Reflections on the concept of recorded sound…
by Marcus K. Dowling
As of late (understand that to mean the last 72 hours), I’ve taken a great deal of time to study the concept of sound. Not even so much music, but the creation of what we know as the realm of the musical from the realm of the tone, and how the tone or pitch creates an effect, and creates an emotion, and how that emotion from that tone or pitch creates the musical genre, and how we’ve evolved from tone and sound creating genre to going to subcategories where the sound of a voice on a track delineates it’s genre, to the point where we are now where the lines between rap, rock, country, western, house, club and folk have melded to the point where I strongly feel there is now just pop, or underground, and that everything has the potential to become pop, but mostly everything remains underground, as there are so many variations on sound now that the natural selection and progression of music has been completely destroyed, and anarchy has been loosed upon music, creating delirium that has ruled the roost in our most current musical era.
At this very moment, I’m watching a documentary about the creation, development and influence of the Moog synthesizer. So, like the devout music geek I am, I went to my iTunes, and pulled up my playlist of my favorite songs involving heavy Moog usage. “Roundabout” by Yes is playing at this very moment, and that synthesizer really takes that song, and by farther extension rock music to new places and new emotions that have never been felt before. There’s something about an extended high range note held for about five or six seconds on a Moog that just hits me as evoking 1974, wood paneled basement, getting coked up, and opening your mind to new creative dimensions. Not that I advocate any of this, but that emotion is ultimately so historically relevant, and that tone IS that mood, and if sampled anywhere, you’re pretty much tapping into that emotion, into that feeling, into that expression.
Same goes for the Hammond organ. Have a category for that as well, and, Eric Burdon and the Animals “House of the Rising Sun,” due to usage of the instrument, is Halloween spooky and evocative of the sparse mental space one must occupy in order to venture into such a house, or, on an even deeper plane, the subliminal “house,” that deep mental space where you see fear, where you see your most deep and innermost depression, where those most repressed emotions reign supreme, and absolutely are “the ruin of many a poor boy.”
I don’t write about these so much as a reflection but to spur forth a discussion of the necessity for the acceptance of the introduction of new tones and modalities of thought in our most popular music at this site, hip hop. Hip hop, at it’s popular core, is all about affecting popularity from the effect of sounds. I am a believer in the concept that without Rick Rubin, Run-DMC would’ve been great rappers, but with his sonic influence, they went from great to legendary. He’s the visionary who fused Run-DMC’s streetwise and well crafted rhyme style with frat rock chanter anthems like The Monkees “Mary Mary” and of course, Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way.” I look to a man like Rubin as a visionary, and a man who set the precedent for the blueprint of hip hop’s continued mainstream success.
As much as people may hate it, hip hop is not a set value of beats and rhymes. It’s not the boom bap, it’s not a jazz horn solo, it’s not a guitar riff. To limit yourself to that definition is to show merely your appreciation for that sound, that feel, that particular producer’s iteration at a time and space of a sound, of an expression, of a feel, and your desire to never leave that tone, as it really creates the emotion by which you feel most comforted in your particular life. The producer and artist as combination co-opted something from somewhere that took him to the essence of the meaning conveyed by the rhymed word, and it successfully took you where you wanted to go. For many of my formative musical years, I thought that various songs, from MAARS’ “Pump Up the Volume,” with it’s Kraftwerk aping Euro synth appeal, to Chill Rob G’s “The Power” with it’s electro pop yet bass heavy vibe, to Ed OG and the Bulldogs’ “Be a Father” with it’s sweet sweet sax solo that feels like honey on fresh Popeye’s biscuits, to so many others were the apex of hip hop’s appeal. It was an era where the music progressed slowly, and producers and artists were seemingly allowed to really explored where certain sounds and expressions could progress music.
And then there’s now. We’re so impatient with the music. We’re also so stagnant as well. The autotune, which I think is a wonderful instrument, and the progression of Roger Troutman and Stevie Wonder’s talkbox usage to create an uplifiting and fun party vibe, was stalled for so long as people used it just like T-Pain did, to create fun pop radio ditties and odd sounding hooks. T-Pain, I feel, gets such short musical shrift, as he really is a true auteur, a forward thinker, and, if not for his carnival man vibe and Negroes feeling that he’s discarding a certain upright and respectable “blackness” for mainstream (read *white*) acceptance. All that notwithstanding, he is a certain level of inventive genius.
And this leads to Kanye West. I really feel that my new apex of music was reached when taking my first true end to end listen of 808s and Heartbreak since release. He took the auto tune and used it to express true depression. Given my love for synthesized and unusual sounds as of late, it’s as if this one man has taken an entire history of manic depressive and intensely emotional musical tones and recapitulated them to me in 13 tracks. There are intonations that are so real and so expressive here. From Love Lockdown’s hopelessness in it’s heartbeat sounding drums, to plaintive wails through distorted autotune making Kanye’s cries more confused and strained and sonically accessible, it’s quite amazing.
I feel like people don’t LISTEN anymore to music. I feel like we’ve MTVed, Youtubed, and Blogspotted the ultimate goal of recorded sound out of recorded sound. Music is an expression. The capturing of an emotion, or a time, a place and feeling by the completeness and intense connection between the voice of the artist over that three (or more) minutes and the particular grouping of sounds laid beneath their voice. The goal of music is not “making hits” in my mind. It’s the ability to connect, it’s the ability to know how to manipulate people’s expressions and emotions through tonality.
Reaching that depth often, and understanding and appreciating how varied or linear, depending on your particular level of musical genius that ultimately is, should be the goal of musicians. Just being another idiot with an iced out chain or smooth dude with a hook, well, you’re limiting yourself, and you’re ultimately limiting music.
Just providing something to think about.