Why music sometimes frustrates me

I think my sister first asked me this question, and I think it’s a great one:

Would you rather be able to teleport [1] or transmogrify [2]?

[1] You can appear anywhere on earth that you can visualize in your mind (say, from having been there or having seen a picture), with up 25 pounds of what you’re wearing or carrying. It will appear as if you’ve travelled there at the speed of light.

[2] You can change shape into any living creature (nothing mechanical), of reasonable size, say as small as an ant to as big as a bear, and assume its abilities. You can be anything plausible, e.g. a human with wings. You can change your appearance to anything you can imagine, including but not limited to what other people look like.

What would you choose? The question is surprisingly difficult, I think. In an informal polling, I’ve found the answer to be sharply divided across gender lines (but I won’t say which way).

Music…
I was telling my friend Jonathan the other day about why I sometimes think music is frustrating. Of course, if you know me, you know that I also think it’s totally awesome. But in certain situations…

Okay, think about three mainstream forms of art: movies/TV, books, and music. The first time you watch a movie or read a book, you’re probably going appreciate most of its total impact on you. When you’re done watching or reading, you can say with pretty good confidence, “Hey that was good.” (Or bad.) Subsequent viewings/readings can heighten your appreciation as you discover nuances, etc., but only by a little bit, and anyway just as often you don’t even enjoy the item as much as you did the first time around.

Music, of course, is totally different. It’s nearly impossible to gauge how good an album is on first listen. With some exceptions (I can think of, recently, Bachelor No. 2, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia, Sea Change…) great albums require you to listen to them repeatedly to fully appreciate them, or even come close.

And this is why music is sometimes frustrating. You’re going to enjoy a concert a lot more if you know all the music beforehand. The friend’s carefully concocted road trip mix won’t be anywhere nearly as exciting for you as it will be for him the first time he slips it into your car stereo. On a more personal note: the song that you’ve just recorded — that’s been running through your head for weeks — will probably be cut off by a new listener after a minute of play time.

Sure, there’s something awesome about a piece of art that grows stronger the more it is experienced, about sounds that defeat the test of time and novelty. Maybe it has something to do with what I mentioned here, that movies and books are immersive, whereas music molds itself to your own experience, so it has a better shot of growing with you. In fact, it’s pretty amazing that listening to a CD for the nth time actually can be a) a rewarding experience and b) even better than the previous time. There are few other things in my life for which this is the case.

Even so. I’d love to be able to put an album in my CD player for the first time and appreciate it for its full worth, or close to it. I don’t think that’d make me like it any less. Sure, I wouldn’t have the memory of the experiences I had while listening to it (the album I have on now, Achtung Baby, well I’ve listened to so many times past the point of familiarity that it’s like an old friend to me, for instance), but those would come anyway as I listened to the album more and more. Which I would — hmm, but maybe not as much. Some of my favorite albums I can just hold in my hand and almost experience what it’s like to listen to them that way.

But for the vast majority of albums that are just good to great but that still require that large initial investment, well, it’s frustrating.

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42 Responses to Why music sometimes frustrates me

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow your blog is even bettern when ome’s drunk

    b x

  2. snafuuu says:

    Maybe I just don’t have enough patience, but if I am not drawn into an album on the first listen, I won’t give it a chance. Who knows how many great albums I’ve missed out on because of this? But I guess impatience is a big part of my personality.

    Speaking of awesome mixes, though, Brandon and I determined that my Veronica Mars, season 1 music is the Best Mix Ever. I should really send it to you and see what you think (it starts out with the theme song, “We Used to be Friends” and ends with the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” which is the most perfect mix cd ending song ever). Or I could just hand it to you in person in August, since we’ll probably end up living in Berkeley.

    • aj says:

      “Who knows how many great albums I’ve missed out on because of this?”
      Exactly. In some sense, this is music’ fault, not your own. I have learned to be patient with music, as some of my favorite albums now definitely did not appeal to me on first listen. But ah, it’s frustrating that I have to be!

