The Greatest Irony of Music: A Look at Musical Nature.

    Music is the only universal language. Just like any other popular language, there will always be unique dialects from places far away that will lead to some confusion, but the core emotions of the musical speaker will almost always ring true. Unlike the other forms of popular communication, music demands no knowledge of its vocabulary from the listener. No matter where you live or what you know, a ballad is slow, a minor chord is generally sad, and a moving bass line hits you in the hips. Another unique trait of music is how naturally it is universal. It is not universal because everyone is forced to learn it. It is because even if you know absolutely nothing about music, it can still speak with you. What language can you say such a sentence about? If you only speak English, trying to read a book in French is most likely nothing more than an exercise in futility. Juxtapose this french book hypothetical with a non-trained ear listening to an album for the first time. Only communication through the arts can accomplish such a feat of transcription and only the subconscious understanding of music can surpass so much cultural confusion.       
    When you are constructing your sound driven "point," aside the sentence like melodies and harmonic phrasings that go along with it, your guidelines become very similar to those of a spoken language's. The emotions that are most universally translatable within expression are such because they're widely excepted cliches. The sentence, "The moon was beautiful and the girl was beautiful too," is going to inevitably sound cheesy. It will remind us through its bland phrasing and poor word choice how cheesy those two ideas really are. Without the molding of view and style, a sentence has no art. Through the use of phrasing and personalization we can turn these points into something much stronger.
    "Oh May, Oh May
Sweet Daughter May, 
the only one who stays 
up in the room, 
under the moon, 
that only she can illuminate."
    It is when we begin to alter cliches with personal view and experience that it becomes art. We must flush the idea with individualized intimacy, thus making the cliche an agreed middle ground between the creator and the listener, not an end result. This allows us to express to the listener our own personal views laid on top of feelings that have been inscribed in Man for centuries. In this formula, Music's universal principle is shown.

Listener -> 
Portrayal of generalized emotion(s) -> 
Artist's personalization -> 
Universal communicative property of music.
     
    Obviously not all music related points are universal. Specific details will forever be lost due to this emotion driven style of speech. It will always be more difficult than it's worth to ask where the bathroom is with an instrumental mandolin piece (though perhaps a great idea for some good laughs.) Also, ideas such as songs that ironically or sarcastically put sad melodies on happy lyrics or vise versa will not carry through very well. These are apparent points that I feel could be viewed as semantics when examining the nature of music. Especially since these problems all derive from the application of a spoken language on top of musical grounds, and not the nature of music itself.
    To say that you do not need any relative knowledge to judge music is not to say that it has no value. You do not need shoes to go running on the street, but step on something sharp and I'm sure you'll want the benefit of footwear next time around. Though nowhere near as painful as my example, music falls under a similar category. There are definitely numerous elements that can be easily overlooked, or under appreciated without some form of training. To use the common language example again, the grace of sentence structure, emphatic punctuation, and high brow word driven symbolism in a dense novel would not be apparent to someone on an elementary school reading level. This potential weight of knowledge can be applied in the interpretation of the "Artist's Personalization" step to better understand why the specific musician is speaking to you so well... Or why he is not for that matter. By no means is it useless to commit hours upon hours to practicing scales, studying music theory, or having an intense listening to an artist to better understand his voice. However, specific to music, this knowledge seems to come with a dangerous risk. 
    This musical knowledge can consume you, obsess you, and steel your every waking thought with its fascinating vibrant shapes and colors. To some, even the way it feels under their finger tips can be irreplaceable. It will give you great aspiration to learn more. A yearning to apply new punctuation and word play to your musical sentences. The possibilities are limitless and the thrills are over whelming... Well it doesn't sound like there's anything wrong with that, right Scott? There's nothing wrong with getting more articulate and knowledgable about music... Of course there is nothing wrong with those specific factors! The problem is the greatest irony of music. It is derived within the "Portrayal of Generalized Emotion(s)" Though perhaps a difficult step to master, it is the easiest step to instantly apply to music. I mean it is the singular base reason that makes music universal as everyone understands it. Somehow people can get so caught up in the "Artist's Personalization" factor that they skip over this quintessential phase. Music quickly becomes lacking, and about the ability to play "better." It's like two english professors screaming in a room about who can write the better sentence while throwing punctuation at each other. It's the idealism of thinking that because you can write one hundred words into a single sentence you should do it every time. Counterproductive efforts  become a primary focus at this point. Music becomes selfish and greedy as these fallen grinches of technical obsession flex their fingers and bare their fangs while waiting to see if they can play a once romantic slow dance 45 BPMs faster than the last time they super bumped the speed. It's nothing more than stroking egos and it ceases to be art. It is now expressionless technical work, a soulless vocation of what once was the organic vibrations of passion. I remember a piano player once proudly announced in front of a room, "I can play any piece of music in this room, and I can do it blind folded" All I could think was, "but do you have anything to say? Jive talk is nothing but jive talk even if you sprinkle on all the bells and whistles." Where has the passion gone in these once proud representatives of the field? Where is the joy for making others feel, for a musician breathing in identical notes as his listener and knowing there is an interconnectivity of humanity within their unified exhale. If you just want to jerk off (even musically) why ever leave home? Why ever play for anyone?
    The greatest irony of music is how hard people can work, how obsessed players can become without remembering the most important step. If you've got nothing to say, you've got nothing to play. At best you've got a handful of semi-colons and to quote Kurt Vonnegut, "Fuck Semicolons." 
 

-Scott W. 

3 comments

  • The White Ninja

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