AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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CAN NICKI MINAJ’S “CHUN-LI” BE CULTURAL APPROPRIATION?

What follows is a guest post from Erich Hatala Matthes (Wellesley College).

Last month, Nicki Minaj released the video for her new song “Chun-Li” (along with an accompanying performance on SNL). Replete with chopsticks, conical hats, and other unimaginative Asian stereotypes, the performance quickly led to charges of cultural appropriation. I’m late to the party as far as the Internet commentary cycle is concerned, but I think this case highlights an important aspect of the debate about cultural appropriation that doesn’t always get enough attention. So here’s my ice-cold take: the fact that Minaj is herself a member of an oppressed group does not mean that those calling “Chun-Li” cultural appropriation are misguided. Continue reading


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ON THE AESTHETICS OF PLAYING PIANO

In the penultimate measure of the first movement Clementi’s Sonatina No. 36, there is a short cascade of notes:

This sonatina is often used as a teaching piece, because it’s a great introduction for the early intermediate pianist to the techniques required in more complicated piano pieces. This little cascade is a good example of why. It’s short, only eight notes long. In the numbering system every beginner learns, your thumbs are ones; your pinkies, fives. The G and A keys are right next to each other on the keyboard, and one might expect that the prescribed fingering of two adjacent notes would require two adjacent fingers. Perhaps, because the sequence continues down the keys, the four and five fingers, so that other fingers are properly positioned to reach the next notes.

But that’s not what happens. The G is struck with the thumb, and the A with the fourth finger. To do this, one must curl the edges of the palm toward each other like a taco. Then, the second finger crosses over to reach the D, the third follows to strike the E, and then the sequence repeats. 1, 4, 2, 3. Continue reading


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BEAUTY IN STRANGE PLACES: ART FIRST

I met a critic, I made her shit her drawers
She said she thought hip-hop was only guns and alcohol
I said “Oh hell naw!” But yet it’s that too
You can’t discrimi-hate cause you done read a book or two
What if I looked at you in a microscope, saw all the dirty organisms
Living in your closet would I stop and would I pause it?
…Speeches only reaches those who already know about it
This is how we go about it

– André 3000, “Humble Mumble

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What follows is a guest post by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò.

This blog recently hosted a post on country music which defended country music partly because of its interaction with the class dynamics between the working class people who listen to the style and the broader culture in which they do so. The author of this piece comes close to a trope I’ve noticed in many online discussions of art, which feature people “critiquing” the performative politics of the authors but not the aesthetics.

It seems to me like some people these days think their political judgments should lead their aesthetic judgments. In the last few years I’ve been in more conversations than I care to remember about why this or that music is good or bad based on the politics or political symbolism of the artist or their work – why we should like this music because it’s made by representatives of this or that identity group, or we should hate that music because it’s “cultural appropriation”. And, worse, I’ve gotten through many of these discussions without drums or melody or harmony so much as being mentioned, much less being the focus. Sometimes, I was myself guilty! Third and perhaps worst of all is something I think of as a predictable result of the social environment helped along by the first two things: A lot of people in various artistic mediums seem very interested in discussing and preening the social significance of their work but uninterested in developing the fundamental skills of their craft. So, in the spirit of self-criticism: I want to try to do all of these things less because I think these tendencies are bad for art. By the end of this piece I want to have explained why I think that. Continue reading


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WHAT MAKES HEAVY METAL HEAVY?

What follows is a guest post by Jay Miller.

One of the great legends of heavy metal music history goes like this:  In the early 1990s, a little known three-piece band from San Jose, California named Sleep worked out a deal with London Records to produce their third album, Jerusalem, which included the rare luxury of maintaining full creative control. Instead, they blew most of the $75,000 advance on custom guitars, high-end amplifiers, and lots of marijuana. During two month-long recording sessions, they recorded a single, hour-long song filled with slow, churning guitars and monotonic chants having something to do with a new race of “Weedians.” Throughout the recording process, the song (which in various forms the band had played live for several years) evolved: it got longer; and, in the words of bassist Matt Pike “It got weird.” Continue reading


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BRO-COUNTRY, WALMART COUNTRY, AND AUTHENTICITY

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At her blog, L. M. Bernhardt has written a response to John Dyck’s recent post defending country music. In her post, “…but it’s all right.” she articulates something that worries her about Dyck’s presentation of country music as unsophisticated.

