New to the conversation? Check out my greatest hits!


Why is Heavy Metal an Acquired Taste?

Who wrote the first metal song?

Forget Sabbath. Blue Cheer? Yeah right. Not even Celtic Frost has anything on Igor Stravinsky.

Back in the misty land before vinyl, Stravinsky wanted to challenge his audience like never before. He wanted to reshape the public's opinion of what a song could be.

On May 29th, 1913 he premiered The Rite of Spring (Wikipedia).

There was a riot.

Police couldn't stop the fights. It was a classical mosh pit.

What was so different about this piece? Classical concerts are't really known for these shenanigans. The few times I've been they feel so proper that even clapping seems inappropriate.

First off, this piece features heavy doses of dissonance and polyrhythms. Sound familiar?

(side note, one year later The Rite of Spring was a smash hit with the public. That's like Blues Clues featuring Slayer as a musical guest)

When music is totally predictable and simple, it's reallllly boring. When music is totally unpredictable, it's stressful because your brain is trying desperately to find patterns in the chaos. (Previous Post) The music that really takes us over is music that walks the thin line between predictable and unpredictable.

All your expectations for what music can actually be and do are constructed from what you've heard in the past. As you become more and more enthralled with music, your library of knowledge grows. There's a reason that effective children's songs are simple and repetitive. Kids don't have the vast mental library of musical ideas like adults do. Because of this, the songs are simple and pleasing so the patterns are easily recognizable. (Infants smile when they hear perfect fifths and frown when they hear diminished fifths. Can't find the article at the moment.)

Now take that same baby and have it grow up with dad playing Judas Priest and Opeth on the ride to daycare and the child will start to become more familiar with the patterns and cliches of metal. The child would, so to speak, build up a tolerance for thrash, scream and lyrics a teenger would write in the margins of history homework.

Metal is an acquired taste because things like dissonance and polyrhythms don't come naturally, especially to non-musicians. It's all about developing an understanding of the bitter flavors of the beer and how they play off each other to create a symphony of hops and alcohol.

So you see, liking metal is a sign of sophisticated taste! (Haha, kidding!)

Hat tip to Radiolab for introducing me to the Rite of Spring. If you want to REALLY stretch your brain with one of the best produced podcasts on the planet, I HIGHLY recommend you start listening.

1 comment: