Your taste – a talent or a trap?

When I was in my late teens, if somebody would ask me if I wanted to do something or go somewhere I would try to picture myself in that situation and if I wasn’t able to then I would decline.

After a while I decided that this might actually be the complete opposite of what I was supposed to do and instead would always say yes to the things I found it impossible to picture myself doing (this could, of course, have gone terribly wrong, as I’m sure it isn’t difficult to imagine!)

Ultimately I realised that neither of these things were the way to go and I would have to take things on individual merit as and when I encountered.

I think this is the same way I feel about the concept of taste (at least as I experience it personally).

I’m reminded of the fantastic episode of @dan_derks Art + Music + Technology podcast wherein he interviewed Meng Qi (which I revisit quite frequently). Meng Qi spoke about two things that seemed contradictory on first listen but actually came to be defining aspects of how I feel about music:

Firstly, that his goal in creating instruments (like Wing Pinger) was to provide musicians with tools that allow them to sound like themselves and express themselves accordingly; Secondly, that one of the great attractions to Peter Blasser’s instruments was that they offered an almost unique sonic field wherein musicians would create sounds that could largely only have been created by PB instruments.

I think the space between those two sentiments, wherein they stop becoming contradictory or mutually exclusive is a key place were taste can also be found.


this is such a great conversation! i’ve been thinking a lot about this very topic the last couple of years. i’m teaching in a university and i noticed a few years ago that the current generation of students seem to have no taste and no style. that’s not a snarky comment, i mean it in the literal sense- they actually have no taste at all, not good or bad or however you want to talk about taste.

of course this observation on my part begs the question of how taste or style is defined… and that’s what i’ve been struggling to articulate. not only the definition of these things but then following on from that trying to understand what role taste and style play in the creation of art.

and one thought i had from reading what everyone wrote here so far is that perhaps taste has something to do with having a context? as in, there is some sort of context you find yourself in… and that process of being in a specific context, or the awareness of having a context is perhaps what i think taste is? i came to this thought because another thing i observed is that the recent classes of students have very little or even no ties to even the most recent history of their genre. as in, they are not even aware of who else is currently playing around in the field they’ve chosen to explore, let alone knowing how to trace back the roots of the concepts they are using.

and this leaves them, in one way, contextless… just floating along, intuitively and organically advancing. kind of shuffling around in the dark, hoping to hit upon something. this in itself is not necessarily bad (though don’t get me started on that relationship then to an educational program or institution). and in fact i’ve always been really against the whole traditional hierarchy of the “teacher” supposedly giving information to students as a one-way street. i always kind of looked at it like: i went through struggles in my generation to innovate and discover and progress the art form. but that took a certain amount of energy, and i was able to break through some of the barriers i found around me along my journey. so in many ways i’ve fought my battles and almost can’t even start to understand the next conceptual level of things that need to be investigated.

but these new students, they arrive in this world taking for granted the things my generation has moved forward (the same for me for when i started!). and so they aren’t hung up on all those things that i had to go through, giving them a fresh set of eyes on the world… everybody standing on the shoulders of giants and all of that. so i always tended to think that my students and myself were on an equal level to have a good idea in the classroom. they have the chance to see things in a new light with less baggage and expectations than i have. and i have the chance to use my depth of experience and decades long practice to inject that into the process.

its just that, when it comes to taste perhaps, i always grew up being taught that i should know the giants upon whose shoulders i was standing. as in, i could more or less pinpoint or at least gesture in the general direction of where i was aiming for with my work at any given time. for sure when i was a teenager i was kind of just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck. but even then i was still acutely aware of the sheer volume of work that has been produced before my lifetime!

as well, it seems that taste and/or style could boil down to just having a specific point of view in the moment? this would allow taste to evolve, but still be conceptually consistent. in any situation you simply have a desire to position yourself in a specific way? i don’t know, i’m struggling with the language here. but i’m going to keep watching this thread with great curiosity. thank you for letting me try and talk some of this stuff out!


I think a lot of identification with certain genres, aesthetics, scenes, movements being localized before made having an angle inevitable. If you like Bauhaus and only a few people in town do too you start dressing like goths to find each other. If you think your town is conformist you dress like a punk to signal you’re outside the norm. You like loud noises and can’t get booked? Boom basement shows. The internet kind of imploded the whole idea of scenes or movements in my opinion. Even if no one in your tiny town likes trap you can still DM your SoundCloud link to the Migos. It’s a lot harder to be a backpacker when you can see right on the play count that millions of other people listen to Run the Jewels. If anything it seems like Gen Z is pushing further into blending everything together. Which I guess is one form of taste? Buffet?


