On Music (and beyond)

Introduction

I neglected to write a significant posting of my favourite music from the past decade in my previous blog. There’s a very good reason for this if you’ll allow me to explain. I have a theory about music. Indeed, this theory applies to almost all forms of entertainment or anything we consume. It may not be a very new theory nor may it be a very interesting theory. It may even be self-evident to some people. Either way, I’m not saying this is science as I have yet to verify this in any true form, nor have I read sufficient material on the matter to come to any solid conclusions. This is more of a hypothesis that I have pondered upon and now attempt to write about in an adequate manner at best. This is the first time I have attempted to write this down in a cohesive, comprehensive and concise manner. All good theories take a long time to form and this is no more than a very basic introduction to something I have been thinking on for many a year. Naturally, subtleties of the theory will have to be glossed over and parts may feel incomplete.

More of a Hypothesis, Really

In its basic form, it is a theory of music applicability; why certain things feel applicable to our own lives. It is a theory on why certain things appeal to us and why we seek out the things we do. The essence of the theory is that music is a reflection or externalisation of certain states of mind, emotions, personalities, moods and situations. When we listen to it, it has a certain resonance for us – some say it “really speaks to them” or it “really connects”. What the music is doing is reflecting a state of mind or being which resonates with the listener, the emotional spectrum of the music connect with what we are feeling or what we have felt or may it may feel like it is reacting to parts of our personalities. Depending on a variety of factors in its composition or performance, we tend to seek out the music that appeals to us during different times of our lives. When the signals match, wonderful things start to happen. When we aren’t in sync, we tend to move on.

Evidence (of a sort)

The reason I didn’t want to bother putting up a list of the best albums or songs of the decade is because my own tastes and preferences have changed so rapidly that I wouldn’t feel comfortable declaring something superlative when I no longer feel it as I once did. I no longer agree with my past self on the matter because my own life, emotional spectrum, philosophies, psychology and situation has changed and the music that once applied no longer does – though it remains a part of my personality.

Led Zeppelin and their illuminated staircases into Arcadia...

Led Zeppelin – How Many More Times

In 2005 for example, I was all about Led Zeppelin. It is quite youthful, energetic, full of joie de vivre and that sort of thing. Their music always has depth and texture to it. There is a sombre element to their tunes, too, a sobriety. Sure, I have some of it on my computer, but I no longer listen to it because I don’t feel the songs the way I used to, the lyrics no longer apply to me and it tends to remind me of a time where I was comparably naive and immature. It doesn’t have the same psychological resonance it once did.

Led Zeppelin – When The Levee Breaks

Led Zeppelin – My Most
Listened To for 2005

Beethoven- 6th Symphony, 5th Movement

2006 was all about Beethoven. Sweeping, majestic, beautiful, luscious, delightful and smooth symphonies, deep, heartfelt piano sonatas – Beethoven defined my existence back then. I really felt the movement of the music, the sense of wonder, hope and a tingling of contentment but with a refreshing dash of humility. Beethoven feels now like an extension of the histrionic side of my personality – perhaps an unhealthy balance of ego and id. It was for a time when I felt far more confident, had a cockier stride, a more overwhelming nature. I still listen to this when I want to feel that royal sense of self-importance, that majesty of pomp and circumstance or that soothing aural balm of pristine piano playing.

Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 2 Op. 19

Ludwig
Van Beethoven Rockin’ Out With His Socks Out

Pink Floyd – Echoes Part I

2007 was more along the lines of Pink Floyd. Slightly surreal, psychedelic and a mild confusion to their perception of reality with a healthy of dose of realistic discomfort. I once opined that Pink Floyd’s occasionally cryptic lyrics betray their struggle to comprehend the world in a satisfactory manner and they resort to poetic vagaries and imprecision (Echoes for instance). This isn’t a bad thing as it becomes quite subjective and open to a variety of equally valid interpretations. Other songs of theirs have a far more personal subject – The Wall for instance, is almost entirely their experiences and emotions in musical form – some of which I can relate to, others I cannot (I have no idea what’s it was like to go to a crappy English grammar school in the ’50’s for instance, though I can relate to the frustration felt in the face of rigid educators). I do love their poetry, their storytelling and musical innovation. I got quite sick around this time and Pink Floyd’s longing for something more, an escape, a world outside this one really spoke to me (as they say). I listened to a lot of new music around this time. Not much of it has stuck, to be honest. I moved in and out of genres as fast my health moved in and out of “shitty” to “pretty good”. I didn’t last long.

