I asked myself a question this morning. If leading a music appreciation course what albums would you say must be listened to from an educational and appreciative point of view?
The idea I had in my mind was of a group of people having a general interest in music coming together to think about music and educate themselves about it. I imagined these people being given an album a week to listen to and think about, deconstructing and considering it, and then discussing it in a classroom situation. This was for no other reason but than to develop the faculty of critical thinking about music and how its put together, to consider what works or doesn’t work and why. Further questions that might be asked could be what you think the writer was trying to achieve and how they went about trying to do that.
Now none of this is necessarily a matter of liking or disliking the pieces that would be listened to. In fact, I regard matters of like and dislike as separate and, in some ways, completely irrelevant. In an educational context such as I considered this to be it doesn’t matter at all except in the sense that people be able to explain WHY they like or dislike something. It will become clear to you from all this that I am something of an autodidact and this is me thinking about my own process of considering and learning about music, what it does, how it does it and what that might mean.
Meaning, in fact, I think turns out to be quite important - as it does with much art. (I am expressly considering music as art in all of this.) There is somewhere in all this an interface between music and meaning. Maybe its just me (I hope it isn’t) but I very much articulate my place in the world and my understanding of it by means of music. So all this listening and thinking is very much part of that and set in this context. Several of my examples below would seem to operate on this understanding as well. So my scenario of the music appreciation course would address this too and ask what the music being listened to means and why. None of this is “objective” of course. Its about opinions not tastes - and the interactions of these differing opinions.
So let me run with this scenario and be bold. I’m going to imagine a 10 week course and suggest 10 albums that should be listened to with some of the reasons I would give for why I’d pick them. They are electronic as this is a blog about electronic music. Its all based on my own musical education to date of course and my experience. I have no idea if this will be any use to anyone else but as an exercise in me thinking aloud I think it works anyway. If you, dear reader, take anything from it then that’s a bonus. And remember, it wouldn’t matter whether the music chosen was to your taste or you “liked” it. It would only matter that you think about it and can talk about it from your point of view.
Week 1: David Bowie - “Low”
I don’t really like much of this album but I find it highly interesting because I find it hard to work out just what is going on. Side 1 seems random and anonymous (save the more conventional “Sound and Vision”). Side 2 is completely different and explicitly electronic (thanks to Eno?). One to ponder very much.
Week 2: Depeche Mode - “Black Celebration”
Depeche Mode are interesting because their style changes. The stuff on this album is nothing like their pop roots. Music is always interesting where the artist(s) take a different direction or change. The listener has to ask why and how this strikes them. They have also discovered sampling and added a darkness to their music by the time of this album.
Week 3: Michael Jackson - “Thriller”
Thriller is pretty much the perfect album, a slick mix of pop, soul, funk and RnB. But what makes it so? Certainly the sound of the album is well honed. This album is the perfect example of a crafted whole. So this enables us to ask questions about that sound and how it is created and maintained from song to song.
Week 4: Kraftwerk - “Trans Europe Express”
With Kraftwerk we must ask how the machine and the man combine - a subject they address themselves in most of their music. How can something so expressly electronic have such a human feel?
Week 5: Boards of Canada - “Music Has The Right To Children”
With this album I would discuss how music can evoke memory and nostalgia, something Boards of Canada are very well known for. Again, as with Kraftwerk, electronics are given the task of doing this - and pass with flying colours. But what about the music is doing this?
Week 6: Leftfield - “Leftism”
Leftism is a dance album but not a straightforward one. Its mixes genres very freely and makes full use of electronics to do so. This album could easily be the place to discuss genres and styles and how they interact as well as what feelings different styles generate.
Week 7: Portishead - “Third”
Portishead are often labelled “Trip Hop” - but its much more complicated than that. Portishead are a very complicated group and this is a complicated album. This means there is lots to discuss here regarding how this album is put together and what the overall effect is. What might the influences of this album be, for example?
Week 8: Goldfrapp: “Black Cherry”
Black Cherry is another album of mixed influences. Here we can find themes of electronic dance, glam rock and film score to name but three. It would be good to listen to this and discuss how these coalesce and what they end up being.
Week 9: Throbbing Gristle: “20 Jazz Funk Greats”
Nothing to say here. Just listen to it. The experience will be an education in itself! It does raise questions about “do it yourself” in music though.
Week 10: The Human League: Dare!
Made with one of the first Linn Drums to enter the UK, this album is one of the pillars of early electronic pop. But is it all about the songs or is something going on in the production that makes it memorable?
So there are my ten examples. I think 10 very interesting conversations could be had concerning them.
The question I leave you with, however, is what albums would you choose and why?