good morning ~
today’s track is a sweet little electric piano riff that sounds like it’s been out water skiing too long.
coming to you from a trip out to see members of my family for the first time since 2019, a surreal place to be writing from.
I don’t have it in me to elaborate but today is a notable 2nd anniversary for me and a bunch of people I love and miss. Please look for vividly neon sunsets and jagged mountain crags today and tell your friends you love them, right now.
Last week while I should have been doing something else I posted the following question:
why do you make music?
And there were a lot of answers, Or, not so many, but enough to fry my brain a little bit with notifications.
A lot of people said that they make music because they are compelled to. That if they don’t make music they feel weird, or that they are pushed into it by forces greater than themselves. Which, in my view, doesn’t really answer the question - you make music because you are compelled, but why are you compelled? Others said that they validated themselves through the making of music, that they sought verification of their worth through sharing audio with peers and, if it’s not too much to ask, some fans. Certainly resonates. Others said it was because they weren’t good at anything else, a depressive sort of humblebrag.
It was an interesting conversation, definitely more interesting than whatever I was supposed be doing. But it seemed like the various participants had really different ideas about how to answer the question because there were so many ways to do the thing of making music, so many definitions of making it. Is it recording? Is it performing? Is it writing? What is it, actually?
Wiggling air in various degrees of interest and pleasantness, certainly.
It’s an impossible-to-grasp aural phenomenon that dissipates in a space the moment the waves run out of energy.
Before recorded media existed music was considered to be the most sublime of the high arts, cherished for its lighter-than-air ephemerality. It becomes a cherished memory the moment it exists.
Music is also an industry, of course, a shitty one.
One person I studied with described music as “organized sound” which is a lovely and useful turn of phrase but leaves out all of the blissfully unorganized and dementedly chaotic shit, which is some of my favorite music (maybe a better phrase is “intended sound”).
But music is also a series of small, physical miracles. It’s plastic - in flat platters or screwed-together shells - that leaps into invisible animation with the proper implements. It’s WAV files and multiple layers of audio compression. It’s information. It’s hyperlinks, Bandcamp pages, playlists on streaming services, round-the-clock YouTube streams, all called up by acts of your algorithmically-nudged will. It’s sometimes tuned electromagnetic radiation that is - amazingly, wonderfully - caught and amplified by a piece of machinery in the dashboard of your car (less amazing is our insistence in using this near act-of-God every day appliance as a way of delivering the same Eagles song and the same personal injury attorney commercial every half hour).
Music is also - now more than ever - images, designs, digestible little conversational tidbits, wearable merch, profiles and feeds. It’s a messy summation of cultural accoutrement. Who we listen to is one small component of our cobbled-together identities, along with how we dress, what podcasts we listen to, what we read, and - of course - who we follow. 15 years ago LastFM turned listening to music into a social-capital video game - now we scrobble everything, conspicuously.
Music is frequently brands, and often the actual audio content - the wiggling air, the supposed raison d’être of ‘music’ - can be read as secondary to the t-shirt. There’s this funny but kind of fatalist ouroboros happening where the merch validates the music and the music validates the merch but probably the most important thing people will interface with directly is a tweet, or an image of the band.
But there’s another view entirely of what music is, a much more generous one that - thank christ - I’m finding easier to hold onto in the early days of a return to gigs. And that is this: music is a behavior of people. Rhythm, tones, and the implementation of sound parallel to language is probably a pretty universal tendency, one that visitors from another realm would pick up on in humans almost immediately -
“the earth creatures seem fascinated or possibly even hypnotized by series of repetitive tones with subtle variations. They have placed loudspeakers emanating aural phenomenon almost constantly in every structure and transportation device. Also many of the humans seem to carry a personal device that can also broadcast these aural phenomena, sometimes directly into their ears. At times, the earth creatures will gather - sometimes in large numbers - to show devotion to a collection of other earth creatures seemingly replicating their favorite aural phenomenon.”
What’s more is that music is a social behavior, and much like the tree that falls in the woods acoustic occurrences can really only be turned into music in the ear of the hearer.
Music is a beautiful excuse to be among others, a reliable and perfectly acceptable reason to leave the house.
It’s a fun-as-hell thing to do with your friends, even if the intended sounds you construct together never leave the practice space.
It’s also a trusty mechanism for confirming your position in the world. What I mean by that is that it is incredibly satisfying and reassuring to know a little bit about music and to suspect that something - say, a particular chord change - will sound good and then, voila, it sounds good. The sky is still blue. Or knowing nothing about what you’re doing, throwing shit against the wall, and then miraculously a bop. Delight, discovery, wonder. There are small joys out there to truffle pig root around for, you just have to boot up the synthesizer.
I never answered my own question, neither last week nor really here (that’s often how it goes on the Internet - we’re worked into a lather by the goad of a prompt). Although eventually I did do whatever it was I should have been doing when I asked.
But what about you? What aural phenomenon are you surrounded by? What are your universal human behaviours?