Pink Floyd – Brain Damage

Pink Floyd is absolutely perfect for that transcendental escape from reality we all love. Inspired by psychadelics, it speaks volumes in favour of the musical benefits of mind-expanding drugs. Bands that don't do drugs? Man, do they suck!

Sigur Rós – Popplagio

2008 also varied quite a bit. There was a lot of Sigur Rós in there. I really rather enjoyed this dreamy, existential angst-y band and their switch between ambient, calming music and then to high intensity stirring stuff. They also have these wonderfully delightful songs of joy and loving in between it all. Then there was quite a bit of heavier stuff at night or when alone: Rage Against the Machine and similarly named metal bands. I had been sick for quite some time and some angry Killswitch Engage while playing Counter Strike: Source is a bloody good way of blowing off steam in times of poor health. I wouldn’t even dream of doing that right now because I no longer feel the things they sing about (and if I was dreaming about Counter-Strike, I would start to really worry). I no longer have all this pent up frustration, nor do I have an  anger at the world. Neither do I feel like entering a virtual world and shooting people in the face with anything approaching that level of frequency.

Sigur Rós – Flugufrelsarinn

Sigur Rós and their dreamscapes

Philip Glass – Massman

2009 was an odd year, too. I have to say it was probably all about Philip Glass. For those unfamiliar with Glassworks, it is the perfect music to brood to (brood: verb, to think deeply about something, often in a dark or melancholy manner). If you ever need to sit back and brood, Glass is the perfect way to do it. It is dark and intellectual and its repetitive structure hypnotises one into a state of concentration.

Philip
Glass’ A Madrigal Opera – perfect to brood to. Like this image, the
music really broods. No shortage of brooding in Glass.

It’s not all about the brooding though; the emotions present in his works vary from despair to angst to love and onwards to utter joy. There is always a remarkable depth and clarity to Glass’ work. I would describe it in one word as revelatory. Quite frequently, it has been, and still is, the music of enlightenment for me – probably because I find it the perfect music to

read to and if there’s one thing I have loved over the past year or so, it was reading with Philip Glass.

2009 also had a lot of Tool in it. Tool are a band I would have difficulty describing. One way would be to say they are a band that sees the world for what it is; they feel what’s in plain sight and, equally, what is underneath this reality of ours – and they are often quite angry at what they see. Their songs, and indeed their perspectives as exemplified through their music, combine things like wonder with despair, reality with discomfort and clarity with disagreement. I have felt the same way on many an occasion: I saw what was there and that view caused anger and disappointment. It resonated strongly with my personal situation at the time.

Tool's imagery is full of psychadelic's too. The music is very mathematical, very layered, very complex and very expansive. It is, perhaps much more so than many other bands, intentionally psychologically and emotionally resonant.

Tool – Lateralus

There is an excellent video detailing the meaning of this song herehighly recommended watching!

2010? Too early to tell. But there has been a lot of Fleet Foxes and Red Hot Chili Peppers. And Philip Glass. Always with the Glass.

Fleet Foxes – Blue Ridge Mountains

Fleet Foxes rural rusticity reminds me of the sort of music medieval bards would have sung. Perfect for my currently rustic existence out in the jungles of Costa Rica!

—————————————————

Note: The above is merely a sampling of my past favourites from a wide music collection! This is what I have put on my BaceFook profile:

Ludwig Van Beethoven, Pink Floyd, Velvet Underground, W. A. Mozart, Miles Davis, Pixies, Tchaikovsky, Led Zeppelin, Kings of Leon, The Beta Band, Tool, Jimi Hendrix,  Dvorak, Puccini, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss II, Verdi, Arcade Fire, Rolling Stones, Sigur Rós, Sibelius, Mahler, Brahms, Yo Yo Ma, Verdi, Philip Glass.

In actuality, there are some 254 artists in music library – all of which I have listened to and enjoyed! (…Almost – I got a lot of new stuff last week!)

—————————————————

Applicability

I do not judge other people’s taste in music. To judge their taste would be to cast judgement upon their perspective and personality rather than their actions. I don’t believe in judging anyone’s character, merely what they do as a person. How can I truly disagree with what they’ve seen or experienced? Though I may be somewhat incompatible with it, but that does not mean that my perspective is superior nor does it invalidate what they’ve been through.

