Sunday, August 4, 2019

Reflections on Music and Musical Artists (Part 1)

Frequently on this blog, I write about musicians, performers, songwriters, composers, and various styles of music. In this post, however, I want to begin a series of reflections on what music is and what musicians are doing when they "make" music. 

These reflections will be general, ad-hoc, and variable. They are the thoughts of someone who is both a philosopher and a musician (as well as something of an "arts critic" and an avid listener who enjoys music). 

This means that my reflections will approach the topic from a variety of perspectives. I don't have (nor am I ready to attempt) any systematic "theory of music." I just want to verbalize some ideas and put them on the table. In doing this, I am trying to advance my own ongoing efforts to further refine and integrate many different considerations, impressions, and experiences of music as a fundamental facet of life.

I love how music shapes sound into a “language” that connects people because it expresses in a concrete way the many facets of the human experience, especially the mysterious longing for transcendence that “cannot help” leaving its mark on every authentic artistic endeavor. 

I listen to lots of kinds of music, seeking to discover the urge for beauty that gives it life. Often it is a search for “gold in the mud,” because music frequently reaches us within a context that harnesses it (and tries to use its affective power) to serve complex purposes - including distracting entertainment spectacles, ideological agendas, and emotional manipulation. 

The “language” of music is true in that universal, undifferentiated, multidimensional sense that pertains to the intuition of beauty. But music can be presented within a context that twists its diverse nuances into the service of lies: propaganda, political brainwashing, moral degeneration of various kinds, social/ cultural experimentation that attacks human dignity, or else just cheap superficiality posing as depth (which is essential to powering the engine of consumerism).

Still, there remains the ineradicable human need for beauty, even in its most primitive or elemental forms. Sound has a vast spectrum and an enormous "plasticity," yet the crafting of sounds insists on their being "gathered together" in some manner of resonance. 

The artist makes music by incorporating sounds into his or her own quest for the resonance of audible reality, for its "coming together" (in various forms) as an artifact within the universe of being. Every artist endeavors to make beautiful artifacts that "contain" and communicate something of the trajectory of the universe toward integration, and of the interior personal struggle toward an enduring fulfillment.

The resonance of music expresses, in so many different ways, the drama of the cry of the human heart for something "beyond," something greater - for a fulfillment corresponding to the whole expansion of freedom, for beauty. 

I think we can hear an echo of this cry in the work of any musician who is trying to be a real artist, though it may be partially obscured, muted, or buried under the imperfections and conflicting preoccupations that may accompany their work. 

We can discover these audible echoes of the heart even in some contemporary music artists who are rather caught up in the excesses of their enlarged ego, which - under a gigantic (but also fickle and fleeting) spotlight - craves attention, celebrity, ongoing relevance and - of course - lots and lots of money.

Real artists today are seekers of beauty amidst the turbulence in which they so often find themselves in this epoch. In every age there have been poseurs and charlatans who invade the world of creative expression. And today they are (like everything else in our time) bigger and noisier than ever. It’s not always easy to identify the real musical artists or to recognize the sounds of their searching. I hope God’s grace and my years of experience have begun to give me the wisdom to listen well (and perhaps help others to listen, and to make their own music). be continued...