      You’re going to be living in Berkeley? Awesome! I did not know that. (Somehow I thought you were looking in SF or South Bay or something.) Let’s definitely meet up.

      I’d like to hear your VM mix. My favorite official TV/movie CDs are Batman Forever (I never even saw the movie! But what an awesome mix) and Singles (as a grunge kid), although Magnolia is good too.

      • snafuuu says:

        I’ve noticed one thing in particular that colors my prejudice against certain albums is if it’s the second (or third, or fourth) album from an artist whose first album that I listened to completely blew me away. Examples: I still haven’t managed to get into any Sloan albums other than Action Pact, because anytime I want to listen to Sloan, I inevitably listen to Action Pact because it’s SO awesome. Neutral Milk Hotel: I’ll always love In the Aeroplane Over the Sea more than Avery Island, probably because of the order in which I discovered them. Anytime I want to listen to Old 97’s, I always pull out Hitchhike to Rhome, because it was their first album and the most bluegrassy, rockabilly-esque (everything else sounded way too mainstream “rock” afterwards). I do think the Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow was objectively better than Oh, Inverted World, but maybe I wouldn’t be so disappointed by the latter if I’d heard it first.

        However, I have liked just about every Ben Folds (Five) release, my favorite Weezer album is Pinkerton, and although I initially didn’t like the Reputation as much as I liked Sarge, I realized upon repeated listenings that the Reputation was much more developed and more mature than Sarge.

        My favorite soundtrack-mixes: The Wedding Singer (though I love *all* 80s compilations, so maybe this shouldn’t count), Singles (love the movie too), Reality Bites (even though I’ve never seen it). Please don’t *ever* watch Batman Forever. Just bask in your love for the music, and don’t ever let the movie ruin that for you.

        Okay, enough of my music rant/digression. Yes, B & I have decided we’ll live in Berkeley. :) We’ve read countless articles about neighborhoods in the bay area, and Berkeley sounds the most like Brookline (our current home) to us, and the rent prices are cheaper than in SF. It just seemed like the perfect fit for us. I can’t wait to move out there! And yes, we should definitely hang out once we get settled.

        • aj says:

          “I’ve noticed one thing in particular that colors my prejudice against certain albums is if it’s the second (or third, or fourth) album from an artist whose first album that I listened to completely blew me away.”

          Hey, yeah, I totally agree. Actually I wrote about it (under “claim 2”). Luckily, I think there are enough new artists out there to quench our everlasting thirst for that perfect new sound. (The real question is whether we have enough money and time to find them.)

          Also, I agree exactly about the Shins. I had heard Inverted a couple of times first but actually bought Chutes first.

          Which BFF albums do you like the best? Or are they all the same?

          I agree, Berkeley is awesome. It reminds me a lot of Cambridge, but of course with much nicer weather. In fact, even if the prices were the same, I’d rather live in Berkeley than in SF. It’s just got that feel.

      • ratatosksv says:

        Yeah, got any tips about where we should live?

        Oh, and Caroline’s VM mix is the best damned mix-tape I’ve ever heard. I would not have liked (or given the time to) 75% of the songs on their own… But now, I can sit and listen to the entire album over and over again for hours.

      • walther says:

        amen on the batman forever soundtrack — that is one sick and random mix cd. although i haven’t heard it in a few years, i remember liking the soundtrack for batman & robin too. another one i (as well as everyone else) like is the garden state soundtrack. as someone i know said upon exiting the theater after seeing that movie, “even i could have made an awesome movie, with that soundtrack.”

        why we grow to like certain music more after repeated listenings is a fascinating topic, and i look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the subject as they develop. =)

  3. ratatosksv says:

    I’ve often wished I had concocted some bizarre major that was a mixture of music theory, psychology, cognitive science, and sociology. I’ve always been interested in the different effects different types of music have on different people, and studying copyright theory (which deals with the creative process, incenting the creative process, the value of types of expression, etc.) has only made me more interest. If I’m by myself walking around, chances are that I’m pondering these things. Unfortunately, my lack of musical training and need to earn money to pay back my loans are significant barriers to my pursuing this as a field of study.

