The Listeners of Progressive Rock

For the listener favors and non-favors of a piece of music depend mainly on the following factors:

  • Pool of hearing experience
  • Function of the music in the life of the listener
  • The actual content of the type of musical components the listener prefers

With regard to hearing experience, we have already noted that a relevant musical pre-load is very helpful in the reception of a complex piece of music. A positive basic attitude acquired through hearing experience is necessary for the listener to be willing to process so many new musical impressions at once.

Such willingness was usually created by a certain key experience, in which the long-lasting emotional quality of a good complex Prog work has been recognized. Once the leap has been made to have heard a complex work such as "Close to the Edge" often enough that it has become familiar to the listener, and he begins to understand its qualities, then often the declared will arises to intensively explore other music of the same kind.

Without this will the listener will have difficulties to bring the necessary endurance, to listen to such music several times to the end with interest and is, for the time being, lost for the Prog community.

This effect also explains why it is so difficult to explain the qualities of a Prog song to a listener who is not used to listen to such king of music.

The function which the music occupies in the listener's life also determines the way in which music is received. The functional spectrum ranges from background easy-listening during the practice of other activities, through the use as music for dancing, to the intensive analytical listening experience.

Certainly there are fluid transitions between these functional areas, but a convinced Prog listener, who has already had a key experience of the type described above, is expected to be the most active listener. At the same time, his claim to the quality of potential dance and background music is shifted.

I've watched as a few Prog fans dancing at parties with enthusiasm on 7/8 time, while the rest of the audience reacted somewhat distracted. Those who had put the Prog piece on the other side of the dance floor discussed about odd meters, time changes and breaks, and they were amused by the unintended clumsy movements and the perplexed expression on the faces of the uninitiated on the dance floor.

This is also shows the social effect that listening to Prog music has on its fans. There is a deliberate demarcation of the "enlightened" minority against the "disbelieving" crowd, which gives the fan a certain satisfaction. If we look at the missionary zeal that some hardcore proggies show, the social function of music can be compared with the religious beliefs of certain groups.

The transitions between non-Prog and Prog are also absolutely fluid, and the boundaries thus determined by the fans are arbitrary. If one considers the transitional area from the prog to the music of modern classical composers or experimental music, one finds that a demarcation of most Prog fans also takes place at this end, where for my terms the real hunting grounds for really progressive musical thoughts should lie. What is to be observed is a often general rejection of experimental marginal areas under the category "crooked stuff", which on a closer look is mainly sound-related.

In any case, the frequently-observed arrogance of Prog fans towards supporters of "simpler" musical directions is completely out of place for this reason.

So we conclude, that the typical Prog listener is primarily interested in an intensive examination of his favored kind of Prog music in both a subjective and an analytical approach.

Now, what are the essential components of a piece of music that are consciously or subconsciously picked up by the listener, and which trigger certain emotional reactions, which ultimately lead to an overall assessment of the piece as a whole? In my view these essential elements are lyrics, sound, arrangement, and composition.