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WRONG NOTES: a blog of ear reverence

Wrong Notes collects posts on music, art, culture and fun stuff. Also included: news about the Ear Reverends.

Music is what words really say

Mostly, music and words each come into being as vessels of emotion. We can think about the meaning of each in an abstract sense, but that's secondary.

In my previous post on music appreciation, I expressed some concerns about my writing about music—about using words to express why I love specific pieces of music. I'd rather create more music to express that love for other music.

But, as I mentioned, I seem to have some things to say. And, with the specific pieces of music I want to write about in future posts, I realize that the lyrics—the words are such an important part of that music.

So, I wanted to say a bit about words as music. And, first, to take a step back, I should say that I think almost all words, spoken or written, are "backed" by the same source as non-verbal musical expression: emotion.

This is actually a similar concept to body language. What I am saying is that the human voice—even translated into words typed on a computer, start out as non-verbal communications—and that source carries through to some extent in the final medium. When we read written / typed words, this is part of what we might be able to "read between the lines" on some occasions.

So, imagine that before someone speaks a word to you, what's starting inside them is much more like singing. Then, through social conventions, self-conciousness, verbosity, etc., that would-be song comes out as only a speaking voice saying words.

(Of course, in some cultures / languages, the natural speaking voice is more unabashedly musical! However, some of us just walk around speaking like unenthusiastic robotic honkies.)

In moments when one's guard is down, or moments of unbridled joy, or of terrible pain, or of drunkenness, or of passion, we sometimes let loose and say things that sound more like singing. And, what's so wonderfully musical about good lyrics is how they use words (e.g., syntactically / semantically) to free the voice to sing rather than speak.

Lyrics use rhythm, rhyme, cadence, phrasing and more to enable melody and singing. And the meaning of the words can push the shape of the music. (And word meanings and word sounds are themselves intertwined in a way that I think only musicality may unravel.)

And, likewise, melody and singing enable lyrics to mean what words really say, but don't (always) express when spoken or written.

How I listen to lyrics

I have a favorite way to get into the lyrics of the music I enjoy. First, I don't read the lyrics right away. I just listen to the music and listen for what's being sung as my ear is drawn to it.

At some point, I start to hear what's being said. (Let's assume this is a great song I love—needless to say, in other cases, hearing that what's being said is something lame is an awful disappointment.)

Then I start to really hear the whole of the lyrics. And really feel what's being said in each phrase. I might sing along or say the words—I hear the words as if I am singing them (e.g., about myself, about someone I know, etc.).

At this point, there may some lines I am not sure about. And, this is where I love to finally read the lyrics. I usally read them first, separate from listening to the song. Then I listen to the song again without reading along. And, finally, I may listen and read along at the same time.

Sometimes, if I don't have access to the printed lyrics, I'll listen to the song bit by bit and try to write the words down myself.

Finally, hearing what the words really say often means experiencing something that changes with each listen. The meaning is profound—whatever puzzle you may have solved getting to the point of really hearing the words, you now hear into a more unlimited mystery of experience and possibility being expressed.

To get into the words even more, I might play the song on guitar or keyboard, and sing along. And, even more, I'll start to change the musical arrangement, etc., to hear what the words say in different voicing / voices.

Even the stuff

We talk about a lot of stuff in our world, and a lot of that talk is supposed to be objective or informational or useful. At present, we spend a lot of time seeing people talking on TV or on the web, and, the way our visual sense can dominate our focus, we're drawn into how the speakers / words look (people talking on a screen, words written on a page).

But, if we listen, we can get into what's going on, deeper than what it all looks like. We can hear what's really being said. And, what's really being said is a kind of music. Sadly, much of it is like the song of desperation—how else to describe the thing that can drive us to such maniacal verbiage?

But, people can be beautiful music. And, even some of the most potentially dry and boring stuff, through the voice of someone filled with a joy and energy for life, can express great musicality.

As a closing example, I thought the subject of particle physics might be a good test case. Science is a subject we've all heard delivered in a dead and deadening way, and so I though this clip of Richard Feynman talking about rubber bands would be a good example of how enjoyment (to the point of almost singing) can be infused into a topic not known for sing-a-longs!

On music appreciation

If you love music, you play music.

The more you love music, the more you want to actively make it heard—heard by yourself and by potentially others and everyone.

