Posted: July 2, 2009 in The Past Life Experiment



episode 002:

The Sound of Music

No quest to rediscover one’s past would be complete without exploring their musical tastes. I’m not just talking about run-of-the-mill genre-surfing or a distillation of one’s essence through musical hairsplitting. What I’m talking about is my own musical appreciation, irrespective of anyone else’s experience or any other trend of the times. It seems like I have absorbed a lot of music out of sync from the times they were most popular, thus bypassing waves of fanaticism and death by radio. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Alice In Chains, Pink Floyd, and Tool are just a few examples of bands that I have come to appreciate as their popularity has waned.

As with fitness I believe that I have experienced music at a somewhat different pace than many other people. This is true not only within the context of my own musicianship but with the music that I have listened to for enjoyment. This music has, like none other, inspired, influenced and shaped me during very crucial times in my life. I find it fascinating to look back at my earliest musical experiences and see how differently my young mind had interpreted them, something more as an abstraction than as a comprehensive analytical experience.

When I listen back at some of these tunes with my adult mind, and years of hardened musical training, they sound different to me. This training has helped to tune my ear to the richness and depth that so much music contains. I am now able to pick out individual riffs, or bass lines, or intricacies in the vocals. I can picture in my head a session player as he or she lays down tracks in the studio. I can hear the subtleties invoked by the editing and engineering process. After all the years of music appearing to me as an enigma, I finally have a working knowledge of it.

Paradoxically however, as my training and experiences in music-making accumulated, so did my disillusionment with the process of producing commercial music. I have often wondered if this disenchantment would someday ruin my ability to simply enjoy music aside from the technical components that make it up. Would I be able to use my knowledge in order to deepen my enjoyment of music, or would I become like a musical mad-scientist, cynical and unappreciative of more simple compositions?

Like any discipline or craft I believe that one should never lose sight of their basic enjoyment of music. I don’t think that there is a single person out there that doesn’t enjoy music in some form or another. Music has a very personal meaning and significance to each person, each having his or her own musical journey which is as unique as their own fingerprint.

I used to lament over the possibility of my CD collection getting stolen back in the day when I still had CD’s, back before the digital revolution took over and made them practically obsolete. The thought of the sudden loss of my beloved music was indeed terrifying, not only because of the money invested, but more so because it was MY collection.

I remember the days of wandering through new and used CD shops listening with wonder at the treasures I found. I thought to myself that I would be devastated if someone snatched my collection (which numbered at about 700-800 discs by the time I went digital) because I had handpicked each one of these CDs and no one else could really appreciate them as I did. Sure, some enterprising sneak-thief could have made a modest fortune selling them. But all the time I spent harvesting the music, all the love I put into these particular songs and bands…well, like I said, the thought terrified me and fortunately my collection went un-stolen and remains with me to this day. Some of my friends were not so fortunate. But the point is that I spent, and still spend a great deal of time pursuing music, not only as a creator, but as a listener.

Some people listen to music as mere spectators, not having the slightest idea how to play a musical instrument, nor do they care to. They could care less about the inner workings of the record industry, or the studio recording process, or any other technical component involved in getting the music from the players to the listener’s ear. I used to hold these people in contempt for I was a: Maker of Music. Surely music meant more to us musicians who understood the language of music, who had the ability to dissect songs and point out what key- or time-signature they were in. Surely we who participated in the creation of music were the ones who really understood. But then I began to realize that music means different things to different people. It is a very personal experience, even akin to one’s religious beliefs for some.

The great thing about music is that it is a language that speaks to the emotions of a person and therefore cannot be qualified by someone else’s subjective opinion. This is where I believe music critics err. Music is feeling. Music is color. Music is nothing short of magic itself. The simple fact that music has the ability to touch us in a way that nothing else can, is a testament to its magical qualities. Think about it. Music has its origins in the hearts and heads of its creators who, by an almost alchemical process, transmute these thoughts and vibrations into tangible patterns that reach out and touch another’s soul. Anyone who hasn’t gotten the chills from listening to a song needs to have their souls examined. There’s something almost ineffable in the appreciation of music.

Now, I’m not saying that one should approach music without a critical ear. It is natural to want to make distinctions based on favorable patterns, but no one else can give or take away the meaning that music brings to us. This is why I feel kindred to the lessons of Pink Floyd. The discipline of Led Zeppelin. The iconoclasm of the Beatles. Bands before my time who have not only transcended the human-to-human gap but also the generational gap.

I try to think of what it must have been like to hear these bands when they first came out as true innovators. Now I’m no Beatlemaniac by any stretch of the imagination, but I can certainly appreciate their music, especially when placed in the context of human history. The Beatles started out making mostly bubblegum-esque pop rock similar to other music of that era. Then they started getting weird. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a prime example. Here was an album that cut against the grain for its time. Even more remarkable is the fact that the Beatles didn’t have “The Beatles” to inspire them like so many other bands that were inspired by the Beatles. The sound they created was original and by God, even catchy!

I have received much scoffing over these observations by indignant classic rock patrons complaining that “You youngsters don’t know what real music is,” as if my own personal connections with that music were somehow invalid because of my age, my second-hand discovery of it, or my surprise that it was so ahead of its time. I used to get offended by their admonitions, but now I just laugh to myself, wondering if the day will ever come when I will be the crotchety old-timer chastising the younger generation’s notions of music, defending bands like Nirvana, perhaps. But until then, my goal is to listen to music with the same wonderment and fascination of the virgin y(ears) of my youth.

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