Friday, December 20, 2013

Prompt 2: In The Key of Freud Major: Thoughts On Sigmund Freud's Thoughts on Music

“...with music, I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure. Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me.”-Sigmund Freud “The Interpretation of Dreams” 1900
 It is impossible to examine any sort of philosophical cannon without reading the name Sigmund Freud short of a thousand times. Millions of people will quote his theories, treatises, and hypothesis. A vast percentage of the modernly educated will think about his dissertation of the ego vs the ID. Many scholars will explore what it is exactly Freud meant by the phrase “oceanic.” Academics will stay up late concerning themselves with his idea of penis envy (and maybe actual penis envy). Thousands upon thousands of papers are written on his musings every year, this one being no exception. Sigmund Freud essentially set the standard for our conception of what a modern day philosopher or thinker talks about, writes about, and looks like. He is a benchmark figure; the picture that pops up in the dictionary.  

         It is of no coincidence that Freud is such a popular thinker nowadays. Although he has been dead for some 70 plus years, Freud created a spark in rational thought that both angers and supports the opinions, discussions, beliefs, and even faiths of many. Many of his theories, including some mentioned earlier but certainly not limited to them, have become popular enough to become sort of pop-culture facts. Freud’s philosophical work is some of the most complex and seemingly truthful of any somewhat modern day thinker. You can’t think philosophy without thinking Freud whilst picturing him with a cigar. He seemed cold and calculated; unafraid of anything that he might encounter.
         Why then, does Freud have such a well-documented aversion to music? 
          Music is something so touching; a force so powerful that we could write and talk about it all day. We often do, in fact. Many philosophers of great credit spent a large majority of their lives discussing and writing about music. Many of them were in fact musicians themselves. If philosophy is the study of the fundamental problems, such as why and what is the purpose of anything, surely then it would seek to understand the importance of music? Something that can unite millions of people around the world despite language, experience, financial, religious, and even physical barriers has to be worth the examination of all minds, not only the supposed great ones. One could never argue that music isn’t important to humanity; it is simply a huge force that, while unnatural when commanded by individuals, does exist within nature. In fact, it seems that music has been around as long as anything, even our own concept of humanity and society in general.
          Nevertheless, music is such an opaque concept that even the best minds often fall short of explaining it well in any sort of technical language. There are thousands of musical geniuses out there who lecture and write. They may have beautiful things to say, engaging points, and excellent rhetoric. However, no single “theory of why music makes us feel the way it does” has ever truly been accepted as cold hard fact. 

          While we can examine the nuts and bolts of a piece of music, we cannot explain how these nuts and bolts make a piece a great and, likewise, how these nuts and bolts might make something not so great. There is a technical language of music; a rich vernacular that can be studied forever and yet truly never understood. The great composer/conductor/educator Leonard Bernstein perhaps put it best when he stated that “the only way one can really say anything about music is to write music.” 

We can’t sum up music in this sentence or the next. Even this page, or the next several thousand pages, would completely fail to define the reason for the might of music. But it is impossible to ignore it as a force in society. It is impossible to ignore the role of music in shaping our past, and this past is directly responsible for the future. It is also impossible to see the role of music in the future, but we can be assured by our connection to it that it shall be powerful. 

And yet, despite our obvious infatuation or even obsession with music, Freud doesn’t like to talk about it. There are a great many subjects that are considered taboo and he touched upon all them. He is infamous for popularizing the Oedipus Complex, a theory that postulates men are jealous of their fathers and sexually enamored with their mothers. This is obviously a pretty radical theory, yet he shies away from discussing music. It is interesting to note, as well, that Freud lived during one of music’s most romanticized periods; one would think or even expect Freud to champion music as of the great arts, especially due to his love of many other artistic mediums. Why leave music out, then? Perhaps because he admits to not truly understanding it and therefore doesn’t seek to make any theories or comments. You cannot blame a man for that which he doesn’t know, so long as he remains quiet with an unbiased opinion on the subject.  

But Freud clearly has an opinion on music. Freud states that being a “rationalistic” or “analytic” makes him “rebel against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected what it is that affects me.” This is a dense thought, worth examining with a fine comb or even an analytical microscope. Firstly, Freud claims to use a rational and logical approach to push him towards a contrarian viewpoint on music. This idea of being a contrarian is not uncommon for Freud, as a lot of his viewpoints were unpopular at the time and even now. What is most interesting to me regarding these terms, is that we would be able to deduce and infer that Freud believes music to be something that cannot be explained rationally and with analytics. This sounds a lot more like Leonard Bernstein than we may have originally considered, given Bernstein’s love of music and Freud’s apparent distrust.

