Note from the editor: This is a featured guest piece written by Brandon Shaw. He is a junior majoring in Political Science and Complex Systems. He is also the author of newly released book “Twenty Five Hours A Day.”
For centuries, music has been a release for everyone from preschool kids on their time outs seeking to evade the high pitched screams of their ‘less precious’ neighbors in the nap room next door to teenagers seeking refuge to midlife-crisis-drawn adults seeking to relive their wilder youth.
The cathartic experience undergone when listening to music is a result of often hours of hard work of rehearsal, practice, human effort at coming together – whether in the studio or during rehearsal, sound checks, and the eventual live performance. But the overarching feeling that causes intrinsic harmony, that allows us to truly connect to the music and feel it in our souls is the fact that we can see ourselves singing the words in the shower, we can envision ourselves onstage with the musicians, (instrumental, vocal or otherwise), and the fact that we empathize, quite often, with the human effort that went into making the record or live performance we are enjoying.
This is precisely why electronic music is, quite simply, not music.
Webster’s dictionary, as recently as 2012’s edition, defines music as, “The art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.” “Electronic music” in the very same source, and several counterparts, is defined as, “Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production.” Different from its ‘original’ counterpart? Clearly.
Electronic music simply exists to create a scene, almost always a party ‘scene,’ whereby drugs, anarchy-like behavior, and rampant crazy talk are abound, whereas the equivalent ‘scene’ created by actual music is that of community, feelings of togetherness, and of discussion, whether out loud or intrinsically, is that of music that eludes easy reproduction, that is the effort of serious skill and a similar unity that produced the noise listened to by a community of people.
Of note here is that ‘real’ music begins and ends with the human application of creative skill, and while there is an argument to be made that human creativity and application of skill are necessary to create electronic music; at its core, the music is created by machines, so it therefore cannot be considered equal, even in the same realm as traditional music. Electronic music is not true art as it is created, and later manipulated into being by a machine not a person.
You can teach a computer to create its own music; you can never teach a guitar to play itself. Traditional instruments and their tools cannot be trained to play by themselves – when player pianos become popular in the early 20th century in mansions and museums alike, they were sought after by collectors and those seeking phenomena – but always recognized as what they were, and never considered equal to a ‘real’ instrument.
As I write this piece, the greatest music ever created is piped into my Bose speaker system, and it was created ,manipulated, rehearsed, and sought after through and with traditional instruments” The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Elvis, Dylan, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and on and on. The fact that these artists hold all of the records in the music industry for most records sold, most concerts attended, most played on the radio, and on has nothing to do with the timespan of the genre of music and everything to do with the fact that these artists speak to our heart, they tell us about ourselves and what it means to be alive, in a way that electronic music cannot do because it has neither lyrics nor the heart and soul of these all-time great artists, as most proponent of the genre of electronic music would like to believe.
Beethoven certainly did not write his symphonies for electronic equipment, and in a more analytic study of the expansion of music over time, among the first tenets noted is that all of the great music genres pre-dated electronic music; Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Reggae, Pop, even disco and rap. The notion that electronic music is the next in line simply has no merit, given that the evolution of these other genres followed a musically theoretical foreground upon which electronic music does not build – most of the music in this genre is not built on standard music keys, time signatures, norms even.
Music was made to be played by many people together and enjoyed in a communal setting, even if that communal setting becomes the different forms of self experienced when one listens to a piece of music in solitary area. Electronic music is isolationist in its truest form; it is usually made by someone on their own and is listened to on one’s own. You therefore lose the combination of multiple people, multiple viewpoints, multiple talents coming together ‘in concert’ to form something moving, beautiful and powerful; a group of musicians is the ultimate in collaborative art forms.
Music as an organic idea, as it has always been accepted, should be able to be made by anyone, anywhere, that is part of the magic of music. A young man in a Jo’burg shanty playing a home-made washboard, a street kid in Sao Paulo banging on an upturned bucket, a group of guys singing on a street corner in Memphis or a teenage girl in Manhattan singing Lakme’s flower duet. None of these people had laptops or studios, so it is therefore also an exclusive brand and genre. And genre it really is not.
By: Brandon Shaw
(Photo by Terekhova under a Creative Commons License)