Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ted Gioia on Music, Seduction, and Inputs

Last November Tyler Cowen interviewed music critic Ted Gioia. Gioia was sometimes annoyingly smug and tossed off theories about music and society that I found unconvincing, but he does know a huge amount about music. Some snippets:
GIOIA: Well, I believe, actually, Darwin was right. He thought music was linked to sexual selection, and we use music to attract a mate. . . .

COWEN: Let’s say you were not married, and you’re 27 years old, and you’re having a date over. What music do you put on in 2019 under those conditions?

GIOIA: It’s got to always be Sinatra.

COWEN: Because that is sexier? It’s generally appealing? It’s not going to offend anyone? Why?

GIOIA: I must say up front, I am no expert on seduction, so you’re now getting me out of my main level of expertise. But I would think that if you were a seducer, you would want something that was romantic on the surface but very sexualized right below that, and no one was better at these multilayered interpretations of lyrics than Frank Sinatra.

I always call him the Derrida of pop singing because there was always the surface level and various levels that you could deconstruct. And if you are planning for that romantic date, hey, go for Frank.
Based on solely Gioia's cheesy mustache I doubt he knows as little about seduction as he says. I was going to say that other things would work a lot better on me, e.g. Irish folk or Wagner, but since I can't remember the last time somebody tried to seduce me I suppose I really have no idea. More:
COWEN: Is it better to work and read to music? Or should those be separate activities?

GIOIA: It depends. I believe you can make a very strong philosophical case for what I call the New Age philosophy of music. And that philosophy is that music should be integrated into every aspect of your life or can be integrated into every aspect of your life. I believe that.

Now what I have to say is, in practice, the New Age music that did this was lousy and unlistenable. But I still believe very much, in principle, it’s okay to have music integrated in your life. I know it’s very fashionable to say background music is awful, or music should always be in the foreground. But after having done all the research I’ve done in music history, I now see the exact opposite.

And I’ll just give a couple examples. It’s amazing how many surgeons use music while they operate — 60 percent of surgeons will have a song on while they’re cutting you open. We now learn that at the highest level of peak athletic performance, a lot of care is taken to what songs you listen to while you do your athletic work. And I could give you 50 other examples, but the point is there’s nothing wrong with music being integrated into life experiences, and in fact, we should cultivate that.
And finally this:
COWEN: How is it you manage to listen to so much music?

GIOIA: I think the most important skill anyone can develop is time management skills, how you use your day. But there is one principle I want to stress because this is very important to me, and when people ask me for advice — and once again, this cuts across all fields — but this is the advice I give. In your life, you will be evaluated on your output. Your boss will evaluate you on your output. If you’re a writer like me, the audience will evaluate you on your output.

But your input is just as important. If you don’t have good input, you cannot maintain good output. The problem is no one manages your input. The boss never cares about your input. The boss doesn’t care about what books you read. Your boss doesn’t ask you what newspapers you read. The boss doesn’t ask you what movies you saw or what TV shows or what ideas you consumed.

But I know for a fact, I could not do what I do if I was not zealous in managing high-quality inputs into my mind every day of my life. That’s why I spend maybe two hours a day writing. I’m a writer. I spend two hours a day writing, but I spend three to four hours a day reading and two to three hours a day listening to music.

People think that that’s creating a problem in my schedule, but in fact, I say, “No, no, this is the reason why I’m able to do this. Because I have constant good-quality input.” That is the only reason why I can maintain the output.
This is certainly true for me. I can only blog well when I am reading or seeing interesting things. One of the reasons I keep blogging is that it gives me an added incentive to check out new authors or new web sites, hoping to find something worth writing about.

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