The music that is better than itself

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Simkin
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The music that is better than itself

Post by Simkin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:54 am

Researchers told the participants of their experiment that they are going to play two variations of the same theme by two prominent composers. They declared that musical critics say that the first variation is a masterpiece, while the second is its exaggerated imitation totally deficient in self-subsistence and beauty. They said that that the aim of the experiment is to see whether laymen agree with the experts. Afterward experimenters played the same record twice...

http://ecclesiastes911.net/the_music_th ... an_itself/

John F
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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by John F » Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:50 am

What a period piece! Not the article in "Significance," but the experiment itself, which was conducted "in the 1930s." It's not clear to me what the results actually signify.

What I'd like to know, but the article doesn't say, is how many of the experiment subjects were regular listeners to classical music. Surely there can't have been many if they didn't recognize a selection from Brahms's Symphony #1. Those who were ignorant of the Brahms, or of classical music generally, might have been so bombarded by new sensations that they could hardly remember enough of the music to recognize it when replayed to them (presumably) a few minutes later. If I were played the same record of Chinese music twice in a row, I probably couldn't recognize it, and having been prejudiced by the opinions of alleged experts, I might well be talked into "hearing" the difference they claimed to be there.

I don't think much of Mikhail Simkin's conclusions, then. He notes that college educated people have more experience reading classic literature than the great unwashed, but ignores the fact that our judgment of literature and much else depends on the kind and amount of experience we have, as readers and in life, and the kind of attention we pay when we read. Instead, he jumps to the amazing conclusion that "the results of Sorokin and Boldyreff suggest that these great books could be of the same quality as the rotten stuff." Balderdash.

Who is Mikhail Simkin? His own web site lists dozens of articles, most with co-authors, that reveal him as a statistician. He's conducted a number of such "experiments," such as an "internet quiz where the takers had to tell the music of Mozart from that of Salieri. The average score earned by over eleven thousand quiz-takers is 61%. This suggests that the music of Mozart is of about the same quality as the music of Salieri." But we here know that it suggests no such thing. What it does suggest is that the level of cultural literacy, especially regarding classical music, even among college students, is pretty low.

This is shlock research. Simkin's methods and assumptions are breathtakingly naïve, or faux-naïve. He evidently knows nothing about the arts whose quality his experiments are ostensibly intended to measure. I'm not the only one to have noticed. Gina Dalfonzo writes, "Simkin [claims,] 'The test results show that Dickens's and Bulwer-Lytton's prose styles are of the same quality.' The test results show no such thing. Even if one grants his claim that most people can't tell the difference - and I maintain that his methodology was neither stringent nor scientific - that doesn't prove that the fault lies with the authors rather than the readers. His whole argument is based on a false premise." Her article in Atlantic Monthly is here:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainmen ... ys/275264/

By the way, you can take Simkin's Dickens/Bulwer-Lytton quiz yourself, as it's still online. I did so, and of the 12 prose samples I identified 11 correctly, and was uncertain about the 12th. I did not recognize any of them, and I don't know Bulwer-Lytton's writings at all so I couldn't recognize his style. Nor were all the Dickens selections characteristic of what I think of as his style. My answers were based on my impression of the quality of the writing per se, good or not so good. The good turned out to be Dickens and the not so good Bulwer-Lytton 92% of the time. By the way, Gina Delfonso also scored 92% on the quiz.

http://reverent.org/bulwer-dickens.html

Another of Simkin's "experiments" involved abstract art, distinguishing between "true Masterpieces of Abstract Art, created by Immortal Artists. They carry profound meanings, which are, however, beyond the apprehensions of the vulgar. The rest were produced by the author of the quiz. They mean nothing." Leaving aside the obviously begged question and the loaded language, I who know very little about the visual arts did better than average, identifying none of Simkin's "artworks" as the real thing. Try it yourself:

http://reverent.org/true_art_or_fake_art.html

And, getting down to it, Mozart v. Salieri:

http://reverent.org/mozart_or_salieri.html

What do you think I scored? Right you are. :D In the comments on the quiz I found one by Corlyss_D who says she scored 90%. How's about you?

