Friday, July 29, 2016

Music to my ears

I listen to the radio.
I play music CDs.
I play the old cassette tapes and listen to the music, especially the mixtapes.
I play the even older LPs and wonder at the gorgeous music from decades past.
I stream music on Pandora, where depending on the mood I might click on any of the genres I have created for myself there.
I turn to YouTube for the old Tamil and Hindi film songs.

I live in an abundance of music, too.  And it seems like I can pull up at any time any song that I have ever known.  The awareness of the rich culture of music across the cultures sometimes even creates an anxiety within me that I might be missing out on something profound and moving.  What a contrast to the old days, anywhere in the world and not merely in the old country!

When we knoew there are a gazillion songs out there, which can be download right away, how to make sense of it?
[Ben] Ratliff noticed some people were expressing unease rather than joy at the prospect of millions of tracks at their beck and call. “Whenever people talked about the great abundance of music out there, they talked about it with a sense of anxiety. People described themselves as overwhelmed, as something negative.
“I don’t know if it is that bad and I think it’s actually really, really exciting. The task is not to bitch about how overwhelmed we all are, but to figure out what’s in there. I think of it as a physical library, and you have to figure out what’s in those stacks and invent reasons to explore further than we normally would.”
We humans are some special animals, I think, when it comes to creating and listening to music.  Listening to music that appeals to us is a function of culture, not biology; "One man’s music really is another man’s noise."  Why music, in the first place?
The genesis of music, Leonardo might agree, is a creative urge to find patterns in noise. It’s an act of rhythm, in tune with the body’s beating heart. From the earliest days on the savanna, humans scream, they shout, they hiss. They clap their hands, they stomp feet. They create noises to chase away adversaries—threatening intruders and imaginary spirits alike.
Music has those primal roots.  
Ultimately, music challenges us to face ambiguity, seek solutions and, in the absence of resolution, turn confusion into a positive emotion by reveling in its ambiguity and vagueness. Looking back, noise has been integral to music as long as music has existed, incorporating imitations of birdcalls, animal sounds, and the cries of street vendors. It sounds ironic to say that indulging in noise is how we manage it. But apparently that is how humans shake, rattle, and roll. The visceral, disorienting response of sound’s interaction with the body is what—quite literally—moves us.
May the music that you like move you towards peace and happiness.


Ramesh said...

I have an uneasy feeling that I belong to a different sub species than you, although we may both fall under the broad umbrella of Homo Sapiens. I tried hard to read that piece on How noise makes music. I really did. I tried my best. The trouble is that I could hardly go beyond one sentence. I was instantly afflicted with an acute attack of "research paper with unintelligible words flummoxing any general reader" itis. The easiest sentence on that piece read - "Acoustic noise itself generates kinetic response". You also can't quibble with "Phylogenetically, the auditory system evolved from the vestibular system".

If you can not only read such stuff, but can also intelligently blog about it, I readily admit that your sub species is much superior to mine :)

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, please, don't try to be all so humble, my friend ... we know well your intellectual strengths ... and then on top of that you are a cricket and TT champ as well.

I suppose I am drawn to these essays--whether or not I truly understand them--because they help connect the dots. In this case, music is not just music. I still recall the elders referring to the popular film songs of your teenage years literally as noise (chattham). Music to one can be noise to another. An old friend in India a long time ago referred to Billy Joel's music as heavy metal. Years ago, I was playing an opera CD at home when a friend came by. She requested me to shut the music off because she couldn't stand sopranos! Wonderful music to one can easily be horrible noise to another.

As the essay points out, composers are inspired by noise around us and creatively work that into the music--be it the waterfall or the birdcalls. Meanwhile, there is our brain that deals with the noise and the complexity of how the brain figures out patterns for us and even fills in the blanks without us knowing. And the ear and our hearing mechanism that is so darn convoluted because of the incremental building up from our evolutionary ancestors ... our ears were once gills! So many different pieces come together in such essays--the kind that I cherish in the liberal education that is rapidly being gutted away in favor of education that is directly about jobs and incomes.

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