Tuesday, November 14, 2006

music and wilderness

It appears that music, and dancing, are integral expressions of our human society. The last post seems to have struck a nerve with a few; it was agreed that music and dancing are deeply ingrained ways of marking transitions in life, in mourning and in celebration. There is no culture that does not have music. Anthropologists, feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

I have been reading, along with the rest at Whorled Leaves, Gary Snyder's The Practice Of The Wild. I am not very far into it, but I have been drawn into his discussion of what wilderness really is. Wilderness, as it turns out, exists everywhere, in every one of us. In our land-dominating society it is expressed outrightly in very few protected areas, but it still exists everywhere that a few microbes can grow freely. It still exists in our minds, if not our lives.

That got me thinking about the kinds of music I am drawn to. The basic elements of music are drawn from the laws of the universe, the laws of physics, and certain "it feels right" laws. The basic blues pattern exists because for some unknown reason, it "feels right". Many songs are written with unwritten laws of chordal pattern and meter in effect. We humans are wired to feel good about certain repetitive patterns, and certain combinations of notes.

However, there is "tame" music, and there is "wild" music. I grew up, of course, with "tame" music. Church hymns, choir anthems, and Top 40 radio. All designed with creating a predictable human response. Some of the rock music of the 60's and 70's certainly had elements of wildness in it, but as promoters caught on to what sold it seemed to lose that primal feeling, started sounding more programmed and manipulating.

As I grow older (ahem...more mature is the preferred term!) I tend to draw away from any form of music that seem to be produced as a product. I like to hear new songwriters that have a fresh view on things, who can express their views musically. I like to hear young musicians take on old time and old folk music from around the world. Bluegrass, with its high lonesome element, draws me in but never too closely. I'm a musical drifter; I don't want to associate too closely with any one genre.

I found Celtic music without having been influenced by one performance or presence on radio. I liked its rich tradition, its sound that spoke to me; the major and minor chords, Dorian, Mixolydian, a grand happy mix of musical modes. That Irish music is associated with pubs and beer and folks getting together to share tunes over a pint makes it all the more appealing.

Lately I have been listening to Scandinavian music, which takes Celtic music one step further into wilderness. The modes are more dark, the meters more screwed up but still making sense, the picture of a dark gloomy wild moor all the more evident.

I think our musical desires reflect some inner longing, some craving for wilderness. Is it any wonder that jazz, a uniquely American music form, came together on the edge of the wilderness that was America a little over a hundred years ago. Jazz was musical exploration into the wilderness. Bluegrass, as defined by Bill Monroe, took basic human longings and phrased them in the voices of the mountains, of the forests, of the wild that existed then.

No good music comes from strip malls and uniformity. Good music has to come from that which is still wild within us, inspired by that which is still wild in our surroundings. I hope I can draw from the wilderness that still exists in my corner of the world and make music that celebrates it.


GreenmanTim said...

And you, my friend, have struck a chord that feels decidedly right in this eloquent post. I could not agree more.

Deb said...

greenmantim, thank you. I always have had a deep respect for your writings, and your perspective.
Your comment means a lot to me.

Dan Trabue said...

Amen, and amen.

Dan Trabue said...

...and amen, and amen, and amen.

Oh, and amen to THAT comment, as well.

Lots of sublime thinking there, Deb.

"No good music comes from strip malls and uniformity." indeed.

Except, perhaps, for that protest music which arises in disgust of said uniformity.

Carolyn H said...

What a great and thoughtful post on music. I made a similar climb from popular music, to independent music, to world music, to Celtic music (never tried Scandanavian music). At the moment I am exploring no music, at least no human-created music. I am enjoying the sounds of the woods around me, and am finding I feel more connected to the woods when I allow the natural sounds to be the ones that follow me throughout the day. I don't say I'm ready to forever renounce all human music, but I must say I enjoy being open to exploring nature's song.

Anonymous said...

As the other commenters have said - well written. I enjoyed this immensely and I agree "No good music comes from strip malls and uniformity."

lené said...

This is a GREAT post, Deb. Thanks for letting us know over at WL. I haven't had much time to blog lately, so I might have missed it. I wish I knew more about music. I love the way you describe it being in all of us and resonating on different levels. Really, really nice essay!

robin andrea said...

I love the thinking and writing in this post, deb. It is great to consider wildnerness in terms of music, the inner wilderness expressed. I'm so glad your reading Gary Snyder. I've been a big fan of his for a very long time.

Deb said...

well, thanks. I hate to get too egotistical about my blogging, so if I think I have something good I wait to hear what others say and try not to let it get to me! :)Glad you all liked it. Although now I see so many things I could have said better...but I try to write my blog posts on the spot, in less than twenty minutes, otherwise I would not have a blog. :)

the dharma bum said...

a truly great, thought-provoking post, deb... it's one of my great regrets that i don't know one bit about playing/writing music. i envy those of you who can make music, there is indeed something as deep and important about music in the human psyche (and no, not the music of strip malls) as there is about wilderness.