Louis C.K. has done a bit for a number of years called ‘Hilarious’. Basically he talks about how hyperbolic everything speaks these days. Every joke is ‘hilarious’. Any event even mildly interesting is ‘amazing’. And then, of course, he spends five minutes giving an ever escalating series of penalties and tortures for offenders. Prog rockers? Epic, of course! But my pet peeve is ‘awesome’; which Webster’s describes as ‘inspiring awe.’
As Louis so rightly points out, if you start with everything on the top shelf, there’s no place left to go.
The thing that wears one down after a while, in any kind of modern music is the constant pounding. The lack of contrast.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
One reason I always jumped at the chance to play Cuban music was the huge contrasts. There’s no drum set, so the bottom is held down by a guy playing a double bass (typically this old thing called an Ampeg Baby Bass, which is made out of aircraft plastic.) And unlike pop music, the bass is often sparse and played on off-beats. So, buddy, when that thing hits a low note, the whole place shakes.
If you’re inclined to do a bit of searching I highly recommend Andy Garcia’s documentary/concert about legendary bassist Cachao Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos. If you are evolved enough to let it, this film will change your life. It takes Salsa to a plane where art, dance and soul become one. For reals.
Fast forward to today:
This is a great song. Great act. It does everything you want in modern pop. It pounds to 11. It swaggers with irony to 12. (Leave it to Swedish guys to rock it better than the Americans they’re imitating.)
The problem is that it leaves no where to go emotionally.
See if you go to a movie, for all the stürm und dräng, you still have a range of louds/softs, brights/darks. But in music, it’s a much narrower range. A song, an album, a concert, even a band, is usually ‘tuned’ to one level of intensi
‘Rocket Scientist’ is at a level of intensity that I need to represent Darth Vader anger and rage. I need it to be shocking and extreme and so held in reserve for special moments. Obviously there’s gonna be a lot more contrast than you’ll get at the corner disco, but still.
My point is that I wonder if it’s still possible to make people jump at an orchestral concert—as they still can at ‘Fright Night Part XXI’. How do you get people to react to a range of emotions in serious music—or in any music.
I recall famed Shakespearean director John Barton claiming that the reason for his success was that he himself was usually bored to tears watching a long soliloquy. He made his actors work their nuts off to keep the audience engaged. He assumed that everyone was checking out during every speech unless they were forced (his word) to listen. It was up to the actor to keep the audience engaged and that took real work. By themselves, the words were not enough.
Why is it that music, among the arts, no longer has the ability to shock or anger. The Teddybears are right: you don’t need to be an astro-physicist to make yer ass throw fits. Or do some fist pumping. Or cry. Or whatever visceral response one wants to get from music. But generating genuine emotion? I dunno if that’s gonna be so easy.
Everything is just so awesome it can be tough to make a real impression beyond five minutes. Or one emotion.