Writing style guides will tell you not to hedge. The argument, broadly true, runs that uncertainty and ambivalence make for writing that is stylistically weak. As a music writer, however – an ‘aural journalist’, even – what one is writing about is ontologically uncertain and ambivalent. One doesn’t encounter music in the same way as one encounters the pavement beneath one’s feet: the experience of music is all about ‘seeming’ and ‘appearing to’. I strongly believe that music is, in the truest sense, subjective. The difference between ‘X’s music is [adjective]’ and ‘X’s music seems [adjective]’ is huge. One is punchier, no doubt, but it’s not the one that captures the essence of what a musical experience is. In fact, it isn’t interested in music as an experience at all but as an external, objective given. Editing one into the other changes the nature of what it is that one is reporting on: the musical work as an objective phenomenon, or the subjective experience that the experience of that musical work engenders.
But within the language of empiricist English this is a difficult distinction to make without resorting to a lot of philosophical back story that many would find offputting or even controversial. It’s a long-winded way to say simply that you are changing the focus of your writing from what you thought last night’s concert was to what it did. In the end I hedge my editorial approach and turn out something that is either stylistically stronger but not quite what I want to talk about, or clunkier but more precise.
This must be a problem that all music writers have to deal with. Any pointers for who seems (ha!) particularly adept at handling it?