bptm-morocco

Last week I opened up my blog by boasting about a Tinder date that I went on. I truly meant this only to be an attention grabber before I launched into an exploration of the decline of melody in music. Yet it appears that people were much more intrigued by my date than my musical musings. The overwhelming response to my blog post about the disappearance of melody in music was this: “how was the Tinder date though?” Well much like Fauzio, I aim to please, and so I’m going to indulge your thirst for a vicarious experience of NYC Tinder life and tell you about my date.

I had an incredibly pleasant time with a beautiful young Irish woman who was charming, upbeat, humorous, and delightfully outspoken. Our plan was to meet up at The MoMA, view some art, chat over coffee, and then part ways. Yet after the MoMA we had dinner together, and after dinner we went to a bar, and after the bar we went for a walk, and after the walk we met up with a friend of mine and chatted at a cafe, and after the cafe, we took the subway to my house and watched some Game of Thrones. And no, this was not a “Netflix and chill” kind of situation— get your mind out of the gutter people. It was just wonderful evening filled with really good conversation, laughter, and flirtation.

The truth is I’m not actually telling you all of that because I want to grant you your wish of peaking into my romantic life— (as usual) I have a larger point to make. Believe it or not, me going on that Tinder date, has everything to do with me fighting for the presence of melody in music. That’s right fools! I’m not abandoning my discussion of the decline of melody in music. Stay with me now…

What is melody? The technical definition of melody (per dictionary.com) is “The succession of single tones in musical compositions, as distinguished from harmony and rhythm.” But more generally what is melody? It is an active statement; it is the part you can sing; it is the part you remember. If you think of a musical composition as a story, as many composers throughout history have, melody is the dialogue and action that propels the plot. Harmony and Rhythm would be more like the setting and pace of the story. And yet if it is such an important part of the musical story, why then are more and more composers in jazz, film, and popular music abandoning clear melodies?

The simplest answer is that it is easier to not write a melody than to write a melody. While the simplest answer is often the correct one, I believe that there is also something more poisonous at play: on some level most everyone wants to be cool, and at some point melody became uncool. I can express this easier with a musical example. Listen to any or all of both of these pieces of instrumental music: Serenade no. 13 in G Major by Mozart and Lizard Point by Brian Eno. One has a very distinct memorable melody throughout, and the other doesn’t really have a melody. Which do you think is cooler (not better, just cooler)? Because it is much more mysterious and abstract I am going to guess that most people think that the Eno tune is cooler. A melody is a clear statement, and a clear statement is rarely going to be perceived as cooler than something more oblique.

We could think of it like this: a melody is like looking up and saying “I love how the sun beams through the trees in Central Park.” As nice and true as that statement may be, it is simply not as cool as just staring off at the trees, silent and expressionless as you smoke a cigarette. Certainly the latter is cooler, but is it better? No way. First of all, smoking is bad for your health. Secondly, you are not communicating anything to anyone else by staring off into space. You’re just living in your own cool, insular, lonely world. And yet we are all victims under the oppressive tyranny of the cool— nobody wants to be considered uncool, and yet nobody knows exactly what it is to be cool, thus many people simply avoid making statements (verbally or musically) for fear of being uncool.

So what the hell does going on a Tinder date have to do with writing a melody or being cool? Well, on Tinder I’m a perfectly cultivated cool guy. I have pictures of me holding a guitar, laying on a raft with sunglasses on, effortlessly posing with a real live butterfly on my shoulder, and an equally cool “about me” write-up to boot. Given the extra time to think up responses I’m also far more clever and witty in Tinder text message conversation than I am in real life. Thus, I could have contented myself to stay at home and just be a cool idea of a person, but I chose (as did she) to actually go meet up with someone and expose myself as a real, flawed human. In person, you hear my goofy laugh, you witness me fumble with words sometimes, and you sense my subtle nervousness and excitement about being on a date. I’m not as cool in person, but I am much more real— I’m someone you can actually connect to. It doesn’t matter how cool someone is on paper, the only thing that matters in romance is how well you connect with someone face to face, and the only way to do that is to get out of the house, go on a date, and put yourself at risk of being uncool. Thus, the acts of writing a melody and going on a Tinder date are both mini rebellions against the tyranny of the cool.

