Music and Lyrics
Music or Lyrics. The musician’s ultimate dilemma. Which one is more important? The sound of your melody or the impact of your lyrics?
Opera without lyrics simply becomes an orchestra recital. Poetry without instrumental sound remains the spoken word. I myself share the same wonderment as ABBA’s plain questioning in their song, “Thank You For The Music”.” ‘Who found out that nothing can capture a heart like a melody can?’ Who was it that figured it out? Or maybe where did it originate from? “The Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel has a beautiful line stating ‘The Book of Love has music in it. In fact that’s where music comes from.’
As an aspiring writer and as a lifetime lover of music, I could eternally bounce between conclusions on this debate. I can’t pretend to know the answers. Which is why I leave this conundrum to be analysed by sound engineers, poets, musicians, philosophers and psychologists, while I simply choose to accept that both hold a potential key to unlocking the full spectrum of human emotion across cultures, continents and centuries. And more personally, it has touched my soul and shaped my life in a way I can never change or deny. Which is why I write this blog, with the intention to once more marry music and the written word into a somewhat different form.
Music is a transcendent and universal language, a tool used to share and express emotions and words throughout the ages. It tells a story. And as a Journalism and English student, I eat, sleep and breathe stories. Some of hard, cold facts. Some of epic and fantastic adventure. But lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been drowning in expectations. What to write, when to write, how to write, how long, how short…all coming down to ‘Blank stares at blank pages’. Just as Sara Bareilles portrays in her hit, “Love Song”, I am being pushed and prodded to write because I am instructed to do so. And somehow I’ve forgotten the passion I used to hold for it along the way. The Beatles “Paperback Writer” has pretty much become the backing track to the last few years of my education.
This has not been the first time these feelings of doubt have crept up on me. Having endured a Whiplash-esque love/hate relationship with producing music in my own life, my entrance to university summoned in an era of dedication to my craft of writing. Like Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, ‘Silence like a cancer grows’ until the songs I no longer played or sang echoed in my empty ears. And thus, the music trickled out of my life. But as Johnny Cash reminded me in “Tear Stained Letter”, I ‘still could reconsider, and come back to bein’ mine’. The music had stopped in the middle of the song. But starting now, I choose to pick up that guitar, sit down at that piano, tune that clarinet, open my mouth and press play on music once again.
And so, to rekindle my love for writing, matched with my heartsick longing to let music back into my life…this is why I write. Welcome to Food of Love. And as the Bard said, “Play on.”
All images sourced from Google: No copyright. All videos sourced from YouTube.
The Music/Science Solution
“Music and Science don’t go together.”
It’s a common misconception which traps many people, who see the stereotypical angsty musician as a polar opposite to the clinically cold scientist. And thus, like the traditional ‘oil in water’ display of non-polar molecules within a polar solvent, music and science are believed to just not mix. However, as a student of both, I have made it my mission this week to disprove this hypothesis.
In case that clip didn’t explain my theory in itself, let my argument begin.
Firstly, let me start by shattering the musician/scientist juxtaposition using the classic methodology of the ‘name drop’. Consider the specimen of Brian May.
To some, he is known for his work in astrophysics on the New Horizon’s project into Pluto exploration. To others, he is known as lead guitar for the iconic rock band, Queen. Having outstanding achievements in both fields, Brian May embodies the culmination of music and science.
But music and science do not simply overlap within one person. In actual fact, the two fields draw upon and influence each other to a great extent. I will therefore continue to disprove the aforementioned hypothesis through the illustration of the relativity between these fields.
Combinations of these fields can be experienced through both the intellectual and emotive responses within our minds. Music can help us develop science while science can be used as a tool to further our understanding of music.
I witnessed first-hand the ability to use music as a learning and studying mechanism while observing a workshop held at the 2017 SciFest Africa this week. Learners were taught the phases of chemical bonding through principles of music and dance, using rhythm, tempo and space to illustrate the stages of matter. This exercise solidified the scientific understanding they needed, through the memory and cognitive responses invoked by music.
Numerous studies have suggested that listening to music or using auditory stimulation as a learning method have also greatly increased the retention of information and the consistent completion of tasks. In fact, Daniel J. Levitin explains in his book “This is your brain on music”, that through the use of music, the brain is stimulated in almost every cortex, whether it be through playing, dancing to, listening to or comprehending music.
On the other hand, in music studies, we are taught to read and compose music through mathematic principles of timing measures and the changing of pitch through alterations to the omitted radio wave frequencies. While conducting my own vocal and instrumental training, I was taught how to use the anatomic structure of my body in order to produce a better sound. This is further exemplified in William M. Klemm’s article in Psychology Today, which explains the benefits of the brain’s chemistry through the study and practice of music.
Finally, to quote a lyric from The Script’s “Science and Faith”, ‘You can break everything down to chemicals but you can’t explain a love like ours’. As the song suggests, there are some things that can never fully be explained by science and one of them is the effects of music on humanity. While we can appreciate music’s historical implications, analyse its effects on the brain and monitor its patterns through neuron connections, science has its limits. There are parts of music that cannot be defined, contained or explained through scientific method. And that’s the way it should be.
