Making music matter (part 0: MATTER)

October 23, 2009 § 8 Comments



This is the introductory part of a series of blog post on how to engage with and love music. Don’t think it is necessarily easy and intuitive. One can discuss how to use music. One can learn to engage with music in a better way. Engage, to make it matter. Since these posts will map out my own thoughts on engaging with music in a good way, you can think of their totality as a kind of on-going manifesto for this blog.

There’s a note to be made on the importance of all this, specifically what it means to matter. As an intro, I will ask and try to answer that question here. It will probably have the most technical language of the series. Don’t be afraid, just read things slowly.

So, what does it mean when “music matters”? Well, that it has value and means something for someone. Music can make incredible things and we can talk and discuss which things and why so. But music also “matters” in another sense: it materializes. Music can matter in a very concrete sense, by becoming a physical object. That’s how music becomes something else by mattering (in both senses of the word). This in turn sets into motion a whole causal chain of cultural-material practices and objects: e.g. dubstep becomes visualized in strobe-light which becomes embodied in an epileptic seizure on the dancefloor. Music do things to people, who do things to other people or things, and by that way make the effects of music come into being. This goes for conditions to matter as well. The iPod would not have existed (mattered) if nobody didn’t care about listening to music while on-the-go (if that didn’t matter). This is why matter is always two-fold: cultural-material. Music come to matter, by mattering, by materializing. All of these phrases basically mean the same, because meaning and materiality is always entangled (you got it!).

Let’s try to put this rather heavy stuff into examples (you can come up with any other categories of course)

Music matters as certain kinds of collective bodies or aesthetic groups (e.g. when somebody combined melodramatic guitar riffs and teenage anxious lyrics with tight jeans, black square glasses and hair covering most of their face, one million new emo friends were made).


Lack – Indie kids wear the Keffyieh but can’t spell PLO

This statement is so sad but true haha! Lack, sadly now dissolved, had an important part in the small but potent Copenhagen math rock/pop scene. Another similar although quite brutal title from this band include “Behead (them screamo-kids)”. Speaking of the Keffyieh, there’s a sense in which this aesthetic group-making aspect of music has turned counterculture into a superficial Rebel, a kind of paradoxical monoculture obsessed with uniqueness and transgression (a.k.a. The Hipster).

Music matters as certain kinds of listening practices (e.g. what does it mean for fusion jazz that most people recognize it as the soundtrack to cheesy commercials in super markets, ie. muzak?)


Pat Metheny Group – As it is

Metheny is a genious on guitar, up there with acid-jazzer John Scofield. I have walked winter-frosted fields in my teens while listening to him. But this entire sound is basically destroyed by way of negative Pavlovian conditiong, so it’s extremely difficult to take it seriously unless you’re already dedicated, or just a guitar geek. Hearing Pat Metheny and other fusion jazzers over and over and over in annoying TV-shop breaks makes you associate that very sound to annoyance, like the dog that learns to salivate by Pavlov’s ringing of the food-associated-bell. What would happen if annoying commercials started playing Sigúr Rós? Oh wait, they already do!

Music matters as certain kinds of political practices (when we start engaging with music as expressing political desire, it becomes a tool for revolt)


Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

It is difficult to measure the effect this song had on the civil rights movement and anti-racist politics (it came out in 1939). It is also completely impossible to distinguish the music from the history, when I feel the rush of goosebumps on my body. This video is the trailer from a documentary made to track the impact it has had. Interesting.

Music matters as certain kinds of consumer patterns (french electro sold more american apparel spandex pants and non-prescription glasses than any ad could ever achieve)


SebastiAn – Ross Ross Ross

The year 2007 was dominated by duo Justice, the figure heads of french electro label Ed Banger. You may remember the video for “D.A.N.C.E.”, which basically consists of a show case of t-shirts (which you could buy of course. By coincidence, the most recent comment on youtube said: “Great song, great video! I want a T-shirt like those ones!!! lol” –hahaha!). Wonder what that video mattered for the hipster fashion industry? I won’t speculate more. My own favourite name from that period, together with same-label Mr. Oizo, was SebastiAn, who had a slighty more crunchy, syncopated staccato sound.

Music matters as certain kinds of brain patterns (of course, how do you think your idea of the current trend or your first memory of being exposed to Daniel Johnston gets stored?)


Daniel Johnston – Premarital Sex

Well, I’m not going to go into the neurophysiology of my exposure to this track, so you can just imagine a bunch of slimey looking axons making exciting electrical impulses to new brain cells, almost sounding like that awesome pumping organ in the song.

That’s all for today folks. I hope you enjoyed this introductory part of the series. As you can see, music can matter in a variety of ways, although not necessarily good ways (e.g. I don’t particularly like the turning of Pat Metheny into muzak). Therefore, the next task will be to map ways of making music matter in a good way. We haven’t really dealt with how I personally want that to happen yet of course, since this was mostly a sorting out of the concept of “matter” itself, but you probably have some ideas at this point. The first substantive part will be titled Masochism, and it will scare the shit out of you I’m sure. Since these posts take some time to write (at least this one did), expect a lot of other cool stuff in between. See you soon!

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