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The five things I do when I hear weird music on the radio

Not long ago I was driving down the San Francisco Bay Area’s Highway 280 and listening to Foothills Junior College’s KFJC-FM, and some really weird music came on. I tried to get what it was from the deejay’s back-announce commentary, but got distracted by traffic. Anyway, it sounded like Karlheinz Stockhausen’s piece for String Quartet and Helicopter, or something like that.

But by paying attention to my response to the piece, I noticed that I always do the same five things whenever I hear something really weird on the radio.

1. I start looking at the radio.

I have no idea why I do this. What do I expect, that the radio is going to look back at me? My look is, like, “why are you playing this piece?” Or, “what are you doing?” The radio, of course, never responds (thank God).

2. I debate with myself whether I want to keep listening.

The music in question is always very interesting, yet taxing at the same time. So I ponder whether I want to keep listening. The thing that usually keeps me around for sure is curiosity about the identity of the piece, so I stay.

3. I continuously wonder who wrote the piece.

I rummage around the disheveled card catalogue that is my brain trying to identify the author of the composition. Brian Eno? Krzysztof Penderecki? Milton Babbit? Laurie Anderson? Frank Zappa? I may not get the composer right, but always impress myself with the sheer volume of weird music maker names that I can recall.

4. I argue with myself over whether the radio station should be playing this kind of music.

“Is anyone else listening to this besides me?” I wonder. The great “elitism vs. reaching-out-to-the-masses” debate churns away in my mind. My colleague Paul Riismandel has some interesting and useful thoughts about this in his latest post. As for me, the issue never gets resolved.

5. I berate or congratulate myself for having identified the composer (or not).

If the announcer comes on and IDs the composer and I got him/her right, I’m very pleased with myself, of course. I usually give myself at least partial credit if I’m close.

But if I’m way off base, I feel a little embarrassed. Then it occurs to me that I have just been introduced to someone new (at least to me). File this salubrious experience under the “new music discovery” category, I conclude. Thank you, community/college radio!


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