Simkin's agenda, as evidenced by these examples, is to debunk the whole concept of artistic quality, thereby consigning centuries of art criticism and appreciation to the dustbin of history. No can do.
Last edited by John F on Tue Oct 29, 2013 6:47 am, edited 5 times in total.
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lennygoran
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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by lennygoran » Tue Oct 29, 2013 5:22 am

John F wrote: Who is Mikhail Simkin anyway?
I'm confused--is Simkin a member of CMG--he's listed as the author of the thread? Regards, Len

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by John F » Tue Oct 29, 2013 6:33 am

You're right - I didn't notice that. And apparently it's the same guy, as our Simkin gives http://reverent.org/ as his web site. He joined CMG in 2005, and in an earlier post he says, "After all, I'm not a scientist." Well, the Mikhail Simkin who wrote the article from which the first post quotes, and conducted the other "experiments," certainly isn't much of a scientist! Anyway, I've revised my original post in case he reads it and chooses to respond to it.
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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by lennygoran » Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:39 am

John F wrote:Anyway, I've revised my original post in case he reads it and chooses to respond to it.
It will be interesting to see if he does--I'll try to keep alert! Regards, Len

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by John F » Tue Oct 29, 2013 11:23 am

It occurs to me that if these various experiments show anything, it's not that there is no qualitative difference between artworks, but there's a great qualitative difference among those who read or view or listen to them. Simkin implicitly assumes the opposite, which we've shown to be false. Corlyss_D and I, serious classical music enthusiasts, outperformed the more or less random group of respondents in the Mozart v. Salieri quiz. Gina Dalfonzo and I (former English major in college) outperformed the respondents in the Dickens v. Bulwer-Lytton quiz. Sue would wipe the floor with the respondents in the abstract art quiz. We don't know whether we're smarter than the anonymous respondents, not even Simkin knows that, but obviously we are better informed.

A corollary, particularly from the Brahms experiment: the value judgments of uninformed people don't add up to much. The value judgments of informed people may not necessarily be consistent and reliable, but this would have to be tested differently, with a differently selected body of test subjects and different musical selections.
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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by Simkin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:03 pm

The arguments of the protesting too much lady have been dealt with here.
John F wrote: Simkin's agenda, as evidenced by these examples, is to debunk the whole concept of artistic quality
Obviously not. As you can see, Simkin compares abstract masterpieces with animal art. At the same time he compares Mozart with Salieri. Whomever this Salieri could have been, he definitely was not a Bremen musician. So there is some real difference in artistic quality between Mozart and apestract artists.

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by some guy » Wed Oct 30, 2013 2:48 am

Yes, I would have said that Simkin's agenda was not to debunk the whole concept of artistic quality but to debunk the two other things--the pretensions of the cognescenti and the pretensions of modern art to be considered worthwhile.

Neither one of these things is even worth debunking. The cognescenti are capable of disagreeing about things just as much as the hoi polloi are. More, maybe. And modern art sought to change our perceptions--seeks to change our perceptions--as modern art has always done, from whenver a given thing was modern. The concept of "artistic quality" doesn't even enter into it until someone who doesn't like the modern art of his or her time wants to point out that none of it is as good as the modern art of two or three hundred years ago (or more).

None of it is as old, i.e., none of it is as familiar.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by Tarantella » Wed Oct 30, 2013 4:11 am

lennygoran wrote:
John F wrote:Anyway, I've revised my original post in case he reads it and chooses to respond to it.
It will be interesting to see if he does--I'll try to keep alert! Regards, Len
I recommend six turns around the fish pond to facilitate this! :lol:

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by John F » Wed Oct 30, 2013 5:11 am

Simkin wrote:
The arguments of the protesting too much lady have been dealt with here.

And Simkin's arguments to the contrary have been dealt with too:

http://dickensblog.typepad.com/dickensb ... imkin.html
Simkin wrote:
John F wrote: Simkin's agenda, as evidenced by these examples, is to debunk the whole concept of artistic quality
Obviously not. As you can see, Simkin compares abstract masterpieces with animal art. At the same time he compares Mozart with Salieri. Whomever this Salieri could have been, he definitely was not a Bremen musician. So there is some real difference in artistic quality between Mozart and apestract artists.
That link gave me an error message (it now seems to be working), so I found another that makes a similar comparison: http://reverent.org/an_artist_or_an_ape.html But this, or these, are likewise designed to debunk the concept of artistic quality, in this case by reducing it to absurdity, art vs. non-art. But it fails. I took the artist/ape quiz, and though I have no great knowledge of modern art, my answers were 100% right. No aesthetic judgment was needed, merely distinguishing between the paintings that showed purposeful control of the brush and those that did not.

