example. Oh, and Zamfir, master of the pan flute. I bet you wouldn't have had that in your iPod before RZA dug him up and put it on the Kill Bill soundtrack and made it unironically cool. None of these guys are in heavy rotation at my house, but they have a place beyond, say, elevators and waiting rooms and in some cases I actually really enjoy it. I don't know if people should be insulted if someone calls Feist "adult contemporary" music.
posted by Hoopo at 2:01 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Faze's take on easy listening might be applicable here.

I'm fairly new around here, so I had to Google "Faze" and "easy listening." Here's a link for anyone who wants it. Really fun discussion on that thread.
posted by jwhite1979 at 2:05 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If hitting yourself in the head with a hammer is painful after two blows, try it for four. If still painful, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not painful at all.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:07 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


ob, have you successfully listened to the entire 6 hours of Feldman's second quartet? continuously? Because I definitely have not.
posted by daisystomper at 2:10 PM on November 18, 2011


To claim that something is 'boring' is to admit to a lack of perception or an unwillingness to observe closely.

It seems to me that boring and not-boring start off as relative terms: more or less boring. When someone says, "That is boring," he or she is just saying, "That is too far toward the boring end of things for my taste."

But where the absolute claims might give way to some pressure, the relative claims are objective. (I know, that's an odd turn of phrase.) Some things simply have more properties to observe and to think about than other things, as a matter of fact. For example, compare any normal piece of music with the following piece of "music": play a 400 Hz tone on a MIDI for three hours at the same volume. There are things to think about here: why 400 Hz as opposed to some other value? Why three hours? Why MIDI? Why no changes in the note or volume? ... But then what? There are no deeper explanations, no hidden meanings or messages, no political or moral subtext, ... The extent of analytic possibilities is very limited here. Now, one might say that the proposed "piece" is not boring -- since nothing is boring if you have enough perception and willingness to observe closely. But if that is the stance you take, then it seems to me that you have simply decided not to use the word "boring" in anything like its ordinary sense.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:11 PM on November 18, 2011


Those threw me off too. Most of St. Vincent's material isn't exactly easy listening. Not sure if the author's definition of boring is most accurately put "would not sound out of place in Starbucks," but a lot of her material is fairly abrasive and not very pretty. And Grizzly Bear's sound is all over the place. Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Feist are much more in the genre of an overall pleasant sound, for better or worse.

I actually think "boring" is a great description of Grizzly Bear's previous album, Yellow House, though a friend of mine (who has similar musical taste to me) assures me it gets much better upon repeated listenings. So maybe it's my failure to listen closely.

I agree that Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Feist are all better examples of pleasantly pretty, melodic indie music that could be described as boring. (And I even like all that music.) Songs like "Southern Point" by Grizzly Bear or "Now Now" by St. Vincent are completely different. I think they're being grouped together more because they all tend to be liked by similar types of people in the same time period than because of any genuine musical resemblance.

I happen to dislike The National, and yes, they're boring to me, but I don't dislike them because they're boring. I find them boring because I knew after listening to them for about one minute that they're not my kind of thing. I feel like they're trying to be drably depressing (and hearing that this is supposed to sound "adult" hardly makes the music any more appealing to me). So I never listened to them enough to become familiar with them, the way I am familiar with all the music that excites me. I'm fine with the fact that I've rashly dismissed them, but this is just to save myself time, not because I've insightfully perceived some quality of boring-ness in their music. I could sense that there were many layers to the music that would be very engaging to, for instance, the friend who recommended them to me.

People who say "I don't like that style of music because it all sounds the same" are really just saying "I don't like that style of music." When you're uninterested in a genre of music, it's going to all sound the same to you. For instance, I'm not a fan of country music, so it mostly all sounds the same to me. But I admit that that's not an astute critique; it just means I'm not a country-music fan. That fact itself is totally uninteresting to anyone who doesn't know me personally. It's no news that many people aren't country-music fans while many other people are. I defer to the fans who can appreciate everything the music has to offer, because I assume that to them, hearing me say "It all sounds the same" would be as irritating as it is for me to hear people say "Indie rock [or classical music, or jazz] all sounds the same." Again, it just boils down to the fact that any genre of music is something not everyone is going to be a fan of -- an observation that's surely more boring than any of the music mentioned in this article.
posted by John Cohen at 2:13 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just had a thought that treacly pop-art like Thomas Kinkade is actually quite sophisticated in its understanding of human psychology -- the art isn't interested in depicting reality or the truth in any way, but in tweaking the psychology of the viewer to achieve the desired mental effect. If you think of the art as the manipulation of the intended audience rather than the actual physical painting, then I think it's easier to find what he does interesting. Not so much "Why is this 'good'?" but "why does this work?"
posted by empath at 2:14 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


daisystomper No, but I figured that I might be able to do it live. Or at least give it my best shot. I think it's something that you have to experience, so I'm waiting until some brave souls put it on again, and I'll be there like a shot.

