I have been thinking about music quite a lot recently. I've been inspired by posts at Cultural Snow and My Nut Free Life to think about what music is for.
I was talking to someone other day and they couldn't understand why I dislike so called 'dinner party music'. You see, I hate bland music, I almost prefer something to be terrible than just shoulder-shruggingly OK. At the very least music that is genuinely awful ilicits some sort of response from you.
The whole conversation got me thinking about the moments in my life when a song or a piece of music has grabbed me and forced me to pay attention. They are extraordinary moments that only ever happen once when you listen to that song. Every time you listen to it again, you know what is coming and no matter how arresting it is, it will never have the impact of that first moment.
It may well be pleasant to hear James Taylor, Norah Jones, Damien Rice et al burbling competently quietly in the background but they will never have the impact of the truly great. Great music refuses to stay in the background, it demands your attention. They are musical moments that make you realise what music is for. Moments that I look back on with a bit of sadness because the exact way I was feeling would never be repeated.
When I think about my moments I remember hearing Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. and Radiohead's Let Down for the first time. Mahler's Tenth Symphony, Bob Marley's Redemption Song and the sheer swagger of Rock'n'Roll Star by Oasis all had a great impact on me.
To illustrate what I mean, here is a more recent song that just blew me away the first time I heard it. This is Glosoli by Sigur Ros. Sigur Ros can be something of an acquired taste with their ethereal meoldies and lead singer Jónsi’s falsetto voice. However, it is a taste well worth acquiring as this extraordinary song demonstrates. I would encourage you to listen to it first before you read what I've written underneath the video.
The song starts quietly and gradually builds and builds before exploding at 4.41 (thats the moment!) into a wall of sound with tumultuous guitars and the skirling falsetto soaring over the top. When I heard that for the first time, it sent almighty tingles down my spine and it may sound ridiculous, but it made me feel 3 foot taller.
In the end, I think that is what music is for. It should make you feel. It should make you feel happy, sad, angry, peaceful or any number of other feelings or emotions. The best music changes how we feel, everything else is just aural wallpaper...