Words By Cosan Gulacar
When we think ‘art’, we think creativity and expression, and typically in a visual form. I once heard, however, that “art (in the visual sense) is the decoration of space and that music is the decoration of time”. That statement may stand out as the ‘hippie’, proverbial utterings of a peace-loving festival goer, yet I still find myself identifying with it, not least probably because I have a t-shirt that reads “Music is the solution to every problem”. But no, seriously, once we get past the initial stereotypical connotation, and the clouds of smoke have dissipated, there is a powerful and nuanced message behind it. Admittedly, it’s not the most accurate encapsulation, but it emphasises, to me, the continuous and repeated nature of music – the telling of a story. You need a beginning, middle and end in order to make sense and derive pleasure from, effectively, an array of sound waves whereby the most congruent ones transfix you the most, having communicated something to you.
This leads me to believe that music is none other than a language, with its own grammar, vocabulary and accents and dialects, just with heightened ambiguity in its interpretation. In fact, we exercise the same parts of our brain when processing verbal language and music. We have to memorise arbitrary information (words and melodies), and we need to recall certain fundamentals such as syntax and harmony on the fly in order to express coherently whatever message our ‘soul’ is intending to portray. Once you are at a certain musical proficiency, i.e., you have sufficient and plentiful vocabulary that can more or less communicate that message (as well as the means to do so), your relationship with the ‘soul’, sometimes dubbed as ‘mojo’, among many other words used by musicians, becomes a vital element in producing authentic and dare I say it, ‘good’ music. To give an example, and to clear up what I mean by all these ambiguous words, even though describing art is inherently problematic, we all have the ability to look up eloquent words in the dictionary and understand the use and meaning of them and can do that indefinitely. However, where we run into problems is in the implementation of these words – the speaking of said beautiful language that is imbued with original and purposeful intent that comes from the ‘soul’. You could call this your voice. Not the sounds that we make, but the character of our words, personality, if you will.
The relationship between music and language goes further. Think. When we learn English, Spanish, Urdu, Hindu, or whatever it is, as infants, we don’t begin with instructional lessons. We are just spoken to regardless of the state of oblivion we are in, and, crucially, any kind of response is welcomed and in a lot of cases, hailed, no matter how accurate it is. So, in a sense, we are ‘jamming’ with experts and we never get categorised as either beginner, amateur or professional – simply human. We are eternally encouraged to have our own voice; whatever we intend to say, we say it. So, returning to the importance of one’s relationship (‘mojo’) with the character of their voice (‘soul’), musically speaking, we cannot say the same thing for the development of a student of violin, for example. That student is conversely presented with instructional lessons, they are categorised as beginner and they can only play with other beginners. That student is stripped of the tools that help them find the character of their musical voice. Now, it is not to say that the traditional method with which we learn an instrument is completely obsolete, clearly, we can learn in many different ways, with varying degrees of success. This, however, coincides with the problem I stated earlier: you need total authenticity and originality in order to produce the best possible music that you can. Whether you are aware of it or not, but if you are producing an array of sound waves with your instrument of choice without heeding the actual source of the idea behind it, chances are you are echoing a previously communicated message via muscle memory. It certainly has the potential to sound good, but those that can really listen will detect the disconnect that the player has to the source of that idea, the character and ‘soul’ will be absent, ‘feel’ as some musicians might call it. You might be imagining a shred master on his 13-stringed guitar traversing the fretboard up and down faster than the eye can see, but I actually urge you to consider the reality for the everyday musician of lacking, for whatever reason, original ideas coming from the soul where they might instinctively revert to their muscle memory. Very often lethargy will set in because the uninspiring nature of the music produced does not please them, a lack of ‘feel’ can be detected.
I’m sure that there is no scientific explanation for this, but it is worthwhile to bear in mind that being healthy, both physically and mentally, is favourable for having these ideas flowing, to enjoy one’s own music and to be as present as possible in the creation process. Being open and opportunistic can also provide the missing ingredient as it can open more doors and spawn the necessary inspiration. Perhaps if we can collectively shift our perception of music as being a language, we can foster a community in the generations to come where we play music like we speak – each note, beat or sound having more intent than the last. It will be second nature to pick up an instrument for the first time AND simultaneously recognise the importance of developing your own voice, because we will view/hear it as a sincere form of communication. The stakes may indeed be higher, but the flourishing contributions made to ‘good music’ will eclipse any kind of added pressure.