A quick aside: let us briefly note that this is the essence of any "music business"—give people a way to participate in making music they love, that is so great / convenient / novel / special / sharable / fun / etc., that they will pay for the opportunity. . .

So, we push the play button or hire a musician to play a party or are musicians ourselves. Even most passively (we enter a room where someone else has put on music, or we walk past a musician on the street, etc.), when we notice and respond to the sound, we become co-creators of the music. If we like it, our ears perk up, and we may clap along, nod our heads to the rhythm, dance, sing our favorite phrase, or get others to hear it as well—we are playing a part in the music too.

As a musician, when I hear music I love, I not only want to play it on the stereo or join with it in concert, but I also want to play music on musical instruments. Sometimes that means playing the same music I've heard—for example, hearing a song and then learning to play it on guitar. But, more typically, I want to create new music, influenced by what I've heard.

So, given all of this, I always have a question about how much to talk or write about the music I love. I always want other people to know that music too, but talking and writing about music, in words, feels so inadequate compared with what I want to say in music. I generally find it pretty frustrating to talk or write about music.

But, I think I am going to write about the music I love a bit more here on Wrong Notes, because I see a need to get the word out. I wish I were productive musically in a way that I could quickly and fully say what I want about other's music through my own music. My ideal would be to be like Jimi Hendrix performing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" on June 4th, 1967—only three days after the Beatles' album came out.

(Here's a video of Hendrix playing the song a bit later that year, in December '67:)

Some more thoughts on writing about music

What I hope to write will not be music criticism, but will be music appreciation.

I sometimes enjoy music criticism, but I basically find its goals to be, very frequently, largely un-musical! In the larger scheme of things, that's OK in that music criticism can be great writing and one can enjoy it as such. But, at its musical-worst, music criticism is writing that convinces you to not play music. At its worst, it suggests that thinking and talking and writing about music are more important and/or better than playing music.

And, I don't have any interest in producing music criticism in that sense.

As an example of writing about music I find encouraging, I can point to Tom Moon's 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. You can enjoy his writing as writing, but Tom's writing constantly makes me want to stop reading and start playing!

So, as I write more about music, I'll point back to here as my footnote about why I'm not reviewing or critiquing the music I am writing about. For me, the goal of the writing is music appreciation—play music now!

Phone recordings robots

Ever notice how many ways people communicate with each other through voice recordings? For example, phone greetings, voicemail, etc.?

Beyond all of the voice greetings and messages recorded by actual human people, I also hear a lot of messages recorded by robots / voice synthesizers.

I am generally interested in all of these as part of the sound of our time. Something we hear a lot. And, I can't help but wonder how much of it, if any, will be captured in art that future peoples might use to better understand us.

I also can't help myself, when I have to recorded something like a phone greeting, from wanting to use it as a creative opening—if not something strictly musical, at least something akin to a musical performance—or maybe something like performance art.

And, a bit of a tangent: oh, I so much wish I had a copy of this one voice greeting I recorded in the mid-1990s . . .

I recorded a message for my at-the-time office phone. It was an early digital phone / PBX system (Rolm, I recall) that allowed you to re-record just the tail end of your message. In other words, you didn't have to re-record the whole thing—I think the idea was that people would flub their phone numbers or sign-offs at the end, and this feature helped you correct just that bit. Maybe it was so you could have a changing ending that was easy to change?

That feature allowed me to essentially cut and paste together a message out of fragments of my speech, such that my somewhat normally spoken sentences became reset with unusual timing / transitions between words. Many aspect of the rhythm and cadence of the speech were altered, and the final "piece," by the time it was done, left you with an eerie / haunting feeling—even though what I said would look perfectly normal and acceptable were it just written out on paper .

Argh. It's almost pointless to describe it like this (I can't believe I even tried)—you had to hear it.

At the time, I had to delete and change my message, or I was going to get fired. It was like "delete it NOW, or else." So many people at the office—even people I hardly ever talked to, went out of their way to tell me how pissed off they were about that message—so I relented and changed the message. Of course, many of my friends—even people I hardly ever talked to, went out of their way to tell me how much they had loved it.

Had I thought about it more at the time, I would have at least saved a copy for myself, for later (like, now!). But, anyway, that's a whole other story. And, maybe it's even better as a legend than something we could re-examine now.

