Sunday, December 14, 2008

why do you like certain songs

"Nevertheless, I ask this question: was it Beethoven's music that captivated her, its notes, or was it rather what the music represented, in other words, its vague affinity to the ideas and attitudes that Bettina shared with her generation? Does love for art really exist and has it ever existed? Is it not a delusion? When Lenin proclaimed that he loved Beethoven's 'Appasionata' above all else, what was it that he really loved? What did he hear? Music? Or a majestic noise that reminded him of the solemn stirrings in his soul, a longing for blood, brotherhood, executions, justice, and the absolute? Did he derive joy from the tones, or from the musings stimulated by those tones, which had nothing to do with art or beauty?"

Sometimes I have wondered why I like the music I like, and as it turns out, I don't really know. There are things that I can identify in music that seem pretty cohesive regardless of the style or genre or whatever, but it's not too convincing. I couldn't really argue some secret ingredient that exists in these songs. How can I listen and enjoy a song like, "Crazy" by Patsy Cline, "A New Level" by Pantera, and also "Veronica" by Elvis Costello. I don't think it really matters, I'm just searching for something common in all of that. I don't think it's something that depends on what I hear sonically, or melodically. There are countless songs with great melodies which I loathe, and there are many songs without much melody at all which I love. I suppose that if my ears sense something honest in the song, I gravitate towards it...but that doesn't explain my enjoyment of a song by Poison. I do think that the subjective nature of one's experiences and nostalgia in life reflects greatly in what one identifies with in art. The art takes the form of ones memories. Maybe art is merely a conduit, maybe it just connects people more closely to those personally abstract memories, it brings pleasant histories closer, or purges the unpleasant ones. The more I think about this, the more I think that music is the one thing that can amplify emotions which you are not even wanting to deal with, it's dangerously unpredictable and controlling. The task of identifying the source of music's affect and impact is as pointless as it is unending. When I was younger, the music I listened to mirrored my social surroundings, very genre specific, there is was pride that was rooted in the small "sub genre" communities. Punk, grunge, emo, hardcore blah blah blah. Looking back it was silly, but at the time, it seemed important and it provided identity. I guess that could be said for many things that you reflect back on after you've grown a little older. For me today, music is much less defined by genre and more defined by orgin, culture, history, and it's relation to the human experience.

What do you think? Is there a consistency in your taste when it comes to music? Is there any traceable pattern at all? It's fun to think about, for me anyway :-)


Blogger Zach said...

I've found that I have quite the eclectic taste, but I couldn't explain why. I'm a sucker for a catchy definitive beat, and songs like "superstition" by Stevie Wonder and "dr. feelgood" by motley crue grab my attention. But Stevie Wonder is on another end of the spectrum than the Crue. Same goes with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Incubus. I don't know. I've never really put much thought into it other than the fact that it's totally subjective when it comes to musical taste.

7:21 PM

Blogger David said...

yeah. the more i think about it, the more i find that it is impossible to identify a commonality that makes sense to anyone but myself. the mystery of music.

8:00 PM

Blogger Melanie said...

To me something about music has to "communicate" with me in some way or another. For the most part, I don't think that's completely definable. I think familiarity plays a role, but a good thing can be ruined by being overdone as well. I want some originality coupled with familiarity, I think. It's quite nearly a paradox of sorts.

It can be maddening trying to figure out someone else's taste in music because sometimes it doesn't seem to follow any logical pattern.

I only know that I do love a good catchy tune, I like good vocals, I like things that seem aesthetically pleasing to me, and I love tight harmonies. It doesn't hurt if the lyrics grab me as well (when there is lyrical content.) I think it is often largely emotional, and what moves one person may leave another untouched. Your question as to whether it is the thing music brings to mind, or the note itself that stirs, I'm not sure it will make much difference in the end as the notes and the mood are so closely intertwined so as to be nearly inseperable.

On one of my many sidetracks: with Crazy, I think it's the notes, the tone of Patsy's voice, the subject. It all somehow comes together and works to create an emotion. I can really feel the song. Yea, that sounds rather corny, doesn't it? Sigh... great song.

10:29 PM

Blogger David said...

but that's what is so strange. how can notes and mood be intertwined? music is so mathematical in theory. obviously music, the arrangement and composition, melody and tempo have to fit together based on theory, but how does something like that translate on other levels in such an intense way. it's definitely related to the theory of MAE.

11:29 PM

Blogger Hannah said...

Psh, I have no clue. I can't find a commonality that spans all of the music that I like. Not every song I like has one thing in common. Lyrics, harmonies, tempo, and even an artfully done key change are things that I like about music. Not all of those apply to every song. Every now and then, I don't care what I listen to, I just want to move, so anything with a good, steady beat will do. Other times, when I'm feeling introspective, I need to sit down and listen to the words and ideas that are being presented to me via the song.

Also, I get a lot of music from friends, so I end up relating that music with the person I got it from, good or bad. And free music from iTunes is fun. I think some of it is crap, but sometimes I can find a really great song that I never would have listened to otherwise.

8:02 AM

Blogger David said...

hannah, you bring up another interesting point. even people's motivations for listening to music are incredibly diverse. i feel like, compared to hannah for instance, my reason for initially listening to a band is not always so haphazard. i don't want to waste my time..which is silly to say, i know. but there is so much great music out there, i need to find the good music, and not waste my time on music that doesn't infect me. and my experience has been showing me that good music is very hard to find.

