music is life, music is breath, music is us

Archive for October, 2012

Aside

My thoughts go out to all my friends on the east coast affected by this storm. Take good care and be safe.

-Derek


Is Music Literally a Universal Language?

It has often been said of music that it is a universal language, i.e. that it can be understood by cultures around the world no matter what the society may be. When we say “universal language,” do we actually understand what we are inferring? As an ethnomusicologist I notice the functions of music in various regions around the world, and from this research I am able to see how different cultures utilize music to their benefit. In many senses, relative thought may be the only way to truly approach the study of music, as what may seem inappropriate or out of place melodically for us may be entirely normal in a specific culture. The fact that continuously presents itself is that, in the simplest terms, music is viewed differently from culture to culture.  This is why I caution people about how far they take the label of a universal language. When we say music is a universal language, I really think we must make the distinction that we infer this in a poetic sense. In a literal sense music is not a universal language as there are various factors such as dialect, philosophy, and need for music (i.e. in some cultures music is an occasional occurrence reserved for special occasions), that may in fact confuse the outsider.

As I mentioned before, I am not against classifying music as a universal language in a poetic sense, I merely caution how far we ought to take that classification. The early years of music scholarship were wrought with bad research on other cultures due to a highly Euro-centric perspective. What resulted were poor representations of the cultures’ beliefs about music, and inevitable stereotypes running rampant throughout the academic community. With the advancements in ethnomusicology, such incorrect classification has been significantly reduced, and now cultures are viewed more and more as they ought to be.

Do I believe in light of what I’ve written, however, that music is a connecting line for humanity?  The answer is unequivocally yes. Every culture on this earth possesses some form of music, and in seeking to understand said music we can draw our boundaries closer together. As long as we seek to comprehend the music in its proper context within a respective society, music can often be the most powerful tool of intercultural relations. Even nations at war with each other possess music that can collectively benefit both sides, a strong testament to the potential of music.

This is the ultimate point I wished to make with this post.  Music can connect all of humanity, labeled in a poetic sense as a universal language, as long as we make sure that no prior assumptions are made about other culture’s music. The benefit of seeing music of other cultures in their proper context is complex, but in the most simplified terms it will constantly open up your worldview. You may see things about your life or others lives that you never would have experienced without deep understanding of another’s music. This may sound crazy to some of you, so all I ask is that you try it for yourself. You don’t have to write research papers like I do, but simply pick a culture you know nothing about and research their music. Really pour your heart and soul into understanding as much as possible about the music’s function and melodic structure. You never know what may happen next.


Sergei Rachmaninoff “Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano Op 19 No.3 Andante”

Some composers really give you the impression that they were born with a gift. Sergei Rachmaninoff is certainly one of those individuals. This version features Yo-yo Ma and Emanuel Ax.


Brand New- “The Quiet Things That No-one Ever Knows”

Brand New is a band that has been with me for a long time, since age 13 (nine years). They are easily one of my all time favorite bands and have influenced my music for sure. I remember when this song came out, and whenever it would play on the radio I would stop whatever I was doing just to listen to it. The great thing is that this work is open to interpretation lyrically, perhaps it will have the same effect for you that it did for me.


Muse-“Madness”

Muse is a band that makes me think rock will be OK as the years go on.


Aside

Album Review: “Uno” by Metalachi

Album Review: “Uno” by Metalachi

Recently I received a CD in the mail from a friend for my birthday by a group called Metalachi. I was initially very perplexed regarding the concept of the group, as it is metal songs done in a strict Mariachi arrangement. As a metal fan, I wondered how the group would interpret such classics as Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and Ronnie James Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark.” The ethnomusicologist in me also wondered how the spirit of mariachi, of which I have studied extensively, could remain intact using songs that are entirely in English and have non-Mexican cultural origins. I remained intrigued though as a blogger, for I have advocated for musical fusion in numerous posts here at MixolydianBlog.

The band has been featured in American media outlets such as NPR, so they aren’t an unknown group by any means. Just looking at the album Uno’s photography one can tell that the guys in this band are serious about portraying a specific persona that blends the theatrical aspects of metal with the time-honored traditions of mariachi. Uno is an 8-track journey through some of the greatest metal anthems ever written (with the exception of a song by grunge band Alice in Chains), from Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills (in which the vocalist of Metalachi, Vega De La Rockha impressively handles Bruce Dickinson’s high notes), to Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine (which Metalachi gives a far better treatment than Sheryl Crow ever did…don’t get me started on her version).  Each song retains the melodic structure and attitude of the original, while simultaneously infusing an entirely different musical perspective. The songs bleed the cultural identity of the band while still maintaining the biting aggression of the songs metal fans have come to adore.

The band has mastered their instruments, whether they are string, brass, or voice, and it shows. By the time the album has finished, you really grasp that Metalachi has poured their heart and soul into crafting their unique sound. They claim to be the only metal/mariachi fusion band, and I believe it. It is a very bold thing to take two styles that are beloved by millions and attempt to blend them. Music history has produced countless examples of such attempts failing commercially and critically. The band Metalachi and their body of work could draw battle lines among both metal and mariachi fans, but I say to both to give them a chance.

I grew up my entire life listening to metal, loving every guitar solo and lyric with my heart and soul, so I ask for you the reader to give Metalachi a chance. I recommend it, if nothing else, to challenge your perception of what music is and how it can function in society. Rock on.

(Metalachi can be found at www.metalachi.com )


Archers of Loaf-“Fashion Bleeds”

Archers of Loaf are an American indie band from North Carolina that have been around for quite a while. Only those who really pay attention to the independent alt rock scene know about them, so I feel it is important to get their name out there.