“Music and Science don’t go together.”
All images sourced from Google: No copyright. All videos sourced from YouTube.
1996 and Music: The Beginning of the End
I think we can all agree that the 90’s was not the best era for music. Not by a long shot. The 90’s style in the music industry represents a time of confusion. The decade is, in essence, a metaphorical 13 year old pre-pubescent girl, wired braces, blue eyeshadow, toilet paper filled sports bra who doesn’t really know who she is yet.
What may be the most notably tragic fact of the era is that the Spice Girl’s debut single “Wannabe” was one of the more permanent chart toppers of the year. Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” won song of the year at the Grammy’s. Alanis Morissette won Grammy’s best album award (Jagged Little Pill) and her single “Ironic” was also on the charts, a statement which is much like the song’s title, seeing as most of the songs sung from the 90’s are enjoyed today with a permanent scorn of ironic mockery. Another chart topper, Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, can only blame its somewhat continued success in its resurfacing on Pitch Perfect. Celine Dion’s tear-jerking ballad “Because You Loved Me” hit the charts and, upon interrogation, was revealed to be my mother’s favourite song while she was pregnant with yours truly.
The one thing worse than the songs themselves is the music videos for the songs themselves. They represent an abysmal concoction of clichés mixed with irrelevant randomness verging on the laughably absurd. These combinations are a pretty accurate representation of the time period itself, waiting for the last few years of the century to pass, unable to quite figure out where the 90’s fit in.
The only pride I can muster up for 1996 and the decade in which my life began is through the line from Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care”, in which they loudly proclaim ‘You’re from the 70’s but I’m a 90’s b*tch.” As much as the 90’s era of music was a bit of a dud, it did make way for the coming century and the infinite potential for good music which it still holds.
Self sourced images. All videos sourced from YouTube.
Humans of Music
Sourced from Google: No copyright
Following the journey of Abigail McArthur and Emma Moor, two talented musicians telling their own stories of their lifelong relationship with music.
“My mom taught me my first piece on the piano, before I started going for lessons. And my dad taught me my first piece on the saxophone. That was and still is special to me. I started playing piano when I was eight, so I’ve been playing that for nearly thirteen years. And I started playing sax when I was ten, so I have been playing that for going on eleven years. I’m currently looking to do my Performance Diploma for saxophone and I’m at a Grade 7 level for piano.
I didn’t actually choose to play the saxophone. My dad played the sax but he also played the clarinet. So when my dad was learning sax, I took his clarinet. He would play his sax in the one room and I would go and pretend I knew what I was doing on his clarinet and just blow and fiddle around. I said I wanted to go for lessons so when I went to the school’s head music teacher, she said there was a shortage of saxophones in the school wind ensemble. She wanted me to play sax. So the school loaned me a sax for two years and I fell in love with it. I couldn’t imagine myself playing anything else now.
I played in the school wind band for nine years because my music teacher wanted me to. But I started young and was really excited to play in those bands. I then heard about the youth orchestra and I thought it would be cool to broaden my horizons and meet new people while learning how to play in a different, more professional group. So I played in the orchestra for four years. Playing in an orchestra is amazing. You’re hearing the music around you and you’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for the music. You’re playing to make something beautiful, something that would otherwise remain a couple of sheets of black and white paper. Playing solo is very different from playing with other people. Because when you’re playing with people you have to hear what everyone else is doing and link into that. But when you’re playing by yourself, you can express whatever feeling you want. Music without emotion is pointless.”
“Having that emotion is very important to playing. Because you can be practically good but your music can do nothing. You need the emotion, from yourself. And you need to have the skill, through your music, to bring it out in other people. In any good performance, you have to fully immerse yourself in that moment and give yourself completely to the music. Your mind and body needs to be concentrating on your notes and on your fingers and on the sound that you’re producing rather than anything else that’s happening around you. As you get better, you’re able to keep that focus and still feel what’s going on around you and play for that audience. I played five different pieces for my last saxophone exam, ranging through all the styles. I loved the fact that I could produce, within the space of thirty minutes, different emotions in the people who were listening, just by the way I was playing and by the emotions I felt I was able to portray through my instrument.
I think, when I look back on it, the study of music came easy to me. And because it came easily, I didn’t learn. I did the bare minimum that needed to be done and I was luckily able to produce the same result as what people who worked really hard produced. Through playing music and through studying music as a subject, I learnt to listen for and appreciate the finer details of the music, the things that come together to make up the entire piece. So when I listen to music, I don’t just hear the music. I am able to dissect it when I hear it on the radio. I hear the beat and all the different instruments that are being used and whether it’s electronic or acoustic. I hear the repetition of patterns and I appreciate the musicality of each song. I learnt to see and feel the art in the music rather than to simply listen to it.
