Recently I watched a documentary about voguish student band Arcade Fire.

I felt my age.

I found I really did not like Arcade Fire’s music – even though they use French horns and declare themselves nouveau fans of the church organ: both instruments guaranteed a favourable reception in the Knackered household because played here. Even the information that Talking Head David Byrne was a fan did nothing to encourage a middle-aged die-hard to turn a sympathetic ear to this enthusiastic young beat combo.

But during a lurid phone-in show today, hosted by formerly-serious newscaster Jeremy Vine on the BBC’s Baby Boomer channel, Radio 2, on came the church organ with no prior announcement. My ears pricked up, thinking there must be some kind of mistake. A couple of weeks on from that documentary and the Byrne endorsement must have drilled deep into my unconscious and worked some magic, because once the record was introduced as Arcade Fire’s latest single, Intervention, a fan was born. And the band and Steve Jobs became promptly 79p the richer.

We’d all like to consider ourselves independent thinkers, and that our taste in music is authentic. Well, this would be the second time this week that my partiality has been put to test. Only yesterday, Professor Robin Hanson of Overcoming Bias teased me for being a Nassim Taleb fanatic. To verify my neutrality, read here, here, here, and yet more in the next couple of days. Well, he could be right…

The serious point is that musical appreciation, like so many things, is not independent but “situational”. There was quite a bit of coverage of this issue a few weeks ago, with the Washington Post running an experiment in a subway station to show that if you put a world virtuoso violinist (Joshua Bell) in the role of busker, the cultured people of the world’s capital, would not be able to tell the difference. Pearls before swine. See the Situationist’s take on this here and their earlier item on the situational in musical appreciation.

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