Tag Archives: Music

The Structure of the Modern Musical Experience

Yesterday I went to a grand opening of a huge electronics superstore. It is only a couple stops up the line from my station, so it’s very convenient. I didn’t really have anything specific I was looking for, perhaps a new iPod, or maybe even a new laptop. My laptop is fairly new, a little over two years, but I could use some more memory. I’m not sure if I want to upgrade, or buy a new machine. Either way is fine, or my machine will likely keep me satisfied for a while longer.

What was really amazing to me was how brand new everything was. I know when you go shopping at an electronics store, you expect everything to be new, but I was surprised anyway. I mean super clean, like the whole place had been sterilized or something. The whole place had that fresh out of the box feeling to it. Like when you buy something, and it has that protective plastic film over the display, and you don’t want to take it off because you want to keep that brand new feeling.

I wandered over into the mp3 section, and was impressed with how much those things have changed over the years. I have an iPod I bought a few years ago, and it is completely outdated. Compared to the one they had on sale there, mine looks like it was made in the sixties.

When I was a kid, they were still making eight track tapes. I had a stereo that played both vinyl records and eight track tapes. And that was fairly advanced for the day. Today I routinely see people on the trains listening to mp3 players that are smaller than my credit card.

What is truly intriguing, at least to me, is that despite the drastic changes in the delivery of music, the music itself hasn’t changed much. Sure there are different bands with different songs and music, but the overall structure of music hasn’t really changed. They still play with the same instruments, the songs are about the same length, and the same chords are used. The songs are still about the same things. But the way music is delivered is completely different. You can buy all your music online, and download it straight to your mp3 player or iPod, without ever needing to handle anything physical, other than your musical storage device.

The musicians, on the other hand, still play with the same instruments, using the same notes, and the same recording equipment. The message is the same, but the method of delivery has been completely changed.

Like if you were sending smoke signals using Morse code versus sending a text on your cell phone. The origin of the message, the thoughts in your brain are the same, and the receiver of your message will still respond in the same way. Despite the structure, the content remains the same. In other ways, it’s the opposite. The content changes, but the structure remains the same. I’m a big movie fan, and despite different characters, and writers, and actors, and even wildly different plots, the story structure of modern movies really hasn’t changed much.

It’s been said that there are really only seven different kinds of stories, and every story you will ever read or see or hear about will fall into one of those categories. In that respect, it’s as if we are completely unaware of structure, and only pay attention to content.

In the end I decided not to buy a new mp3 player, as the one I have I really only use as an alarm clock, and to listen to when I exercise in the mornings. For some reason, I really don’t enjoy listening to music when I’m out walking around or riding on the train. I either like taking a book, or starting up a conversation with a random stranger. That always seems to be more interesting. At least to me, anyways.

Sing Your Truth

I was watching this documentary about the power of music. It was about how music has been used for tens of thousands of years from primitive tribes to modern times to convey emotional stories filled with hidden esoteric meanings. I remember when I took a piano class a few years ago, and the instructor was saying how music is an integral part to our deep psyche. When we are in the womb, we hear the thump thump thump of our mother’s heart, pumping the blood carrying nutrients not only to her body, but directly to ours as well.

Then when we are born we have that thump thump thump always going. The consistent steady beat that circulates our body with life itself. Night and day, the cycle of the seasons, and the moon and the tides are all reminders that we are in a rhythmic cycle within a rhythmic cycle within a rhythmic cycle. All the world’s religions use music or chanting of some sort to connect to the divine. Whales sing to each other. Even dolphins communicate in a sing song click click that scientists believe conveys meaning through it’s frequency, as does the caws of crows, and the singing of larks.

Brain waves themselves can be altered by music. Anthropologists believe this was the primary driving force behind the propensity for primitive tribes to gather in sacred places and play their drums in specific frequencies. These drum beats literally lowered the brain waves of the participants to levels that allowed for states of hypnogogic imagery and creativity.

Music can be created to deliver emotions of all ranges. Music can soothe your soul, lighten your heart, and bring tears to your eyes, all within minutes. Evolutionary biologists believe that singing in birds is primarily to attract mates. They also postulate that the factor behind the explosive growth of the human brain over the past million years was due to exactly that. Sexual competition within the species over the hundreds of millennia. Is it any wonder that rock stars are known for the flocks of groupies that literally throw themselves at them?

It’s one thing to write sweet words, it’s yet another to say them. But it’s on an entirely different level of evolutionary success to belt out a song with a thumping beat to back you up. Where I live, karaoke is very popular, but many people are too shy to sing in front of friends, or feel the need to lubricate themselves before they feel comfortable. Their missing out on one of the greatest ways to kill that imaginary shell that keeps you inside your imagination.

What if it turns out that it wasn’t the quality of the song that drove us to evolutionary leaps, but the courage to boldly stand up and sing without fear, without quarter and with unabashed confidence? What if it wasn’t the words at all, but the bass in our voice, and the flamboyant charisma that their sound created? Think about this next time you have the opportunity to sing. Don’t let it pass you by. Take it. Make it yours. Sing your truth.