The Medium of Music as a Means of Understanding

Today, music operates as a cool, comforting medium primarily utilized to occupy the silence in the surrounding backgrounds of our lives, providing a seamless stimulus for us whether we are home, in the car, out in public space or at work, and the instantaneity with which we are able affect our moods through interacting with this new digital medium has enabled us to proscribe our own personal soundtracks to our realities. Catalyzed by the introduction of acousmatic sound, acoustics generated without a visible productive source, our mediums of recording are constantly changing, fostering the alienation every listener experiences while hearing a recording, as they experience an auditory phenomenon transmitted through mechanical reproduction, rather than human bodily performance. Granted the emergence of the mp3 and wav formats has enabled us as consumers to begin practicing solitary listening, allowing those without musical abilities to still participate as listeners, and heightening the feeling of intimacy and catharsis people get from experiencing music in their solitude. Nevertheless, as music is progressively transformed from a live social interaction to that of a mechanical, mass-produced and auratically deprived medium (having been extracted from the conventional ritualistic listening experience of concert goers) in turn, music becomes proficiently adapted as a political force, devoid of aura and contextual situation, applied by the media and the like for their own ends, rather than being correctly used by artists as a introspective medium through which we are able to reflect upon our own human condition, as temporal, and see our placements not through a purely political lens, but open beyond the confined dualistic reasoning of human perception.

In this massively mobilized, ceaseless tumult of daily human life we are stimulated constantly by visual images, music, political and regionally applicable news, and our endlessly concerned thought of personal attainment and desire for the next day to contain more potential than the past. The previous century, featuring the emergence of Jazz and Rock and Roll, facilitated the more homogenized and eased accessibility of the concert scene (in contrast to the aristocratic aura attributed to music in the Classical and Romantic periods) permitting a more proletariat show-going public body to form. This, in time, developed into the more self-propelled and DIY mentality behind the lo-fi and punk rock music scenes, that attempted to resituate the impetus’ behind music production for sake of performers, musicians, and audiences alike in opposition to the popularized mass accepted genres that were coincidentally rising. This induction was one of the first great rebellions against the popularized, high fidelity and pristine recordings that were being mass-produced and disseminated by the Big Band and Swing genres that grew out of the mid Twentieth century. These bands essentially laid the foundations for massively over-processed, and modified recordings that would later emerge with turn of the century, and implicitly related to the budding genres (dependent on technological developments) like that of rap, hip-hop, and electronica.

Of course, this is all looking in hindsight- there is no actual evidence to point out supporting this claim, but by critically looking at the music scenes of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s and their subsequent generative offspring one can see the parallels between the popularized music first deployed by the radio in the fifty’s, and the highly-idealized forms of recordings and genres adopted by the internet and consequently anticipated now.

Embedded in the format dispute between the efficiencies of the LP vs. that of the mp3, public concern over sound fidelity and the quality of recordings has been pedantically sculpted by time and the media to concurrently produce two types of listeners- that of the solitary, mobile mp3 user, and the classic turntable-ist.  Today, this discrepancy is embodied and debated by those who consciously adhere to the consumption of vinyl for its more authentic, rounder and rich sound and by those who argue there is little acoustic difference between the quality of mp3’s and LP’s and thus choose to sacrifice the fidelity of sound, in place of their own ability to intake the sound at any place, and under any circumstance. While the resurgence of vinyl has recalled consideration of sound fidelity, and the dangers our digital world is subject to, (allowing for the politicization of music) it does not mean the mp3 is not a doomed medium though; solitary listening has provided us a new mode of engagement with both the artist and the music, as we can playback a song as frequently as we’d like, and can scroll through the entirety of a track with ease. It also has opened up an entirely new realm for music to be experienced, as tracks can be easily copied, reproduced, and manipulated and enables ever single individual potent access to the mystical phenomenological experience of music, at their own command.  The error of the mp3 chiefly lies in how receptive people are to its multifaceted uses; as indicative of its incorporeal digital form, mp3’s can be effortlessly transferred across Internet, and thus are lacking in physical body (where use value, and ritualistic interaction are derived). Unforeseen to Benjamin’s own thesis on mechanical reproducibility, the Internet has spawned an immense, globally extensive network that almost instantaneously makes available any uploaded file to the rest of the world. Because of the rising prominence and use of music (in commercials, on the car radio, in stores, at work, etc.), the aura of music being an experiment of man’s indulgence and testing of his own relation with the flow of time has been debased, and so music’s role as a tool for self-reflection and means of understanding our relation to the corporeal world is eradicated, priming the reemployment of music for political purposes. But with conscious adhesion to the history of music, and the development of its form, it’s possible that we can preserve the importance of music in its relationship to the individual, and the subjective value that they derive from their personal experience.

Fundamentally, music is a sequential experiment based in time to capture an artist’s communication with his place contextually and to ordain a formal narrative on his own reflection of temporal proceedings. It is through this conceptual approach to melody, theme, and harmonic interface that an artist is able to relate the ethereal mode of his consciousness to his physical being, and thus have such a moving effect on both him or herself, and the listener. Maintaining a scholarly mode of engagement with music’s history and appreciating the relevance current questions of fidelity and authenticity have pertaining to music (as investigated by my essay “The Aura of Authenticity and Modern Music”) is critical if we are to prevent the existent politicization of the medium as we see unfolding around us. Considering art purely depoliticized is a tenacious challenge in this day in age, but by doing so we render it back to its primal humanistic conditions that led to the birth of its very own being. Art is not meant to be politicized; it is the most liberated expression of human modality and is meant to critique and bring life and humor back into our somber and serious political existence. It eliminates the dualistic thinking propagated by politics, between us and them, that forces people into factions and ideologically arranged sects and conditions them to perceive the world in a manner either in discord, or accordance with their own philosophy. Politics nullifies the core birthright human mode of engagement, in which we are all able to see the totality of things, unobscured by politics or personal perceptions, and dualistic paradigms, and see the universal truth the equates all human life. We are all discontinuous beings, we all will die; humor is the human element, revealed by the Artists throughout history, to critique and reciprocally effect our world, by which music can be a means to a new understanding of the human condition.

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