Even though I can barely pay my rent, I can no longer sit back and pretend I have no effect on the world around me. It’s important for each of us to recognize how our thoughts and actions affect others in profound ways that may not be immediately perceivable. In fact, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real. That’s the literal definition of privilege.
Practicing skeptics like myself have far too long tolerated patriarchal thoughts patterns which colonize our subconscious perceptions of art, music, politics, and gender. While I’m proud the atheist movement succeeded in rooting out superstitious beliefs in spirits and witchcraft, our belief in Progress doesn’t allow us to simply sit by while inequality still exists. It seems foolish to dispense with mental constructs like “God” and “Satan” and pretend that Progress no longer demands that we fight Inequality. It should be obvious that the anthropomorphization of an abstract principle is a method of thought control employed by the hegemonic elite. Progress demands that we heed the universal consensus in liberal academia to resist authoritarian control of our minds.
Draft age men occupy a privileged intersection within the patriarchal matrix of power and oppression. It is therefore our duty to decolonize our minds from the ideologies of violence and replace them with an ethic of progressive tolerance. Diversity, obviously, cannot be achieved until everyone embraces this ethos. Eschewing ideologies of violence does not prevent us from transgressively reappropriating its practice as a last resort when regressive forces attempt to reassert hegemonic control through false constructions of “free speech.” That said, in most cases deconstruction of patriarchal norms is enough to counter regressive indoctrination.
As an individual occupying a privileged position within the hetero-patriarchal matrix, and because the personal is the political, my first duty as a composer is not to write music, but to demonstrate how Western music directly contributes to ideologies of hierarchy, which lead directly to violence against women and minorities. Although contemporary critical analysts have begun the laudable effort of deconstructing how video game ideologies manifest harmful norms, there is still a long way to go (and always will be, no matter how much funding is provided.) In the meantime, critical analysis of Western music needs to be brought to the attention of the video game community.
In this spirit I begin with a modest musical analysis of Ani DiFranco’s composition “Out of Habit.”
It should be stated right off the bat that this composition is written entirely in the Ionian mode, reflecting an egregious act of appropriation from traditional Hellenic culture. Furthermore its eight measure riff privileges the tone E upon which a hierarchy of expectation is based, while excluding five tones entirely. The return of E every eight measures in the bass establishes a hegemonic pitch center, while also normalizing the “male” bass voice as the harmonic authority over the “female” alto and soprano voices. Note that in this hierarchical system the tenor voice occupies a neutral “eunuch” role, as it is still male-voiced but only supports a system of aggression and does not participate directly in the violence against the identities of the female voices.
To clarify, the upper voices are understood (1) only within the context of the scale, a systematically racist construction which excludes the non-Ionian “black key” notes, and (2) in the context of how they relate to the hegemonically masculine bassline. It should be easy to understand how this composition problematically manifests numerous harmful power structures, and yet Ani DiFranco seems perfectly willing to channel them when it suits her economic purposes.
Should it be a surprise then, that an opportunist such as Ani DiFranco would stage a retreat at a former slave plantation? How could she be so insensitive?
It should be upsetting to progressives that a woman so lauded for her anti-oppressive positions should allow her musical compositions to manifest such brutal power structures, the influence of which shaped her decision to hold a retreat in a violently insensitive location. But such is the power of the hegemonic patriarchy: unless it is destroyed root and branch, we are all actual slaves to it. As the lyrics reveal, her “cunt is built like a wound that won’t heal.” Indeed, Ani DiFranco is doomed to cycles of internalized misogyny as long as she supports hierarchical systems of pitch.
Just as video games create violent rapists, hierarchical pitch constructions enforce regressive attitudes by establishing categories of “familiar” and “other.” A mind so indoctrinated is prone to violent outbursts as it attempts to reestablish dominance over the “other.” In fact, Western music theory centers around the phallocentric notion of the “dominant” chord – no joke – which constantly attempts to reassert its control over the entire harmonic system. It should be no surprise that World War I kicked off after a long era of euphemistically termed “Romantic” music, where rampant applied dominant chords brought unstable toxic masculinity to mass audiences of Western concert goers. As a result, millions died.
But how to escape? Liberating ourselves from exclusionary constructs like scales, bass-as-hegemonic-authority, and privileged rhythmic patterns seems like a daunting task. How do we overcome hierarchies of pitch? How do we smash the pitchriarchy?
The answer is diversity. Make sure every pitch as heard as often as every other pitch.
The following clip features numerous examples of progressive composers. Remember, if you don’t like it you’re a regressive bigot and should be ashamed of yourself. The purpose of musical composition is to create diversity. “Beauty” is a social construct designed to oppress women.
Of course, by modern standards this music reflects an extremely retrograde musical understanding. Pitch, we should know, does not exist as a binary, or even as 12 distinct tones, but rather exists on a spectrum. To create true diversity we should reflect all patterns of all pitches at all time, including all sounds and excluding none. Frankly, to limit yourself to 12 pitches is disgustingly transphobic. It’s 2015. Grow up. “Audiences” don’t have to be your audience.
Behold the power of music to bring us to places we can only imagine! Here is a musical world of infinite diversity, absolute inclusivity, and exact equality. As you listen to this next composition, close your eyes and imagine how progressive it would be if human relationships were handled the same way that musical relationships are handled here. If you’re having a difficult time, turn the track up to full volume and listen for the full ten hours. Imagine: no rich, no poor, no men, no women, no races, no sexualities, no genders. All distinctions between human beings erased – just pure diversity and inclusiveness wrought in loving open-mindedness.
And remember, if you don’t like it, keep in mind that music, too, is a social construct, so we are free to invent radical new ways of listening. Our search for a liberating feminine intuition is not without challenges. With 5000 years of hegemonic conditioning in your mind, it’s not about whether or not you “like” it. Of course liberated music seems unfamiliar. Many female-bodied persons “like” sex with male-bodied persons, but without feminist consciousness, they are still eroticizing their own oppression.
But that’s no reason not to press forward. Think of it as an exercise, a way to measure how much interior work you have to do to liberate yourself from the Patriarchy. View the following as a necessary tool to shake us out of our preconceptions. You might even want to listen to it for extended periods to deprogram. It only seems like violence because you aren’t accustomed to liberation.
For those who are true progressives, who are ready to interrogate oppressive power structures and deconstruct harmful norms, keep this video of pure equality at the ready. The next time a regressive bigot like Ani DiFranco performs a song that channels hierarchical pitch constructions, show her what true equality sounds like – especially if she dares to lecture her audience on topics of social justice.
And if it this white noise composition sounds like every other white noise composition you ever heard, that’s just a small price to pay for diversity.