Sophistication in music is a touchy subject.
For some, measured, intelligent songwriting skills are the pinnacle of musical enjoyment, for others it can be the antithesis of what music is there for – the expression of raw emotion.
Regular readers might be aware of my mantra about trying to get the best from every viewpoint when it comes to making music, and this case is no different.
purely intellectual territory
I like sophisticated songwriting, and enjoy appreciating finely crafted musical material, although it can be irritating if it veers into purely intellectual territory. Rather like how listening a very smart person talking passionately about a subject dear to them can be very enjoyable and enlightening, but hearing someone condescendingly spouting off intellectual quips to prove how smart they are is utterly intolerable.
It is also the case that I tend to shy away from music that is emotionally cold – although this is a tricky thing to quantify. Sometimes music can be emotionally charged for the listener even if the author did not intend for the music to be so. There are some serial pieces by Webern (the five piece for String Orchestra, for example) that just grab me and seem to speak to me so beautifully – but much of the serial music of that time leaves me completely cold – I feel drawn to that period so I tend to keep going back and listening to find something I like.
Sometimes music can be emotionally charged for the listener even if the author did not intend for the music to be so
I’d imagine that almost anybody who loves music also gets some emotional charge from it, it seems hardwired into humans to extract emotional nutrition from it.
My problem is that although I like that raw rock power (notice that one of the classic rock/protopunk albums is actually called Raw Power!) it is hard to find that perfect mix of emotional power and musical sophistication. In some senses they might seem like opposite ends of the spectrum.
For many, any kind of intellectual element in music is a turn off, and I understand that. I just feel that there is a perfect marriage to be found if the two can be combined.
It’s been on my mind for a while that although this is the age of the bedroom producer, the main advances have been technical. The new genres that have popped up and become popular have been more about the sounds and production techniques involved than the rhythms and harmonies.
although this is the age of the bedroom producer, the main advances have been technical
I think this has been a necessary diversion, but that the time has come for this new generation of empowered musicians to turn their attention to the really important stuff …musicality and emotion. Raw power, emotional connection and sophistication of expression.
I’m hoping that the next few years will be the time when this community matures and starts creating some really great music, but I think it’s vital that there is a move away from production techniques being the focus, because when that is the case, some of the soul is lost. The thrill of new sounds can be intoxicating, but when the intoxication wears off, there’s not a lot left to show for it if there is no musicality and emotion behind it.
It’s my mantra again… make the most of everything!
David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenberg’s Fundamentals of Musical Composition. He is a founder member of Avant Pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith.
Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday. For previous articles search for ‘Dave Graham’
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