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How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?

Riley KZ
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Bernhard H. Heidkamp
Philipp
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Craig Richard Lysy
How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (11:50 a.m.) 

So we talk and debate this kind of stuff a lot - what’s objectively or subjectively bad or good when it comes to art. I think usually we fall on the side of 80% of what we like is purely subjective and the 20% objectivity, say, happens if an instrument is accidentally out of tune and therefore “not good”, I dunno.

But how much of this, especially with film scores and the role they must play, can be just quantifiably and objectively labelled as great (or bad) regardless of your personal opinion? A little? Some? Tons?

Mostly asking because I watched Once Upon a Time in the West again the other day and I just don’t think I’m wrong in saying it’s objectively great movie music. Personally, yes I love it and love listening to it, but man, even if I didn’t, how it fits the flick perfectly and helps tell the story (and fill us in on character motivation and emotion) is just objectively goddamn great. Like, 100% so, not that 80% silliness I mentioned earlier.

I dunno….what do you folks think? How much is personal, and are there are any famous or major times where we can just say “screw personal, that’s masterful music right there”?


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Bernhard H. Heidkamp
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Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (12:10 p.m.) 

> So we talk and debate this kind of stuff a lot - what’s objectively or
> subjectively bad or good when it comes to art. I think usually we fall on
> the side of 80% of what we like is purely subjective and the 20%
> objectivity, say, happens if an instrument is accidentally out of tune and
> therefore “not good”, I dunno.

> But how much of this, especially with film scores and the role they must
> play, can be just quantifiably and objectively labelled as great (or bad)
> regardless of your personal opinion? A little? Some? Tons?

> Mostly asking because I watched Once Upon a Time in the West again the
> other day and I just don’t think I’m wrong in saying it’s objectively
> great movie music. Personally, yes I love it and love listening to it, but
> man, even if I didn’t, how it fits the flick perfectly and helps tell the
> story (and fill us in on character motivation and emotion) is just
> objectively goddamn great. Like, 100% so, not that 80% silliness I
> mentioned earlier.

> I dunno….what do you folks think? How much is personal, and are there are
> any famous or major times where we can just say “screw personal, that’s
> masterful music right there”?

I actually think it's almost completely subjective.

To use your example: IF an instrument is out of tune, we would consider that bad.

But what about tracks like "Bad Orchestra" from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which purposefully uses out of tune instruments? Then we applaud it!

Another example with another parameter: Many of us would agree, that THE LORD OF THE RINGS is a masterpiece for it's intricate and sophisticated use of leitmotifs. But then scores, like my beloved favourite score THE LAST AIRBENDER would be bad, because it doesn't feature leitmotifs.

In the last couple of years, I came to the realisation, that every "objective" critical analysis of something hinges on parameters that were chosen subjectively.

When *I* choose to evaluate a score by it's themes and motifs, it's a choice that *I* made. I chose that aspect to be an important one. Others might disagree though.

To move that topic to movies: We criticize movies when they don't have a coherent script or lacking character work. If I just put this out there, many would agree that these things make a film objectively bad.

So why do so many agree that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEA is a masterpiece? We don't meet the main character halfway through the movie and let's be honest...he isn't the most compelling one. Obviously, that movie does this on purpose and it's brilliant, but do you see the point I'm making?

Even stuff like orchestrations and harmonies aren't objective. We tend to call scores that overly rely on rhythmic percussion "simplistic" but that comes from a very western mindset rooted in western classical music. We're kinda devalueing a lot of african music by default, even if we don't intend to.

And even if we agreed that complex orchestrations with a lot of counterpoint are what make a piece of music good...then suddenly a lot of LORD OF THE RINGS is kinda bad, as it's just string-carpets for long stretches of time.

So my reasoning is: Objectivity exists only within certain parameters which have to be chosen subjectively beforehand. Then, when you have a community like us, where a lot of people share similar subjectively chosen parameters, you have a certain degree of objectivity within that certain group and even that objectivity is wonky and fragile as sometimes even two people who bth value, let's say, complex orchestration and both have enough knowledge about it, will disagree.

And even this opinion piece on the topic of objectivity is trying to find an objective answer, while probably still being subjective, as I set a certain, subjectively chosen definition of these terms


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AhN
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Bernhard H. Heidkamp
Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (5:48 p.m.) 

> I actually think it's almost completely subjective.

> To use your example: IF an instrument is out of tune, we would consider
> that bad.

> But what about tracks like 'Bad Orchestra' from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE
> WEST, which purposefully uses out of tune instruments? Then we applaud it!

