Tag Archives: Structure

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 I have an iPod I bought a few years ago, and it is completely outdated.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.

Grazing Cows or Gazing Anxiety

I was getting more and more worried. Stress was increasing with every 18 wheeler that blew past my 4 cylinder rice burner, going a bit more slowly than I should have been. HONK! Sorry, I mumble under my breath. I should see the turnoff by now, where is it? I check my watch. Still ten minutes. Look around. No turnoff. What if I missed it? I don’t know where the next one is. I’m in the middle of about a million rolling hills populated by grazing cows. They sure don’t seem stressed. Don’t they know what they’re in for? I try to peek up ahead above the speeding traffic. Is that a turn off up there? Could that be me?

Not completely unlike when I was sitting across from Cheryl. Nervous. Shaky. Eyes briefly making contact then quickly escaping into the many available distractions around us.

“So, uh, what do you like to do?”

“Um, play tennis, and uh,” deep breath, “uh, you, know, stuff.”

“Wow. That sounds cool.”

I don’t remember leaving my brain at home. I was able to talk to her ok over the phone. Can’t the waiter come any quicker? Maybe I can spend an hour pretending to thoughtfully think of something interesting, while I’m looking at the menu, or maybe he will spill something on me so I can think of a reason to bail out. It’s not like this is my first time. Why is asking one person a simple question seem so much more difficult than asking somebody else the exact same thing? It works the same way, right? Brain makes thought, thought goes to vocal cords, mouth and lips and tongue move, sound comes out. It’s not like I’m going to do something different this time, am I?

My friend never has this problem. Of course he is a firefighter, and everybody knows that firefighters attract girls like Bill Gates can attract money. He was telling me the other day about this training exercise, where they have this old building set up, and they practice going in and putting out the fire. And I asked him, “why don’t you practice on different buildings?” He told me that most buildings basically have the same structure. They might look different on the outside, but on the inside they are similar enough. And when you train frequently, you start to to realize that what something looks like on the outside doesn’t really matter. All you really need to do is be able to notice the structure. And sometimes I ask  him why he doesn’t always have girls surrounding him. He told me he was tired of having the same conversations over and over and over.  He says that he learned that when you stay with something long enough, you really start to notice the small things that make you realize that this person stands out from the rest.

So anyways, after we ordered, it got a bit easier to talk, because she asked me if I was as nervous as she was. When I gladly said yes, that kind of broke the ice a little bit. I guess we both agreed on some level that it’s ok to embrace being nervous. We actually ended up not having that much in common, but it was an enjoyable conversation anyhow. And after I arrived at my destination on time, (actually five minutes early, because I hit all the green lights after I realized the exit was indeed mine) I was able to have another enjoyable chit chat with the suprisingly cute girl that was working there.