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Sunday: February 11, 2007

A Win-Win-Win Situation?

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:40 PM UTC

Viking Pundit quotes an Afghan mullah:

Music is not banned in Islam but to get enjoyment from music is banned.

The West has long suffered from an overabundance of certain unlovely genres of music: twelve-tone, bitonal, microtonal, minimalist, electronic, some other kinds whose very names escape me — ask a Professor of Music Theory at your local university. Perhaps we can ship all our Stockhausen and Cage and Boulez CDs to the Muslim world. Pop music is generally popular only if some segment of the population derives enjoyment from it, but there are still a few artists on the non-classical side who can be counted on to repel just about everyone: Yoko Ono, of course, perhaps Cecil Taylor. I’m sure others will have better suggestions. I dimly recall from my brief stint working in a record store in 1975-76 a jazz group called the Revolutionary Trio that featured a violinist who played lots of double-stopped tritones.

What about the third ‘Win’ in my title?

Random Jottings and other sites have reported that the Society of Ethnomusicology has issued a statement opposing the use of music to torture prisoners. Would playing beautiful music to a follower of the Afghan mullah quoted above constitute torture? Would a Muslim who enjoyed listening to music be endangering his immortal soul? Should we therefore threaten recalcitrant prisoners with Schubert impromptus and Strauss waltzes and Haydn quartets, or would that be too beastly even for the vile Bush regime? Would playing Palestrina and Gregorian Chant and Bach cantatas be even viler, since the music is explicitly Christian? What if the prisoner begins to hum along? Would that damn his soul to Muslim Hell?

If the Afghan mullah is correct, Stockhausen would not be torture, but Bach would be. Cultural sensitivity turns out to be a lot more complicated than I thought it would be.

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