A lot of people, both academics and the laymen, like to compare music and mathematics. While that is a discussion for another paper in another lifetime, it is interesting to note that Freud feels appreciating music comes before rational and analytical thinking and/or criticism. Although it is unwise to ignore the connections between the field of math and the field of music, it is interesting to note that Freud almost deems music as being unworldly and unexplainable. Although it seems Freud took this to be a negative cloud that follows pieces of music around, I would argue that many people might agree with Freud on his concept by not his application. Most people have an experienced where, for any amount of reasons, they are moved to tears by a piece of music. Many people have also experienced a time when they were jubilant and joyous upon hearing specific chords played with a certain dynamic. There are myriad reasons for experiencing emotions, but sometimes we lack the technical language or even the wherewithal to understand appreciate why. Freud realized this concerning music; and while it seemed to have scared him, this exact same thought process seems to have excited millions. 

Now let’s examine the second part of his quote, that which states Freud needs to react harshly towards music because it moves him in a way that he cannot explain or even internally understand. This idea of fearing the unknown is a pretty common phobia for most people. Think back to a time when you saw a child afraid of the dark; or perhaps think back to a time when as an adult you feared for future circumstances that you did not even know existed. This anxiety of the unknown exists within all of us. For Freud, an examiner of the mind, this must have been atrocious and horrendous. For someone so used to understanding why we feel some of our more basic impulses, Freud could never quite put his finger (or cigar, for that matter) on what it is about music that makes us feel certain things. He knew and appreciated the power of music and its forces, but he couldn’t explain it. This, much like a child’s fear of the dark when he or she goes to bed, is just simply fear of the unknown. 

Here exists the central lesson of this prompt. There are a myriad of reasons why music moves us. We could write thousands upon thousands of essays concerning the “whys” of music’s emotional process without repeating a single thought or idea. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel the weight of this idea that Freud may have accidently discovered. Perhaps we are so brilliantly moved by music because we do not understand it. In a world where knowledge is seemingly everywhere for the taking, even more numerous than trees in a forest, the idea that we cannot fully understand something might be as magical to some as it is scary. Although we certainly fear that which we do not know, it can also be exciting. We love horror movies and roller coasters, despite the fear and apprehensive atmosphere they can cause. Of course we like music because it moves us to a point where we don’t understand it. When you don’t understand something, you take it at once, for what it is; the sum of its parts. If we understood every little thing about why music makes us feel the way it does, it would probably cease to make us feel anything. It would simply become a mastered system, when in fact, we know it to be the exact opposite; an almost life force than can move mountains. We often use the terms of music to understand life and its processes. If this is true, we can learn a lot from realizing that we can love the unknown. It’s important to appreciate and feel that which may cause some stress. Sometimes, its important to feel powerless.

Freud may not have loved music for this reason; a man who spent his whole life trying to understand the “why” could never be fully satisfied until he knew the answer to everything. But let us, for a minute, appreciate the significance that one of the world’s greatest thinkers may have been stumped by music. Music; something that we all feel and experience deep within our souls. Music; something that we all almost feel connects us to the universe. Music; something that we cannot possibly explain with any degree of certainty. We can use all sorts of technical language and run all sorts of brain monitoring tests; in the future perhaps, we can find a way to fully grasp the why.

Music is something we should always seek to understand, but ultimately always understand that we’ll never fully get it. 

PS: I adopted my ultimate Freud look for this prompt. What do ya think? 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

PO-EMs?! He has PO-EMs!

Hey y'all!

I've had an amazing end to 2013. I'll probably do a top ten best of year end blog by the 31st, so look forward to that.

There are a lot of exciting things happening to me as a musician but I must admit; the greatest thing happening is that I get to wake up every day and practice. Every single moment is an opportunity for me to push myself towards growth, and I feel wonderful at how hard I've worked this year.

I can still work harder, and I shall. 2014 is going to be awesome. A lot of the acts that I'm playing for are playing shows, making money, making music, connecting with people, etc. I feel both lucky to be a part of it and also grateful that I can contribute to each of these projects something unique that they might not have gotten otherwise.

