Thursday, May 31, 2018

Music Is A Drug

I am fascinated by this track "Hidden" by Rival Consoles (the nom de musique of English electronic musician Ryan Lee West), from his fourth studio album "Persona." It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a bit ago about music...

West says on his website:
"My music is generally inward looking. I like finding something about the self within music, that doesn't have to be specific but maybe asks something or reveals something. This record is a continuation on the self through electronic sounds. Like Legowelt once said ‘a synthesiser is like a translator for unknown emotions’, which I think sums up what I am trying to do. I think all these emotions we have make up our persona. So in a way by finding new ones you alter or expand your persona. And that is what I want my music to try to do. I deliberately aimed to be more sonically diverse with this record. I wanted to experiment more. I wanted to create new sounds and new emotions."

In my aforementioned conversation with a friend, I tried to outline my relationship with sound which has always been rather abstract. I took piano lessons briefly when I was young but it didn't take...reading music proved to be much harder for me than others in the class. They say "music is math" and I was horrible at math. There was clearly an intellectual component to learning and playing music that I did not relate to. But I do not respond to music intellectually. And intellectual music does not touch me. The complexity of Bach or Mahler--for the sake of complexity--does not move me. Instead, music for me is something...savage...holy...or I should say rather that I respond best to music that is savage and holy. Music that touches me moves me beyond intellect.

I like music with repetition (I loved disco when I was young)...but I also like a lot of other kinds of music too. I have realized that one of the things I like about rhythmic music is that it induces in me a kind of trance. I used to work at a metaphysical bookstore long ago and I had access to a lot of different types of spiritual traditions. One of the ones that drew me was the earth religions of Native Americans--there is a tradition of shamans who induce a trance in themselves to "journey" as it is called, which is sort of active imagining. It is used to gain insight or wisdom into a topic. It became popular with people in the New Age community as a way to get in touch with one's own psyche--and this is done to a single drum beat on a round Native American drum. I did a lot of reading on the subject and neuroscience research concluded that shamanic drumming does something to the brain called "driving" which means the brain is provided with a steady rhythmic stimulus, in this case sound but it can apparently also work with vision. This driving --in which neurons in the brain fire off again and again from the stimulus--produces a light trance or ALPHA state where creativity and imagination strengthen, fears ease, and one feels a well-being. Considering that information, I realized why I like dance music when, to many people it is seen as something silly and hedonistic, and that the music is empty, vapid, pointless, too simplistic. But I like it because it produces alpha waves just like the shamanic drumming. I have been in many dance clubs over the years where I have found myself on a dance floor, moving, moving, moving, into a kind of Maslowian peak experience. It is a hyper-experience, and I did it all completely sober, without ANY drugs.

Then I spoke about all the other music I like--and I see that there is a common thread that runs through music I respond to. There is a heavy emotional component whether through lyrics (lyrics about these things matter too--I respond to the written word and the subject of a song which also can shift my consciousness by making me think about something...transporting me somewhere.) or through arrangement of chords and notes. I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I hear it--whether minor (usually) or major, the music that touches me has something to do with that meta-state, with something beyond, with extreme joy or extreme sorrow...with transcendence. It is emotionally truthful. The music I like takes me to a deeper place in myself. And THAT place is savage, holy, pure emotion. Instruments and arrangements support this sense immensely as well, and I find I respond much more strongly to music that is, as Ryan Lee West commented above, non-traditional. "New" sounds give way to things that are not of this world. I like it when instrumentation is unidentifiable, full of sounds that are not connected to existing percussion, woodwind, string, brass. This is not to say that I do not respond to any symphonic or orchestral music across the board--I have been moved by symphonic and orchestral pieces but I like sounds that are otherworldly, that take me inward (and thus outward...and you know what I mean). I like distortion in instruments and vocals, to approach that wordless state of pure being that can be stimulated with sound vibrations.

So I don't want to break music down to its parts and learn how to make it. I don't want to approach it intellectually. I want it whole. I want it mysterious. I want to feel it like I feel a meadow at the base of a mountain. I want it to connect me to more of what life is, good or bad, up or down, high or low. I don't want it to be "notes"--I want it intravenously. I love woeful, trembling music that is like a thin sheet of ice about to break. I love roaring, storm-like music that is rage and power. I love shimmering, rushing music that is ecstasy. I want to touch the vibrations themselves, to experience the universe and reality, the primal sound, the sound of a circle that symbolizes a beginning and an end. The sound of transcendence.

So ultimately what I need music to do for me is to shift my consciousness. I use music like a drug.

Here is Mark Pritchard's enigmatic song "Beautiful People" with vocals by the otherworldly frontman of Radiohead, Thom Yorke.

And here is another whopper for me: "Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun" by French outfit M83 (previously here and here).

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