Why music is fascinating

A few weeks ago I finished reading David Toop's Ocean of Sound. It's mainly a guide to ambient music that discusses the history of the genre but it's a real eye-opener if you have an appetite for musical experiments. This book became the root of many of my recent thoughts about music as a whole.

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Time to read: 4 minutes.

A quick book review

The full title of the book is Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds. I’ve read this book a few months ago, but haven’t had the time to write about it. It introduced me to a whole new world of music I wouldn’t have checked out otherwise. It not only talks about the history and impact of ambient music, but dub, techno, reggae, jazz (including free jazz) and more, along with interviews with artists like Aphex Twin or Jon Hassell.

It was inspiring to read about how artists specialising in different genres influence each other, and how experimenting and inventing new soundscapes open the doors for new genres and projects which sometimes take the musical world by storm.

Some people would say that since everything has been created once, there’s no such thing as “original” anymore, and that there are pieces that are simply “not music” (when talking about specific highly experimental projects or new waves of genres), but I don’t see it that way. Let me share my thoughts.

Music is not a homogeneous concept

The fascinating thing about music for me is the fact that nothing is set in stone when we’re talking about it. Sure, there are general rules for making it, but they all change from genre to genre, artist to artist. These “rules” can also be completely ignored; it’s art, do what you want. Artists pull inpiration and sound sources from all over, whether they are instruments recorded in a studio or field recordings; are from existing pieces of music or they are a completely original composition with unique patches of notes and design.

To me, music is one of humanity’s many collective projects that spanned many-many centuries and milleniums. Its goal is to create a varied pool of emotions, textures and poetry through recordings (and sometimes music sheets).

Cavemen banging sticks together, antique composers, many countries’ unique folk songs, radio-friendly pop musicians and even your friends’ garage band contributed to this wonderful project. You can draw from this well — or for the book’s title’s sake: ocean — of sound and take whatever you want with you. It can help you find peace, power, motivation, distraction and much, much more. If you draw as an artist, you’ll find inspiration in other people’s works. These bits can help you create magical (or just simply fun) compositions by piecing together elements you found on your journey.

Sampling is not theft

The stuff I talked about in the previous paragraph is not only limited to ideas and concepts in songs. You can also just simply rip out a snippet from an existing piece and use it for your own purpose. This concept is called sampling and it is a commonly used technique by anyone from electronic music makers to hip-hop and pop producers.

If you want to hear what I’m talking about, I recommend listening to The Avalanches’ — Since I Left You album. The Australian duo behind this work used records from all over the 20th century (bits from both the 60’s and the 90’s can appear in some songs for example) and pieced together this dance album. Nothing on this record is “original” in a sense; every sound you hear is from already existing songs, but the album’s way of breathing new life into these old bits give it its own authenticity.

As a musician, don’t create bubbles of music that can’t interact with anything. Embrace the fluidity, don’t gatekeep, and be an inspiration for others; be open to projects that borrow from your work.

I need genres

When I’m on my occasional YouTube binge, I sometimes get lost in some obscure music genre’s guide (like this one). I find it interesting how these genres come to be and love learning about their influences which lead to their creation.

One of my favourite videos that do this kind of explaining is Sound Field’s How Did Pop Music Evolve into HYPERPOP? What Is Hyperpop.

Defining a song’s genre is a hard task sometimes as music is a fluid concept, that more often than not, cannot be described by one, two or three words. According to the book, they are nothing but buzzwords that a label uses to market each album or artist.

According to me, each genre embraces a similar set of music making techniques (electronic or acoustic instruments; is it more vocal or instrumental), moods (happy, sad, melancholic etc.) and purpose (dance, home listening, space-filler etc.). These labels help me describe a piece briefly and give me a good starting point to begin understanding an album or artist’s discography.

If you’re looking for artists similar to the ones you like, I recommend Music Map.

Anything and everything can be music.

Saying this is not music to any song is close-minded and I don’t like it when someone says it. By saying this after hearing the first few minutes of a piece, you lock yourself out of interesting thoughts and experiments you could experience by listening to the works you criticized harshly and invalidly. Don’t judge from the first listen, try to find hidden nuances and view the big picture. Ask yourself: What did this piece borrow from that ocean of sound? or How can this be inspiring to artists yet to come? Once you view a piece from these angles, it becomes much harder for you to just throw it away.

You can say I don’t like this song, but stripping a song/album of its defining characteristic (the fact that it’s music) outright just because it doesn’t follow the listener’s highly specific norms is bad practice in my opinion.

I hope that this post made you check out the aforementioned book or at least made you think about music just a tad bit differently. Listen to artists out of your comfort zone, and try to broaden your tastes if you want.

Give me a comment if you have anything to add. See you soon!

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