I repeat, the burden of these "experiments" and the conclusion Simkin draws from them is that there is no real difference in artistic quality between works by great artists and others, human or animal. Simkin believes he has proved that artistic quality can't be consistently perceived and assessed. I say and I know that it can be. The ignorant may be poor judges of artistic quality, but informed people (whether professionals or amateurs) are better at it than Simkin acknowledges, or than his "experiments" are able to reveal.

Are you Mikhail Simkin? You refer to him in the third person and seem to keep your distance while taking his side. Not that it matters, the issue is not personal, but if you are he, then there's something odd going on here.

Using the Mozart-Salieri quiz, I'm conducting a little experiment of my own, sharing it with family members and friends who are amateurs of classical music, with varying degrees of knowledge and sophistication. In addition to my 100% score and Corlyss_D's 90%, I can report two more results, 100% from a very experienced listener and 80% from my sister-in-law, who's a casual listener and not particularly a Mozart fan. (She attributed one Mozart excerpt to Salieri and one Salieri excerpt to Mozart.) About a half dozen more returns are due. This is too small a sample to prove anything statistically, but so far it is consistent with what I've said about informed respondents doing much better than a sample including an unknown but probably significant proportion of the ignorant.
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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by John F » Wed Oct 30, 2013 5:44 am

some guy wrote:Yes, I would have said that Simkin's agenda was not to debunk the whole concept of artistic quality but to debunk the two other things--the pretensions of the cognescenti and the pretensions of modern art to be considered worthwhile.
The "cognoscenti" may not be infallible - personal taste inevitably enters into artistic judgments - but they are better at distinguishing artistic quality than the ignorant, who seldom concern themselves with that issue anyway, only with what they personally like and dislike.

The 20th century avant-garde asserted that paintings, objects, etc. were artworks though they did not fit any definition or concept of art. Cf. Marcel Duchamp's urinal which he titled "Fountain," and John Cage's 4' 33". But disagreements arising from the provocations of the avant-garde are no argument against the existence and validity of informed critical judgment. They're not about the nature of great art but the nature of art itself, which is a philosophical issue and not, I think, a qualitative one.
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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:27 am

I'm a little (but only a little) embarrassed that I only got half right on the abstract art vs. animal art "test." But it's clear that with a few exceptions this guy is choosing the "real thing" very selectively so that it lacks something of the essence of the major work of an important artist. (An exception is his choice of Cy Twombly, which looks like Cy Twombly.) No animal art could ever resemble a Jackson Pollock drip painting or one of the mature paintings of Mark Rothko. Similarly, both Dickens and Mozart are easily mined for passages that may not be readily distinguishable from the ordinary, while the ordinary often reflects more than a modicum of skill and even artistic aspiration.

There was once a site which I can no longer find where passages from Mozart and Haydn quartets were played (on a synthesizer, alas) and one had to identify which of the two wrote each passage. Difficult, frustrating, and interesting. It didn't make me go back and listen intensively and extensively to all that music so I wouldn't have to resort to guessing again, but it might have done, and I would only have benefited from the experience.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by lennygoran » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:32 am

Tarantella wrote: I recommend six turns around the fish pond to facilitate this! :lol:
Sue I'm willing to make those turns but it's getting in the pond that could be a problem--the water is getting cold but the water lilies have to be moved off their crates lower down so they don't freeze over the winter--also they have to be cut back :( --then there's the snake! Regards, Len :)

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by Tarantella » Wed Oct 30, 2013 3:28 pm

John F wrote:
some guy wrote:Yes, I would have said that Simkin's agenda was not to debunk the whole concept of artistic quality but to debunk the two other things--the pretensions of the cognescenti and the pretensions of modern art to be considered worthwhile.
The "cognoscenti" may not be infallible - personal taste inevitably enters into artistic judgments - but they are better at distinguishing artistic quality than the ignorant, who seldom concern themselves with that issue anyway, only with what they personally like and dislike.

The 20th century avant-garde asserted that paintings, objects, etc. were artworks though they did not fit any definition or concept of art. Cf. Marcel Duchamp's urinal which he titled "Fountain," and John Cage's 4' 33". But disagreements arising from the provocations of the avant-garde are no argument against the existence and validity of informed critical judgment. They're not about the nature of great art but the nature of art itself, which is a philosophical issue and not, I think, a qualitative one.
(What about Tracy Emin's "Unmade Bed"? What about MY unmade bed? I don't want that in the Louvre!)

