The best music

A few months ago, I, my friend and alcohol decided to tackle that very philosophical question: under what circumstances can one safely affirm that he listens to the best music.

Most will think there is no impartial answer to questioning musical taste, as it is essentially a matter of personal preference and any debate over statements of that sort is meaningless. While I think the same, that question is different in the sense that it aims at being specific enough to mention the exclusion of certain evaluation criteria. As we shall see subsequently, finding those exclusions or circumstances will be crucial for the successful outcome of this. In exclusion I do not mean abstraction but rather formulating the answer in a way that the excluded factors play no part in disproving the reasoning. Mind you, it is not the actual answer that I am interested in knowing but rather the epistemology of it. Actual use of the solution, if there is any, can be left to the more superficial crowd or those who use musical orientation to socially cluster themselves.

When describing someone’s music collection, where collection is all the musical pieces they like listening to, three measures can be utilized. The musical taste of that person or a set of evaluation factors which dictates the constituents of their collection regardless of the process used, then, the projection of this musical taste, or the choices of tunes this person has made, and finally the set of musical pieces and genres out of which that collection was selected. Provided it is legal to do so, these measures can in turn be used to figure out who between two persons listens to the best music.

If you come up to an individual and tell them that you think they listen to bad music, with regards to your evaluation, it is not their music you are criticizing but the fact that they should not be satisfied with what they listen to; that they their taste for music is poor rather than the actual music being bad. It might sound like two very similar ways of telling the same thing, but the nature of taste is such that the use of adverbs for the purpose of homogenous comparisons, while grammatically correct, is nonetheless a misuse of words. In homogenous comparison I mean a situation where a certain musical taste is compared to another solely based on the emotional evaluation of the comparator. A statement, where an individual criticises another’s taste for music containing racist lyrics as being detrimental to the image he projects, is not homogenous due to the fact that it compares taste and image, two different concepts. In saying you think someone listens to bad music, the attack is directed towards the object’s statisfaction for his tastes, which in turn, ends up being a comparison between feelings. Consequently, it holds no pertinence for the exact same reason; you cannot judge someone’s musical taste on the basis that you think you have better taste than them. No two persons can come to an agreement with regards to assessing the emotions of one another; musical taste is a case where the only thing that matters is whether one is happy with it or not, which pertains to emotions.

Projection of taste in music, being solely dependent on auditory inputs and their interpretation by the human brain, cannot possibly be compatible with the criterions of objectiveness. What is the best sound in the world for someone might turn out to be more painful than a jackhammer for another. While music is governed by well known laws (there is a reason why certain musical arrangements sound better than others) and can therefore be classed, evaluated and ranked, the objective quality of a particular piece takes no precedence over the feeling someone expresses towards it. Art can be judged technically, but in the process of “liking” art, the human brain only relies on emotion (technical aspects can trigger emotional responses). While specialists will reach a somewhat objective consensus regarding quality, you would need two persons with identical musical collections and identical emotional responses to a piece to achieve a meaningful outcome on the emotional side of it. In other words, you are the only person fit to decide what musical creation you should like the most. Just like taste in music, choices cannot be debated over.

The remaining aspect of musical collection description is the size of the set it was selected from. Not size in the sense that your music collection is very broad but more so the amount of music from which you have selected the actual collection of pieces you listen to. In opposition to the two previous measures, variety is entirely quantifiable because it feasible for two individuals to come to agreement as to who has evaluated the most music. Not that the debating of this question will not cause a friction or two, but as opposed to comparing emotions, one can make a list of all the musical pieces he has considered adding to his collection regardless if it was included or not. The actual collection will then necessarily be a subset of that list; it can be the whole list or it can be empty, it does not matter.

By synthesising the above reasoning, we easily come to the conclusion that solely the extent of the evaluated set can be used to compare two music collections as it is the only factor that is quantifiable. If we then collapse this in a single phrase, we end up with the following statement: “Between two individuals, the one who has evaluated the most musical pieces listens to the best music.” The circumstances mentioned in the introduction are not stated directly, they are implicitly left out because they are not part of the answer; the set it was chosen from is the only factor one can use to judge a music collection. For example, let’s imagine two protagonists A and B. A has evaluated 10 songs and B, 8. After a while, A chooses to like only one of those songs while B likes all but one. Who listens to the best music? A, because A picked the music he liked from a bigger selection. Is A a music critic? It does not matter. Does A have a better taste than B? It is not pertinent. All that counts is the size of the two sets, regardless if they intersect or not.

Does it mean you can come up to your relatives and tell them you listen to better music than they do because you can safely assume the size of your evaluated set to be bigger than theirs? Yes, provided my reasoning is not faulty. Should you do it? No, unless you and the other person involved are in some sort of competition. Then you can go about browsing your local record merchant for new tunes to evaluate, just like two persons training to run the fastest 100 meters. Otherwise, you are only competing against yourself, and your friends have better things to care about than your self-esteem, because after all, the only thing that matters is personal satisfaction. As with anything expressed using English, this answer can spawn many more questions: can we compare emotions under certain circumstances? How would you define evaluation? Etc. Unfortunately, the reason why personal taste cannot be criticized also holds true with words, no two humans will have the same representation in their mind. But for the same reason we can communicate with one another without too much ambiguity, I will assume you did understand this text.

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