2 February 2015

The good, the bad, and Demare's violins

A few days ago, I wrote a status on Facebook about how I had gotten Demare on my brain. As I have songs on my brain all the time, it’s normally not something I write about on Facebook. But there’s this thing with Demare: I get him on my brain even though I don’t like him so much. It’s the violins that make me ambivalent about him: the sound is kind of wild, and the accenting is jarring. I find Demare’s violins really uncomfortable.

What I tried - and maybe failed - to communicate in the Facebook status, was that *even though* I don’t like Demare’s violins, I *still* think it’s good music. So on a deeper level, the post wasn’t actually about Demare’s violins. It’s about what we expect from music.

"Skrik" - Edvard Munch

I'll explain. It’s not the same as beginning to like something you didn’t like before, because you got used to it. It’s not quite the same as my Troilo project either, where I started liking Troilo after a period of self-education. There’s another layer to this: Liking something even if you still dislike it. As I thought more about it, I started wondering about the word “like”. It’s a very quick word, easy to use without reflection or elaboration, the same way we so often like music without reflection or elaboration. Nowhere is it easier to like music than in our modern world, or dislike it, or disregard it in a second.

I’m going to venture the opinion that our society’s relationship with music is deeply disturbed. Very often, music is used for something else than music itself:

- It’s used to manipulate our feelings. Music is used, even designed, to make us buy stuff: in commercials, in shops, even on the street outside the shops. It’s used to make visual impressions stronger in movies, steering us towards an interpretation.

- It’s designed so you should buy it. There are “recipes” on how to write a hit. There are data programs that analyse existing hits in pop music to find which parameters make up a hit, and these data programs can be used to estimate how many of these parameters are present in new artists’ songs - all to see whether a song has hit potential, i.e. to see if the music has economic value.

- It’s used by ourselves to improve our lives. We use music to protect ourselves against noise, both when we work and when we rest. We even use music to protect ourselves from other people’s music. We use it as a backdrop for all kinds of activities, like housework and excersise, homework even, to make us more motivated. We use it to get to sleep (and because we keep it on our devices, the music will continue playing all night).

Since music is a commercial product, or related to a commercial product, does it change the way we evaluate music? Does it mean that we regard it more as entertainment than communication, and that we expect or even demand immediate pleasure from it? And if we are surrounded, and surround ourselves, with music all the time, for secondary reasons, do we listen differently to it? Do we listen at all?

To me, liking something because it’s pleasing isn’t the only way of liking something. My personal experience - both from my music education and from tango - is that I have the deepest relationships with music that isn’t “pretty”. This is why I think we need to acknowledge the uncomfortable. It makes us stop and listen, to understand, to explain, and to think differently. It allows for the idea that music can be good even when it challenges you, and that it’s possible to like it even if you dislike it.

It’s ugly, and I’ll take the ugliness and make it mine and use it to create something.

The tango I had on my brain was ‘Canta, pajarito’ (recorded 1943 with Raúl Berón).