I make no secret of the fact that I don't like the direction music's been taking the last couple decades. Modern music is repetitive and shallow, and even the simplest sonata would eclipse it in complexity. But what really scares me is that music isn't just meaningless, it's mind-numbing — and purposely so.
Not to sound like a fanboy, but just try and compare a rock song to a symphony. Tchaikovsky's 5th is just over 45 minutes long, and any given 30 seconds have more development than, say, Smells Like Teen Spirit has in its 5-minute entirety. That's not an exaggeration.
Don't get me wrong. I love rock. It's fun to listen to, and it often moves me emotionally. But in terms of musical sophistication, it doesn't hold a candle to jazz or classical music. It's not meant to; it's is an intellectual escape, and the same is true of pop, hip-hop, country and most other modern genres.
The problem is that people listen to this music all the time. Next time you're walking in the park, taking the subway or just sitting in a cafe, take a look around at all the people drowning out the world with the same 8 bars of "THUNK chss THUNK THUNK chss" blasting over, and over, and over, and over, and over.
For those who don't remember or never read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, one of the more jarring elements of his dystopia is the legal, socially acceptable drug soma. Soma helps people go on "holiday" for a few minutes whenever they want, and it's one of the strongest symbols of Huxley's fear for our world: that society would brainwash itself. In contrast to Orwell's 1984, Huxley saw that the greatest danger we face isn't that a privileged few would subjugate the masses, but that the masses would subjugate themselves. If there's no inner party, there's nobody to overthrow.
We're there yet, and I'm certainly not saying that iPods have destroyed civilization. But the path to the Brave New World is traversed with baby steps. We should take a look to see how far we've gone in just the last century.