Since finishing school and my academic study of music, I didn’t play for a year. A whole year. I didn’t touch it. And I could feel it. It’s not the listening to music, it’s the playing of music, being in the music and grappling with it and then finally being able to produce something. And, in missing that process for that year, I felt like my brain was just sludge. It was switched off. I felt like I was functioning at a lower level than what I was capable of. And I realised that music is something that is part of me. It’s something that I simply have to do for myself to give myself love. In having that talent, I’ve come to realise the power I have with it. I took it for granted for so long and I’m only just starting to realise that I can actually do something worthwhile, for myself and for other people.
I don’t think I decided that music was going to be my life. I think I was blessed with a musical talent and the musicality was born in me. It wasn’t me choosing the music. It was the music choosing me.”
“I always knew that I could play piano. It’s a born talent of mine and it’s always just come naturally to me. I started playing when I was six. Before that, my mom would play music by all the greats like Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart. That music was ingrained into my mind from a young age. A lot of my love of music is owed to my parents. They nurtured my talent, they fostered my experiences with it and exposed me to really beautiful music. That had quite a big impact on how I perceive music now and how I enjoy it. I have been playing for around fourteen years now and I have my Grade 8 for piano.
I didn’t do grades when I was younger. I just learnt how to play piano, how to read the music, how to find the notes, how it should sound. My mom knew that if I did exams at that age, I would grow to hate the instrument. So when I got into the grades, initially I was very nervous. I knew that there was a possibility of completely destroying my passion for it. But I’m quite a determined and competitive person with myself. So when I started climbing the ladder, I realised I could do it and that the end goal would be quite an achievement. For a long time piano was as easy as breathing. And then, when I started playing harder songs, I had to really study and put the hours into practicing it. A song would often take so long to decipher, to figure out and learn the ins and outs of it. But when I eventually overcome it and I could play that piece, I knew how long I spent looking at that music and how long I spent crying over not knowing how to do it. It became such a reward every time I played it again, like I had conquered it. There were times when I didn’t want to carry on, because the constant practice was completely snuffing out my passion. And then I would overcome a song, ace an exam or play for others and suddenly my passion was renewed.
There are people who can just sit down and play a piece once off and not need to practice it. For a mere mortal like me though, it takes a long time to master a piece so I feel a personal pride when I finally get it. And it reminds me that this is something that not everyone can do and I love that it’s something special about me. And so I love it when I can play something and have other people enjoy it. It excites me to know that I can give someone an experience that is completely unique. I attach quite a lot of emotion to the music that I play. When I play something in a certain situation, often, if I play it again, it brings memories of what that situation was like, what happened and how it came about.”
“I have a musical talent. I can sing, I can play piano, I can hear notes and pitches. I can understand it all. You can’t really avoid falling in love with it. You can’t switch off the ability to listen to music in a critical way because you’ve got this deeper understanding of it because it’s something that is a part of you.
But after school, I hardly ever played and I realised how much I missed it. At school, I played for about ten hours a week. I put a lot of time into it and I was always thinking about it, always doing something with it, always working towards something. And when that structure fell away, I was no longer forced to play. Having been forced to play for so many hours, all the time, to suddenly not have to answer to anyone musically anymore, it completely changed my relationship with it. In the beginning I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
But over time, it went from “I don’t have to play because someone is telling me to” to “I wish someone was telling me to.” I almost gave up on the instrument because someone wasn’t whipping me to play it. And then I ended up whipping myself because I couldn’t stop missing it and I didn’t want to lose my skill. I can tell that I have lost a great portion of my skill because it’s not something that I have been doing over and over again recently. That really upsets me that I can’t retain it. I’d love to be able to learn something and always be able to play it, remember the notes, the chords, the song itself. When I tried to play some of my old final exam pieces, it was quite a blow for me to go back to something that I could once play perfectly, only to find that I could no longer remember it fully.
I really miss playing. It was a useful stress reliever. In school, when I was stressed about something, I would go and play piano. If I was upset about something, I would go and play piano. If I had a really good day and I was on a high, I would go and play piano. It was the perfect outlet for all of my emotions. It became a best friend to me. I would give it the knowledge and skill that I had and in return, it would give me beautiful sounds and amazing melodies.
There is something born into people who can really hear music. Everyone can hear music but when a select few listen to it, we can hear things no one else can hear because we’re listening for it. Because we are tuned to it. Music can never be a passing phase for someone like that because those people are constantly trying to make up new harmonies for songs, to perfect pieces that have been neglected and always trying to improve their knowledge and relationship with music. It makes me sad that some people live their lives without that, only engaging with music in shades of grey and not experiencing the full colour that it has to offer.”
Images self sourced.
The Auditory “Paradise” of Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto
From their debut album release of Parachutes in 2000, Coldplay has been growing from strength to strength. Release of Viva La Vida (2008) topped the worldwide album charts and became the world’s best-selling album of 2008.
