Friday, April 01, 2005

Give the. People. What they. Want.

This is old news, but it surfaced again a few days ago over at Improbable blog, so that's newsworthy enough for us. You'll probably recall the research conducted about ten years ago by Russian artists Komar and Melamid; they surveyed 1,001 Americans (and folks in other countries around the world) in an effort to statistically come to terms with the kind of art
most wanted
Komar and Melamid
USA's Most Wanted, 1994.
most citizens want to look at, and the kind they least want to gaze upon. (The latter looks glancingly Ray Johnsonesque; see post below.) The art that results when following the poll results is absurdly bland, and almost defies critical comment. There's a long and engaging interview with Alex Melamid at the Dia Center site, reprinting a Nation article,
least wanted
Komar and Melamid
USA's Least Wanted, 1994.
that gets into all of this in much greater depth and thoughtful detail: "Why this artist, not that artist? Why Schnabel is a good artist? Who can tell? I don't know. Can be good, can be bad, but there is no objective truth. [Except for this one.--Prof.] This is the crisis of modernism."

Anyhoo, K&M also applied the same rigorous statistical analysis to the world of music, surveying 500 individuals and eventually recording two songs on a CD: The Most Wanted Song, a musical work that will be unavoidably and uncontrollably “liked” by 72 ± 12% of listeners, and The Most Unwanted Song, which fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population will enjoy.

Regarding the most wanted song:
The most favored ensemble, determined from a rating by participants of their favorite instruments in combination, comprises a moderately sized group (three to ten instruments) consisting of guitar, piano, saxophone, bass, drums, violin, cello, synthesizer, with low male and female vocals singing in rock/r&b style. The favorite lyrics narrate a love story, and the favorite listening circumstance is at home. The only feature in lyric subjects that occurs in both most wanted and unwanted categories is “intellectual stimulation.” Most participants desire music of moderate duration (approximately 5 minutes), moderate pitch range, moderate tempo, and moderate to loud volume, and display a profound dislike of the alternatives.
Helps to have Vernon Reid as an instrumental ringer. And about that least wanted song?

The most unwanted music is over 25 minutes long, veers wildly between loud and quiet sections, between fast and slow tempos, and features timbres of extremely high and low pitch, with each dichotomy presented in abrupt transition. The most unwanted orchestra was determined to be large, and features the accordion and bagpipe (which tie at 13% as the most unwanted instrument), banjo, flute, tuba, harp, organ, synthesizer (the only instrument that appears in both the most wanted and most unwanted ensembles). An operatic soprano raps and sings atonal music, advertising jingles, political slogans, and “elevator” music, and a children's choir sings jingles and holiday songs. The most unwanted subjects for lyrics are cowboys and holidays.

That bagpipe-and-children's choir duet you hear is John Zorn orchestrating his latest 26-mintue Cobra piece.


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