One thing that this conversation has made me consider is whether taste is the same as having a preference for a type of sound. I’m interested to know what others think.

I realised relatively recently that, although I love playing with synths, I find it far more productive to run them through a chain of effects and sample them rather than use them in compositions directly. I seem to need the sounds to be processed in particular ways before I feel as though they’re mine. Similarly, I’m drawn to music which is built from sounds that are almost salvaged or bruised in some way. That doesn’t relate to any specific genre - it’s more that I can’t find any purchase on music which is generally comprised of sheer surfaces without imperfections.

Is that taste? It’s very textural. Could be related to autism, I suppose.


This is a pretty good way of putting it. A long time ago I was talking with a friend about why he considered himself to be someone with a deeper aesthetic taste / sensibility than others, and how one would even be able to tell, whether that was ego or hubris or elitism on his part, etc. And doesn’t everyone imagine themselves to have deep tastes? His answer was essentially: if you ask most people why they like a certain song or artist, they might be able to point to a few things that they like. For that matter, if you ask most people why they like a book, or a dance, or a movie, or a glove, or why they bought one video game instead of another, they might say a few things. For the most part, it’s unconscious for them, and they have to explain post-hoc if someone asks about it. But for me, for any one of those questions or decision points or judgments, I’ve probably devoted some significant time to THINKING about, relentlessly INTERROGATING, and JUSTIFYING why I feel a certain way about it, where it sits in my personal constellation of things that resonate or didn’t resonate with me, how to slot it in my personal idiosyncratic vision and considered take on that artform and where it is, where it’s going, where it’s come from. It’s not just voraciously diving in until you have an encyclopedic knowledge, that’s not enough, although it’s a requisite. It’s whether you have a whole considered essay in your head for any given work, so you could theoretically talk someone’s ear off for an hour about anything you like or didn’t like and explain in great detail why or why not, what particular little production flourishes and details elevate something, and a good sense of how that particular thing is made - the inside talk and know-how and internal guts of the thing, even, being able to reverse engineer it. It takes a certain kind of savant mind to invest that much time, effort, and energy into doing this over a lifetime, but I think some people are just hardwired to and are insatiable about it. It’s stuck with me over the years - I genuinely enjoy listening to and discovering new music, and I also have a little voice in my head saying, “Okay, but could you write a considered essay justifying why you like it / don’t like it? It’s fine to have that opinion, but have you worked for it, or is it just kneejerk?” I mean, I don’t take it as far as he does, probably, but I think if you’re a musician you should be cultivating some deep critical thinking skills about music.

Now that I think of it, maybe everything I just wrote seems to go beyond what you might call “taste” and instead refer to a critical, self-interrogating approach to art and aesthetics and a keen, even obsessive sense of personal curation. Eno might be referring to something else entirely. It’s a complex topic with shifting definitions.


So many thoughts, so little time!

One thing I’d like to get a better handle on is whether taste in this context refers to an internal preference or an external performative stance.

We all have probably known, and maybe even been, a person whose apparent sense of self worth is tied into their being perceived as someone who is really advanced in their aesthetic sensibilities.

So there is possible ego boost aspect which I find sad more than anything else…

Then there are the complications resulting from one’s livelihood being tied into maintaining a paying audience for that thing they are known for…. That has always looked to me like a gilded cage…

My own experience is that I like so many things that are sometimes related and sometimes not at all…. If I look for a through-line as to what I’m into, it’s pretty blurry but there are some clusters of commonality between many of them…

That’s a topic for another ramble…

Wonderful topic!


This auto generated playlist wasn’t my first clue that my taste is all over the place but it did confuse my dog…


I think that phrase basically sums up how I feel about the textural thing in the sounds I like but I’d posit that it might be seen as taste in sound as opposed to taste in music… but then that also feels as though it might be splitting hairs somewhat, particularly as the definition of music in a modern sense probably features terms like sound and time rather than more classical phrases like melody and harmony (which is obviously not suggesting that those words no longer have relevance but rather that music is seen as a somewhat broader church than in previous times)

1 Like

Honestly I think the biggest changes in music of the last 100 years or so have been timbre and not rhythm or harmony, so I’d say “taste in sound” makes a lot of sense.

Someone: “I listen to music that sounds like monsters attacking a city.”

An intellectual: “So dubstep?”

Someone: “Yeah sometimes. Other times it’s Slayer or Zach Hill.”


I don’t know how useful it is for me to go too far down the sound-or-music path.

I fell under the spell of John Cage at an early age (oops, I made a bad poem) and that distinction has never held much interest ever since…



I can’t help but wonder if we just supplanted the word (in that Eno quote, especially) “taste” with “curiosity” if this all would make so much more sense.