Following this grand achievement, Coldplay got to work on their fifth album, Mylo Xyloto, which dropped on 24 October 2011. While a respectful nod must be displayed to the succeeding albums of Ghost Stories (2014) and their most recent A Head Full Of Dreams (2015), this review focusses on the dynamic transitional sound, which the band employs in Mylo Xyloto in particular. Press play and let us deeply examine Mylo Xyloto’s prominent electronic swing, constituting the band’s first movement into a fresh direction
From the opening chord, Mylo Xyloto creates the excitement of a curtain opening before an adventure. Coldplay took its distinctive art rock sound from earlier albums and spliced their formula with hints of a more electronic, spunky punch. There is no doubt that Chris Martin, the lead singer, and his band are in the upliftment business with this album.
Martin shed some light on the album’s lyrical inspirations in an interview with NME. “It’s about escaping in the city and finding a buzz somehow…it’s about making your own entertainment.”
However, lyrical themes are not the only method of linking tracks and it seems Coldplay has tried and succeeded to create an album which tells a story.
The album follows a conceptual album set. The tracks flow effortlessly through the melodic themes incorporated throughout the album. The previous song always complements the next one, and similarly, the instrumental lead-ons weave together a seamless narrative progression. While the album is breath-taking as a singular unit, the individual tracks still hold their own.
Singles like “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” and “Paradise” have the makings of iconic youth anthem zeal to them. The cascading choruses boasting Martin’s soaring vocal triumphs are complimented by the distortedly rifty guitars, inspired largely by Brain Eno, Coldplay’s producer. These elements, coupled with the signature alternative beat mixes of Coldplay, give each track a unique flavour.
Despite the general mood of the album taking the path of playfulness, the original acoustic influences of the album are brought to life in tracks like “Up In Flames”, “U.F.O” and “Us Against The World”. Coldplay also showcase their collaborative talents in the dark and entangling “Princess of China”, featuring Rihanna.
Overall, the album’s pop influence does not detract from Coldplay’s much loved original sound, but rather leads the band into the unexplored genre territory that they presently inhabit. If anything, this album highlights Coldplay’s progression rather than an outright alteration of the music, which has bought them a ticket to super stardom.
As a die-hard fan of Coldplay, I am a firm advocate for loyalty to an artist, even when they venture from their original sound. Coldplay has become a global success and has therefore earned the right to develop their sound as a band, knowing that their fan-base is backing their play. From their early mellow sounds of Parachutes, right through to the electronic infused tracks of Ghost Stories and the whimsy of A Head Full Of Dreams, it is their restless drive to push past the boxes of genre categorization which makes Coldplay so mesmerizing. And while Mylo Xyloto may not be their most current or their most sold album, its unrestricted optimism induces a bounce in my step that another album has yet to reproduce.
If you don’t believe me, check Mylo Xyloto out for yourself here.
All images sourced from Google: No copyright. All videos sourced from YouTube. Gif sourced from Giphy.
The New Age of Musical Learning
Music is something that flows through all of us. Though it may be a seemingly random abstraction of vibrations reverberating within the ears and into the brain, it speaks to our inner most souls. But there are a few in this world, whose souls speak back through the creation of music of their own.
While the discipline of learning musical craft may seem impossibly daunting and illusive, the call to create will always outweigh these anxieties, especially for those touched by the feverish talent of musical creation. It’s an urge, a thirst, sometimes a struggle. but always a thrill. But in the breakneck pace of 21st century life, with all of the chaos of movement and immediacy, the fine tuning and life-devoting practice of music may seem out of reach to the amateur musician seeking to break into the realm of combining their passion with their profession.
Enter MasterClass, a clean-cut, exclusive online course website, collaborating with top-tier professionals of the trades in order to give you the inside scoop not only on their process but advice on the curation of your own. While there are currently a fair number of classes advertised on offer, ranging from writing, cooking, chess and comedy, there are several unmissable musical related courses to explore.
1. Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring
Trying to stay objective about how exciting the prospect of Hans Zimmer imparting wisdom is a personal physical impossibility and therefore, any pretense at this will now be thrown out the window.
Hans Zimmer is a composing God, a modern legend of musical creation. If film scoring or writing any kind of soundtrack music in general is your professional dream, you will already have a shrine to this man and he will therefore need no introduction. For those who need a little more persuasion, go check out the soundtracks for grand epics like The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar (actually, almost any film made by Christopher Nolan), Sherlock Holmes, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King and my childhood favourite, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. (There are so many more but I have to try and keep the fan-girling to a minimum).
His understanding of the raw emotion which sound contributes to these films is unparalleled, to such an extent that to simply hear a few notes of his melodies can eternally seal those images in your mind’s eye. Basically, if any one who is anyone wants to make a monumental movie, Hans Zimmer is the music guru you need to get you there. To learn from this musical icon through an online class would be yet another reason to be grateful to live in the internet age.
2. Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz
Yes, I am still talking about composing. And this musician embodies the fact that composing, specifically Jazz, is certainly not a topic which is going to die any time soon. Herbie Hancock is a musical prodigy, a child genius who grew to sprinkle more than a dollop of influence on jazz and musical evolution in general. His smooth and funky infusion adds a spice signature to each of his compilations. Plus the man just oozes cool.
Much like Hans, his achievements are so diverse that it’s hard to clearly illustrate his fluidity in one swift shot. Don’t know what I mean? Go sneak a taste at some of best work.
It’s hard to believe this kind of ear and intimate relationship with sound can be taught, but if any man is up to the task, it would be him.
3. Deadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production
Composing of a different kind is taught under the passionate guidance of Deadmau5 (pronounced Dead Mouse), a multi-Grammy nominated international DJ. One of the most coveted progressive house artists of the genre, Deadmau5 takes his synthesizer- infused beats to a new level in a world where the ease of computer generated music is steadily rising. With added elements of trace and electronica, his best work is easily recognisable.
Deadmau5’s laid back attitude, blended with his serious passion for his craft makes him a valuable teacher for the budding DJ or modern music producer. His understanding of the uphill climb that is the conquering of the music industry is an insight which itself alone is worth a taste.
4. Christina Aguilera Teaches Singing
Ever had that dream of being one of the best vocalists the world has ever heard? Yeah, well this power house woman owns that dream. And who on Earth would be better at teaching how to sing with such emphasis and gritty emotion than Christina Aguilera herself. Whether you have heard of her or not, whether you enjoy her brand of music or not, there is no disputing the fact that she is the vessel of a massively elaborate and powerful voice and she sure knows how to use it.
From the very first note of her rendition of Something’s Got A Hold On Me (Burlesque), her outstanding talent packs a full punch. My personal favourites to exhibit her range would be songs like Hurt, Beautiful, Bound To You and Say Something. Her clear control of her instrument has been finely tuned over the years. Plus, it’s obvious she is comfortable and successful in her abilities and techniques in terms of vocal training, in her repeat appearances as a professional coach on The Voice.
5. Reba McEntire Teaches Country Music
Country music is a lifestyle. Not a genre. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s a style of music which is largely popular all over the USA and indeed internationally, and Reba McEntire has played a big role in the genre’s success. Known as The Queen of Country, this redhead power player has devoted her life to the creation, experience and performance of country music and her efforts have truly paid off. With 28 of her albums (yes, I said 28) having gone gold, platinum or multi-platinum over the years, she has comfortably set herself up as one of the best selling artists of all time. She is very much worth the listen to so check out a glimpse of her stuff here.
It’s clear that hardship and harvest, heartbreak and honesty all inform the country music life and Reba McEntire is no stranger to any of these things. She fully understands that while country music may sound simple and perhaps even cliche to the untrained ears, it takes true guts to connect in such a raw and clever way to the situations life sends your way and to channel those feelings into songs.
Last but not least we have…
5. Usher Teaches the Art of Performance
Again, whether you like Usher’s music or not, you cannot fault the man on his successes. His concerts are the stuff of legend and it’s not just the vocals, choreography, stage production or instrumental talent that goes into it to make it perfection. And Usher understands that.
At the end of 2009, Billboard named him the second most successful artist of the 2000s decade and the number one Hot 100 artist of the 2000s decade. His hard work has proven to keep him adaptable as he has managed to evolve his hip-hop style to suit the present markets, maintaining his status as one of the best-selling artists of all time. He has also shown his training abilities through his successes coaching on The Voice. And I mean, come on…the guy has just got bucket-loads of swag. Don’t believe me? Go track his progressive rise to stardom through these hits.
With the attractive allure of such incredible talents from all over the music industry, it’s encouraging to see how technology can help foster the growing relationship needed between the current superstars of music, to the budding amateurs who could one day become icons through these revolutionary online courses.
All images sourced from Masterclass. All videos sourced from YouTube.
Evolution of the Music Industry
The music industry is a relatively new invention, one which can be eternally grateful for the evolution of technology which has helped it grow, or has it?
Since the beginning of time, music has been documented as an integral part of cultural sharing and reinforcement of connection between people and the environments and situations they find themselves in.
The art and accomplishment of musical performance has always been highly praised and sought after, but due to the lack of communicative and sharing technologies, music was a difficult commodity to trade in, with only the upper class and royalty being able to afford payment to performances of operas and orchestras.
Those who could not afford this luxury were not without the benefit of music within their lives though. As soon as musical instruments became available for the general public to purchase, even the poorest of crowds could be lucky to have a rusty harmonica or a beaten up violin within the vicinity, played by curious and passionate enthusiasts who often taught themselves how to play.
Once instruments became even more accessible, musical creation was no longer a privilege reserved for the rich and powerful, but became something which the young and the poor began to dabble in to brighten up their dire circumstances. I mean, just look at how much fun they were having in the third class halls in Titanic.
