THE SOUND AND FEELING OF MUSIC
The sound and the feeling of a great musical experience we love can happen in profoundly life changing and soul stirring moments where music truly connects with us deeply and effects our lives as human beings. It is the ultimate experience of the art of music.
This post is an overflow of feelings and ideas that have been a long time in the making. It could be excerpts of many conversations I have had concerning this and other related subject matter. I have many stories of my experience’s with performing and listening to music that are no less than magical in the truest sense of the word. I would like to share some of them and hope you will respond and share your experiences and feelings in and around the subject matter.
Since it is hard to explain I will first direct any interested reader to a link that addresses part of the subject quite well on a technical level that I simply don't have the vocabulary for. Please check out this "word of delivery" from the great Bill Schnee and bravura records website:
Ironically this post is also and attempt at the recreation of the original blog post that I lost on my computer - what a coincidence that this post deals with some of the disastrous effects of working in the digital domain.
First of all, my ever humbling experience as a musician is organic and or instinctive in the sense that I know what I know, I like what I like and I learned much of it from my gathered experiences along the way working with music, musicians and or gathering musical street knowledge. I have had some formal music education but unfortunately I never excelled in schools. I try to apply life's lessons and my feelings in my music - in the end, one thing I know that I can stand up for and believe in; is that the transformative magic in music has mostly occurred for me in live music situations. I have been touched by all kinds of qualities of recorded music as well but somehow since the digital take over of music, with no dynamics, the touch seems a little out of touch and that is mostly what this blog post is about.
I believe these are moments in my life worth recalling and sharing…
One decidedly supernatural musical experience I had was while playing a simple Bach piece on the solo guitar alone in the garage where I lived in Del Mar, California. I had been practicing at this time up to 8 hours daily and was working with intense repetition on this particular piece when one afternoon I had what I would call a kind of time traveling experience. I was suddenly overcome with a enthralling vision or epiphany if you will, where I felt what Bach felt in this piece of music what and people in Bach's time felt. I was taken to another time (what would have been Leipzig Germany early 1700's I suppose) where somehow feel the feeling of that time or the collective sub-conscious of the people back then - I felt could smell the earth the way it smelled at that time. It was a divine kind of once in a lifetime experience and lo and behold there was hints of white light surrounding me. This is just one of the many kinds of experiences that have led me to believe that music carries all kinds of information that cannot be perceived in a normal sense of perception - music undoubtedly carries wonderful details and magical information and well, this is all the more reason that we should pay attention with our ears and get as much of the frequencies and high fidelity of music as we can!
Music expression is powerful, it can take you places indeed and really open up other avenues that are hard to even comprehend or explain.
Another prime example:
I spent one very important year in my musical odyssey working nightly as a bass player with the songwriter, guitarist and soul stirring singer Rudy Love (Rudy credits work with Little Richard, Michael Jackson, George Clinton and Sly Stone - Rudy’s father Robert Love wrote "Good Morning Little School Girl" which is the most covered rock song of all time - Rudy's songs were covered by many including Aretha and Ray Charles etc...) Rudy is a powerful performer with spellbinding technique and truly spirit-invoking soul and he is one incredible character. I could write a whole piece on the experiences with this enigmatic being but one stands out for me: I had an out-of-body experience while playing bass on one of Rudy's songs. It was replete with many of the common signs often told of a true out-of-body experience. I had an omnipresent ability to be or float anywhere all at once around the room and look down upon the band from above. There was also musical aspect that was astounding: perfect omnipresent hearing where I could pick out and single out each and every note all at once - of each of the four musicians playing and myself. The perception of the music was elevated to supernatural ability where I could separate and hear each and every single note or rhythm being played. I was connected to the greatest power imaginable in music, I was literally floating and separated from my body looking at what was happening. It was another kind of divine experience with the usual suspects like white light around the edges of the room. And just for the record; I am not making this story up, I was not on any drugs whatsoever, in fact I had quite a constitution back then, was eating a strictly raw food diet, doing yoga daily at that time and often meditating during breaks etc… Call it what you will but I think this is a good example of where music can take you.