> Another example with another parameter: Many of us would agree, that THE
> LORD OF THE RINGS is a masterpiece for it's intricate and sophisticated
> use of leitmotifs. But then scores, like my beloved favourite score THE
> LAST AIRBENDER would be bad, because it doesn't feature leitmotifs.

> In the last couple of years, I came to the realisation, that every
> 'objective' critical analysis of something hinges on parameters that were
> chosen subjectively.

> When *I* choose to evaluate a score by it's themes and motifs, it's a
> choice that *I* made. I chose that aspect to be an important one. Others
> might disagree though.

> To move that topic to movies: We criticize movies when they don't have a
> coherent script or lacking character work. If I just put this out there,
> many would agree that these things make a film objectively bad.

> So why do so many agree that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEA is a masterpiece? We
> don't meet the main character halfway through the movie and let's be
> honest...he isn't the most compelling one. Obviously, that movie does this
> on purpose and it's brilliant, but do you see the point I'm making?

> Even stuff like orchestrations and harmonies aren't objective. We tend to
> call scores that overly rely on rhythmic percussion 'simplistic' but that
> comes from a very western mindset rooted in western classical music. We're
> kinda devalueing a lot of african music by default, even if we don't
> intend to.

> And even if we agreed that complex orchestrations with a lot of
> counterpoint are what make a piece of music good...then suddenly a lot of
> LORD OF THE RINGS is kinda bad, as it's just string-carpets for long
> stretches of time.

> So my reasoning is: Objectivity exists only within certain parameters
> which have to be chosen subjectively beforehand. Then, when you have a
> community like us, where a lot of people share similar subjectively chosen
> parameters, you have a certain degree of objectivity within that certain
> group and even that objectivity is wonky and fragile as sometimes even two
> people who bth value, let's say, complex orchestration and both have
> enough knowledge about it, will disagree.

> And even this opinion piece on the topic of objectivity is trying to find
> an objective answer, while probably still being subjective, as I set a
> certain, subjectively chosen definition of these terms

1. Welcome back
2. In about a month I will send you Trek. At which I point I will actually decide which Trek to send you.
3. Most of my main response was originally going to be in response to you, so instead I'm throwing in here what I forgot to put in my main response:

A lot of the time the answer to "why do you like this music?" is simply "I like it because it punches stupid buttons in my brain that fire stupid chemicals that make me feel happy." Which is of course how I described my affection for the Matrix Resurrections score. Explain what aspects are punching what buttons and the kind of happiness it's giving you and boom, you're a pretty decent critic.


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James Charles Taylor
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Clint Morgan
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Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (6:13 p.m.) 

> To move that topic to movies: We criticize movies when they don't have a coherent script or lacking character work. If I just put this out there, many would agree that these things make a film objectively bad.

Then why are David Lynch movies so critically praised? A couple of years ago, my dad strongly disliked Eraserhead.



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Clint Morgan
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Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (7:57 p.m.) 

> Then why are David Lynch movies so critically praised? A couple of years
> ago, my dad strongly disliked Eraserhead.
I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who don't like Eraserhead and have good reason for it. Have you seen it?



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James Charles Taylor
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Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Saturday, September 10, 2022 (11:06 a.m.) 

> I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who don't like Eraserhead and have good reason for it. Have you seen it?

Sorry for the late reply, Clint, but yes. I've watched that film with my dad.



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AhN
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James Charles Taylor
Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (8:00 p.m.) 

> Then why are David Lynch movies so critically praised? A couple of years
> ago, my dad strongly disliked Eraserhead.

That's exactly the point he makes in his next paragraph re: 2001.


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Terry F.
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Bernhard H. Heidkamp
Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Tuesday, June 28, 2022 (7:15 a.m.) 

> ~snip

This is slightly the one side, but:

I have often observed that the same people who complain about people using literally when they mean metaphorically also have a strong tendency to use objectively when they mean subjectively, an irony which is completely lost on them.


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Philipp
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Riley KZ
Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (12:32 p.m.) 

Liking a score is very likely subjective, but if a large number of people like a score, can it then also be labeled to be 'objectively good'? Would be an interesting question. cool

Besides, I know dozens of scores which I would label as objectively good because the composition and instrumentation is highly sophisticated, but they are still not enjoyable for me. This goes vice versa.

> So we talk and debate this kind of stuff a lot - what’s objectively or
> subjectively bad or good when it comes to art. I think usually we fall on
> the side of 80% of what we like is purely subjective and the 20%
> objectivity, say, happens if an instrument is accidentally out of tune and
> therefore “not good”, I dunno.

