I remember reading a while back about studies in human compatibility based on ‘smell’. Apparently, members of the opposite sex are attracted by smell. It’s a dirty little secret (no pun intended) that this overrides the higher faculties. People will be attracted to potential partners based on their smell because (apparently) the smell communicates a lot of potential info on your IQ, strength, health, etc; in other words, stuff that really contributes to compatibility.
And though Coco Chanel rises from the grave to object, from an evolutionary perspective, the key benefit of slathering on eau de whatever is that the smell will mask your natural odor and thus make you acceptable to a wider array of partners. Of course now that we have on-line dating, we can mask who we really are without everyone else having to endure Axe Body Spray. But I digress.
It’s taken me a long time to realise that there must be something like this in musical courtships—as well as ongoing relationships. And I’ve decided that it’s based largely on tempo. I haven’t seen any research on this but I’m dying to learn more.
Many of my songs are written in the same three or four tempi. And if you listen to most artists, it’s the same story. Most of us have to work to move to other bpms.
My guess is that the reason I was initially hired for various high profile gigs over others was based on the fact that certain people share my intrinsic tempo. I’m wondering if you audition against 20 other totally competent players… all with equal charisma, mad skills and great hair, the guy who’s body clock best matches the decision maker wins.
My theory is that there are perhaps five or six basic ‘heartbeats’ amongst people; five or six standard metronome markings. It’s like eye colour—there are probably just a few ‘presets’. So when we play music together, it just feels better if you’re playing with others who’s internal tempo is compatible.
Now I want to say right now that I’m quite aware I’m over-simplifying this principal. I have no doubt that there are a few other components to this concept of ‘unconscious attraction’. For example, musicians constantly talk about ‘feel’, which concerns one’s innate tendency to play ahead of or behind the beat. That too is probably some goofy gene near the tail end of chromosome four (or perhaps three if your last name happens to be Strauss?)
THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS
My point is that musicians are no less (and perhaps far more) inclined than civilians to deny science and propagate superstitions when it comes to trying to understand the attractions of music (and musicians). But as musicians, I believe we should try to understand why we’re drawn to one player over another; just as we need to be aware of our other intrinsic tastes so as to avoid falling into a rut.
Now I know there is a great common warning against all attempts to ‘over-analyze’ and thus ruin ‘the mystery’. But this seems as silly to me as any other attempt to make art into something it is not. Just as it doesn’t make a rose smell any less sweet knowing about all those little receptor cells in my snoot. If there are physical attributes that account for attraction between musicians we should figure out what they are rather than glorify ‘the mystery’ that really ain’t.
I don’t resent that God made me smell a certain way. 😀 And if my ‘smell’ telegraphs some information I can’t control, that’s fine. And I don’t resent that He gave me a certain Time Signature™. But if we know what’s really going on? Why one guy sounds more ‘right’ for a certain situation than someone equally competent? Then we can start figuring out how to be more ‘attractive’ to others and either get more gigs or make the ones we have more amenable.
Hell, maybe Axe will come out with a guitar amp and solve the entire problem once and for all.