Monday, August 15, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Anyone who follows my tweets may have noticed that I have been posting a lot about some pretty esoteric instruments. Glass harmonicas, Cristal Baschetts, glass bowls, Boomwhackers and PVC instruments, bowed gamelons and other exotic and unusual instruments. So why am I so interested in these instruments? For a few reasons. An important one is that they are not expected. Modern pop musical culture creates entire genres from certain sounds, the hi gain distortion guitar sound of metal, the short percussive sounds and rhythms of hip hop or the deep bass of dub step. It's natural for us to like things that we are familiar to us and to copy one another.

One also does not need to look only to pop music. In some sense, classical music is based on copying styles and following the rules, coloring within the lines. Even serialism is an attempt to recreate a new set of rules. However, the great composers worked within a certain traditional framework but they did color outside the lines, sometimes way outside. 20th century classical is an example of this. It was not uncommon for these composers to use unusual instruments or even make their own. Messiaen looked to birdsong, eastern rhythms and instruments. Harry Partch made his own instruments.

Looking to the east for inspiration can also be found in jazz musicians who looked to the eastern musical tradition for new scales or the Beatles who introduced the sitar to listeners used to a stricly pop diet.

What I often find difficult in coloring outside the lines is that some listeners can't get past the difference. Handel for example was more popular in his time than Bach because he wrote music that was familiar and pleasing to the ear.

As for me, while it may not get me as many listeners, I refuse to imitate and monkey other musicians. I look to them for ideas but I don't let my music be limited by any genre. So, I hope that explains my unusual choice of instruments.


Anonymous said...

I was very interested to read this background about your music making process. You're really getting at the tricky balance between imitation (which accounts for MUCH human learning) and innovation. Enjoyed your examples of past musicians as well. Keep it up. I stop by your soundcloud page periodically to check out your stuff. Just took in Shadows in the was affecting to be sure. Exactly how kind of eludes words. Somehow I imagine you're okay with that though! :)


Lux_Seeker said...

Thanks for the feedback and yes, I am ok with that. Music making to me has always been a balance of technique, intuitive sense and sometimes just dumb luck. I tend to mine for sounds. I know what I am doing but why sone things work and others don't I think is part of the mystery and joy of music.