Monday, January 21, 2008

What is music for?

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 J√≥nsi’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...

10 comments:

Sarah said...

Do you know, I see what you mean.

Though, having said that, that video, the only Sigur Ros one I've ever seen, is what makes me say I don't like Sigur Ros. (Yes, how narrow-minded would I like to be? More narrow-minded, please...)

I saw it at a Sanctus1 service once and just didn't get it. Whatever there was to be getting, I just really wasn't. I was also having a very irritable day, and decided I didn't like Sigur Ros.

I have to say, watching it again didn't really change my mind. I like songs with words that I can sing along to. I don't like children running up hills.

Sorry Sigur. Sorry penguins...

Please, all feel free to shoot me down in flames now.

Roswell2themax said...

I see what it is about that song that had such an effect on you even though it is not my taste.

Music is the most powerful thing. I remember going to see U2 live - I had only just started to like them at the time. It was the most amazing feeling. I remember exactly how I felt when they played 'City of Blinding Lights' I will never forget that moment - I had tears in my eyes. Wow. Now it brings tears for a different reason - but it just shows how powerful music is.

It can change your mood, change your views, change your attitude, stir you to action. I love it.

Valerie said...

I think all music-lovers have had that blown-away reaction — but too different songs. I happen to love Sigur Ros for some of the reasons 9/10s describes. An early song I remember blowing me away in this way was The Cure's "Touch the Sky", but I could come up with dozens. Moby's "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters" is another.

BTW you MUST play this Sigur Ros song LOUDLY...

9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

Thanks for your comments ladies.

Sarah: You are entitled to your own opinion, as is everyone. Of course, you realise that now I may have to come round to your house and spray paint Icelandic graffiti on your hamster.

Roswell: People do have different tastes, although I will be spraying Icelandic insults on your slowly rotting Christmas Tree.

Valerie: Finally, a person of taste.... Touch the Sky is a marvellous tune.

Of course, I'm joking about the Icelandic graffiti thing.


As I don't know any Icelandic, they'll be in English....

Roswell2themax said...

Oy 9/10ths very rude, very rude and very cheeky!! I think I may put Sigur Ros forward to be destroyed on your Radio programme hehe ;-P

Tim Footman said...

I know exactly what you mean by dreadful music being better than bland music. Give me some awful hair metal embarrassment (Motley Crue, say) over Dido or James Blunt any day.

As Arnold Bennet said, "Good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste."

Nat said...

Sigur Ros, love it. As striking as their music is, it still works as a wind-down for me at the end of a tense day.

English Blogger said...

Music is very emotive and is subjective one erson loves rap, another classical and onther punk rock and no one person is wrong or right. I wouldn't give a thank you for Nirvana or Damian Rice, yet I think Nightinggale by Norah Jones a track to just send shivers down my spine, and The Divine Comedy's Gin Soaked Boy one of the best produced tracks I have ever heard.
Music is one part of my life that is just there...I can't live without it...but I can live without what I class as ***@ music....but that is subjective isn't it?

Roswell2themax said...

Just a thought - I wonder whether penguins like music? I know Ostrich's do but what about penguins......

9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Tim: I have always loved that Arnold Bennet quote, while simultaneously feeling quite smug about it....

Nat: Long time, no type! hope you are well....

EB: I'll go with you on Gin Soaked Boy, but we'll have to agree to differ about Norah Jones. It sends shivers down my spine too. However, I suspect for different reasons...

Roswell: Of course penguins like music. They favour baroque classics as a rule.