The Mystery of Music

Sunday, March 24, 2019
First Aired: 
Sunday, July 24, 2016

What Is It

Most of us listen to music on a regular basis, but we don't think much about how we listen. Moreover, when we disagree about music, we're usually happy to agree that we just have different personal tastes. But maybe some of us just don't know how to listen to music properly. Are there certain objectively correct ways to listen to music, or is it up to the individual how to listen? Are we worse off if we don't listen to music in certain ways? How might we become better listeners? What insights have philosophers had on these questions? John and Ken drop the needle with Stanford musicologist Adrian Daub, co-author of The James Bond Songs: Pop Anthems of Late Capitalism.

This program was record live at Stage Werx Theatre in San Francisco.


Comments (3)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, March 14, 2019 -- 12:43 PM

See my comments on the matter

See my comments on the matter of taste post. They were directed at how my own taste in music has evolved, over the decades, and so might have been better visited here...funny how things relate to others. Life and philosophy are like that: inductive correspondences; deductive proofs.

Newstetter's picture


Sunday, March 24, 2019 -- 8:40 PM

Have to say that I was a bit

Have to say that I was a bit disappointed by this discussion. First of all, the guest was really not a music expert, but an historian who wrote a book about James Bond theme songs. Adrian Daub is — according to his bio— a "Professor of Comparative Literature German Studies at Stanford University" ... I don't see any music expertise among his credentials. ( )

Also, there was no mention of the actual physical nature of music. Music isn't just an idea, it's a physical phenomenon resulting from organized vibrations ... organized tonally and rhythmically. These vibrations follow a pattern which is not at all arbitrary, but which follow harmonic patterns which come directly from nature. We, as living organisms resonate with the harmonic structures of music throughout our bodies, not just in our ears or our imaginations. How can you have a real conversation about our understanding of music or the "meaning" of music if you don't include the physics of music and the physical connection we have to it ... even on a fundamental level ... Yes, you did have a bit about Stravinsky's Rite of Spring as an example of "dissonance" which confounds our expectations, but this is a hackneyed example which does not hold up under scrutiny, nor does the bit about predictability being satisfying. None of these segments of the show really touched on the nature of music on a basic level ... just one mention of the harmonic series and how all musical forms across the world and throughout time are based on this naturally occurring tonal phenomenon would have been better than all the befuddled discussion of which songs your panelists listen to at breakfast.

For a program based on "Philosophy" I would think you might have at least mentioned the role Pythagoras played in defining the musical intervals which are used in most of the music we are familiar with. Instead, the conversation centered on a few pop songs and vague commentary about what each panelist did or didn't feel good about or otherwise unscholarly mumbling from the hosts comparing music to beer.

There's only so much you can cover in an hour, but at least you could start with some rudimentary understanding of what music is in the first place on a primal level. Humans have been making music since pre-history. the hosts of the show seemed almost proud of their ignorance of the subject.

I'd say this topic should be revisited, this time with a guest who actually has a real music background who can address the essential nature of music beyond pop culture references.

sonnerieportable's picture


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