There is an important difference between the music born from the life of farmers and miners and the music that deploys that life as a sign of authenticity for consumers who don’t necessarily live there anymore.

She goes on to explain:

it’s a major feature of contemporary bro-country, which tends to be an assembly-line-produced mess of redneck identity signifiers masquerading as “authentic” country music. A pop-country performer like Brad Paisley (who is good at his job — don’t get me wrong!) bears little to no resemblance to someone like Ralph Stanley or Hazel Dickens. He and his usual co-writers produce songs about country as an identity. Hazel Dickens wrote and sang from it, and I think that makes a big difference — or should make a big difference — in how our aesthetic judgements handle these things. Country music like hers isn’t bad music or unsophisticated music that uses its messiness to signify authenticity — it’s representative of a distinct body of styles with its own natural history and quality markers, which is exactly what constitutes its authenticity.

Readers should check out the whole thing. Bernhardt writes from the perspective of both a performer and a philosopher, and her thoughts on the matter are really interesting.

We’ve given John Dyck the opportunity to respond. His response follows. Continue reading


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IN DEFENSE OF COUNTRY MUSIC, BY JOHN DYCK

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I used to hate country music. I would hear it at my grandparents’ house. I remember hearing my grandma sing along to those drawling voices and crunchy fiddles. My nine-year-old self cringed inside. The music was so gauche and uncultured. My grandparents grew up poor and uneducated, and I could hear it in their music. Continue reading


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ARTIST INTERVIEW: MICHAEL THOMAS CONNOLLY

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Musician, recording engineer, and producer Michael Thomas Connolly interviewed by Alex King for AFB

Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Michael Thomas Connolly is a musician, recording engineer and producer in Seattle, WA. Obsessed with learning new skills, Michael is avid multi-instrumentalist and performs professionally on fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, accordion, piano, Hammond organ, guitar, dobro, bagpipes, flute and pennywhistle. He runs the venue and recording studio, Empty Sea Studios, and has engineered approximately 100 full-length records in approximately 20 years of multitrack recording. He has performed and toured with Coyote Grace, and has appeared on ABC’s The Gong Show. He is a ham radio enthusiast, computer geek, motorcycle rider, and cat lover, and has recently switched to decaf. Continue reading


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PUNK ROCK PHILOSOPHY 3: AMATEURISM AND THE MYTH OF SID VICIOUS

In this, my third post on the aesthetics of punk rock, I will continue my examination of Jesse Prinz’s idea (as detailed in “The Aesthetics of Punk Rock”) that punk rock (in its various forms) is characterized by three qualities:

  • Irreverence
  • Nihilism
  • Amateurism

The topic of this post and the next is amateurism. (See here for the introductory post, and here for the post on nihilism. As already noted in previous posts, I don’t have much to say about irreverence.) Continue reading


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PUNK ROCK PHILOSOPHY #2: NIHILISM OR ACTIVISM?

I began this series of posts here, setting up the issues and summarizing Jesse Prinz’s main points in his groundbreaking “The Aesthetics of Punk Rock”. Readers of that post will recall that Prinz identifies three characteristics of punk rock that he thinks are central to the genre:

  1. Irreverence
  2. Nihilism
  3. Amateurism

Readers of that post will also recall that I have nothing at this point to say about irreverence (of course, there likely is much to say about the exact sort of irreverence that is at work in punk rock, but I’m not going to do that today). Thus, we’ll move on to the second topic in the list: nihilism. Continue reading