These make-shift interpretations of how these instruments were meant to be played created the very different uses of the instruments resulting in sound which differed from the classically trained musicians. This diversity, in turn, became the spark that created what we know today as musical genre.
But arguably the most important inventive contribution to the evolution was that of the phonograph. Before the ability to record sound, music could only be enjoyed by seeing and hearing it being created live. This was a luxury reserved for theatres, music lounges and the basements and alleyways of any working class lucky enough to have access to musical instruments.
[Edison looking dapper with his second phonograph, not knowing how much money his invention would make in the creation of numerous industries]
As the years passed and performance became more accessible to the working class, the prestige of composers and writers of music began to be shadowed by the musical talent itself. With the availability of the audio itself within the home, the art of the immediate creation of music became more of a trading commodity than ever. Agents starting representing popular artists and booking gigs to sell records became the way the music industry flourished. Composers started collaborating and banding together to become the music production industry, a behind-the-scenes publishing network which still silently feeds its audiences what they want to hear to this day.
But that phonograph…evolved to vinyl record players, then cassette tapes, CD’s, MP3 to digital streaming. Not to mention the rise of the radio and the musical capacity it represents.
Just to give you an indication of how far we have come, in terms of recording quality and access, here is the clip of the oldest recorded music, made in 1888.
And in comparison, I present a single released just this week by Sam Smith, which features crystal clear vocals, and accompaniment from synthesized instruments in an age where lack of access or skill doesn’t stop the musician from achieving their sound goals.
The music industry has been a changing and growing one, which has brought in the rise of the musician to the status of super stardom. With the streaming capacities of the internet age, the privilege and class barriers of music enjoyment have been dismantled, allowing all individuals in range of a radio or smartphone to tune in to the universal rhythm.
But because of the freedom which the technology’s streaming access allows, the ability to freely access music, own or play it without paying for it is an increasingly easy process. Thus, the critical engagement with audience and performance of music has become a valued asset, with ticket sales for massive acts opening and selling out in a matter of minutes and with ticket and merchandise prices skyrocketing to maintain the industry.
The tastes and genres of music have been unleashed, the highbrow rules and exclusionary traditions of yesteryear are perhaps done away with, which opens the world up. A 14 year old goth can rock out to Bach on his IPod, or an 80 year old grandmother can play brand new, chart-topping tracks on vinyl (seeing as vinyl has come back into fashion, thanks to the hipsters of the world). The point is, more than ever before, music is limitless and free. All you have to do is reach out for it.
All images sourced from Google: No copyright. All videos sourced from YouTube. All Gifs sourced from Giphy.
Ode to the Love Song
I’m not gonna write you a love song. I’ll leave that to Sara Bareilles. But I am going to write a blog post about them.
Music is a powerful vessel of human emotion. It’s an illusive artwork which, when we experience it, makes us feel things. It maybe comes as no surprise then that arguably the strongest and most important emotion of Love, is and has been attached to music for centuries.
While the origin of this relationship remains unknown, love songs and serenades have been a part of almost every society’s culture and history. While Denis de Rougemount’s thesis of Love in the Western World speculates that love songs were generated from troubadours’ courtly love songs, the ubiquity of love songs through most histories presents a unique cultural phenomenon.
Simply put, as Steve Scott’s Love in the Western World suggests, “The song is new. The story is old”. The hope and promise of love is an eternal concept. And as such, some of these love songs have been sung and re-sung over the years.
Some are simple, like The Cure’s “I will always love you” in Love Song (or Adele’s cover of the song, for the younger crowd).
If that’s not proof enough, the ability of a love song to make people connect over generations can be seen in the classic Can’t Help Falling In Love, originally sung by The King, Elvis Presley.
A song touching the heart strings of many to this day, it’s popularity is clear in this cover by Twenty One Pilots.
And of course, is there any way of getting through a post about love without including the late, great Frank Sinatra and his life-long romance with love in his iconic Fly Me To The Moon.
Love songs have been re-imagined over the decades to include a variety of feelings and experiences which love has to offer. After all, not all love ends with Happily Ever After. Some of the best love songs of all time have been songs about the loss of that dream.
Narrowing down the pile of pain-riddled melodies about unrequited or lost love is no easy task. So I’ll rather choose to name three of my most poignant picks.
The intimate hero-ing of the piano in Labrinth’s Jealous, coupled with the raw emotion which his voice carries makes this a a truly piercing piece.
The vulnerable opening of the acoustic guitar, accompanied by the quietness of the piano keeps Ed Sheeran’s Happier authentic. But ultimately it’s Sheeran’s lingering lyrics which strike a chord.
Just because Wrabel’s 11 Blocks has a decent beat, doesn’t detract from it’s truly painful sentiment. It’s an enjoyable song sure, but when you pay special attention to the lyrics, the heartbreak is inescapable.
But not all breakup songs are mournful. Some people seem to love channeling their loss of love into giving the world great music.