I have been to concerts of other pieces (not Feldman) that are very long (say 2 1/2 hrs) and it quite an amazing experience. Once you get over the initial "It's how long?" thing. Which, admittedly and appropriately takes some time.
posted by ob at 2:16 PM on November 18, 2011


Why I understand where the author is coming from, I disagree wIth his definition of boring as a series of adjectives like "mid-tempo" and "well-produced".

To me, "boring" boils down to "predictable". The brain is a pattern matching machine. If, the first time you hear a song or watch a movie, it feels totally predictable to youthetis it is boring.

What's most interesting to me about the concept of "boring" is that there is a parallel to the "uncanny valley". If you have no domain expertise, everything you see is new and, thus, not boring. If you have loads of domain expertise, all of the little details stand out and, thus, it's not boring.

It's only when you have *some* relevant domain expertise that you an quickly put things in a bucket. It's this middle dip that often drives super-fans nuts. "What do you mean this is jst another FPS! What about the [insert crazy arcanum here]?!?"
posted by bpm140 at 2:19 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


You know who's boring AND annoying? Jack Johnson. yeah I said it, don't tell my wife.
posted by Hoopo at 2:22 PM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Not so much "Why is this 'good'?" but "why does this work?"

That is indeed the interesting thing about Nickleback.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:26 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


empath, I agree that an analysis of art where it intersects with other domains can be very interesting even when the art is crappy. I also bet an analysis of Kinkade's art, as art, would be pretty interesting, and it's obvious the art itself is not boring to a lot of people on an aesthetic level. But still, if somebody says "Thomas Kinkade is boring", I don't see why they shouldn't, and I certainly know what they mean.

On preview, Jack Johnson is the unfathomable worst. And I say this as somebody who likes both Jason Mraz and John Mayer.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:28 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the music you're exposed to as a child has a huge influence. I don't know what it is but almost all music created before birth holds almost no appeal. That's weird right? Especially 60s and 70s rock. Isn't that weird? I really like most newer music, but hard-core 'traditionalist' heavy metal usually just annoys me. Take a band like Queens of the Stone Age. Some of their songs sound a lot like the sort of canonical ideal of a rock song, while other songs sound different and I really like them.

I also don't really like music that's just 'chill' music. I like songs with an upbeat tempo.

On the other hand I think there's a lot of music out there these days that's really designed to sound good when you're on drugs. It would be interesting to do some research on what drugs make people like what kinds of music.
posted by delmoi at 2:30 PM on November 18, 2011


i once had a long and unsuccessful conversation with an ex about why belle and sebastian were like a blizzard from denny's with nothing in it. and now i feel vindicated by this article, because this is exactly what i meant.
posted by beefetish at 2:31 PM on November 18, 2011


yes i may have been stoned at the time
posted by beefetish at 2:32 PM on November 18, 2011


Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, St. Vincent, Wilco, Coldplay, Feist, The National, Grizzly Bear—I like some of these artists, and I don’t like others. They’re all pretty different, but they all have one thing in common: They’re “boring.”

Let's be honest here. The question the author is asking is "what gets some 'alternative' (could use 'indie' if you take out Coldplay) musical artists labeled 'boring'?"

A couple things stand out (based on those examples) to me:

* Consistency - when you put on a track by one of those artists, you are not going to be surprised. People like being surprised. "Boring" can connote "unsurprising."

* Blandness of personal style - All those acts are white and vaguely attractive in a non-noticeable kind of way

* Heavy production/wall of sound - There's an ambient/white-noise aspect to some of those acts.

* Lack of a driving rhythm section. The beat won't likely get your blood pumping.

* Slow tempo songs, repetitive lyrics. See: Feist's Graveyard (lyrics)

* Abstract lyrics - i.e. not too many songs with memorable stories (or even memorable lyrics, aside from the ones repeated 100x)

* Lack of originality? I mean, throw the last 4-5 REM albums on the pyre of boring as well. Regardless of how good the music might be, if you've already heard 50 similar songs by the same artist, it really is kinda BORING, and that doesn't make you a lazy listener.

