Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Subjective Response to Music

An earlier essay on music.

In my experience, individual response to music can be highly varied.  As an example, I enjoy the works of the guitarist Joe Satriani, but many consider his music to be too cerebral, and they enjoy the works of Carlos Santana or Jimi Hendrix with far more feeling and gusto.  I might try to argue with them that Rubina's Blue Sky Happiness or The Forgotten (part 2) are both intensely emotional experiences, but in the final analysis, their subjective response cannot be denied.  It just is, and emotions cannot be argued with.

We appreciate music for many reasons.  We may be in a certain mood and a song just captures our feelings in a beautifully poetic way.  A song or composition might bring about a feeling of nostalgia and rekindle long-lost memories because of how and when we listened to it for the first time.

Some songs that I listened to while I was a little child (on a gifted radio-cassette player) continue to be favorites because they evoke in me memories of the first home that I lived in, of the room that had that player, and of the very bed that I sat on while listening to that. Sometimes they bring about memories of the people who were with me when I listened to them.  Their musical excellence can be doubted, their production values can be critiqued, but the subjective experience that results from them is indubitable.

Music is also perceived to have therapeutic effects.  A melody may soothe our nerves, or it may invigorate and uplift us.  It may make us dance, or it might be an aid to contemplation.

To add to the complexity, there are genres of music that appeal to us, while we are immune to others.  Each genre of music can contain a whole spectrum of moods, and I speculate that after a certain age, we are resistant to develop an appreciation of unfamiliar genres.

Certain eras have a context to their music.  The 60s and 70s in India hadn't really seen an urban boom and late nights, so music was less inclined toward dance and was more melodious and hum-worthy.  That is not to say that today's music is in any way inferior.  In many ways, today's music is vastly more innovative.

Contrast these three songs, having a similar theme from different eras.  The pace increases, and a variety of technologies and instruments are introduced, as the compositions become more modern:

For another take on context, consider Jazz or Soul.  People who grew up in small towns and who have listened to live bands in small taverns or restaurants might naturally have a deeper appreciation for it.

Contrast that with Gangsta Rap.  Like Jazz, Gangsta Rap has strong elements of improvisation but is obviously more of an urban ghetto phenomenon: full of strong words, expletives, rebellion and violence.  Finer feelings are typically absent, and alienation and rage rule.

We continue to have fondness for the genres that we grew up with, or with those whose general rhythm and acoustics resonate with our personality type.

Extroverts will perhaps find the following composition "boring" and slow:

And contemplative minds might abhor techno or trance music, because it is typically associated with hedonism, parties, raves and intoxication:

Being a somewhat contemplative mind, I nevertheless find techno music, using nothing but digital instruments, supremely musical.  The imperfection or the human element might be missing, but then one remembers that no machine (at least for the foreseeable future) could create such music.

For example, the following composition, though short, shines through with a mood (subjective, again) of strength, of being re-born, of rising from the ashes:

Even if the composition be energetic, it need not deter soulful souls.  As examples, these two composition, though having a fast rhythm, can create a reflective, somber mood:

If the general perception of a particular genre does not appeal to me, I try to find out if there is something in it that creates a response.  Invariably it does.  It is not that difficult to flow with the artist and his experience during the creation.  The only requirement is that one put aside one's preconceived notions and prejudices.

This way, one can experience new vistas, while continuing to have a cherished musical home where one can again and again experience the familiar.

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