Sammy the Seal

Biomusicology (sort of)

In vinyl, words, words, words on Friday, 6 March, 2009 at 12:13

The concept, not the Ted Leo song, although that’s certainly a good example of the point I hope to make. Rather than keep replying to Lisa’s comment, I thought I’d clarify it here. (I know you weren’t trying to start a ruckus, but nonetheless, you got me thinking.)

I didn’t mean to piss off any poets or lovers of poetry, I meant to emphasize that while I love words, it is music that gives them their meaning. I mean, what’s more fun, singing and humming, or reciting? Lyrics without music are just words, poetry. Most of the time (though not all), esepcially these days, poetry/lyrics are personal or idiosyncratic— in effect, “this is what I’m thinking or feeling.” Ironically, this strikes even me, the king, as self-important. Reading a little about the concept of biomusicology, but not too much, as not to stay up all night, I came across an interesting perspective. It appears it comes from the New York Times a few years back:

But music has a power unique among forms of human communication: it can teach itself. Gradually over repeated hearings, without the use of a dictionary or any reference to the world outside, music shows how it is to be understood. The listener begins to hear patterns, repeated motifs and changes in meter and realizes that something is happening, that sounds have punctuation, that phrases are being manipulated, transformed and recombined.
Gradually, the listener gains a form of knowledge without ever referring to anything outside the music. Sounds create their own context. They begin to make sense. Similar processes with varying richness and power take place in all forms of music, which is why it is much easier to understand another culture’s music than another culture’s language.
Nothing else is quite like this self-contained, self-teaching world. Music may be the ultimate self-revealing code; it can be comprehended in a locked room.

Anyway, enough nerdspeak. I will certainly not deny that lyrical content is important, but think of any classic pop song from the 50s or 60s, especially. When you examine the lyrics, they’re rather innocuous and inane. But they’re timeless. We remember the words only because they belong to the melody. Music is its own independent entity. Granted, it takes a special, gifted person to compose and arrange music into singular and interesting permutations, but once it’s done, the song no longer needs the songwriter, so to speak.  “Okay, sir/ma’am, your job is done, thank you for your services.” Even though I am a fan of Dr. Frank’s writing style, it would be useless and uninteresting without his ability to compose and arrange melodies to carry them. Even though I have particular favorite artists, they’re all just hired hands, if you think about it.

I love words and writing, so it must be noted, of course, that I’m speaking of words in lyrical form. Words in prose or story form, are entirely different. But in the same sense, they serve to tell a story. Words alone, with no direction, are inherently self-centered. They are merely an extension of the writer. But put those words to use towards a song, story, or character, then they can suggest something beyond the person they came out of.

It knows nothing about me, and yet, my little peabrain is soothed or calmed by it. (That’s the main thrust of the article, by the way, the biological and neurological mechanisms of music.) In the spirit of the topic at hand, this is the long, confusing way of saying I love music. Why am I a very musical person? I have no idea. It’s in my blood, I don’t question it. It’s a hell of a blessing, when you think about it: whatever state we’re in at any given moment, it gets us out of our worrisome little heads and into a realm where you don’t have to think or ask why, because certain things, thank goodness, make sense of themselves. They just do.

(Thank you to Lisa, who inadvertently helped me get excited about writing this piece of meandering hoo-ha that no one cares about, I’m sure, BUT at least I’m out of my dramatic boo-hoo-ey little funk I was in the last couple of days. I always find the most effective way to calm down is to get out of your little head and think of something or one outside yourself. The perspective that comes with realizing how self-involved you are is utterly, genuinely liberating. It doesn’t solve my issues, but it makes it far easier to deal with. Reminds of two quotes, one attributed to Marcus Aurelius: “take away the complaint ‘I have been harmed’ and the harm is taken away.” Or to put it Björk’s way: “I’m no fucking Buddhist, but this is enlightenment.” No offense, Lise, I think that’s a funny line 😛 Grazie, dear.)


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