As I said before, Frank Sinatra really got it. But so too does his modern counterpart, Michael Buble. With Buble’s Bond-esque cover of the famously brooding Cry Me A River and his springfully upbeat original of It’s a Beautiful Day, his different approaches still equate to the same thing. This guy clearly knows how to win a breakup.
When speaking of winning breakups, two ladies come to mind whose tear-jerking, heart throbbing romantic misfalls have led them to mainstream success; namely Adele and Taylor Swift.
T Swizzle’s famous We Are Never Getting Back Together is just one of the go-to’s for teenage heartbreak which made her multiple ex’s weep as her royalties poured in.
Adele also became feared in her triumphant ability to turn her tearful personal loss into fiery musical gain. Take Rolling in the Deep as an example of her defiance against ‘the scars of love’. I especially love the subtle flip off of “You’re gonna wish you never had met me” in the echoes of her chorus.
And I cannot leave without a quick shout out to the unquestionable staple of karaoke breakup songs from the original powerhouse Kelly Clarkson and her world famous Since You Been Gone.
Ultimately, we have to learn to appreciate the love song in all it’s many forms. Whether it be happy in, struggling with, or sorrowfully without, love is no simple matter. But love and music have made a great match. And as Shakespeare famously likened music to the food of love, it’s likely to continue to ‘play on’.
All images sourced from Google: No copyright. All videos sourced from YouTube.
Recipe for Fear
- 2 cups of self-doubt
- 1 ½ cups of uncertainty
- 250g of despair
- 3 x referential knowledge of others
- 500ml of ambition
- 300ml of audience expectations
- Teaspoon of criticism
Start with a crisp white sheet, bleached with endless potential. Pay special attention to the deliberate choice of attitude at this point in time, as the decision to give in to your own pessimism and mental whisperings is crucial for the ultimate success of the product. Preheat your internal concern until the correct conditions for the creation of fear is achieved. A telling physical sign of sweat mingling with the pen in your hand can be used as an indicator.
Set one compartment of your worrying mind aside for dry ingredients, stored in the deep cobwebbed pantries of the brain. Fresh supply of new ingredients based on recent failures are always a classic, but do not neglect the festering throbs of old wounds, as these often add a potent kick which may turn an otherwise routine batch of fear into something unique.
In this place, start with the simple core of self-doubt. This will become the base of your entire product as fear in all its forms almost always originate from this ingredient. Begin by sifting your self-doubt thoroughly until the refined dark flakes of worthlessness are heaped in the centre of your subconscious.
Add a unhealthy helping of uncertainty – fresh ‘what ifs’ of all varieties can be used but the further down the barrel you dig for your questioning, the more rooted unanswerables can be found. Items such as “What if I have nothing to say?” or “What if what I have to say doesn’t matter?” or a sure guarantee of “What if I’m not worth listening to?” are a few prime preferences.
Finally, add a generous melted dollop of despair to the mix. This sensation can be sourced from almost any outlet of the brain and does not have to be specific to your work at all, but rather could be located from the surplus of eternal churning deep within the soul. This small emotion brings a mingled texture of quality grey to the overall mixture.
Set this internal mixture of loathing aside and move up to the shelves closer to the surface. Here, you will find the wet and slippery ingredients of the external, those that have seeped through the cracks of your guarded stone walls and worked their way into your personality.
Into this area, crack open the experiences of others. While some recipes call for a separation and disregarding of other’s success, due to its supposed optimism, we find its inclusion adds the delicate tang of envy. Therefore, equal inclusion of both others’ success and their failure sufficiently taint the flavour of knowledge. Beat these together to form a fluffy fold of inaccurate referentials.
Next, you’ll need to heat your ambition. Simmer this smooth liqueur until the vapours of bravery have burnt off completely. Any remaining strength might jeopardize the intended recipe. You should be left with a thick syrup of disappointment. Add this to the wet mixture. While doing so, be careful to avoid spilling any on your hands. It is difficult to wash off and often leaves a stain.
Pour in the cold, corrupted mentality of an audience’s desire for your failure. The reduction of your work to a mark on a page or a unit on a pay check blends into the pasteurized finality of an assumed hatred your audience will have, which filters silently into the existing disappointment in the bottom of your mind.
A final teaspoon of your harshest criticism gives your mixture the essence of lingering fear needed.
Combine the influence of the sinister, thick wetness of environmental shapings to the dry and dusty instincts of your soul’s working and whip together with the power of your own sense of impending doom. Let your insecurities and pitch black unspokens blend with the overwhelming flavours of the cold outside world.
Pour and layer the completed mixture into the mould. Take care not to overload it as this may break the mould, thus spoiling the entire product.
Bake in the oven of pressurized expectations until the night before the expected submission date.
Upon serving, decorate with a sugary assortment of standardized diction, regimented clichés and a lathered facade of professional excuses.
No need to refrigerate – this recipe should keep for a lifetime.
For the recipe of Courage, throw the Fear away. And try again.
Letter To My Mother
Can you hear me? Because I can’t stop hearing you.
