How Easy is it to Avoid the Art of Monstrous Men?

Actually, it’s ridiculously easy.

I’ll just stick to music, since that’s what I usually focus on in this blog. And let me qualify the “ridiculously easy” by stating that I’m referring to the work of folks that may only be scratching the surface of those that remain unaccused–there may very well (and very likely) be that there are many more “Monstrous Men” out there. Granted, we may all have different definitions of what constitutes “Monstrous Men” but expand or contract that definition for yourself at your leisure.

Existing Recorded Content

Let me start by saying, there’s a ridiculous amount of musical content out there. Likely more than any of us could ever listen to in one lifetime.

I estimate how long it would take for us just to listen to all the recordings released in 2010 (at least all the ones that are commercially available) to just under 3 years. That’s 3 years of continuous listening for one years’ musical content released in album form.

If we took out all the music of monsters, that would hardly make a dent. Even if we had an incredibly broad definition, it would likely not make much of a dent.

Existing Composed Content

In a post from last year I mentioned Jan LaRue’s “A Catalogue of 18th-Century Symphonies: Volume 1 Thematic Identifier.” In it are listed 16,558 symphonies–works that were composed before 1800 (it is a catalogue of 18th-Century Symphonies after all). So this wouldn’t include the bulk of Symphonic works that are regularly performed by typical orchestras. I’m sure that potential catalogues for later periods would include hundreds, if not thousands, of Symphonic works that are rarely, if ever, performed.

And that’s just looking at one genre of one art music culture of the many that exist in the world. If we get out of our ethnocentric zone there are likely tens of thousands of works to be heard and experienced. I’ve been playing art music from the Middle East for about 15 years now and I’ve barely scratched the surface of Classical Arabic Music, Ottoman Classical Music, or Central Asian Maqom music. One of the most frequently hit pages here at my blog is my Near Eastern & Middle Eastern Scores and Sheet Music Resource which has links to thousands of scores, transcriptions, and adaptations of music from these regions.

Access to Content

We live in a period of time where practically the whole world of music from the beginning of time is accessible to us.






a period of time where with technology we can create interesting mash-ups





or completely construct a large ensemble work with sound synthesis or libraries of sample sounds




And this doesn’t touch on newly composed original content that’s being produced.


New Music and Living Composers

Obviously, being a composer myself, I’m an advocate for new music–in as many of its forms and genres as exist. Sure, I prefer some to others, but the majority of performances I do every year is performing either music that’s relatively recent (including original pop music) or music that I myself have composed (or, as in many cases, improvised live).

As I’m on a Decolonialism kick I’m naturally limiting myself to work that doesn’t sustain a White Western Male music status quo and it’s still ridiculously easy to find plenty of musical content to consume and produce.


But What About Great Works of Art

I’ve actually addressed this elsewhere. Since our musical consumption practices rely more on contact, exposure, and our relationships to peers and their consumption practices it makes less and less sense to maintain canons for aesthetic reasons. There may be other reasons that are social and/or economic, but given the arbitrariness with which we choose to canonize some works over others, as well as the Survivorship Bias effect, there’s no reason why we couldn’t come up with a canon that places folks other than White Western Males. In fact, in a more equitable world, this would be more desirable.

Which doesn’t mean we have to completely give up the work of monsters, as I mentioned in my previous post. These works and their acceptance as great canonical works could show us how human biases and a biased environment  created the conditions within which they could thrive. We just don’t have to continue allowing our biases and the biased system determine what gets into canon.


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