    Oh, and to be more specific about my earlier request for tips, do you (or any of your pals) have any suggestions for brokers or anything to help us find an apartment? There’s a lot listed on Craigslist, but I figure there must be more apartments available that aren’t advertised there…

    • aj says:

      Hey, so why aren’t you writing these thoughts down in your LJ at least? I’d definitely read them…

      Hmm… most people I know go through craigslist or through friends. I don’t have any experience with brokers or anything, unfortunately. Housingmaps.com is a good CL resource. If you let me know your parameters (how many BRs, location (north side!), cost, etc.) I can keep an eye out — I get a couple of emails a week advertising apartments around here.

      • snafuuu says:

        We’ve been looking through craigslist, but a lot of the postings don’t have pictures, so that limits the postings we’ll actually read.

        Location: North side (got anything in the hills? heh)
        Cost: No more than $1600/mo
        Must Have: 1 BR/1 BA (2 BR might be okay, but we don’t really need the space), on-site laundry, cats okay, parking (street parking okay if plentiful, otherwise parking space needed), close to public transit (since Brandon won’t have a car yet)
        Preferable: Hardwood floors, kitchen with lots of counter space, big windows in bedroom, elevator if it’s higher than 3 floors

        Yeah, don’t feel the need to spend *too* much time on the lookout for us. We’ll be up there to apartment-hunt in late July-early August, right after the bar. But if there’s something awesome that you don’t think we should pass up, definitely send it our way. :)

  4. awu says:

    No LJ poll?

    • aj says:

      Hmm, good idea. But I can’t add a poll to an existing entry. Blah. Maybe I’ll create a new entry…

  5. transmogrify

    i’m a patient person. not in a great rush to get anywhere *right now*. transmogrification, as described, would allow me to explore all sorts of places that i can’t explore as a person, whereas teleportation would just let me go to the same places really really quickly. clear win for transmogrification.

    • gdogg says:

      Re: transmogrify

      Yup, that was almost exactly my reasoning. Also, if I have wings, I can fly there myself! Feng voted for teleportation, so gender lines are working out…

      • wingerz says:

        Re: transmogrify

        actually, i’d teleport. then i’d be able to simulate flying.

        • phaedrus1313 says:

          Re: transmogrify

          That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, Wing, and I’ve had this conversation a lot.

          Although the following is pretty ridiculous too:

          I’d take teleportation over transmogrification, BUT I’d prefer to be able to fly (as-is, no wings or such nonsense) over teleportation. Go figure.

          Lee

          • wingerz says:

            Re: transmogrify

            dude, that *is* ridiculous.

            seriously though – after spending 31+ hours going from australia to boston, i’d have to choose teleportation. except that i would want it to be instantaneous, rather than at the speed of light. sorry, aj.

  6. vchou says:

    teleport

    is this following your gender lines?

  7. wingerz says:

    Underspecified?

    does anyone else think that the transmogrification scenario is underspecified?

    • phaedrus1313 says:

      Re: Underspecified?

      Yeah, totally. I mean:

      Would you be able to speak the animal’s language to which you had transmogrified?

      • wingerz says:

        Re: Underspecified?

        also – logically, why can’t you transmogrify into an amoeba or an elephant?

        • phaedrus1313 says:

          Re: Underspecified?

          And what happens if you are transmogrified as a mouse, walk into a tiny hole in the wall, and immediately restore yourself to human form?

          • wingerz says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            would you maintain your human intelligence if you transmogrified into an animal?

          • phaedrus1313 says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            If both Wing and I transmogrified into animals, would we recognize each other?

          • wingerz says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            when transmogrified as an animal, would i be able to eat whatever foods they eat? would i want to? would they taste good?