I agree, John. Art criticism and appreciation is not about philosophy, but philosophy has been put on the agenda by the avant garde. Same with music. I am wary of these kinds of red herrings, to be honest. We can 'question' what is the nature of art from 'inside' real art itself, not some manufactured artefact designed purely as a provocation. These things will quickly sink like a stone.

People may have initially looked at "Guernica" and wondered whether that was art, but I'd suggest Picasso went to a great deal of trouble to create something representing the horror of a real experience. It had a visceral appeal.

And I think Robert Hughes had some things to say about all this!?

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by some guy » Wed Oct 30, 2013 4:58 pm

Tarantella wrote:Art criticism and appreciation is not about philosophy, but philosophy has been put on the agenda by the avant garde.
Hmmm. Isn't this backwards? Philosophy is about art criticism and appreciation. (That branch of philosophy is called aesthetics.)

Art has been on philosophy's agenda for forever.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by John F » Thu Oct 31, 2013 1:23 am

Apropos music, I mentioned John Cage's 4' 33" in which the performer makes no sound. There's another, La Monte Young's "Composition 1960 #6":



Charlotte Moorman, the cellist, became an icon of American avant-garde "performance art" (a noncommittal term that encompasses just about anything done with an audience), thanks to events like these:
Wikipedia wrote:In 1967 she achieved notoriety for her performance of Nam June Paik's "Opera Sextronique," a seminude performance which resulted in her arrest on charges of indecent exposure; she was given a suspended sentence. The incident gave her nationwide fame as the "topless cellist." She also performed Paik's "TV Bra for Living Sculpture" (1969) with two small television receivers attached to her breasts. Another memorable piece was her performance of Jim McWilliams' "Sky Kiss" in many locations including New York and Sydney, Australia, which involved her hanging suspended from helium-filled weather balloons or the brightly colored inflatable sculptures of Otto Piene.
Here she is playing Paik's "TV Cello":



But she kept it all in perspective. Confronted by a "score" which consisted in its entirety of the instruction to play whatever she liked (I half-remember that it was by La Monte Young, but that could be wrong), she played - a Boccherini cello sonata. Fully clad.
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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by John F » Thu Oct 31, 2013 1:44 am

Three more scores are in from the people I asked to take Simkin's Mozart v. Salieri quiz: 100%, 90%, 80%. None of these respondents are fanatic Mozartians, but they're classical music fans who actually listen to Mozart (and other composers) by choice. The average is 90%, rather higher than Simkin's average of 61%. Two more to go, but it's unlikely that either will score as low as the average of Simkin's respondents.
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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by Simkin » Mon Nov 04, 2013 12:51 am

John F wrote: And Simkin's arguments to the contrary have been dealt with too:

http://dickensblog.typepad.com/dickensb ... imkin.html
Not a single Simkin's argument was refuted by the protesting too much lady. Besides, a more recent article, Scientific inquiry into poetry, makes the whole discussion unnecessary, since it uses complete literary works and not small excerpts.

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by Simkin » Sat Feb 15, 2014 6:25 pm

Here is another peace of evidence that the only difference between Dickens and Bulwer is in the number of readers

http://ecclesiastes911.net/famous_write ... y_readers/

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Re: The music that is better than itself

Post by Tarantella » Sat Feb 15, 2014 7:11 pm

John F wrote:
some guy wrote:Yes, I would have said that Simkin's agenda was not to debunk the whole concept of artistic quality but to debunk the two other things--the pretensions of the cognescenti and the pretensions of modern art to be considered worthwhile.
The "cognoscenti" may not be infallible - personal taste inevitably enters into artistic judgments - but they are better at distinguishing artistic quality than the ignorant, who seldom concern themselves with that issue anyway, only with what they personally like and dislike.

The 20th century avant-garde asserted that paintings, objects, etc. were artworks though they did not fit any definition or concept of art. Cf. Marcel Duchamp's urinal which he titled "Fountain," and John Cage's 4' 33". But disagreements arising from the provocations of the avant-garde are no argument against the existence and validity of informed critical judgment. They're not about the nature of great art but the nature of art itself, which is a philosophical issue and not, I think, a qualitative one.
As usual, this is laser accurate IMO!! You can fool some of the people some of the time.... but not John F. Three cheers!

No, FOUR cheers!!

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