> But how much of this, especially with film scores and the role they must
> play, can be just quantifiably and objectively labelled as great (or bad)
> regardless of your personal opinion? A little? Some? Tons?

> Mostly asking because I watched Once Upon a Time in the West again the
> other day and I just don’t think I’m wrong in saying it’s objectively
> great movie music. Personally, yes I love it and love listening to it, but
> man, even if I didn’t, how it fits the flick perfectly and helps tell the
> story (and fill us in on character motivation and emotion) is just
> objectively goddamn great. Like, 100% so, not that 80% silliness I
> mentioned earlier.

> I dunno….what do you folks think? How much is personal, and are there are
> any famous or major times where we can just say “screw personal, that’s
> masterful music right there”?



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Ramón
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Philipp
Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (4:22 p.m.) 

So I've done an almost 180-turn on this subject over the years.

I used to think that there was a clear, hard-defined line between objective and subjective appreciation of something. Now... in short, I think there's no such thing, and it's all subjective.

The thing is... art is entirely contingent on intent, and every artist's intent is different, so there's no possible way to hold anything to the same standard when everyone's trying different things (even if with the same tools and inspired from the same wells).

How can you think a score is bad because you found it unpleasant... when the whole point was for the score to be unpleasant? Doesn't that mean that it did its job? Y'all think Zimmer's Dunkirk is awful or whatever (I'm not a fan myself), but for so many people, it worked exactly as it intended. So who is wrong? Because if we are talking about good/bad, then a thing cannot be both good AND bad. Someone has to be wrong. But the thing is that neither opinion is wrong, because it's entirely subjective; for one party it didn't work, for the other it did, and that's that.

I LOVE the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, and I don't know that I have it in me to say that 2 and 3 are OBJECTIVELY BAD. They're fucking not. People nag at the overly complicated plotting, but I deeply appreciate that; they're also overlong, but I revel in those mood-setting scenes (more because they allow the score to shine in a way that doesn't happen all that often now) and in how much Verbinski lets even the conversation scenes breathe instead of jumping to the next thing.

But what about those moments of disconnect, when you say 'Yeah, this score is objectively great, but I like this one a lot more.' Well, I found more often than not coming up with that opinion when it came to something that was very clearly not for me. And it is okay for a thing not to be for you. All those lush, orchestral scores for European films that come out every year that Broxton and others loves to rave so much about (think Claret most recently)? I can rarely connect to them. And nowhere did I utter that expression more than with those scores. I recoil a lot with melodrama, and it's very hard for me to buy into that kind of music; Horner is probably the only composer I can think of where I'd eat up even the corniest, most overwrought melodramatic music ever. And that lack of connection would often lead me to feel bad for not being able to enjoy what everyone else thought was so great. Did that mean that I have bad taste because I couldn't enjoy great scores? Well, no, because it's not about it being objectively good or bad, it was just about them not being for me, and that's okay. Actually, just like now I don't really care much for people calling Mica Levi or Hildur Guðnadóttir's music bad, because I know there's no such thing as objectively bad, and the thought is more a reflection of the person listening than of the actual music.

That doesn't mean that we can't talk about WHY something works or doesn't with us. If anything, I find the good/bad discourse even more restrictive because of a number of things, like 1) we're setting parameters upon certain films or scores that aren't really aiming for. PotC isn't wanting to be a deep character study with tons of subtext and thought-provoking metaphors, so there's no reason why it should be held to those standards, or 2) I deeply believe approaching art with a good/bad mentality completely shuts out the most important component in the conversation, which is yourself. My appreciation for art became much better once I stopped asking 'Why is this thing bad?' and instead started wondering 'Why did this thing not work for me?' because the former tends to lay the blame (which isn't really blame) on the film/score entirely, while, regardless of how the thing actually is, it's you not liking it.

A final point, which I wish more people acknowledged, is that art appreciation is messy, and that's okay. You can present me two scores made to accomplish the exact same thing and, odds are, I'm still going to think differently about both. That's okay, it doesn't really have to make sense, taste is taste, and you ain't gonna change that willingly. I wish more people were comfortable realizing that.



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Philipp
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Ramón
Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Tuesday, June 28, 2022 (12:58 a.m.) 

I have also been thinking about "Dunkirk" - so to me it's a work of genius, but for Christian it's hell on earth. smile

> So I've done an almost 180-turn on this subject over the years.

> I used to think that there was a clear, hard-defined line between
> objective and subjective appreciation of something. Now... in short, I
> think there's no such thing, and it's all subjective.

