Frank Zappa, and many others, were quoted as saying that writing about music is like “dancing about architecture”. This sentiment has become shorthand for slagging off music journalists, a group of people who stand in opposition to the artists – or so many artists believe.

For me, music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor is its value limited to an experiential moment, although it often has the most impact in this respect. For me, music is tied to human history and that’s what makes it powerful. You are hearing a snippet of history whenever you listen, both the history of the performers, the performance itself, the greater cultural history out of which all of that and all the details in between come. For me, music is a connective force which draws me into a little bit of history, along with the raw thrill of the emotional punch the best music delivers. In this respect, writing about music, sharing my reactions to it, is as valid as writing (or reading) the biography of someone’s life, both the life of the artist and the world out of which that music was made.

As for the quote, I think Zappa was just calling the press a bunch of idiots. I don’t think he was questioning the validity of writing about music itself. Well, I suppose I can only guess what he meant. But, if he was saying that writing about music has no worth, than I think he was wrong. Expression by fans one to another has been a key method in bringing meaning and a sense of community to the otherwise individual pursuit of listening.

3 thoughts on “Dancing About Architecture

  1. As I think we said once, dancing about architecture sounds like a great thing. And in some cases, writing about music is more interesting than the music itself!

    Maybe the best way to take this quote is not that it means it’s pointless to write about music (or that music journalism is crap), but that there is always some essential translation that is taking place when going from one artform to another. You can’t actually describe music in words and convey it completely. For that, you need to actually hear it. The closest you can get is a “translation” from music to words, from dance to architecture, from art to a photgraph of the piece of art, and so on.

  2. Yeah, I don’t think it’s pointless either, and I do think that Zappa was having a pop at what he considered to be a fairly hostile, or ambivalent rock press.

    To me, the attempt is everything. Most great art never starts from a place of authority anyway. It takes place with the attempt. Whether the artist is equipped to pull off exactly what they’re shooting for is almost secondary.

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