Salient Superficialities

An extremely articulate response to the above post from composer Galen Brown, aptly pointing out that in talking terms we’re talking about superficialities, and that superficialities are indeed wherein works resemble each other:

Since you are expecting unanimous dissent, I feel I ought to make a point of throwing my lot in with the “pro-termists.” You make essentially the same argument I’ve been making for a while now.

Genre naming is useful and relatively harmless if used humanely, by which I mean that people need to recognize the fact that genre naming is based on salient superficialites and behave accordingly. Terms must not be used proscriptively — e.g. I must not say “I want to write X, but as a post-minimalist that route is forbidden to me” and must not be expected to be anywhere close to complete, for reasons that you describe. For instance, Glass and Reich have little in common in their actual compositional techniques, but the salient feature of pulsation and repetition reasonably groups them together. Whether we use a “term” or not I can accurately claim that “if you like Reich, you might also like Glass, or Adams” whereas I would be foolish to claim “If you like Glass you might also like Schoenberg’s serialist period.” We’re psychologically built to make generalizations based on salient superficialities, and to have our preferences, aesthetic and otherwise,
based on those saliencies. It’s silly to refuse to name groupings that we’re using cognitively anyway.

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