In his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn talks about what he constitutes as the majority of scientific research. It’s something that he calls mopping-up:

“Mopping-up operations are what engage most scientists throughout their careers…No part of the aim of [mopping up]…is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit in the box are often not seen at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others. Instead, normal-scientific research (mopping up) is directed to the articulation of those phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies”

This shouldn’t just seem familiar to science. In music we deal with mopping up all the time. Mopping up is there with classical musicians who don’t stray too far from the 18th century. Mopping up is there with a scene that listens to the same time of metal music. Mopping up is there with musicologists who set their sights on a famous composer to write about.

Taken for what it is, mopping-up is cleaning. Taking away the grime, we arrive at a clearer image of something. Whether that floor we mop be a Beethoven Sonata or blast beats, getting to the utmost clarity of vision in our musical endeavors is imperative.

But we have to be wary of Kuhn’s warning: if we’re mopping the same hallway the same way all the time we find ourselves closed off. When someone suggests using a Swifter instead of a mop we scoff. When new hallways present themselves in the labyrinth of musical possibilities we keep to our hallway.

Besides, if we’re mopping all the time, what are we really cleaning anyway?


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