8:58 AM

Blogger chris zak said...

I tried to come up with why I like the music I like before...and it's such a bottomless pit of possible answers.

To some extent, I think music does something that isn't expressible. I think certain parts of instrumental musicianship can bring to light certain things that we can't explain. There's a reason instrumental music sells better than spoken word.

Whenever I write a negative review of something related to music, I always consider that I may not be ready for it yet. This applied to Singularity when I first listened to it. Sometimes it takes your own context for music to mean something to you.

It's wierd how sometimes we can see through the formulas songs take, but other times even more traditional songs can seem to hit everything right, and you get those moments where you feel more alive than...just an average day.

And how about instruments themselves? I watched Heima a while ago, and in the extra features (I think) there's this piece about a guy who makes something like a xylaphone out of rocks that have certain pitches. At this point in history, we've perfected instruments to make tones - but think about how hard it must have been to put make correct sounds and have them go together with other instruments...fluid melodic sound is almost like a miracle in that way.

Sometimes I think we'd all hope that music has taken on all these influences from different genres and such, but how about something like this article:

i mean, i read that a while ago but I thought it was interesting (before Vampire Weekend got popular, but can you think of more examples of indie rock with distinctly black influence?). I also think that different genres of music have entirely different vibes to them that evoke different energies, and it's healthy to bring them out. Like, a Roots concert will bring out something entirely different from a Sigur Ros or Jose Gonzalez or RJD2 set. I think all these energies - whether they get balanced out or not - have something to offer. And sometimes they just hit us at the right moment and we can't get out of songs.

In relation to timing, Nick Hornby has a great chapter in Songbook about being ready for music. He said something can't ask certain pieces of music to turn on a switch in your mind when you're hoping to get inspired. It can only happen when you're not expecting it. Something like that.

I wish I had that book on me - he has this chapter about "Thunder Road," by Bruce Springsteen, about he can't even explain why it's by far the song he's listened to the most in his life.

3:53 PM

Blogger David said...

chris...that was awesome.

"There's a reason instrumental music sells better than spoken word."

i was thinking about death cab the other day...there's a line in a song of theirs that repeats, "i need you so much closer". just reading that line doesnt do much, but hearing it sang, over and over again with a melody, it gets inside of you. it's voodoo. kierkegaard talks about music being a spiritual language. i agree. or sigur ros. who's lyrics i don't understand...hmm. i talked to dave about the fact that if we did understand their lyrics, would it negatively affect what the pure sonic quality of the music does to us?

6:15 PM

Blogger chris zak said...

absolutely! I've also thought about Death Cab's "I Will Possess Your Heart," and why some songs work - like with Sigur Ros and their album ( ) - lyrically, they're like exercises in minimalism. they establish that certain things are important and worth repeating. and maybe even musically, it's not really trying to impress you but just like, establish a space for your ears to live in. and you get lost in it. and then suddenly, certain bits of it become so much more impressing...

as for Sigur Ros and not understanding the lyrics...ah, that's why they're such a great band! right there with you on that point. i have peeked at certain lyric translations for their songs, and it doesn't ruin the listening experience at all, but admittedly, it has - whether I'd like to admit it or not - loosened the connection I have to the songs. Now I've got their images in my head, instead of only my own moments.

4:11 AM

Blogger Jecca said...

"The more I think about this, the more I think that music is the one thing that can amplify emotions which you are not even wanting to deal with, it's dangerously unpredictable and controlling."

This resonates with me a lot. Sometimes music is what gets me to actually deal with emotions because they're so amplified and in my face. These moments tend to be when I'm driving alone, so there's some freedom to be completely honest.

I'm also one to be picky about music. I've heard what I'd consider close to the absolute best on earth and I don't want to settle for anything less than incredible...I'm very discriminating and I'm a singer, so that affects what I enjoy. A song could be instrumentally genius, but if the lead vocal is not very high quality (audibly pleasing, excellent tone, etc), I can't enjoy it at all. I also gravitate toward darker undertones (like This Day & Age's album "Always Leave the Ground"), yet that same music hides enduring hope too.

Any music I truly love has to connect with me on some level emotionally. It has to go to the places that few people in my life ever go. It has to connect with my brokenness, my disappointment, my anguish, my uncertainty and also my joy and my greatest hopes and dreams. It must be genuine and unmasked...raw and full of heart.

One thing I love so much about mae's songs is that the lyrics are often vague. They describe experiences and life and love and beauty and hope, but do so in such a way that pretty much anyone anywhere in the world could connect with each song specifically and make it his own.

Music is such a great gift. My love for it will just never end.

8:23 PM

Blogger Melanie said...

"...but that's what is so strange. how can notes and mood be intertwined? music is so mathematical in theory."

Just wondering if someone can follow the "mathmatical theory" of music and always get the emotional response that music elicits. I just recall watching a Star Trek episode where Data performs a piece technically very good, yet it lacks emotion and the process he goes through to capture it. I've seen similar themes to art before.

Funny about Chris' comment. I love instrumentals, but tend to prefer vocals, but I suppose without them, the music has to stand on it's own merit.

9:20 AM


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