Tuesday, June 12, 2012

CreativeSound + Emotion + Connection + Worship = Music. - Four Key Dimensions of Music

Lately I have been pondering what music is and how to make it and I have come to a conclusion about dimensions of music and what 'musicians' really have to do to create music.
So I have created a short list of roles a musician must play to create pure music.
This is my list in no real order:

1.)  An Explorer of Music*

It is very important for musicians to explore the world of music, I use the word 'explore' because of the creative implication. Exploring suggests getting out there and finding out for yourself, not waiting for someone to tell you. 

The bible often tells us to be like children, I try to retain that innocent approach when it comes to music. Just trying things, ignoring whether or not they are 'correct'. 

Experimenting with different tones, instruments, tempos, keys anything! 

This is important to be original and interesting in the world of music.
Exploration = understanding and creation.

A band that is crazily into exploration of music is Mars Volta, I'm not saying I like them very much. But when comes to merging styles and creating strange things, these guys are pretty good at it.
I will warn you, this is quite hard to listen too if you are not into weird progressive rock.
So you might want to skip this video and go straight to the next one.

Wow. Okay that was awful, you are right. 
They have become over focused on exploring weird stuff and have lost sight of other important elements of music. This guy hasn't, Bon Iver in experimental mode:

2.) A Translator of Emotion

When I was interviewed for entrance into my music school, I was discussing with the interviewer about my lack of music theory knowledge, and she said "you have a good understanding of your instrument but you don't understand the nuts and bolts of music".      I instantly knew she was wrong, I do.
The essence of music, the nuts and bolts that holds everything together, is emotion.
There have been countless debates about what music is, some people say all sound is music, some say only harmonious notes set in timed sequence,  but in reality there is no such thing as "music".
What we call music is merely the physical representation of emotions and concepts, represented by sounds and words.  The composers (and musicians) job is to translate these raw emotions into sound. This combination is called music. 

Far too often people miss this step and focus solely on the accuracy of sounds, the perfection of sound. I think this is an aimless pursuit without first discovering an emotion and a concept to give meaning to you sounds.

I am reluctant to use Bon Iver twice in one blog post, but since I forgot to put him in my post about the piano I have to use it here:

This is just an amazing example of someone connecting to an emotional idea and representing it in sound.
Notice that the piano is old and out of tune, his voice isn't perfectly accurate and he uses awful piano playing technique. But the amount of emotion he shows use through sound is incredible.
This is the second key element of making music.

3.) An Initiator of Connection

Whenever I attend a concert I always take a moment during the performance to look around the collection of people listening.
The audience is as much part of the music as the band themselves. When I look around the room at a concert I don't see a room full of strangers, but a roomful of people connected to me, feeling the things I am feeling, thinking the things I am thinking, seeing the things I am seeing. A room full of people connected to one another. Connected by sound, by emotion and by mutual love. Connected by music.

As musicians we have to arrange our music in such a way that it connects with people and connects people to others. This is something Mars Volta misses, the craziness of their music mostly isolates people. People don't like it, and that detracts from its quality as music.
Adeles performance at the Brit awards is a perfect example of a song that creates connections. Someone Like You is a song full of emotion that everyone can connect to. Everyone in that audiance would have some memory of being rejected or abandoned. And they are all thinking about that time. They all feel melancholy and they understand each other. Adele lends a voice to their pain and they all feel better knowing that there is hope, everyones gets rejected and that's heartbreaking, but okay. 

Notice Adele herself is practically crying at the end of her performance, she wasn't thinking about the singing, she was thinking about rejection. And because she was, everyone was.
Sung to an empty room this song would be lacking in one of the key musical dimensions.

4.) A  Leader of Worship

CreativeSound+Emotion+Connection=Music. We could stop here. But as I Christian I would like to take it one step further. The connection should be more than just between you and the listener, it should also connect with God. It was God who gave us the gift of creativity. Nothing else in the known universe creates art. An orangutan will never arrange a group of flowers on the the ground just because they look beautiful, some animals build themselves shelters but that is intelligence not creativity.
God created us and, the bible says, "breathed his spirit into us". It is the spirit of God that gives us creativity. So when we create art, like music, we should be offering some amount of credit to God. And as we appreciate music, we should be offered an opportunity to appreciated God through music. 

When I was at U2's 360 show in Auckland last year I remember thanking God for everything he had done, for all the great things he had created and I asked him to be close to me. U2 didn't publicly say anything about God, or verbal encourage us to worship. But in the way Bono acted and in his lyrics and lifestyle he reminded us of God spirit inside us and inspired me to worship.
This is the final and most important element of music. Worship.


I would love to hear your opinion or your additions to the list!
What else should a musician do? What other 'dimensions' of music are there?

Thanks for reading,
Dan Brunskill

*The Free Online Dictionary defines music as: "The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre." I believe there is more to music than this, but when I say "Explorer of Music" this is the definition of music I am referring too.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Guitars are old fashioned. Bring out the piano!

I am a guitarist, and one would expect my influences to be the guitar hero greats; Slash, Jimmy Page and whatever the guy from Queen is called. But they are not. These guitarists (even ones I admire like John Mayer) always come across as overbearing, arrogant, and generally distasteful.
But do not fear! I have found the salt and light of the musical world. Piano players!

I was asked by my guitar tutor a few weeks ago who was a guitarist I idolised, instantly three pianists names came to mind before I finally came up with The Edge, there is something about that instrument.

So I am going to pull up some random youtube videos of pianists and have a little ramble about why I like them.

Andrew McMahon - Jacks Mannequin "Amy I"

Listen to that intro! Stunningly simple, surprisingly groovy and twice as interesting as a guitar playing the same type of thing. 
Then the vocal comes in! Piano was actually built as a vocal accompanying instrument (people who play them in orchestras and concertos are being down right disrespectful), it sounds incredible with human voices and offers so much more percussive impact than a guitar ever could.
There that is what I wanted to say! Piano offers a percussive and melodic beauty to music.
Notice in the chorus that it provides powerful attack for the guitar part. Sure you are listening to the guitar, but drop that piano and you have a dead boring song.

                                                       Josiah Leming, "With Love"
I'll be honest, I am kind of just including this guy because he is really cool. But this also shows us more of the piano, this same song on the guitar would be sad and boring. But on piano it is an energetic, exciting song.
The piano is the whole band in this video, bass, chords, lead, rythym everything! He also plays a great little solo bit and the dyanamic variation in a piano is a powerful force of beauty.

 Foster the People - "Houdini"
This not only displays once again the power of the almighty piano, but also the spin off instrument the synthesizer! 
I don't have a lot to say except: could you make something this exciting with just a few guitars?

                                               Adele, "Turning Tables" (Ryan Tedder)

I don't really care about Adele or this song (actually I love them both), the reason I include this video is because it is a great example of songwriting talent. This was written (largely anyway) by Ryan Tedder and it won a couple of Grammys. There are others songwriters too, Paul McCartney wrote most of his songs on the piano, Chris Martin mostly writes on piano, Bono writes on piano, Elton John, Norah Jones, the list goes on and on!
My point being this: Pianists are better songwriters. And I've no idea why.

That is my aimless blurb about the piano. Guitars are old fashioned! Bring on the keyboard!!!

Dan Brunskill