Adult Contemporary is NOT boring. AC is Cold War Kids. AC is Lisa Hannigan. AC is Mates of State. AC is The National. AC is AC Newman. :D

i once had a long and unsuccessful conversation with an ex about why belle and sebastian were like a blizzard from denny's with nothing in it.

Counterargument. I'm not a huge fan, but I don't think you could call B&S "boring." I dunno.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:39 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would be interesting to do some research on what drugs make people like what kinds of music.

I think the enough of the right drugs will make you like anything.
posted by empath at 2:43 PM on November 18, 2011


Lack of interest.
posted by Twang at 2:53 PM on November 18, 2011


It isn't just familiarity that makes something boring, lack of experience will do that too. Think of being 10 years old and watching a good drama: the interesting things go over your head, you get bored. When you get older and understand people and stories a bit more the movie is not boring at all.
posted by idiopath at 3:00 PM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


It would be interesting to do some research on what drugs make people like what kinds of music.

"Rod Stanley, editor of Dazed & Confused magazine, has a thought: 'No one has really "invented" or discovered a new drug for a while. Every time one has been found over the decades, young people swiftly work out the best music experience to go with it,' he says. 'If a new drug were discovered today, a new music scene would spring up overnight.'"

- "Chemical Bonds" by Kevin Sampson
posted by mrgrimm at 3:05 PM on November 18, 2011


what makes music boring? - critics
posted by caddis at 3:10 PM on November 18, 2011


Any resemblance to Pachelbel's Canon.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:11 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


... saw the minimalist composer Steve Reich perform "Music for 18 Musicians" this year...
A personal favourite of mine. There is so much interesting stuff happening if you listen closely.

Ask my friend the granular physicist: "Chaos looks like noise, there's so much data that you can't see a pattern. If you look closely at smaller samples, then the patterns emerge..."

Ask Burt Bacharach (paraphrase): "If it has a melody, I'll listen to it, no matter what genre. If it doesn't, then you go ahead and have fun if you want, but don't wait for me."

Pet Shop Boys, Being Boring.
Another personal favourite.
posted by ovvl at 3:17 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think a large component of why we dislike certain bands or genres is because we generally dislike the people who enjoy those bands or genres, and want to differentiate ourselves from them as much as we can.
posted by rocket88 at 3:33 PM on November 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Boring music.
posted by chavenet at 3:33 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


When you get to the 10 hour point, reflect on, "The reason you’re not connecting might very well be you. Your boredom could indicate an inability to appreciate a particular kind of music at this moment in time."

Creating a caricature of the issue at hand is contributing nothing but lulz.
posted by stroke_count at 3:35 PM on November 18, 2011


I think the enough of the right drugs will make you like anything.

I think you have this backwards, the correct drugs make you more selective, the incorrect ones will make you like anything. Getting high to get stupid is for noobs.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:41 PM on November 18, 2011


But where the absolute claims might give way to some pressure, the relative claims are objective. (I know, that's an odd turn of phrase.) Some things simply have more properties to observe and to think about than other things, as a matter of fact.

I'll agree with regards to things like your example of a 400hz tone played for three hours, but this theory often falls down when applied to actual music. I had a friend who insisted that anything remotely minimalist or repetitive was boring simply because noodly-noodly-noodly prog rock "has more notes", and that always struck me as very short-sighted -- as empath pointed out, simple, trance-like music can be amazing in its impact (and complexity-for-complexity's-sake can be boring -- c'est la vie.)
posted by vorfeed at 3:56 PM on November 18, 2011


Well Snow Patrol are back so this article is quite timely.
posted by panboi at 4:06 PM on November 18, 2011


Music triggers a primal yet mysterious force inside of us. It’s universal

There are people who do not appreciate music at all. Therefore, this primal yet mysterious force is not universal.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


vorfeed,

That's fair. I suppose it just bothers me when someone says (with an implied sneer), "If you say something is boring, there must be something wrong with you." I disagree. Some things really are boring. Figuring out which things and why might be very difficult, and there will always be excellent arguments on both sides with respect to any real piece of music (or art or literature or ...). But that doesn't mean there aren't boring things. Denying that there are boring things just strikes me as snobbishly disingenuous. Sometimes, when someone says that something is boring, that person is (objectively) wrong, and the fault lies with the person. On the other hand, sometimes the person is justified in saying that a thing is boring, and saying, "You're not working hard enough to get it," feels like blaming the victim.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:13 PM on November 18, 2011


You should regret that—or take it as a (here’s that word again) “challenge”—not wear it like a badge of honor. What good is there in not being able to like a song, something that might bring you pleasure?