> The thing is... art is entirely contingent on intent, and every artist's
> intent is different, so there's no possible way to hold anything to the
> same standard when everyone's trying different things (even if with the
> same tools and inspired from the same wells).

> How can you think a score is bad because you found it unpleasant... when
> the whole point was for the score to be unpleasant? Doesn't that mean that
> it did its job? Y'all think Zimmer's Dunkirk is awful or whatever (I'm not
> a fan myself), but for so many people, it worked exactly as it intended.
> So who is wrong? Because if we are talking about good/bad, then a thing
> cannot be both good AND bad. Someone has to be wrong. But the thing is
> that neither opinion is wrong, because it's entirely subjective; for one
> party it didn't work, for the other it did, and that's that.

> I LOVE the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, and I don't know
> that I have it in me to say that 2 and 3 are OBJECTIVELY BAD. They're
> fucking not. People nag at the overly complicated plotting, but I deeply
> appreciate that; they're also overlong, but I revel in those mood-setting
> scenes (more because they allow the score to shine in a way that doesn't
> happen all that often now) and in how much Verbinski lets even the
> conversation scenes breathe instead of jumping to the next thing.

> But what about those moments of disconnect, when you say 'Yeah, this score
> is objectively great, but I like this one a lot more.' Well, I found more
> often than not coming up with that opinion when it came to something that
> was very clearly not for me. And it is okay for a thing not to be for you.
> All those lush, orchestral scores for European films that come out every
> year that Broxton and others loves to rave so much about (think Claret
> most recently)? I can rarely connect to them. And nowhere did I utter that
> expression more than with those scores. I recoil a lot with melodrama, and
> it's very hard for me to buy into that kind of music; Horner is probably
> the only composer I can think of where I'd eat up even the corniest, most
> overwrought melodramatic music ever. And that lack of connection would
> often lead me to feel bad for not being able to enjoy what everyone else
> thought was so great. Did that mean that I have bad taste because I
> couldn't enjoy great scores? Well, no, because it's not about it being
> objectively good or bad, it was just about them not being for me, and
> that's okay
. Actually, just like now I don't really care much for
> people calling Mica Levi or Hildur Guðnadóttir's music bad, because I know
> there's no such thing as objectively bad, and the thought is more a
> reflection of the person listening than of the actual music.

> That doesn't mean that we can't talk about WHY something works or doesn't
> with us. If anything, I find the good/bad discourse even more restrictive
> because of a number of things, like 1) we're setting parameters upon
> certain films or scores that aren't really aiming for. PotC isn't wanting
> to be a deep character study with tons of subtext and thought-provoking
> metaphors, so there's no reason why it should be held to those standards,
> or 2) I deeply believe approaching art with a good/bad mentality
> completely shuts out the most important component in the conversation,
> which is yourself. My appreciation for art became much better once I
> stopped asking 'Why is this thing bad?' and instead started wondering 'Why
> did this thing not work for me?' because the former tends to lay the blame
> (which isn't really blame) on the film/score entirely, while, regardless
> of how the thing actually is, it's you not liking it.

> A final point, which I wish more people acknowledged, is that art
> appreciation is messy, and that's okay. You can present me two scores made
> to accomplish the exact same thing and, odds are, I'm still going to think
> differently about both. That's okay, it doesn't really have to make sense,
> taste is taste, and you ain't gonna change that willingly. I wish more
> people were comfortable realizing that.



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Nate U
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Riley KZ
Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (5:04 p.m.) 

> So we talk and debate this kind of stuff a lot - what’s objectively or
> subjectively bad or good when it comes to art. I think usually we fall on
> the side of 80% of what we like is purely subjective and the 20%
> objectivity, say, happens if an instrument is accidentally out of tune and
> therefore “not good”, I dunno.

> But how much of this, especially with film scores and the role they must
> play, can be just quantifiably and objectively labelled as great (or bad)
> regardless of your personal opinion? A little? Some? Tons?

> Mostly asking because I watched Once Upon a Time in the West again the
> other day and I just don’t think I’m wrong in saying it’s objectively
> great movie music. Personally, yes I love it and love listening to it, but
> man, even if I didn’t, how it fits the flick perfectly and helps tell the
> story (and fill us in on character motivation and emotion) is just
> objectively goddamn great. Like, 100% so, not that 80% silliness I
> mentioned earlier.

> I dunno….what do you folks think? How much is personal, and are there are
> any famous or major times where we can just say “screw personal, that’s
> masterful music right there”?

In the grand scheme of things, IMHO its not art if its value is not subjective. I feel like that could be a definition of Art - something where the value of it is subjective.

