PhD research issue #2. The role of the music critic
Today’s offering comes courtesy of Mark Sinker.
What is the role of the music critic?
The “role” of any and every public writer is simply to write well; to write sentences and paragraphs that repay the time spent reading them. That’s kind of it: the “type” of writer you declare yourself to be is maybe a shout-out to readers, editors and publishers that here’s something perhaps of (saleable or consumer?) interest to them, but that’s really all that’s going there. For me personally, music is — to put it in old-fashioned terms — basically the “occasion” for music writing: the spur for the author to put pen to paper, and (perhaps) for a selection of readers to gather. I have a spiel on what a reviewer does, as contrasted to a critic (the critic’s role for me defined more discursively, and negatively: because a critic ISN’T just a reviewer… c.f. this essay/review for full elaboration, since it probably helps flesh out some of my other answers:
To answer the question at a general level, I regard a critic as someone who values curiosity over cultural complacency, and knows how to enable this as a practice in others, passing on the means if not the impulse — the means being specific pointers to how to read, look, listen, smell, taste, touch, move, to open up material that seems opaque or rebarbative, and more generally techniques, routemaps, portals that enable more confident ease of exploration, of the familiar and the unfamiliar both. Plainly, there’s a built-in restlessness to this model: because the mastery of that zone one beyond the norm can easily become its own new form of reactionary complacency, the critic in you is what nudges you further out from under the self-satisfactions of such mere embattled niche expertise. And there’s plenty to be curious about — richer and more unexpected because routinely overlooked — in what presents as the “everyday” (which pop after all can never ignore, even at its most would-be vanguardist).
Read Mark Sinker on Music, poetry, Parkinson’s Disease