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Keys to a Deeper Understanding
of Music


by Rich the TweakMeister

(this essay must be read carefully to obtain the insights)

Metaphor is one of the most powerful devices of the human mind. We liken our experience to other experiences in order to apprehend them.  Through metaphor we are able to understand highly abstract processes that would be unattainable without it. All songs share one metaphor in common:  The Story.  One might get confused to think that songs are stories, but they are not.  Songs are music that is arranged like a story.  Things aren't the way they seem sometimes, and that's something we will go into later.  For now, however, just understand that the model in our head for interpreting the phenomena of music is the same model we use to understand a story.  Therefore, anyone who wants to write a great piece of music should think of the process of writing and telling a great story.

Stories have three basic elements: 1) A beginning 2)A middle part and 3) an end. All music--even the most esoteric eastern music--has these characteristics.  Forget for a moment about the "climax", which of course all stories have in the West.  Think of the basic underlying structure. The sounds start, go on a bit, then end.  Then something else happens, the phone rings, you talk, you hang up. Then you begin to see that all of our experience is "stored" in stories, and that everything we "know" is a matter of us being able to store the undifferentiated mass of experience in a little story. This is because of time. We lock experience into a straightjacket of time, into a phenomena with a beginning, a middle and an end.  Until our minds develop multi-dimensional ways to transcend time, we will be locked into seeing our world as a series of stories. No matter what part we are at in the story, it is defined by what preceded it, and what we expect to happen in the future.  One might say the way we store experience creates expectations.  Translated, the way we "hear" a musical passage determines what we think will come next which is determined by what we just heard a moment ago.  To rush to the point, it is expectation, its fulfillment and violation, in our storage facilities (brains) that leads us to experience both musical beauty and boredom.  In simple terms, there are good stories and bad stories.  Much is a matter of the way the story is told, and we fill our lives with the stories everyday, every minute, every conscious second.      

Think of someone you know who is a great storyteller. How do they do that? They play with your expectations. What is humor but the sudden violation of expectations in a little story. Its the "surprise" that makes the story a good one. We may be startled, awestruck, or "blown away" when we are the recipient of a great new story.  We suddenly know, usually joyously, that our lives have changed as a result.  We have a new meaning, a new understanding, awareness.   And everyone marvels, "how did they come up with that, it's great!"       

Its the same with music.  Perhaps this is why early classical composers focused on the greatest story, the revelation of the godhead.  Was the music designed to "blow you away" back in the 18th century?  You bet!  We are always reaching to increase our understanding and comprehension of the world we live in.  The early dudes and dudettes just shot for the Big Story, and if we go by record sales over 200 years, they may have been on to something.        

This is just to get you thinking about the way our brains deal with musical information. We think and feel in stories. A story is the way we store info. Communication is the transmission of stories. Music is communication--the transmission of stories that allow us to feel the same thing. Cyberspace is a 4th dimension by which communication happens, brain to brain. Ok, let me take you there now.  Music is the cyberspace of emotions. You music will not make sense without a story. You can take this even further. Your life will not make sense unless you see it as the unfolding of a story. The story metaphor is inescapable. You can't think outside this metaphor because it is one of the bounding principles under which we encapsulate what we know as "real".      

So what is this cyberspace?  The Tweakmeister has pondered this over a decade.  Perhaps our greatest assistance comes from the works of Marshall McLuhan.  Cyberspace where Media happens.  Media is the substance that is transmitted.  You got it, stories.  Consider cyberspace like a giant PatchBay, and we plug into each others brains, or storage facilities with our storage facilities.  Now it should be easy to get to.  Music is the cyberspace of emotions.  

Now, give me this one.  Consider music as an external object.  It's not inside you.  Its not your creation. It's something you tuned into.  Like in Plato's cave, its already there.  You just discover it. and give it your own name.  Perhaps this is how the old great composers came up with their stuff.  They looked for the godhead and they found incredible music, so powerful, it killed a lot of them to get it written down. 

Now, earlier, I suggested that music may be "more" than a story, though that is the form in which we convey and interpret it. So, what is this "more-ness"? Here we get into the thick of the real questions. A true philosopher is not one who has the answers, by the way, its the one who asks the right questions. So what is the "vibe" in a piece of music. Why does good music make people move their bodies in rhythm to it? When we feel this excitement while listening to music exactly what is going on? True music may be beyond the endless cycle of story creation and be much closer to natural sources of energy than we understand. It may be in music we understand each other exactly. Why? On top of the vibe we build the story to make it accessible. Yes, but what is underneath? If we witness the phenomena of music strictly by its effects on people in the various places it is played, we see one thing. Music stops us, captivates us and takes control. It's everywhere!  Its on TV, in your car, at the restaurant, in the gym, at the grocery store--you can't escape music!  And if you do find yourself in the most quiet of spaces, is that you humming a tune? You know when they sent the Voyage Spacecraft, rigged with microphones and transmitters, on its final run to exit our solar system and go beyond you know what was heard---Yep!  If music were a conscious being, it would control reality as we don't know it.  Ha, us human being are so sensitive about other human beings controlling us we never let down our guard.  But nobody put up a guard when the radio is playing, yet the effect on us is often dramatic.  Now, what if it is a conscious being? You answer that one. I've taken you far enough.       

From brain to brain, the concept travels, beamed everywhere in the form of patterned electrons. Someday we will realize we have been living this cyber-spaced fantasy from the moment we could talk. Technology just makes it easier, closer and more accessible than ever before.

 Yours Truly in Thought,


for more on the subject of our studios and cyberspace go here

copyright 1996  Rich's MIDI and Audio Lab  All rights reserved


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