We do express our emotions, our reactions to events, breakups and infatuations, but the way we do that - the art of it - is in putting them into prescribed forms or squeezing them into new forms that perfectly fit some emerging context. That's part of the creative process, and we do it instinctively; we internalize it, like birds do. And it's a joy to sing, like the birds do.
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With a lot of what we take to be true feelings, especially on pop records, we feel them because they're cleverly crafted. And because the words are written by somebody who knows how to craft words and draw on those things and convey those feelings. That doesn't mean they're dishonest. But it also doesn't mean that it's all just pure primitive emotion spilling out.
I pick up a copy of Newsweek on the plane and immediately notice how biased, slanted, and opinionated all the U.S. newsmagazine articles are. Not that the Euro and British press aren't biased as well-they certainly are-but living in the United States we are led to believe, and are constantly reminded, that our press is fair and free of bias. After such a short time away, I am shocked at how obviously and blatantly this lie is revealed-there is the 'reporting' that is essentially parroting what the White House press secretary announces; the myriad built-in assumptions that one ceases to register after being somewhere else for a while. The myth of neutrality is an effective blanket for a host of biases.
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Language as a Prison The Philippines did have a written language before the Spanish colonists arrived, contrary to what many of those colonists subsequently claimed. However, it was a language that some theorists believe was mainly used as a mnemonic device for epic poems. There was simply no need for a European-style written language in a decentralized land of small seaside fishing villages that were largely self-sufficient. One theory regarding language is that it is primarily a useful tool born out of a need for control. In this theory written language was needed once top-down administration of small towns and villages came into being. Once there were bosses there arose a need for written language. The rise of the great metropolises of Ur and Babylon made a common written language an absolute necessity-but it was only a tool for the administrators. Administrators and rulers needed to keep records and know names- who had rented which plot of land, how many crops did they sell, how many fish did they catch, how many children do they have, how many water buffalo? More important, how much then do they owe me? In this account of the rise of written language, naming and accounting seem to be language's primary "civilizing" function. Language and number are also handy for keeping track of the movement of heavenly bodies, crop yields, and flood cycles. Naturally, a version of local oral languages was eventually translated into symbols as well, and nonadministrative words, the words of epic oral poets, sort of went along for the ride, according to this version. What's amazing to me is that if we accept this idea, then what may have begun as an instrument of social and economic control has now been internalized by us as a mark of being civilized. As if being controlled were, by inference, seen as a good thing, and to proudly wear the badge of this agent of control-to be able to read and write-makes us better, superior, more advanced. We have turned an object of our own oppression into something we now think of as virtuous. Perfect! We accept written language as something so essential to how we live and get along in the world that we feel and recognize its presence as an exclusively positive thing, a sign of enlightenment. We've come to love the chains that bind us, that control us, for we believe that they are us (161-2).
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It's a bit like sympathetic magic in a way: the usual Western presumption that 'primitive' rituals mimic what they desire to achieve-that phallic objects might be believed to increase male potency and playacting rainfall might somehow bring it about. I am suspicious of such obvious connections and I suspect that the connections among things, people, and processes can be equally irrational. I sense the world might be more dreamlike, metaphorical, and poetic than we currently believe-but just as irrational as sympathetic magic when looked at in a typically scientific way. I wouldn't be surprised if poetry-poetry in the broadest sense, in the sense of a world filled with metaphor, rhyme, and recurring patterns, shapes, and designs-is how the world works. The world isn't logical, it's a song.
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I sense the world might be more dreamlike, metaphorical, and poetic than we currently believe-but just as irrational as sympathetic magic when looked at in a typically scientific way. I wouldn't be surprised if poetry-poetry in the broadest sense, in the sense of a world filled with metaphor, rhyme, and recurring patterns, shapes, and designs-is how the world works. The world isn't logical, it's a song.
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I had grown up on Folkway's Nonesuch field recordings and the stuff Lomax had done for the Library of Congress, but the production values on the Ocora releases were on a whole other level. Eno and I realized that music from elsewhere didn't need to sound distant, scratchy, or 'primitive.' These recordings were as well produced as any contemporary recordings in any genre. You were made to feel, for example, that this music wasn't a ghostly remnant form some lost culture, soon to be relegated to the almost forgotten past. It was vital, and it was happening right now. To us there was strange beauty there, deep passion, and the compositions often operated by rules and structures that were radically different from what we were used to. As a result, our limited ideas of what constituted music were exploded forever. These recordings opened up myriad ways that music could be made and organized. There were many musical universes out there, and we had been blinkered by confining ourselves to only one.
