Sunday, November 4, 2012

Organic Music

          The gentle whirring of a cassette tape, a shadowed voice on an open chord; I am introduced to true artistic genius in a world of haunting beauty and startling imperfection.  The year is 1993 and what else could I be, but all apologies?  Kurt Cobain croons through the speakers of my antiquated stereo.  Ripped jeans the order of the day, worn down t-shirts and rough vocals wrap me in homage to the 20th century’s acoustic Poe.  His voice, with its light jagged edge, is tinged with despair even in these days of Nirvana’s unbridled success. 

It is that experience in 1993 with MTV doing one of their very first “Unplugged” sessions that would start me down a course that I have come to call Organic Music.  There is a quality to Mr. Cobain’s work of that era and of other artists that cannot be replicated in today’s highly synthetic music market.  We have come to accept the over polished, easily digestible, and edited works of mainstream music culture as the standard for song.  This modern, industrialized, and consumer-oriented refining process, when applied to the auditory arts, loses something truly “organic” or natural in the music itself that is of vital importance to context and composition.  AutoTune may give the perfect pitch, but would we have fully felt Kurt’s anguish if he had lip synched his sorrow and slavery to the needle?

The acrid tang of Mary Jane fills the air; an uncomfortable cool permeates equipment and personages alike; including the already preternaturally moist cinder block walls, and concrete floors.  The year is 1967 and the times they are a-changin’!  Bob Dylan belts out socially conscious lyrics in the basement of his upstate New York home.  He’s breaking new ground by avoiding the studio all together; recording music in a place that is not designed for acoustic perfection.  His work will come to inspire and define the tribulations of an entire generation. 

I do not know of a respectable record company in the present time that would ever release anything recorded in a basement without a complete overhaul. I also cannot think of any label that has in recent years put forth artists that could be said to have truly challenged society’s perception of itself as a whole.  Lady GaGa is controversial because she wears a façade of audacity; meat dresses, strange hats and odd heels. We like her because she gives us music we can move too, it has a beat.  Bob Dylan was controversial because what he sang challenged the way we understood our people, nation, and government.  We like him because he plucks at the heart strings of civilization.  Audio layering and digital manipulation make it easier to hear the words of singers clearly but would we have paid any attention to what Dylan had to say if it had been to a beat we could dance to?

Do not mistake me; there is a place for music we can move to.  When the industry begins to focus less on the creativity and more on the marketability though - we have lost, truly lost the art.  We are experiencing a glorious “dumbing down.”  Once where musicians were given carte blanche, they are now shackled to the mob appealing four-on-the-floor.  The unique and creative nature of artists should be allowed to grow absent the pesticides of auto tuning or digital manipulation.  In our efforts to make music better, we have corrupted it, going so far as to manufacture artists like Ashlee Simpson; (in)famous for her performance (or lack thereof) on SNL.  That would not have even been possible before electronic manipulation.  There were no soundtracks to lip-synch too.  Yet in our time, a musician was not able to perform on stage because the proper recordings of her music were not ready.  We should be so ashamed. 

Abandon this mad pursuit of perfection! Embrace the natural, organic, and beautiful flaws that add the art to life!  After all the Tower of Pisa, without a lean, is just another building.

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