But this blog is just more poetry. It is a pipe dream of mine to become a poetry professor at some point in my life. I don't know that much about poetry, but I read a lot of it and write it fairly frequently. I have some opinions about it, and I love teaching, so gearing up towards that goal isn't so ridiculous.

Also, no one my age reads poetry. Does anyone? By the time I am 50, no one alive will know any poetry. At that point, colleges might come crawling to me.

Some of the following poems are about me and people I know or have known. Some of them might be about me eventually and some might be about people that I will meet. As usual, I have been reading a lot of poetry and, as usual, I have been jacking the swagger of the greats (E.E Cummings and Emily D, this time around)

leaping seraphically over satellites   
i read your words and it builds a world
none of this has ever happened before
in so many ways
in so many words

in so few places, ive been insofar inspired
typically, usually, most-of-the-time
there is nothing ive desired

as to read your words
and build our world
leaping elysian over satellites 
towards paradise 

Escape To
I will escape from you 
from that which is deemed truth
from the nuances of jargon
towards the spontaneity of youth 

I will from escape from it
from that which you commit
from the current collapsing dogma 
I simply scoff and quit

I will escape from me
from that which you’ve caused to believe
from having no say in who I am
towards becoming much more of that whom I can

I will escape to wherever I decide to go

Apartment Numbers
all of these places are exactly the same
hit the phone button, dial someone’s number
driving lanes are far too narrow on the inside
cars far too nice for such a cheap pad
i guess its what is on the inside that counts? 

all these numbers blur together after the years 
135, 1818, 1954, 1245, 903, 252
all these years blur together after the beers
1989, 2010, 1776, 1845, 252
all these numbers blur together after my fears 
of which there is only one
reading number after number after number after number
until there are no numbers left

all of these places are exactly the same
but you know what? 
even if more often than not, I don’t care to see it
different people live inside

Does Anyone Still Wait
Does anyone still wait 
for anything?

I can distinctly remember waiting for phone calls
life stopped for whatever I wanted it to
I just simply had to be simple
and that simply had to wait 

I remember waiting for inspiration to come
and then she did 
and then I remember waiting for her to return
for years and years and years 

Eventually I stopped waiting
and I was sure that she would never visit again

Wherever You Are
Wherever you are my dear
 I will be there

Wherever you are is dear to me 
Your symphony of touch is a mechanism towards belief 
the generosities of your smile eradicate grief 

Wherever you are
I won’t be far 
no matter how bizarre our future or past 
I’ll be around to help pull us through
like a most startling reflection in the deepest pool
you would hardly recognize
and then immediately come to see

what we can achieve will make us complete

If It Snows Again in Georgia

If it snows again in Georgia
I'll be the first one towards your door

I won't mind the 7.4 mile walk
up peachtree street
no fruit in any place is close to as sweet
and nobody
is juicier

Ice falls
as lovers do
it isolates travelers; eschews them to confront truths
the last 100 snow angels I made hardly resembled you at all
but I didn't expect it to snow twice this year, either

so if it snows again in Georgia
worse or better or the same as before
I'll brave the barbarians for champagne from the store
I can correct the mistakes that I used to ignore
there's just something when our lips mix that keeps us coming for more
and more

if it snows again in Georgia
I'll be the first one towards your door

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Short Prompt Response #1: Do musicians have a moral obligation to create "meaningful" music?

           It can’t be denied that music is a driving force in our society. It can be of great influence on the minds, thoughts, and actions of all peoples and can move them to do things both great and not-so great. Music   is such an important force in the world, then surely those who create the music that we consume have a great and dire responsibility. Wouldn’t this be consistent with the responsibility that comes with the complex act of creation? 
           A lot of people might argue that the responsibility lies with each and every listener; one could just as easily side with an argument steeped in rhetoric regarding discretion, free-will, and the like. While I do think everyone is personally accountable for their actions, the responsibility and sometimes blame has to be shared by both the creators and the consumers, much like any product created for public consumption. Those that understand music the best are often times the ones making it, therefore their responsibility to the people using music daily is of greater importance. Much like the chef who cooks in a school’s cafeteria every day, he or she knows the ingredients best, and should do his or her best not to poison the student body. It seems obvious in that context. It’s only when we try to put a limit on how people can express themselves does this get very sticky. Although I would argue a chef can express himself with his ingredients; he still does it within the confines of what is healthy and nutritious (hopefully). 