I don't understand any of those reactions. Anything, anything in the world, might bring you pleasure, depending on the context--yes, even ten hours of nyancat; most music players have a repeat-song-forever feature, I expect someone must use it. The fact that a song might bring you pleasure, but does not, represents no loss of value. The hypothetical possibility of value is not, itself, valuable; when we speak of it as though it were, it's only because we've invested some effort in attaining something that turns out to be worthless, and our effort and dreams were wasted.

When you lack the capacity to enjoy some song or other, you've wasted... three to five minutes, usually. Depending on the song and on how your particular sensory apparatus functions, you might be in pain, which is certainly regrettable. But the "failure" to enjoy the song is not.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:17 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


i was fascinated by the pop music of the 60s - i was fascinated by my dad's collection of glenn miller, tommy dorsey, etc etc 78's - i was sometimes annoyed, but sometimes fascinated by WBCK's constant playlist of dean martin, nat king cole, steve and edie, frank sinatra, johnny mathis, etc etc etc

but easy listening? - oh, god, my dad used to relax on sunday mornings after church by playing WOOD-FM or later, WQLR-FM - that shit drove me up the wall - i don't care how these guys are expert arrangers and conductors and have 1000 times the talent of eric clapton - pap? soulless? lack of hipster cred?

no, lack of affect - this was nothing more or less than music to not engage with in any sense except that one should relax to it while not really listening to it - it drove me up the wall then and if you were to play that washed out, unoffensive, deliberately unremarkable MUSAK for me today - (it seems to be long gone, thank god) - i would consider it utterly and agonizingly BORING, the only kind of music i have ever considered BORING

one couldn't even call it ambient because of the insistence of reference to the great american songbook and even pop ballads by the beatles - it was a designed "lite" version of popular music that existed to deliver deracinated, watered down interpretations of things you could still recognize as good tunes - so, a part of your brain had to pay attention to it while the rest of your brain had to go to sleep - unless you had the musical taste to say you'd rather hear frank sinatra sing strangers in the night than the mantovani living 101 strings from motherfucking hell sleepwalk through it, in which case it was like having dentist drills inserted into your ears, inflicting unspeakable horrors while, nonetheless, your brain and soul slowly switched off to the point where you would be unable to lift your twiching fingers to turn that radio dial

if hell has a soundtrack , this is it
posted by pyramid termite at 5:21 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


101 strings is enough for 25.25 traditional stringed instruments. Or 16.8333 guitars.
posted by idiopath at 5:29 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


or two somnolex with a geritol chaser
posted by pyramid termite at 5:44 PM on November 18, 2011


Hiding somewhere on Metafilter, maybe in Ask, is my favorite comment ever.
I wish I could find it again. It's echoed in my head for a while now.

Basically, it's about music, and the authors belief that all music is valid.

I'd plug it in here if I could, and if you look for it and find find it, please message me where it is.

/sidetrack
posted by cccorlew at 5:54 PM on November 18, 2011


I will not make any more boring art.
posted by pmcp at 6:12 PM on November 18, 2011


There are different types of "boring". One could say that a formulaic pop song could be considered boring. Or that something more avant-garde (say, a 20-minute drone track or a serialist composition) could be considered boring. The former is boring if it is familiar and ubiquitous (though to someone from outside the culture where it is generic may find it fascinating because of the novelty and exoticism in its formula), the latter because there's nothing to latch onto unless one is tutored in the form.
posted by acb at 6:26 PM on November 18, 2011


i totally don't get thinking that 'music for 18 musicians' is boring - it's fascinating!

wilco, however, is objectively boring - you can't argue with science.
posted by facetious at 7:40 PM on November 18, 2011


I always have to laugh when I reflect on the oft-quoted response to a 1973 performance of Steve Reich's "Four Organs," a piece that always led my own father to stick his head in and say "Son, I think the record's stuck." In that performance, Michael Tilson Thomas explains that "one woman walked down the aisle and repeatedly banged her head on the front of the stage, wailing 'Stop, stop, I confess'." It's a perfect set piece for the tiresome fireworks of know-it-all music "fans" who like nothing more than for so-called "serious" music to do nothing but tread the same paths the same ways, forever and ever, drowning us in luxuriant, harmonious sweeps of strings laid out in structures established centuries ago.

