music man

Renaissance man, Mark Bernstein asks, “How would you know?” What Mark is writing about is how does one discover and enjoy the varieties of music that surround us. It’s a very good question, and one I’ve written about here before – How to explore (without a map) parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 4 (continued), 5, 6, 7, and 8. It’s all well and good to explore territory without a map – a visual world, but how do you explore an audio world?

It’s a topic near and dear to my heart – one of my work colleagues asked me what on earth was that strange sound on my iPod – “Yes”, I reassured her, “It IS a cover of the Beatles ‘Lucille’ (Loomsiah by Payom Moogda), in Thai, from the 60s; and yes, it is disturbing. It’s the images of go-go dancers in smokey bars I can imagine, the cokes, the boys on leave from ‘Nam. It’s nostalgic and scary, and I love it.”

I got “the look“.

“Life is short, listen to lots of different kinds of music.”

“No,” she said, “Life is short, listen to lots of music that you like.”

“But if you don’t listen to lots of different music, how would you know what you like?”

Oh, and before I know it, Mark’s writing it up…

So, here’s what I’ve done in the past. Last week.

I go to the library and borrow cds. Here I can rent a cd box for $1 for a week. I say a box, because I’m tight, I like to get the double cds – two cds for $1 for a week. I take along $10 and get a week’s worth of music, and have some left over to pay off more of my library fines (presently growing at a rate greater than the Iraq war ‘effort’). My best effort was something like 23 cds for $10. So, ok, I finally got to hear Wagner’s Die Walküre, in English. Here’s a version of Ride of the Valkyries by the American Symphony Orchestra in 1921. Classic. The trick is to cruise along the stacks, and grab cds you think you might like, a name that sounds good, something, anything. Grab it, take it home, and give it a righteous listening to. In my case, that means in the kitchen, while I cook. I’m there for an hour, I can listen, do my notorious boogie thang or generally go with the flow. Love it – listen again. Hate it – back to the library. If you like it, go online to Amazon, search it up. Listmania, or “People who bought this bought that.” Cool. Go to the library, and try to find that cd. Get it, listen, love it. And then there were two…

Wikipedia it. Music never travels alone. It’s never in isolation. Find what came before it, and if it’s an old work, what came after it in the continuum. The context of the music can be very helpful in exciting your interest in the music itself. Mark started with Bach – sure, why not. Bach probably taught someone. That student probably did too. That student probably did too. That student probably did too. That student probably did too. That student probably did too. That student is probably alive today, playing and recording music. Bach’s influence can probably be traced, the echoes of the motets are not too far away.

Previously I’ve used Napster (I know you didn’t, you noble preserver of artistic integrity, you) and once I’d garnered the songs I could remember and wanted it was a lot more fun to enter in random words and see what came back. I found Tori Amos’s (who?) Mr Zebra this way. I just discovered on Wikipedia that Mr Zebra was included on Tori’s 2003 album, Tales of a Librarian, and the songs were arranged in Dewey decimal order. Whoa – that library thing is catching on. I also discovered the richly diverse work of Mike Nesmith by typing in “Ficus”…

In the end, I think that music begets music – it is part of a continuum, as I’ve mentioned, of time; and influences, both directly to and from music, and indirectly from the rest of our existance here. I think one of the definitions of civilisation is music, and it befits us to have as broad a base for our civilising influences as possible. Which is why recently I’ve been cooking to Yothu Yindi. Tom Waits. And some Indian influenced garage band stuff, probably from Bradford. Diversity, as much as possible, as fast as possible – that’s how you would start to know.

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