Rudy taught me a lot, there were other magical experiences as well, he shared some wisdom that still holds true all these years later and I also saw somehow in a kind of reflection in the mirror of his purity; some awful things in the music business. I saw rampant racism, gross disrespect of an artist as a profession and a total abuse of and failure to recognize artistic genius that was so obvious and celebrated imeadiately by anyone that saw Rudy sing. My time with Rudy Love and the Love Family band was pivotal for me in many ways as is explained somewhat in the next paragraph. Funny, speaking of live music and recording - after all the nights I played (many 5 night a week stints) I have not a single recording of any gigs that year. It is recorded in my soul.
You may not know this about me but I once quit playing music professionally for a few years and became a bricklayer’s apprentice/hod carrier. The significance of this story is not in the brutal fact that I carried stones all day with my tender guitar player hands but that it was part of a profound and powerful reaction I had to music at the time. I had perceived that music and the music business was in fact becoming rampantly spiritually bankrupt and I decided to take a complete break from it all. So after the year with Rudy I actually boxed and boarded up all my electric instruments, amps, records and tapes and went into a kind of monk’s recluse away from some aspects of music and the music business. During this period I had many radical and passionate opinions about music. I could even be quoted during this time as saying that all recorded or amplified music was a lie. Now naturally for any reader here to understand my reasoning it would take considerable time to explain my philosophies, but in short, basically I believed that the purest form of music was simply playing it live and people listening to it live and it being done completely acoustically. I also believed at this time that it should not be sold because there is really no price for art. But in retrospect when I look back at my radical belief or move at the time I suppose most importantly was that I kept my acoustic guitar and began writing some of my first compositions during this period. I also learned a lot about myself doing the hardest imaginable physical labor all day long. From being a musician all my life I entered into what could be compared to really building pyramids with my bare hands. It was a challenging, expansive and great growing up experience for me but at the time I had the drive and strength to get through it and soon I became one of the best workers on the first job I miraculously landed: we built the Golden, Colorado Government Human Services Building - 50 bricklayers, 13 million bricks and after 7 months I became #1 hod carrier.
Well needless to say, I later returned to music again and this post is not supposed to be about bricklaying. After three years in masonry I returned to the music profession because I really missed playing music with other musicians and I certainly could not find any musicians of note that wanted to play music acoustically for free! Needless to say, since then I have been happy be a professional musician, play amplified music, listen or record music in the digital realm and accept the limitations and work with what we have.
When I came back to music I began playing with some great musicians like my old buddies in the Brazilian band "Pau Brasil" with Chico Meira, with Latina blues and R&B singer Natalie Rene and also with a great mentor for me and a true jazz man; Billy Tolles (http://www.jazz.com/encyclopedia/tolles-billy) Working with Billy was like wading in the waters of blues and jazz history. There's many stories from my times with B.T. but one new and novel thing I recall after working on big and serious construction jobs (where literally your life and death depended on total awareness of what your doing and the utmost care for your co-workers) was that I was a different person now, a grown up man and I had an esteem or confidence and character that I had never felt before as a musician. I had lost at least more than half of my "bop- chops" playing guitar but my radical departure from music as a career and those years with Rudy Love before my hiatus gave me something very valuable in the music. Through Rudy I realized that incredible clarity and depth of feeling could be expressed through music. It sounds obvious but sometimes until you see or experience someone doing it, it is not that easy to come by or believe you can do it for many musicians. It was during this returning to music time that while playing some be-bop or blues guitar solos I received some rousing standing ovations in night clubs and bars where people really never give a standing ovation and cheer like that - Well here lies the reason that I am telling this story to you: Because now I was doing things different (well in jest, maybe because I had lost so much technique from carrying bricks and stones...) but for instance while soloing on the guitar I began to apply something new for me; to think of and project very specific and intense feelings, ideas or spirit... I even would be putting words to my be-bop solos under my breath and looking out into peoples eyes while I played. I believe these are the things that moved people to get up off heir feet and roar with a standing ovation. It was the sheer will in my spirit to express concise and true feelings that I felt. Now, here is the point, music notes and rhythms can carry so much meaning and content but it may not be that easy to portray without being there live and seeing the intention in the eyes, the spirit and aura of the performer. Once again going back to recorded music, if music carries so much profound information I imagine we would have to hear the full frequency range to decode that kind of depth!