          • phaedrus1313 says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            Seriously, AJ: how do you possibly expect well-reasoned answers to your hypotheticals without giving all the relevant details?

          • aj says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            I love you guys.

            Glad to see you’re hard at work! :)

            I put the onus of detail on you. As in, “I’d pick transmogrification only if X and X”.

          • wingerz says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            aj, if i could teleport we could hang out every day, just like we used to! what could be better than that?

          • aj says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            That’s true! And then I could transmogrify myself into someone who doesn’t suck at basketball, so I wouldn’t embarrass you guys when we played!

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            true. i assumed the answer to this was “yes” when i made my choice. basically, my assumption is that i would *be* that animal (or person) in all aspects other than my top levels of concious thought, which would be preserved.

          • aj says:

            Re: Underspecified?

            Right. Although for made up creatures or other humans, your intent is what dictates what you’d be. For instance, if I changed myself into just a better-looking version of me (an underrated aspect of transmogrification, btw), then I’d have the same thoughts/abilities as myself. But if I transformed into Tracy McGrady, I’d be as athletic as he is.

  8. Anonymous says:

    did that question come up after a game of dungeons a long long time ago?
    -mdas:)

  9. Anonymous says:

    transmogrify, no contest

    Transmogrify implies:

    1. Immortality (turn into a younger person)
    2. Invulnerability to most injuries and disease (after injury/disease, turn into uninjured/healthy person)

    Aside from all the other uses, these two alone should make it no contest. But wait! There’s more: assuming transmogrify = “turn into any physically feasible collection of biological cells”, transmogrify also implies:

    3. Cure for any disease suffered by other people. (Turn into a plant which produces the cure, and drop a seed.)
    4. Space travel. (See: Astrochicken, assuming such a thing would be possible with a mass less than that of a bear.)

    I say you’d actually be morally obligated to choose transmogrification.

    -Cog

    • aj says:

      Re: transmogrify, no contest

      Let’s restrict it to personal, (generally) selfish uses only. But even then, yeah, 1 and 2 are pretty compelling.

      Then again, you’re a guy… :)

    • aj says:

      Re: transmogrify, no contest

      On further thought, an interesting observation: in a fight, a teleporter would almost certainly win. Just adding spice to the debate…

      • ccho says:

        Re: transmogrify, no contest

        What would be his strategy? Assuming the guy (x) who can transmogrify can do so nearly instantaneously, the teleporter (y) will never be able to find him. Then, x can enter y’s body and, though gruesome, transmogrify into something really large, depending on how conservation of energy applies. On the other hand, y can teleport so that x will not be able to follow him or apply his strategy in time.

        If restricted to selfish uses only, either ability could produce wealth and power. Transmogrification would not imply immortality since you could probably die by accident.

        • aj says:

          Re: transmogrify, no contest

          I think the idea is that the teleporter just has to know roughly where the tranmogrifier is. Then he can set off a bomb, etc. Something that the transmogrifier would have trouble surviving no matter what he is.

          Also, the transmogrifier can be captured — put into a room out of which he can never escape. (Imagine a solid lead room, or something with a magnetic field.) The teleporter can never be captured this way.

          (Btw, by the stipulation of the problem, x cannot change into anything smaller than an ant.)

          I agree that they could both make zillions… although, again, I think the teleporter would have an easier time of doing so.

          • ccho says:

            Re: transmogrify, no contest

            I was thinking of a fight without the usage of tools that are difficult to obtain (like a bomb, unless the teleporter happened to obtain a lightweight one with his ability). And if the transmogrifier was the size of an ant, he would be pretty difficult to see, but could still enter one of the teleporter’s orifices and turn into something the size of a bear (brings new meaning to Eric Cartman making bears).

            Also, the transmogrifier could hide somewhere that the teleporter has never visualized in his mind, or fly around in the air since the teleporter is restricted to the earth.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: transmogrify, no contest

            or just go astrochicken. teleporter coming after him = death to teleporter.