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Is complicated music better than simple music?

Tom Service looks at complexity in music. From Bach fugues to contemporary pop production, musicians and composers love to elaborate ideas, but can we hear what's going on?

Tom Service looks at complexity in music. From Bach fugues to contemporary pop production, musicians and composers love to elaborate ideas to the limits of their imaginations. But when we listen, we only have one chance to hear all that's going on in their music. According to physicist Marvin Minsky, the human brain can only register a maximum of three different musical ideas going on at the same time. So how do we manage to enjoy listening to the rich counterpoint of a Mozart symphony, a Beethoven string quartet, even a highly produced pop song by Janelle Monae? Tom wrestles with ideas of detail versus texture, emotion versus intellectual design and asks, can we hear the wood for the trees?

23 days left to listen

29 minutes

Music Played

  • Arvo Pärt

    Spiegel im Spiegel for violin and piano

    Performer: Hélène Grimaud. Performer: Lisa Batiashvili.
    • DG.
    • 4779299.
  • Brian Ferneyhough

    La Terre est un homme for orchestra

    Conductor: Martyn Brabbins. Performer: BBC Symphony Orchestra.
    • NMC.
    • CD231.
  • The Carpenters

    We've Only Just Begun

    • A & M RECORDS.
    • 540 838-2.
  • Richard David James

    Bucephalus Bouncing Ball

    Performer: Aphex Twin.
    • Warp.
    • Warp-094.
  • Gustav Holst

    The Planets - suite Op.32

    Conductor: Claudio Abbado. Performer: London Symphony Orchestra.
  • John Dunstable

    Preco preheminencie/Precursor premittitur/[textless]/Inter natos mulierum - motet for 4 voices

    Performer: The Hilliard Ensemble.
    • EMI.
    • CDC7490022.
  • Johann Sebastian Bach

    Prelude and fugue from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, bk.1 no. 2 in C minor BWV.847

    Performer: Sir András Schiff.
    • decca.
    • 424388.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven

    Grosse Fuge Op.133 for string quartet [original finale of Op.130]

    Performer: Belcea Quartet.
  • Arnold Schoenberg

    Variations Op.31 for orchestra

    Performer: German S O Berlin. Conductor: Kent Nagano.
    • HMC.
    • 901884.
  • Arnold Schoenberg

    Variations Op.31 for orchestra

    Performer: German S O Berlin. Conductor: Kent Nagano.
    • HMC.
    • 901884.
  • The Beach Boys

    Wouldn't it Be Nice

    • EMI.
    • CDP-7467382.
  • Beyoncé

    Formation

    • Unknown.
  • Janelle Monáe

    Don't Judge Me

    • ATLANTIC.
    • 7567 86579.

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