          The line is really blurry and fine here between being a society of censorship versus a society of thoughtful citizens. Obviously a government should never govern a people’s ability to express themselves thru music. That is out of the question. Limiting the artistic spirit in such a way would be insanely detrimental to the development and progress of even meaningful music. We wouldn’t move forward but rather backward 100 steps. It’s important to understand that the creation process can be an individual pursuit, behind closed doors, in any way possible. However it is only when you put your music out for consumption by others where you take on this role of responsible benefactor.  But do the individuals themselves have a responsibility to make music that is moving, thought-provoking, full of good value and harmony, in all senses of the word?

I believe that they do. Those of us that choose music as a profession owe it to the listeners ear, and more importantly to their mind, to treat it right. We have the influence to determine the future path where music goes. Music often reveals that which we do not know or that which we do not know will come to be, so wherever the music takes us is where we could very well end up as people. If you are going to put your music out there on display, then it should have some sort of redeeming value for the listener. Otherwise, how could it be anything other than detrimental? 

          Whose responsibility or position to say what is “meaningful” music versus “meaningless” is a whole different story. Perhaps this story is even one without any satisfactory answer. Maybe we can’t determine what means something to someone because music is so subjective, and any emotion is measured by the self against the self. Music may bring us together in a collective and passionate way, but music can be experienced in vastly different ways by even grossly similar individuals. Music speaks to the individuality of the human experience. Even though we all “hear” the same sounds, we all feel them differently. This is much like the way that even though we are all alive, our lives are different. 
          Nevertheless, I believe the creator of music should try his or her best to create something that can improve the lives of those who experience it. It should always be the first aim of the musician to create vibrations that take our world closer towards compassion, empathy, spontaneity, intellectualism, and diligence. It is with great trepidation that musicians should harness their power. Hopefully they can understand what it is they possess and act accordingly. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Escape to Ft Lauderdale

I rode spirit airlines down to Ft. Lauderdale for my last Indigo Girls gig of the year. Not my favorite airline, but everyone deserves a 3rd chance, so I'll reserve judgements. 

On the ride down, however, I was absorbed heavily in the Erich Fromm classic "Escape from Freedom." Fromm is a phycology favorite of mine, and while I never studied him in college, and I am deep within a unit regarding his work in Beniversity. 

"Escape from Freedom" mainly deals with how we can both succumb to the powers of authoritarian regime and succumb to our own, commercial manifested authority. It is about how human beings become automations. Escape from something doesn't necessarily mean an escape towards anything other than another captor. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who wishes to improve his or her critical thinking skills. 

What I found most intriguing was how it pertains to me as a musician. Fromm introduces a concept he calls a "pseudo-feeling" in which a person believes that he has synthesized an original thought when, in fact, it has been put into him from an external source. This is particularly dangerous because it enables the person to believe himself to be original when, in fact, he is simply an automation of his environment. 

This pseudo-feeling manifests itself in music to great degree in A LOT of the people that I have worked with and see around the industry. It's ok to be a poser; in fact sometimes than can develop into something fresh. It is not ok, however, to believe that you are making groundbreaking music when you cannot even approximate the true nuances of your creation. We must be genuine as musicians. This may be our curse, at times, but once you realize your limitations you can seek to grow. Either way you grow, this sincerity is all that matters. Another essay I read, entitled "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin, stresses this need for sincerity more than ever for artists. In this current age where machines can reproduce all the music we've ever loved, now more than ever we as artists need to separate ourselves by bringing that which machines cannot into the equation of art; mainly ourselves and the love and spontaneity that being genuine creates.  

This was a lot to think about as we arrived in Ft Oh My Lauderdale way too late (thanks Spirit!) and had too much to drink. Too much water, of course; I can't post about it on the blog but I'll let your mind connect the dots and do the dirty work. Exactly as dirty as your mind allows it. I won't make a comment as to whether or not this is an accurate portrayal, but at least this isn't a pseudo-feeling as it stirred from your thoughts and not from mine. Let's just say I was excited to arrive from Atlanta (where I was wearing two jackets. 2 HOODZ), to sunny and hot Ft. Lauderdale where the people were just ready to get the Led out. 