If someone happens to love Lady GaGa, good for them. It resonates with them and that is not a bad thing. It is telling though. If someone states quite clearly that they love Lady GaGa, one can make a couple of assumptions on their character: that they have felt the emotions or situations presented in Lady GaGa’s work. They may aspire to be like her. They may agree with her ideas, her perspectives or her actions. The two brains respond to each other. At some point, both Lady GaGa and the self-expressed big fan of hers have felt the same way – and that is a very revealing fact.

Unfortunately, this is hardly conclusive. It is only when taken in context of other bits of evidence can one form anything even approaching certainty. Without complementary evidence, it’s only an indication, not an explanation.

Without further investigation of the music I professed to enjoy above, one could come to a variety of wayward conclusions like these:

1) I am a pretentious middle-aged prick going through a mid-life crisis

2) I am a young haughty fellow interested in seeking out higher culture yet occasionally regressing to tedious crap

3) I am delightfully adventurous musical warrior whose taste speaks of the highest class

4) I have no soul and only listen to empty, emotionless drivel

5) I live a life of high emotion, feeling everything with an intense passion that only fuels my greed for more

Now, I would heartily and heavily disagree with any of these  as conclusions. Someone lacking in further evidence may make these assumptions based on incomplete evidence. Could they be said to be wrong? Yes and no. Yes, because the evidence is inconclusive and therefore any conclusion is going to be distant from the truth. No, because what they perceive looks like the truth to them, though it may not be logical consistent or even verifiable. But we cannot ever know everything about someone and though our assumptions may look wonderfully foolproof, they never are. Without further investigation, only falsehood awaits.

On the question of why I don’t particularly enjoy the majority of popular music, it’s quite simply because it usually doesn’t apply to me. I don’t share the inscrutable exhortations of sexuality in beautiful people nor do I feel a nauseating mournfulness when listening to the tearful strumming of acoustic guitars. I occasionally love some indie bands like Vampire Weekend or The National or something like that and I’m moved to dance like a roasting nut in a frying pan when a damn good rhythm crops up. I love to move my body to the beat of Daft Punk and Lady GaGa like anyone else because, despite my better judgement, it’s damn good to dance to! I love to rock out to some good prog rock or metal when the mood takes me, but that moment is fleeting.

I believe we all have a limited spectrum of taste as a result of our undeniably limited experiences and perspectives. Thus, the amount of music we feel applies to us has an upper and lower limit as well as some walls. These are always under construction and are available for expansion or destruction whenever we feel like it.

(On a slightly unrelated note, I have the same feeling about time and actions. It’s a mix of determinism and a few other philosophies: essentially the rules of the universe were laid out, but there is a level of probabilistic liberty along the way. We exist within certain confines but have the ability to move around them and only that that can happen can happen. Think of, say, a raft on a river: it must follow the path of the river, but cannot leave the water. It is always under the effect of currents and random occurrences like rocks. Now imagine there is someone in the raft and all of a sudden you have a degree of autonomy – but they are still subject to chaotic events. No matter how hard they paddle, they are still stuck within the confines of the river. For a less ego-driven philosophy, imagine instead a molecule of water in the river and you probably have a better analogy for individual consciousness.)

Conclusion

Instead of passing judgement on people’s taste, I have tried to develop a nuanced and complex system for figuring them out based on the evidence before me.  All life decisions reflect a certain situation, personality traits and state of mind. The culture they consume, which includes music, is but one aspect of this. Some people are more intuitive and may have figured this out already, but everything is connected to everything else in some way and trying to understand the connections is a fascinating study indeed. Some people are gifted with the ability to figure out every part of someone’s personality simply by looking at them. I, for one, cannot do this. Well, maybe I can, but I prefer not to because I have been so very wrong in my assumptions. I would prefer to go deeper than that. I desire to go beyond the outer shell and try to figure out the true persona behind the actions.

With or without this rather simple theory of mine, the most important part is to enjoy the music you listen to, to find more music that appeals to you and to not be afraid of sharing your music with others. I truly hope you can lift your consciousness the way I have!

So my theory on music isn’t really my theory on musical resonance. It is merely a facet of my greater theories of human behaviour. I may be completely wrong  on this subject.  But if you disagree… that’s just your perspective. Share it, but don’t condemn mine without a damn strong reason.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Aeroplane

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