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But at times words can be a dangerous addition to music - they can pin it down. Words imply that the music is about what the words say, literally, and nothing more. If done poorly, they can destroy the pleasant ambiguity that constitutes much of the reason we love music. That ambiguity allows listeners to psychologically tailor a song to suit their needs, sensibilities, and situations, but words can limit that, too. There are plenty of beautiful tracks that I can't listen to because they've been 'ruined' by bad words - my own and others. In Beyonce's song "Irreplaceable, " she rhymes "minute" with "minute, " and I cringe every time I hear it (partly because by that point I'm singing along). On my own song "Astronaut, " I wrap up with the line "feel like I'm an astronaut, " which seems like the dumbest metaphor for alienation ever. Ugh.
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Metal buildings are the dream that Modern Architects had at the beginning of this century. It has finally come true, but they themselves don't realize it. That's because it doesn't take an Architect to build a metal building. You just order them out of a catalog - comes with a bunch of guys who put it together in a couple of days, maybe a week. And there you go - you're all set to go into business - just slap a sign out front.
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It seemed [there are] musical nodes on the planet where cultures meet and mix, sometimes as a result of unfortunate circumstances, like slavery or something else, in places like New Orleans and Havana and Brazil. And those are places where the European culture and indigenous culture and African culture all met and lived together, and some new kind of culture and especially music came out of that.
Maybe this is all a bit of a myth, a willful desire to give each place its own unique aura. But doesn't any collective belief eventually become a kind of truth? If enough people act as if something is true, isn't it indeed "true," not objectively, but in the sense that it will determine how they will behave? The myth of unique urban character and unique sensibilities in different cities exists because we want it to exist.
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Something about music urges us to engage with its larger context, beyond the piece of plastic it came on-it seems to be part of our genetic makeup that we can be so deeply moved by this art form. Music resonates in so many parts of the brain that we can't conceive of it being an isolated thing.
A dissection of music perception and creation that starts slowly and inexorably builds to a grand finish. I loved reading that listening to music coordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else--and playing music uses even more! Despite illuminating a lot of what goes on this book doesn't "spoil" enjoyment- it only deepens the beautiful mystery that is music.
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My favorite term for a new kind of performance is "security theater." In this genre, we watch as ritualized inspections and patdowns create the illusion of security. It's a form that has become common since 9/11, and even the government agencies that participate in this activity acknowledge,off the record, that it is indeed a species of theater.
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Music is relegated to an underground, relatively obscure group of listeners. It's partly because of the nature of the medium. With a piece of visual art, you can look at something ugly, brutal and in your face, but it's kind of - there it is. It doesn't take you over in the same way that putting on the music at a certain volume does.
Probably the reason it's a little hard to break away from the album format completely is, if you're getting a band together in the studio, it makes financial sense to do more than one song at a time. And it makes more sense, if you're going to all the effort of performing and doing whatever else, if there's a kind of bundle.
Technology has altered the way music sounds, how it's composed and how we experience it. It has also flooded the world with music. The world is awash with (mostly) recorded sounds. We used to have to pay for music or make it ourselves; playing, hearing and experiencing it was exceptional, a rare and special experience. Now hearing it is ubiquitous, and silence is the rarity that we pay for and savor.
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I'd been keeping tour diaries, and especially when I go somewhere where I felt the experience might be interesting, like Eastern Europe or South America or whatever, where the whole perception of what I was doing there and stuff that I was seeing and music I was hearing, I could put all that into a diary.
I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don't notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is.
I've been asking myself: 'Why put together these things - CDs, albums?' The answer I came up with is, well, sometimes it's artistically viable. It's not just a random collection of songs. Sometimes the songs have a common thread, even if it's not obvious or even conscious on the artists' part.
What's been missing from digital music sales has been the possibility of added depth. In a printed package one can only include so many images and so much text - for example - but digitally it's wide open. For the most part at the moment we get less information for slightly less money - though we could be getting a lot more.
I think it's really hard to make songs that pursue an agenda. You can kind of do it a little bit through a character, so the character gives voice to something or their story, the story of the character tells you something, but, for me anyway, it's really hard to write directly about politics.
Living "in" a story, being part of a narrative, is much more satisfying than living without one. I don't always know what narrative it is, because I'm living my life and not always reflecting on it, but as I edit these pages I am aware that I have an urge to see my sometimes random wandering as having a plot, a purpose guided by some underlying story.
...if photos can reproduce the world more perfectly than any painter, can capture an instant, a look, a gesture, then what makes a painting good anymore? Painting subverts this subversion of its traditional nature by redefining itself - art is idea, not simply skillful execution. So, a work can be crudely made, or even machine made - but it has to be practically and functionally useless.
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