The people I know who are the most accomplished and cutting-edge musicians are those with restless interests and intense curiosity in music. This informs their taste, and makes their music invariably more probing, complex, and nuanced. It provides a broader context and base for synthesis of ideas.

I know talented musicians whose musical arteries have hardened, as is common in most post-teen humans, to recapitulate the music they grew up with as their most formative musical inspirations. This absolutely still yields interesting, iterative results that have some freshness…but it’s those with insatiable aesthetic curiosity, more than taste, that I find move me the most, encourage me to do better, and inspire.



How many more giants are there now than there were when you were a kid? I mean this in the literal sense of population growth. But I also mean it in the sense of the combinatorial that arises from the output of all those new humans. The breadth of historical human experience one could pursue is logarithmically expanding. No surprise that young folks might choose to be context free, at least for a time. Seeking some self-identity before drowning in the billions of others one could immerse oneself in…

Not saying it’s a place students should remain in forever though, so I sympathize with your struggles.


I often hear this touted as a bad thing in my offline conversations and I’m not so sure. I think it comes down to the quality of the work.

The Ramones wrote a couple types of song, with the same chords, dozens of times and they were amazing. Later bands like the Queers and Screeching Weasel are basically Ramones cover bands with original lyrics and I don’t get sick of them either. AC/DC followed a similar trajectory. If your one song is good then writing a bunch of stuff that sounds the same isn’t always bad.

I like David Bowie as much as anyone but not every musician needs distinct eras, and new styles each album. I love that Miles Davis did a bunch of different stuff but if he had chosen any one of those styles and done it forever he would still have had options left unexplored. Hell, Black Sabbath wrote songs that became entire genres for other bands that I love. I don’t think anyone would have faulted them if they just stuck to any of those styles.


Yeah this is where I am as well. I feel like every time someone mentiones taste, what they often mean is preference. So for me I would say that good taste is like tasting food. Being able to taste how the spice combines with the natural sweetness in the food that got more intense with cooking it in a special way and being able to appreciate those things (or dislike them of course).

Which comes back to how lots of food is an aquired taste that came with exposure over time or even have to be paired up with something else for the taster to enjoy it fully.

So then you have good taste but your preference is is just what you personally vibe the most with.


that is a really really really awesome question!!! and yeah, i think i understand what you’re saying about seeking self-identity before being able to understand any sort of viewpoint in the larger flow of everything. for sure i don’t expect anyone to know the same names of the giants that i know, or even to perhaps be up on how the scene is currently evolving. what i find it hard to relate to is the attitude that even the pursuit of such knowledge just isn’t relevant to your process. to be honest it makes me feel old and out of touch… which is perhaps exactly as it should make me feel in the overall rhythm of a lifecycle. having an awareness that my art form has a history and larger community is kind of the cornerstone for my entire understanding of what i do. it gave me all of my knowledge but also unconscious preferences, habits, traditions. and when someone new comes along as acts as if acknowledging those things isn’t even worthy of a passing mention it kind of freaks me out.

but as to your actual question about how many more giants there are now- intuitively i think there are actually exponentially a ton more of them these days! just because the internet exploded all the knowledge in my field as it did with everything else in the world. the progress in the past 20 years has been staggering. and of course then the fun part is then trying to untangle our most recent history and be objective enough to try and name who is who… perhaps an impossible task until more time has passed to allow for a longer view of course.


Yeah I think that describes the enormity of the challenge of understanding whose shoulders you are standing on, in the present day.

Distrust of authority is a healthy and common habit of folks in their teens and early 20s. I think it’s a necessary part of the rite of passage. We deny that which came before to some degree for a short time, to give ourselves a chance to individuate. This tendency is especially pronounced in western cultures that follow USAs lead in terms of prioritizing individualism (as opposed to more community/corporate/government levels of social organization). When you are expected to inhabit a nation of one, the need to individuate is often felt keenly.

It’s just that you are observing that this tendency has become so attenuated as to sort of clip at the peak. We’ve squared the wave. Or so it seems. Every generation has always said this about the next generations, in one way or another.


I feel like I could write eight book-length responses to this with all of my tortured thoughts about it, but I’ll try to be simple: I disagree entirely (LOL) as long as one’s personal taste is continually challenged and expanded. We are all the sum of our influences, and the unique synthesis and alchemical stew of those influences filtered through our abilities and access to tools and environment creates our unique artistic vision and output. I’m a pathologically broad and deep music listener - it’s not that I’m uncritical at all, it’s that I’m endlessly curious. It all goes into my brain, cooks and stews, and “me” comes out the other end. It’s never static - I’m always curious for the next thing to explore, meditate on, marinate in - and this is just talking specifically about music, as a musician, not even the books/films/comics/games/and physical pursuits I fill my brain with.

