Late night silences are a playground for going deep: A perfect space and opportunity for things that we wonder about to surface. And one thing that we wonder about has to do with listening to music.
By paying attention to music reviews and the way people talk about music, we might start to think that “you either love it or you hate it” when it comes to a musician or a particular track. That it could genuinely be as black and white as being good or bad.
Well I have a different idea, and that has to do with the ‘palate’ each of us has for sound.
If you pay attention to mainstream radio, you would come to the conclusion that the music that ‘we all’ like has to be short, sweet, and about particular (relatively shallow) topics in order to be a good song that’s popular with the masses.
But it’s the same as if you pay attention to mainstream food consumption and see that in order to be liked as a ‘good meal’ it has to be small, salty, unfulfilling and come with a side of fries.
That is ‘fast’ music; easily consumed and doesn’t take much by way of ‘digesting’ it. It doesn’t require much thought and doesn’t challenge us. It’s a tiny blip and we’re barely noticing the experience. So we can do it a lot and often.
I feel that if all we ‘consume’ by way of music is this fast food diet, that we can gradually lose our palate for different sounds. Even if the genre is metal or rock: We become taught that a good rock song has a particular structure and sound that we can expect. Verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus. We all know what’s coming and if it comes as we expect, it’s a ‘good’ song.
As well as getting accustomed to the easily digestible sound, our palate for sound may have said to us that it’s only good music if it’s…
heavy / electronic / rock / death metal / country / has a female singer / is by artist A
With this, there becomes this closing off and this hardness toward anything else that doesn’t fit.
This pre-determined expectation and closing off is how NOT to listen to music.
This is the space where some purists come from where they assess or review music, which has them harshly determine the low value of an album because it does NOT fit within the definitions of good music to them.
I’m no musical historian, but I feel that we forget that at some point that music was purely tribal and made to tell stories and communicate about elements of nature and powerful experiences that happened to us. We forget classical roots of music where people would weep at what a pianist or violinist would share, furiously and passionately playing their instrument as an extension of self. Music was a way of speaking and sharing emotion well before it was about selling records.
A piece of music is communicating a snapshot in time for a person, for better or for worse. At that one time, the people involved in making that music felt that particular way and made the song how they did. To perfect and refine a real moment in time, to make it more consumable, is to take the truth and story out of it. To judge that real moment in time as ‘not as good as their old stuff’ is to miss the point of where that music has come from.
To listen to music,
* we are needing to remind ourselves that we’re being ‘let in’ to the mind(s) of another, and that this is a powerful thing, without any rules of whether what we experience is wrong or right.
* we are needing to put our pre-determined expectations to the side, so we can hear what’s actually happening in the song, and understanding that (unless it’s ‘fast food’ music) what’s happening is courtesy of creative choices, not necessarily to make it prettier.
* we are needing to stay open enough to what we hear to bear witness to what this person or band created, without shrinking away even if it is uncomfortable. Musicians are human too and have emotions that they express in music that might match some of our own emotions at times.
* we are needing to remain conscious of the fact that what’s been created, in this one musical snapshot in time, is but one step along the timeline of that person or group’s creative life. To expect musical perfection is similarly expecting a person to gain perfection in any waking moment. It’s unrealistic and unnecessary. Life is imperfect.
* we are needing to be willing to try new tastes and textures, even if it’s 15 minutes of music about the Big Bang courtesy of Avenged Sevenfold (“Exist”). Or 1 minute of experimental percussion and screaming about the meaning of life (“Chemical”) from Trophy Eyes.
Being aware of these things when we listen to music doesn’t make 2.5 minute light and crunchy radio songs ‘the devil’. It makes us into seasoned consumers of music; able to find satisfaction and something delicious in everything we ‘taste’ with our ears. It also creates more opportunity for surprise explosions of flavour and new-found obsessions when we try something that we never would have before.. and we LOVE it.
Here’s to the musicians that are brave enough to create something even without a glimmer of possibility that it would make it to prime time mainstream radio, and even though the song is too depressing/weird/emotional.
May we truly listen to what they make and truly hear what they’ve created as has been brought to life in a song.