Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's Genre Got to Do With It

I wanted to blog about this article by Ryan Howes Phd. As it goes, I am pretty easy going. In fact, I did one of these on-line evaluations of my twitter posts and it evaluated me as very positive and for the most part I am. However, two things irritate me the most. One is the current administration (I kind of like capitalism - I'm funny that way) and the other is when people try to create artificial groupings of people that don't really exist, in this particular case, musicians.

When I listen to an artist I tend not to think of them as part of any particular genre. In fact, much of what I listen to is hard to find in record stores because it defies genre and lately, I listen to a lot of stuff of the Internet from independent artists who define themselves my breaking traditional genres.

So when I read this:

Well, let's just say that I was not happy. I would use another word but I like to keep my blog and twitter posts free of inappropriate language.

Heres a sunmary of the musical world according to Howes.

Top 40 - Popular (that is redundant by the way), effective, formulaic (yes, I agree with that), does not go to deep (again, agreed but is that a positive?)

Rock - apparently all rock involves loud guitars with amps cranked to 11. Really? All rock is also about sex, aggression and death. If that is not stereotypical then I don't know what is. Rock is a pretty broad category and much of it is very positive. Some of it is social commentary. Listen to Pink Floyd Animals. It's really a commentary on society. Dark, yes and while in some ways about death, that's not really its focus. There are many many more examples that dont' fit easy categories.

I think it would also be wise of parents to listen to some of the rock their children are listening to and talk about the lyrics. Sometimes, these lyrics are attractive because they identify with them. Telling them to not buy the music is one way to deal with it but being open and honest with children about the music they do listen to is an even better way.

Muzak - highly praised for being humanistic, positive and empathetic. To be honest, I hate Muzak. It's pretty much devoid of any musical integrity. Can it calm someone in a dentist or doctors office? Perhaps but there are other forms of music that can do this such as calm classical music that would have the same effect and be less, well, irritating and vapid. and the musical equaivalent to me of a root canal.

Classical - I draw a blank on this comment. Something about family therapy, the whole being greater than the sum of it's parts and apparently the ability of classical music to cause a dissociative mental state. I can't even make sense of the comments so I have nothing more to say on this category.

Techno - which the blogger calls neurofeedback. Apparently he thinks techo is good because while the musicians don't really know what they are doing it works by leveraging technology to create eclectic sounds. Hmm, to be honest I don't find techo all that eclectic. Like many genres it's pretty monkey see, monkey do but I also listen and love "Tangerine Dream". Are they techo? Who knows. I just find there music to be creative and honest which is what I am looking for in any of the music I listen to.

Punk - Accordng to the blog, it gets to the core issues, the raw animal fight or flight instinct. I could not figure out if he thought that was good or bad.

Emo - Anxiety, existentialism leading to some optimism or something like that.

Gangast rap - This one is really good. Apparently all about envy, breasts (yes breasts), death and hostility - ok, a bit off the mark but yes, that is the gansta life style so you could call this stereotyping but this is the one case I would have to agree for the most part.

Blues - You have to love this one. Blues are Jungian archetypes about loves gained and lost. OK, sure, to some extent if you want to stretch analogies to the breeaking point. Jung would be so please to know that a whole genre of music has been created based on his psychology.

Contemporary Christian Music - Spiritual ac coding to the blogger. Yes, but not nearly as sophisticated as something like Strauss "Death and Transfiguration" or much of Wagner's music of longing. I'm Catholic to the core but frankly, in my music I am looking for beauty and honesty. If I want to read the bible or theology then that's what I do. I do listen to sacred music. There are several good requim Masses that I like but they are transcendent and sublime works of classical music. They may even create that dissociative thing but I like to keep my sacred music of a high level. Equating God with top 40 well, it just doen't work for me.

My Response

OK, here is my response for what it's worth. From the time I have been a young child I have loved music. There was always music in my family. My mother played the piano, my grandmother sang Italian folk songs and I have expanded my musical experiences in various ways in my own music and what I have listened to live and otherwise. I have listened to great jazz in a bar in Newark NJ and Piink Floyd in Yankee Stadium. I guess I never really thought about genre that much. I know what I like and I also know the music I can create. If it's honest and positive it's all good but mind you, some of my music is dark. Like Penderecki's "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" my "Disturbance in the Clouds" in necessarily dark. My music expresses what is often inside me, fears, joy, transcendence, many, many things. I use electronics and computers to express it because they give me a wider pallet of sounds. If some can do this with a guitar or piano then the more power to them. I do with with a Moog (and a Korg) and a lot of software with dark and strange sounding names like Absynth and of course, the inevitable Moogerfoogers (I love my foogers)

I call my music experimental/ambient because I want to push boundaries. Sometimes that gives it a limited audience. I'm ok with that. I want to take the listener inside another world of sound and intentionally stir the emotions. In my "Disturbance in the Clouds" for example I use a siren and some reverb to intentionally stir up feelings of fear in the listener., Is my music about death? No, much of it is uplifting and light. I like bells and choral sounds and many things suggestive of something transcendent, even heaven (I am Catholic).

So where does my music fit in with Mr Howes psychoanalysis? I don't really know if it does and I doubt it fits any of the artists I follow because I choose them for the honesty and integrity of their music. They make music for the sake of music not to follow some formula so as to stay ont he surface, in the shallow water, where things don't go to deep.

Truth is, that much of music is a formula and it does not go to0 deep as Howes suggests of the top 40. If music is a meaningless noise in the background of life then I suppose that is ok. If it keeps patients calm in the office then I guess that is ok to. But if music can really take us somewhere, lead us into is mystery then I think I would prefer the other genres that are less of a formula and more of an art but then again, that's just me, a usually happy, sometimes angry, sometimes artistic musician/composer and Catholic trying to make music something more than a warm and pleasant buzzing on the surface of the mind.

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