That being said, a lot of talent and a lot of skill can make many of us come to a near-consensus! Like Once Upon a Time in the West smile

N8


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AhN
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Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Monday, June 27, 2022 (5:41 p.m.) 

> So we talk and debate this kind of stuff a lot - what’s objectively or
> subjectively bad or good when it comes to art. I think usually we fall on
> the side of 80% of what we like is purely subjective and the 20%
> objectivity, say, happens if an instrument is accidentally out of tune and
> therefore “not good”, I dunno.

> But how much of this, especially with film scores and the role they must
> play, can be just quantifiably and objectively labelled as great (or bad)
> regardless of your personal opinion? A little? Some? Tons?

> Mostly asking because I watched Once Upon a Time in the West again the
> other day and I just don’t think I’m wrong in saying it’s objectively
> great movie music. Personally, yes I love it and love listening to it, but
> man, even if I didn’t, how it fits the flick perfectly and helps tell the
> story (and fill us in on character motivation and emotion) is just
> objectively goddamn great. Like, 100% so, not that 80% silliness I
> mentioned earlier.

> I dunno….what do you folks think? How much is personal, and are there are
> any famous or major times where we can just say “screw personal, that’s
> masterful music right there”?

I'd say that whatever attributes we treat as "objectively good" are still subjective, it's just that the conventional wisdom/prevailing sentiment is that those attributes are important and good. To a lot of what Bernhard said, whatever criteria we use are pretty arbitrary and can change from score to score. In my reviews I try to boil it down to two things: 1. What is the composer trying to do, and 2. Does it work for me? First one is pretty straightforward, and filled with the objective things: style, instrumentation, rhythm, melody. Second one is where we dig into the whys. Yes that's entirely subjective, but that's where the fun comes into the review.

I've half-joked before that Wrath of Khan is an objectively good score. I'm sure there's someone out there who is bafflingly left cold by that score, or actively dislikes it. Just because everyone I can think of agrees with me and because that person's viewpoint is beyond my comprehension doesn't mean I'm actually right in that it's objectively good. We can say Horner uses techniques XYZ (fact) and his goal was to make audiences feel ABC (fact), and we can empirically determine those techniques are effective for a lot of people, but that doesn't mean it's universal.


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Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective? [EDITED]   Monday, June 27, 2022 (7:02 p.m.) 

My opinion is that there's no 'objective' quality, but certain opinions may get you laughed out of serious circles! I think broad consensus over quality could be as close as one gets to objective quality, but you can always find a dissenter (I'm sure you could find someone to argue that Lord of the Rings is hideously overrated and unsuited to Tolkien's story, or that John Williams' classical influences sink the artistic credibility of Star Wars and his other works). For me, I'd say that you can't boil down a work and find a molecule of quality, it's all taste and opinion, even as certain works are designed to appeal broadly.

Hell, quality itself can be a slippery thing to define. Few would argue that, to go to Williams again, War of the Worlds is a bad score, but you can definitely find a range of opinions as to how it fares outside of the film (I like it, but definitely hover over 'skip' at times). For something more divisive, I love Joker and think it's a stunning and brilliant work in and out of context, but you have many here who would vehemently disagree!

(As far as poor performances, I'm not sure even that makes a work bad. Possibly harms its potential impact for some listeners. For example, Godzilla (54) is a brilliant score, but it can be hard to listen to out of context for its notoriously muffled and restricted mono sound. I would still say it's "objectively" a great score even in that form! [Also someone please rerecord that full score please.])

Well, that was a ramble! big grin


(Message edited on Monday, June 27, 2022, at 7:05 p.m.)


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Craig Richard Lysy
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Riley KZ
Re: How much of our love of scores can be classified objective?   Sunday, September 11, 2022 (7:15 a.m.) 

As a reviewer, and passionate lover of the art form, I believe if you want objectivity, pursue mathematics. ALL reviewers bring an implicit bias to their reviews. Crucial is to admit this, be cognizant of it when writing, and strive to remain open. Helpful to me is my methodology of reviewing; assessing the conception and execution of the musical cue in actual film context. For each film scene I ask how is the music contributing to the film's narrative? Is it synergistic? Is it enhancing the actor(s) emotional expression and interpersonal dynamics or instead juxtaposing it? Does the scene really need music? Does it offer innovation or conventionality to achieve its end?

I have reviewed many scores favorably, which I believe were effective in film context, but not to my taste musically. I have purposely taken on scores that vary from my musical aesthetic to challenge my skills as a reviewer, believing you must push boundaries and leave your comfort zone to grow. I believe I have become a better reviewer for doing so.

All the best


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