Now, back to today's (shorter!) story—with sound!:

Today, I got a robot to record a new greeting for my mobile phone. And, I thought it'd be fun to post it here (since so few people call my mobile anyway), so at least a few more people might hear it.

Play the voice greeting.


Croque Madame 1

An image for the new music I am creating right now.

· · · good things come to those who click · · ·

Exicited is a start

Sometimes when you experience something a lot, you stop noticing the "event" of it—it's more like a constant.

Music has been like a constant in my life, but I sometimes have to ask "why" about it, given the gap between what I feel about music and (the lack of) what I actually do on some days.

But, I noticed something the other day—that I hadn't really noticed before: I wake up every morning completely excited about music.

I can't figure out what more to say about it without sounding totally corny. But, literally, every morning, I wake up excited about music.

For me, at least, it sort-of explains some things, just recognizing that "event" and its frequency.

And, it doesn't answer any "why" for me, but it maybe gives me less reason to even ask. Or, if I ask:

Q: Why?

A: Because it's there.

I am excited aboard, about, above, across, after, along, alongside, amid, amidst, among, amongst, around, as, aside, astride, at, athwart, atop, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, circa, concerning, during, following, for, from, given, in, inside, into, like, near, next, of, off, on, onto, over, pace, past, per, plus, regarding, round, save, since, through, throughout, till, times, to, toward, towards, under, underneath, upon, via, with, within, according to, ahead of, as regards, as per, because of, close to, due to, in to, inside of, near to, next to, on to, owing to, prior to, pursuant to, subsequent to, that of, as far as, by means of, in accordance with, in case of, in front of, on account of, on behalf of, on top of, with regard to, with respect to, anent, behither, betwixt, cum, ere, fornenst, fornent, pro, qua, re, vis-á-vis music.

Wrong answer, right place, it’s time

Welcome Mike Gordon fans. . . and anyone else sent here for being wrong.

So, if you're here because you've gotten an answer wrong at Mike Gordon's Andelmans' Yardsale, and you're reading this (I can picture your mouse ascending to that great back button in the sky), hello, sit down, stay awhile—had I'd known you were going to be here I would have made some tea, but I hope this will do.

Click through to a few pages and check out some of the Ear Reverends' music: Entaruption, Plastic Toys, Wing Drops, Riddle. There's more—feel free to snag any mp3s you find—they're just lying around all over the site and looking for good homes.

Thanks kindly Mike!

Coachella Metal Bounce

Coachella Metal Bounce (2009).

· · · good things come to those who click · · ·

The web page is the new shiny disc

I started writing this as an email to Lucas Gonze.

This is an extended comment where I elaborate on why Lucas's new Wax MP3 Player is exciting to me—how it seems to match-up with something I've been thinking about and working on (e.g., for Err or Man in the recent past, and for new stuff for the future). It seemed like a good topic to post about here on Wrong Notes:

As I've started developing HereJam, I've been thinking about the new role of the record label, in relationship to releases: the new release is (going to be) all about how the music appears on / across the web.

The files and discs are almost irrelevant—definitely secondary. They do need to exist, but, really, once they are published, anyone can get them anywhere. But, the player / interface is primary, because it's actually about that "content" that is the music—about getting into that music.

So, I see the record label as having the role of providing musicians with new web players—i.e., the new formula is:

musician's new music + record label's new player = a new release

This kind of relationship between the label and the artist is easily non-exclusive (though it can work as exclusive one, as well): one new kind of "remix" will be in the multiple different web players created for the same music. The players can be made of all kinds of things that complement the music: visual art, photographs, videos, interactive games, factual information, lyrics, fiction, poetry, nonsense, etc.

Put another way: the player itself is the new format for music. And, rather than it being a single / fixed format, it is instead of the web (e.g., like a website—it is a web page or website). Each player can be distinctive in design, but all players will have at least a few common, idiomatic, elements that make it similar to other players. They marry idioms of the web with idioms of the music player—both provide nearly unlimited opportunities for design—for being turned into products.

You'll know it's a music player when you see it (e.g., maybe it has something to click to make it play), but the player format can be totally free to be any kind of web page(s), which can have original and distinctive shapes, structures, semantics, contexts, interactions, looks, feels, etc. The web page is the new shiny disc.

So, I think Lucas is really on to that!

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nearby posts:




. . . the new music player is very coming soon and such . . .