And even the coolest people can rebel against the tyranny of the cool. My friend Epiphany Morrow (musical artist, rapper, public speaker, philanthropist, and entrepreneur) is by all measures a very cool dude. This week Epiphany released his long awaited Legacy Project. Billed as the world’s first “living album,” The Legacy Project is a smartphone app offering an interactive music and video experience which draws users into a unique world of Piph’s creation. You most certainly should download it (just search “big piph” or “the legacy project” in your app store). Despite the fact that many would undoubtedly consider Epiphany a cool dude, the best part about him is that in The Legacy Project and in so many of his other endeavors he too routinely and unapologetically puts himself at risk of being uncool. For it is not because I think that he is cool that I respect and admire Piph (in fact I know him well enough to know that he is actually a closet-nerd)— no, I respect and admire him because he is incredibly genuine, disciplined, and creates art that has true perspective and substance behind it.

You may not see it, but I do: the acts of going on a date, releasing an app, and writing a melody are all important rebellions against the tyranny of the cool. Certainly nobody wants to be uncool, and yet the only actions or statements that have any meaning or weight behind them are those that do put us at risk of being uncool. And here’s the liberating truth: there is really no such thing as cool. When Miles Davis gave birth to the cool back in 1957— he gave birth to a phantom. Cool is simply a figment of our collective imagination. Love is real, beauty is real, laughter is real, and cool is not real. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we’ll being to really live.

So I was listening to Iron Maiden yesterday, and all of a sudden I had a queer sort of feeling. I was compelled to sacrifice a baby goat to Satan! I briefly tried to fight it, but deep in my soul, I knew I had to do Lucifer’s dark bidding, so I hopped in my car (iPod still blasting those sinister tones), and drove to the nearest farm to find an innocent young life. As it turns out, my travel time just outlasted the modest 39 minute running time of Iron Maiden’s seminal heavy metal album The Number of The Beast, so I pretty well snapped out of my possession by the time I got sight of the most adorable animal in the world.

This story is obviously absurd (I mean who has an iPod anymore), but the debate about the effect of different types of music is one that humans have been having long before Tipper Gore started slapping parental advisory tags on our CDs. The Ancient Greeks believed that music had a profound effect on our Ethos, or that music could influence our emotions, behaviors, and morals. In Plato’s Republic for instance, Socrates said “musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated, graceful.” Plato believed that people should only listen to music that promotes intelligence, self-discipline, and courage.

But the question remains: can music actually effect our emotions, behaviors, and moral make-up? I don’t exactly have an adequate answer to that question. I know that I have at various times been uplifted, or saddened, or put at ease, or baffled, or agitated by music, but I’m not so sure that music has improved my IQ or ever kept me from committing any ritual sacrifices to Beelzebub. The Mozart effect (the hypothesis that listening to Mozart can temporarily improve spatial-temporal reasoning) has been supported by some experiments and contradicted by others— the consensus now seems to be that any improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning is caused by the arousal of listening to the Mozart and not the actual music of Mozart (i.e. many different stimuli could cause this arousal). Instead of arguing one way or another about music’s ability to improve or degrade human capacities, I’d like to ask you to think about that question.

Listen to this piece of music, which was written by an equation in order to utilize every key on the piano and contain no repetition. By objective design, the mathematician who created this piece wanted it to be “the world’s ugliest music.”

Now listen to any or all of Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony.” This piece, like most of Mozart’s works, is a triumph of clear themes, repetition, contrast, and cohesive form. In many ways, this piece makes objective sense.

If I were to ascribe worldview’s to these pieces of music, I would say that the first piece is telling us that the universe is random, ugly, cold, and meaningless. Mozart, on the other hand is telling us that universe is dramatic, meaningful, ordered, and ultimately good. Do these worldviews seep into your soul simply through the act of listening to these pieces? Do they? I’m asking you. If you were asking me, I’d tell you that I think that music undoubtedly does effect us in profound ways. I certainly wouldn’t argue that someone shouldn’t listen to certain types of music, but I would invite everyone to become aware of the effects that different kinds of music have on us.

Personally, I think that it is best to listen to many many different kinds of music! Life is full of all different types of experiences and emotions, and music is here to both represent and encourage that diverse abundance. We can all agree that broccoli is good for you, but that doesn’t mean you should only eat broccoli; and we can all agree that Cheetos taste good, but that doesn’t mean you should only eat Cheetos. Why not approach music like you (hopefully) approach your diet— eat/listen to everything you can stomach. Because yeah, sometimes life is cold and meaningless; sometimes it is beautiful and clear; and sometimes its just damn groovy.