I arrived early at the festival the next morning to see a beautiful flock of parrots flying overhead. What a cool place Florida is! I was thinking about what it would be like to be a parrot when I saw a festival roadie (usually I prefer the term crew member, but this guy doesn't deserve it) throwing water bottles at the parrots overhead. I was sickened to see this so early in the morning; I shouldn't let myself be surprised by the lack of empathy in others, but that does not make seeing it hurt any less. Yeah, maybe these parrots are annoying, but show some compassion. Also, a violent act is worse for the person who commits it. I won't stand for rude people anymore, so my lowly bass player self confronted this guy and told him he should try to align his heart with the birds. They aren't in the same position, but surely he could think of a time when someone reached out towards him with compassion when he was in a helpless state. I then asked him if he had had parents. His response was one I expected; that of forced humor.

I'm the biggest Adam Sandler fan there is, which makes it all the more disappointing to see the power of humor re-appropriated as a shield against self-discovery or improvement. Often times we laugh when we are afraid to grow, thinking this will protect us from the perilous journey that often occupies true growth. In actuality, all this forced humor does is degrade the name of growth, the name of your self, and the name of humor. 

The festival was super cool; I believe this was the first year of Lauderdale Live and, while the attendance definitely could improve, the festival itself was run smoothly. Besides for my embarrassed parrot man-child, I had a wonderful time chatting with the employees. I even flirted it up with this super fly girl from Nashville. By flirted it up I mean she made fun of me for being so excited about fruit in our dressing room; but she seemed twisted enough to where she was enjoying it in that realm. I didn't get any of her information, but thats ok. No note lasts forever.

The other acts on the bill were fantastic but, since I was preoccupied with chasing around dragon flies, I didn't get to see everyone. Reviews of what I did see are as follows: 

Holly Williams: I have seen Holly like 5 times this year and she always puts on a good show. Great songs and an awesome guitarist and bassist backing her up.

The Wild Feathers: New group out of Nashville that was just smoking it out! They really rocked. Can't wait to keep up with these guys.

Shovels N Rope: I'm a big fan of what this duo does, and they brought a ferocious set to the festival. I loved the creativity they brought to the table. Unfortunately they do not have a bassist, and in my opinion (for what its worth…and I am certain thats not much), the sound really missed that low frequency and low creativity. It made all the guitar parts sound very shrill and without a full range of resonance. Still, I am a bassist, so I guess that's expected. 

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: I've been listening to their record nonstop and the performance lived up the hype. What a clear voice. Jason is a true enunciator, which is something that is missing from virtually the whole music world nowadays.  The band was super tight and I was, as always, fixated on the drummer. Dude rocks! 

Our gig went amazing. It was fantastic to see Amy, Emily, and Lyris. I don't know that I've ever had so much fun playing music. We sounded tight; we had fun; we expressed ourselves individually and we expressed ourselves together. I even started using my sense of smell as a messenger to feel the empathy of the audience and the music that was being performed on stage. Each song was a blast but Faye Tucker, in particular, brought the house down. I remember looking around the stage to see all 5 of us as one, and that one was all Pete Townsend. We are a pretty in your face live act, and the audience eventually came around. We closed the set with a rendition of Devil Went Down to GA in a style that only southerners could do; with an honest charm and a "fuck-it-all" attitude. 

Not bad for my last Indigo Girls gig of 2013. I had an amazing year playing with Amy, Emily, Lyris, and Jaron. It was wonderful working with the team as well (Turtle, Sulli, Mike, Dave, Bill, Tom, Brian, and Bozack!) It was fun sharing the stage at various points throughout the year with the Honor the Earth, Kai, Brandi, Adam, Scott, Matt "Yeah Yeah" Lipkins, Carlos and Cole, Hannah, Cooper, and all the other guests that I can't remember right now. I've learned something beautiful and soul-shattering from everyone that I met this year and, while some of those lessons were akin to having my teeth pulled by my worst enemies, they are lessons all the same and I am thankful.

I'm at a place now where I feel a lot of love and spontaneity harnessing the energies of music. It can be a powerful tool for good and for bad. I will use it for good and I will show others how to, as well.  

Thank you again for coming to shows, reading the blog, buying records, listening to records, caring about music, and practicing guitar. We have a wonderful opportunity on this earth to help each other make our music, and I want to reach out from deep within my soul to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to make mine. 

and that ain't no pseudo-feeling,
Benjamin Ryan Williams :)