People who are easily bored are usually boring people. Boredom comes from within.

We often mistake irritation with boredom. I find Justin Bieber boring, but I'm not truly bored by his defiantly innovationless, undynamic, unceasingly mundane music—I'm annoyed and offended by it, and the symptoms of low-level accumulation of the toxins of aggravation are much like the sensation of boredom. In the end, the result is the same, from boredom or anger.

I can't listen to any more of this twerpy soul-destroying studio mill pap!

I'm a big fan of slow-moving, slowly evolving music. I grew up hearing Satie spooling out of the reels of my father's great big Tandberg, and discovered Eno with the joy of someone experiencing divine rapture. In my first grown-up relationship, I sometimes think I had as much delight in slowly exploring the field of knobs on my lover's Moog as I did in our cantankerous interplay, feeding the signal into the sound-on-sound echo machine I made from the old Tandberg. I found Reich, and loved those shimmering layers of mathematical counterpoint and found the gamelan, and the sweet illusion of repetition concealed within waves of constant renewal.

I make my own slow, quiet, repetitive music, and I've heard it's boring, but I'm never bored.

It's the height of arrogance to suggest to people that they might just not be listening right, but there's a lot to be said for frames of mind and frames of reference. I'm a huge fan of The Residents, but I have to be in a Residents sort of place to really enjoy a good long listen—that place where you're a little depressed and angry, with a bit of an itchy brain, but not so bothered that you're not able to smirk at the ultimate joke wired into the mainframe of the universe. I have to be in a Beatles place for the Beatles, or a Tom Waits place to scruff out my perfect rendition of the last brilliant lines of "Jitterbug Boy."

As a kid, I'd spend time at my grandmother's house in Baltimore washed in easy-listening music, and she'd flop the record player down in her wood-tone portable hi-fi and load a stack of records on the changer to keep the music going while she worked around the house. One of those, Kites Are Fun by The Free Design is something I listen to myself, long after she's been gone, and it's boring, squishy, sunshine music that I love without a trace of hip irony, because it's actually pretty brilliant music, and kites are fun. After spending half my life in the world of work, I've come to the place where I can understand exactly why you'd come home, mix up a Blue Hawaiian, tie on a nice gauzy scarf and slip into a pair of gold slingback mules, and just relax on the couch with your Reader's Digest and The Free Design.

Some things are boring, though it's about perspective and where you come from. I have great respect for Patti Smith. I think she's fabulous, I love her stories, I love her history and the ways in which she's changed the world, and about once I year, I dig into my huge collection of Patti Smith, hoping to find the way in...and thus far, I just don't get it. It's not her, or her fans—it's me, but so far, no amount of enthusiasm or effort on my part will connect the part of me that tingles when a song touches me in that certain perfect dirty place with her music. It's frustrating, but it's also why I have to catch myself when I want to accuse musical philistines of musical philistinism. I'm a musical philistine who once listened to "Midnight At The Oasis" for twenty-four continuous hours to see what it would do to me (pure hallucinogenic mayhem, as it turns out), and yet I find listening to Mozart like listening to sewing machines.

Perspective, history, and that distinct aesthetic at the core of you all matter.

My ex and I used to fight about music. His point, and it is a horrifyingly accurate one, was laid out in a way I finally couldn't challenge, and it was humbling, but expanding, too.

"Why do you care whether I love old Yes or not? Why can't you just like what you like and not be such a dick about trying to make me not like the things you don't like?"

Ahem.

Yeah, I'm still a bitch sometimes, because it's fun, but really, boring music is such an amorphous, intangible thing. Sometimes it bores us because it's genuinely bad, and sometimes it bores us because it's just not our thing.

Slow and/or seemingly repetitive music is boring to most people, the equivalent of a sonic sleeping pill, and I understand that. For me, I lucked out in having this little bit of machinery in my brain that lets me merge into the glacial timestream. I work in a giant clocktower for a living, and when I'm frustrated with being stuck in my office and suffering from the ass-flattening effects of chair poisoning, I head upstairs to the machine room for my clock, pull up a stool, get out my brass brush and lanolin, and clean the gears. I plug in my headphones, spin up The Desert Music, and time shifts, slowly at first, then more quickly. The gears and wheels pick up speed, the shadows of the clock's hands trace swifter pathways across the glass and ironwork of the faces, and soon I'm just rapt, at work in the heart of a machine that's whirling around me.