The moment any artist grows up is the moment they realize that sublime insights can even be found in the middle of “bad” art. I’ve listened to Jimmy Buffett nonstop for the past few months because I would have hand-waved away his dumbo music as having any value. Turns out there’s tons of value in there, and nuance, and some songs I deeply love that resonate me, and also sublime ecstasy in the stupidest parrothead drinking/party songs too. Like @naxuu with the Celine Dion book - which is a great book btw, I highly recommend it to anyone - going “beyond taste” is actually a doorway to deeper perception via exploring other zones and reality tunnels. Without being too much of an egghead and intellectually slumming for cred and scandal, you can find the through-line from the Velvet Underground to Sublime, from La Monte Young to Katy Perry, and from Leonard Cohen to DaBaby. Anyone could and should spend the rest of their lives challenging, struggling, and frolicking through this insanity instead of remaining narrow in vetted, canonized cool things.

Regarding my own artistic output, I could spend the rest of my life making 100 records with just an MC-202 and a TR-606 synced up and it galls me that I won’t ever assemble a disco orchestra, learn Portuguese and make a Bossa nova record, burn a church while making a suicidal black metal cover of the theme song from “The Nanny,” and grind my bare shoulder blades against a dude in a mullet while we back up to each other and then share a mic harmonizing on “hey ya” in an Alabama bar. I’d love to get tits and sing on the moon. There’s so much to do!


What you are naturally attracted to, whether its music, sound, film, people, food, ideas etc, affects everything you do - consciously, subconsciously and everything in between. And in the exact same way, how we spend our time and what we choose to spend our time on, inevitably becomes more prevalent in our lives. To me, that is “taste” revealed.

Love what you do, devote time to it and it becomes amplified in your life. If you really love it and devote a lot of time to it, then you cannot but help explore and be aware of many profound aspects of that thing, which a beginner might not be aware. But retaining “a beginners mind” is also essential, to maintain curiosity and to be open to chance encounters, lateral possibilities, random discoveries etc…

“Life is short, art long,
opportunity fleeting,
experience treacherous,
judgment difficult.”


That last part “judgment difficult” is important.
Searching, finding and developing your own unique voice requires millions and millions of decisions to clarify what you like and what you do not like. Again these decisions can be conscious, subconscious & everything in between.
But in judging and making such decisions we often compare our intentions with others actions.
It’s important to be aware of this distinction. Intentions are only a possible blueprint of what might be, and I think it is a delusion of ego to assign too much value to such comparisons, when a true comparison requires a lot more effort, work, time and evolution ie to compere the results of your taste, rather than what “might be” and does not actually exist.

1 Like

There’s an app for that.

But seriously, there are some really discomforting aspects (to say the least) to giving much power to “taste” and I’m thinking of a continuum that runs from something like arrogance and snobbery on one end all the way out to censorship and declarations of “degenerate art” on the other end…

Much much better to find interesting things in all kinds of materials…. I love that you’re mining gold from the Buffett catalog…. It’s not a place I’d be inclined to go from here, but it’s fantastic that someone has tuned in and dug it!


Word! Thrilled to see so much inspired discussion. It’s too rich to really sum it up, and when I try to continue on some thoughts I find myself out on deep water very fast :smiley:

I had to relisten to a part of the podcast to recall the context for Eno bringing this up. And it was in his fascination with randomness and allowing for random things to happen. Things that are beyond his control and taste and that forces him to surrender – thereby inviting the unexpected. (It can be heard in the first few minutes around 5:00-7:00).

This reminded med of an Ableton “One thing” video with the artist Catnapp. Whenever she felt stuck and uninspired she had a strategy to choose a sound she liked the least as a starting point. and see what kind of unexpected doors it could open.

I have enjoyed thinking of my taste as the treasure island of my “steal like an artist”-piracy. Listen to new things, steal what I can and move on.

I realize that taste can also be knowledge, experience, awareness, status roles and social codes - contexts, or the trampoline from which we spring to make a statement of what we think is great.

No doubt, many on lllllll knows a lot more about art history than me, but it’s interesting that the modernistic battle call of “make it new” can also be questioned. Why not stay doing the same thing, refining it and achieving mastery? Or is that when art becomes craft?

Regarding repetition Eno and Rubin also touched on Piet Mondrian and how he later in life, having found his minimalist expression, stayed on his course. So there might be room for different strategies in different phases.