Even more esoteric but real:
One more story I would like to share is the vision I had where I somehow had perceived that the intention, content, feeling, aura, character or spirit were so important to expression through the art of music that I came to the conclusion if a performer was true and focused enough, that performer could express any of the most complex emotions, feelings, ideas or concepts with one simple clap of the hands. Because indeed in the end it is not what you play but the message, mood or story you want to express when you play! Now put that in your mp3 player and ear bud and try to hear it... :)
But alas, if you have made it this far with me, the conversation a few days ago with music producer and engineer Bill Schnee got the juices flowing on my feeling about music and sound. Again as for my reference to Bill Schnee I highly recommend reading the link I provided above and visiting the rest of the website as well to bring a more technical light to what I am talking about. And Bill is eminently qualified to talk about this subject and really it was this conversation that inspired me to write, write and then try to write it all again... OK, the fact is that great music can find its way through and no doubt often will transcend the limitations of fidelity or limited frequency range in recordings- just like a grainy and blurry photograph can move and inspire because of the sheer content in the photo. Or someone doing playback on TV can bring tears to your eyes! But I ever more convinced that even with all the easy access to music now, we are becoming grossly deprived of the powerful gifts that are available in the art of music.
By all means, art affects everyone differently and I can only share my own interpretation, experience and feelings – It would be foolish to insist on what is right or wrong in the arts. But I want to ask those like my self who came up during my time, the time when live music was more popular than DJ’s and there was no such thing as digital, do you notice the cold and impersonal difference? CD’s, MP3’s, compressed youtube audio, tiny ear buds, computer speakers and just the digital realm in general, does it make you feel what you felt when you listened to a tape or vinyl recording?
I am convinced that it cannot and I know this is not anything new to those in the know, the facts are obvious and have all been proven – but my dear reader and music lover, what a tragic and sad place we have come to! For example, all those upper frequencies that we do not hear I extrapolate in my wild imagination that those "silent" high frequencies carry magic upper harmonics that in turn harmonize with each other and decode the transformative, informative and inspiring information of sound that is so essential for music to actually affect us. Bill Schnee told me that it has been proven by scientists that our brain and ears actually know that there are essential frequencies missing and we work over time to try and recreate these upper harmonics to fill in the blanks and even complete the full spectrum below and we are literally worn out by the low fidelity of music today.
So if you have any dissatisfaction with the music of today - it may not be the lack of great music or musicians, it could be the lack of sound and dynamics that we are not getting. I know for myself that this is a fact and I know it from my experience, as a journeyman musician or listener in many environments and musical experiences, be they live or recorded. But it could reason to argue that many musicians that are brought up with out much live music – maybe they are having a hard time connecting deeply because their ears are starving for what is not there? But in the end, music is magical stuff and can transcend limitations of all kinds. So I keep faith and press on always but just thought that this might be a story worth sharing and getting some feedback as well.
By the way, as I wrote some of this – I listened to some great music – music on the overly compressed and tiny frequency on youtube, through the tiny speakers on my mac book. I listened to Oscar Peterson trio with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, Dori Caymmi with Claudio Slon and Herbie Hancock, Brad Meldau with Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard, Baden Powel playing solo and some Eliane Elias… But maybe if I listened to that music with full range speakers on a analog recording or some of the new digital technology that has the full frequency range I would have not been able to write anything, I would have closed my eyes, or maybe wept tears of joy and been taken to the many transformative places that music can take us.
Sonically and soulfully yours,
FUNNY POST SCRIPT:
And just think, for the lovers in the house, can you imagine how much harder it is to seduce your baby when you put on that love song? Your romantic jam that gets you and yours in the mood - That could be an interesting test: Put couples in romantic settings with their favorite music but put some of the couples in a lo-fi audio environment and the others in a real hi-fi environment and then watch what happens…