Every path leads somewhere. When we're good, we can entice people to take the trip we're taking, too, for the company. Sometimes it never works, and that's down to us, and down to our differences. Not everyone in the world is going to get the icky joy you get from the sloppy symphony of disturbing and marginal music that is "Where Are Your Dogs? Show us your ugly," let alone understand why you get freaky gooseflesh over it, and that's okay.
posted by sonascope at 8:02 PM on November 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


It’s a pet peeve of mine, but I just have patience with an adult who says anything is boring, or that they are bored. If it’s true, well I have no respect, but it’s probably something else they’re feeling and they’re just using a lazy obnoxious shortcut. Come up with a better description of why you don’t like something, or want to do something else.

There’s a theory about music appreciation, which I am not an expert on (or even really know what the hell I’m talking about), which I nevertheless embrace. It has to do with your enjoyment being based on being able to predict what happens next. I think some people find comfort in knowing exactly what comes next (what note, rhythm, &c), some like the stimulation of never knowing, and many fall somewhere in between. It somewhat depends on how you’re wired, but I think exposure changes your tastes a lot.

My musical tastes have changed so radically over the years that I listen almost entirely to music I called boring when I was a kid. I have even realized (to the horror of my inner 18 year old) I really like old Easy Listening music in a completely non-ironic way. I seem to have gravitated towards the ends of the predictability spectrum for some reason, listening to a lot of Jazz and Dub.

This is all from an old Metal/Punk guy, and when I run into old friends and we talk about music they sometimes look at me like I’m explaining how Scientology saved my life.
posted by bongo_x at 8:37 PM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I seem to have gravitated towards the ends of the predictability spectrum for some reason, listening to a lot of Jazz and Dub.

I love me some dub, but it's a rare version these days that surprises me with something new. Dub has it's own cliches and conventions, and so does jazz really, and they're great, but that's going to get predictable too with time.
posted by Hoopo at 10:43 PM on November 18, 2011


Primarily, being made since about 2000 or being by Florence and the Machine.
posted by Decani at 11:34 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I think the enough of the right drugs will make you like anything.

I used to have an audioblog, the maintenance of which required traveling to thrift shops and buying a lot of records. These records would pile up in my living room and then I'd sit down, get stoned and go through them, digitizing the good stuff as I went along. Some were great, many were mediocre and a great many were just the worst tosh you could possibly imagine. There were plenty of mornings where I'd wake up, listen to what I'd taped the night before and think "This is terrible. What the hell was I smoking last night? Oh. Right."
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:15 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's exactly what I wanted to say about Faze's bit about easy listening, The Card Cheat. Back when I was crate-digging for samples to put in hip-hop records, there was a lot of cheap easy-listening from the 50s and 60s in the bargain bins. It may be true that they were talented musicians, but the music was often bland and boring by design. As in, that was the intention when recording it. Especially those seemingly infinite "now here's your favorite songs...played on a moog!" records. You could sometimes find a funky drum break about 2 seconds long, but the records were largely just awful.
posted by Hoopo at 10:10 AM on November 19, 2011


I actually like a lot of old easy listening music. I mean, to be sure, the bad outweighs the good by orders of magnitude, but the good stuff can be great.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:51 AM on November 19, 2011


>I love me some dub, but it's a rare version these days that surprises me with something new. Dub has it's own cliches and conventions, and so does jazz really, and they're great, but that's going to get predictable too with time.<

That’s what I’m saying, Dub is minimalist and repetitive. That doesn’t mean boring. It kind of a Zen thing for me, listening to the details and subtleties. Something new is great, but it not’s necessarily what I’m looking for.
posted by bongo_x at 11:11 AM on November 19, 2011


Not being Metal is definitely a sign of being boring.
posted by Renoroc at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


about once I year, I dig into my huge collection of Patti Smith, hoping to find the way in...

hey sonascope, just pick one song: Frederick, and listen to that reckless drumming on the last verse/chorus. Also fun for parties.
posted by ovvl at 2:48 PM on November 19, 2011


Boring

Not boring
posted by flabdablet at 5:08 AM on November 21, 2011


What it comes down to is the difference between masturbation and sex.
posted by flabdablet at 5:51 AM on November 21, 2011


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