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Steam Explosion Could’ve Been Worse

It was fantastically fortunate that the building 66 steam explosion occurred at night, that it occurred on a Friday night, and that it occurred on the Friday night of Halloween, all of which contributed to the fact that there was nobody present in the sub-basement labs at the time.

Had the explosion occurred when people were there, this week MIT would be mourning the grisly death of fellow students, staff, or faculty who had been steamed and boiled alive as they tried to escape the 400-degree steam.

Ken T. Takusagawa ’03

Listen to ‘Contemporary’ Music

In the Arts review “New and Old,” (Volume 128, Issue 44) the author spoke about a night at the Boston Symphony Orchestra with music from Messiaen, Boulez, and Berlioz. Before diving into the show, the author transitions with “Messiaen, Bouulez and Berlioz don’t make for an easy evening.”

This article propagates a common false stereotype about ‘new’ or ‘contemporary’ music or whatever you want to call it (in the case of Messiaen and Boulez, 20th century ‘classical’ music, or you may think of 20th century music by serious composers — lets just call it ‘contemporary music’).

Specifically, it is the idea that the music is ‘inaccessible’ and ‘difficult’ to listen to.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Contemporary music is liberating in ways that ‘classical’ music will never be. Classical music has structure, keys, key shifts, standard forms, refrains and all sorts of other constraining mumbo jumbo. Contemporary music can have all of these things, but it can also, and many times does, contain none of them. And it can contain movements whose notes were decided randomly.

However, the idea that the creative use of this freedom makes a piece inaccessible is ridiculous. It has the opposite effect — it can break the rift between the intellectual and layman. You don’t need to have a doctorate to understand Boulez’s work — you just need to listen. Don’t worry if you don’t hear a key or a form or anything. Just listen. It is not difficult.

Don’t try to describe the music with ‘standard’ terms. It’s not ‘standard’ music, so there’s no reason you should be able to use your normal set of critical words. In many cases you’ll be left speechless — nobody says our language can accurately describe all types of music.

When you listen to jazz or classical or even blues and rock, your appreciation and response often grow with your level of knowledge: of the form, of the history and of the composer. More often than not, your appreciation and response to contemporary music is dictated only by your willingness to be open-minded and non-biased. This open-mindedness and non-biased approach often does grow with knowledge of the form and the music, but you can give yourself a great head start by ignoring the stereotypes that linger around contemporary music.

Brian Wheeler ’10