They say that the human brain only runs at a fraction of the capacity of which it is capable. I believe that your power ignites the highest form of brain stimulation modern humans can hope to achieve. I believe that the world hears the world in black and white, but only those born with you can hear the world in all its bursting colour.
I was born with your voice in my ears, a surround sound system of life zinging through my bloodstream. My feet would tap out rhythm before they could carry my own body. I sang before I could form words. I would stumble around my tiny life, singing at the top of my lungs. And when my concert was done, I would ask the resonating emptiness of the silence around me if it wanted more. You and I were intimate with each other’s souls since I can remember. I would spend hours, whole days, as a young child, lying motionless, eyes closed and oblivious to the world, soaking you in. I reduced all my senses just so that I could creep that inch closer to the understanding of all of you. I could not, would not miss a single detail.
You spoke to me when no one else would. You spoke to me out of the blinding white noise of my own crashing mind. You spoke to me. And I knew I had to speak back. And so, I learnt to write to you. From you. In you. From my pencil, along those five linear pillars I wrote. I wove and bent, from the spiral of the treble clef to the double stroke of the final note, I wrote. But that was only half of the job. I needed you to participate in the conversation. And so you came, with the call from my fingers meeting the keys. With the air from my lungs, you burst into existence. You hovered, suspended in mid-air with a quiver and vibrancy which shook the world awake. My body danced to make you, and in turn you moved my body with feeling. I made you by moving, by being alive, and by you being alive, you made me move. The simple answer to universal questions were answered with song. Everything became pristinely clear, and I got lost in the wave of clarity.
There is something intangibly empowering about making you. The creation of music itself is the closest thing mere mortals come to being perfect, to being God. I got drunk on the magnitude of my discovery. And the intoxication only continued as I practiced more and more, addicted to the shiny new key I had found to unlock the ancient vault to the unknowable description of you.
You carry Happiness, Sadness, Joy and Pain, Love and Heartbreak and every other emotion in between. But never have I heard Despair in you. Never have I heard Evil. Even in the minor chords, there is a poignant beauty captured to their melodies.
The saddest song will move me to tears, the auditory science of the vibration somehow translating into a psychological pinprick. The gliding tear trail down my cheek serves as a constant reminder that I still have the ability to feel something beyond my own thought. You are the easiest way of staying alive. Easier than breathing itself.
When people ask me what kind of music I listen to, I prefer to not answer. You are a spirituality, a private religion of the soul which cannot be severed down to genre, artist loyalty or frequency of listening. The delicacy of classical, the spontaneity of jazz, the vitality of electronica, the depth of the blues, the recklessness of rock, the rhythm of rap, the grandiose of opera, the peace of acoustic and the creativity of indie. None of it can be contained by labels. And when you can hear it, truly hear it as you taught me to, none can be dismissed or overlooked. For in every song there is a story.
You simply taught me how to listen for the story of you, through songs I’ve heard so often they became ingrained into the nerves of my body. Or through the opening notes of a singular melody produced in a whiff of an unknown song. I realise that I was born with a volume button turned on full blast. That’s why I heard your call when no one else did. But that’s also why it became so easy for the world to drown you out.
It’s my own fault. I could always hear you. Never can a person lose the gift of an ear. Beethoven irrefutably proved that. I chose to ignore you. The dirty and unkind world distorted you, and through you found an excuse to abuse me, torture and torment me, unforgivably caused me to question the gift I had in you, all in the name of “discipline”. Slowly, my endless practice no longer came from joy and sheer pleasure of creation, but from slavery to the craft, a methodical repetition driving our relationship to the grave. Or so I thought.
The truth is, I put you aside, thinking you dead. I neglected to mourn your loss. I hollowed out a part of me that was once filled with you. I went from playing every instrument I could get my hands on, singing every song I knew the lyrics to, harmonising to every melody and teaching myself how to identify notes from the mere resonant frequency within my own ear. I went from this, to tucking my instruments under clothes and into cases, filing my sheet music in a drawer, until even my out-of-tune karaoke in the shower left a bitter after taste in my mouth. And so, after my theory exams were passed with distinction, my practicals performed masterfully, my sight-reading and sound training tuned better than a hummingly warm orchestra and my chamber choir successfully returned from our first national championship victorious, I closed the door on you. I let you go.
Funny how stupid I was to think that if I ignored you, you would simply cease your incessant knocking and move on to the next door on the street of human consciousness. That’s what I get, I suppose, from assuming that I could learn and know everything about you in just one lifetime.
I know now that the only way I could ever be rid of you, ever stop the song within me is if the supporting rhythm of my heart were to stop. And I thank whatever Gods may be for the pleasure of your fine company. I was mistaken. I refused to have you take over my entire life, to allow the creation to consume me. But you were not my enemy, nor will you ever be. It is rather the human condition to twist and to squeeze, to prod and pull, to snuff out the passions which you induce. This is not your true meaning or purpose.
You are welcome to my life for as long as it is mine to live.