I have a friend who hates the sound of the hammered dulcimer.
Somehow I see this as some metaphor, although it is a matter of extremely personal taste. I love the sound of a hammered dulcimer, and even the sound of the simpler "mountain" dulcimer, with its zithery stringpluckthalism, played with a feather. When the plinking of a mountain dulcimer somehow converts itself to song, I see a face moving across the waters,making something new. Reading that last sentence, though, I amend to say merely that I like it.
There's always that tension for me, between harmonious things and discordant things. There's some cultural bias at work, of course. I love the way that metaphors for cultural misunderstanding stems so directly from real life--I'm thinking of those curious musicologists who pronounced that, by coincidence, western musical forms were in tune with the harmony of nature, while eastern musical scales were discordant. Maybe this is what appeals so much in Harry Partch's music--the idea that the scales themselves conspire to bias one and restrict connection to the music, and that new scales are required. In a different vein, I like the work of that fellow Conlon Nancarrow, who spent much of his life down in Mexico composing pieces for the player piano that no human could play on the "real" piano. Although many of his works explore the intersection between jazz and what was then "modern" music, I like best the faux virtuosity of riveting flurries of notes too dense for hands to play.
Yesterday, as I exited from Jupiter Road onto the President George Bush Turnpike, I thought about ambient music's appeal for me. Ambient is such an umbrella term, but the artists that I like in that genre tend to work in melodic (or spare, unmelodic "dark") spaces outside the restrictions of song and lyric. I like songs, and I like lyrics, but I like that sense that one can make music freed of the traditions of either.
I also like that most ambient artists literally work out of garages, or whatever other euphemism one wishes to apply to a home studio. Although some are profoundly skilled musicians, some are, instrumentally speaking, relative non-musicians. This is truly a music of the people, or, more precisely, a music of the people and their synths. Yet the listening audience is also a small, hobbyist group. Although ambient ideas infect and inspire mainstream pop, ambient itself remains a bit inaccessible to most folks.
Maybe there's a simplicity in the music. I don't mean a simplicity of form, as much ambient is rather subtle. I mean an accessibility of the ability to make the music, and a straightforwardness about the music thus made.
I'm intrigued, though, by the way that music affects me.
I love the sounds of a twelve-string guitar and a crystalline voice quavering a traditonal folk song, but
I also love the grind of an electronic/industrial rant.
Maybe it's an internal dissonance that makes me like both Karen Carpenter's voice and metallic music made by tapping on bridge supports, but I prefer, in this astronomic/astrologic era, to think of it as harmonic convergence.
I find myself out of sympathy with those who download files
in which others hold the copyright. I believe that the way to revolt against the RAA is to encourage independent artists to start their own businesses outside the major labels, not to hitch a subversive free ride upon other's intellectual property. My belief remains that in the long run, a new music system will arise in which the current large record labels will be extinct.
But I hope that the possibilities presented by the new media for sound creation and reproduction do not stop at merely superseding the current record industry as a business matter.
I want to see new musics arrive. The current alternative wave is going on for some twenty some odd years, if one measures it from, say, Murmur's release. Mainstream music seems infected with Britneys and Avrils and Shakiras.
Metal's become a kind of jazz without the armagnac smugness, and hip hop's flashes of brilliance are obscured by two many ludicrous artists worth about fifty cents.
When Darwinian thinking disproved literal interpretations of a number of myths in the Bible, many people actually calcified their adherence to Biblical literalism. These very fundamenalists actually control, from time to time, state education boards textbook panels in Texas and elsewhere.
I see the return to "girl band, boy band, rough trade man" music as one more form of fundamentalism--a denial that modernity changed everything.
My sense is that the solutions to this literalism and corportism will be home recorded, and that the next genres will synthesize the traditional and the vividly new into something unique. Even though I love a summer FM radio station blasting "The Boys are Back in Town" as much as the next man, I'm ready to explore new places in my listening habits.
I believe that the solution will be to take music back from large corporations, by making one's own. It's not going to make one rich. For everyone thousand that try it, only one or two are going to stand out at all. It's a pilgrimage, not a way to make a living. But I believe that people will need to play simple chords, on easy to learn instruments, and flirt with things, harmonious and discordant, they've never heard before.
I respect musical skill and great songs so very much. But when a cultural construct makes music one more elitist activity, then a disconnection occurs.
We have factories two counties to our south, held safe from regulation by misguided officials, that put so much smoke into the air that Dallas is now in the top ten air pollution places. Modern life works like that--the smoke billows out and stifles everything, unless a new path is tried. You have to watch to make sure they don't barricade the exits. The creative arts are all sure-fire ways to escape. But one must do more than merely use the scrip to buy CDs at the company store.
I think that ultimately the change will involve a new way of hearing music, and a new way of absorbing sound. I think that the paradigms of skill and form will fade away, and new paradigms will arise. I am waiting for the music that arises from the ashes of rock. But rock, with its demi-gods to worship, seems to me to have run its course. Punk, little more than a retro marketing gimmick, never had much to teach.
But something will appear--and I hope it arrives sooner rather than later.
But all that is too heavy and filled with my accustomed pretension. I think instead I'm going to just enjoy seeking out music I haven't heard, in genres I cannot now imagine,
and seek my solace in deep thoughts, and simple chords.