It is a common thing for us, the imperfect humans, to take every possible step we can in order to make ourselves and everything else surrounding us perfect. We continue to do so although we are aware of the fact that it is impossible to make things be and stay perfect. Most of the time along the way and during the process we are not aware of what we are actually doing.
I like flowers when they are alive and growing. I like them less when they are cut and arranged, although I admit they can be very beautiful in decorating our homes. What I do not understand is the excessive efforts taken to make flowers look more beautiful than they are. Everything is just fine in ikebana and in arrangements where flowers are the center of attention and admired for what they are. But people have started adding many odd „accessories“ in order to make their flower arrangements more beautiful in the eyes of the beholder. Alas, it has become the trend.
Roses are generally considered as THE most beautiful flower of all. I was shocked when I first received a gilded rose from a fan after singing at an event. It was a single red rose arranged to look prettier. It was literally „gilded“ – sprayed with some glittering stuff so that it was half-red/half-golden. Roses are appreciated for their wonderful and unique scent that is added to many cosmetic products. The rose I received was sprayed with some other, totally artificial scent; probably considered as superior by the person who made the arrangement. The poor single rose was then surrounded by some green foliage, some of it being artificial, and wrapped in shining golden wrapping paper/foil. The final touch was a bright red ribbon tied in a way that imitated flowers. The rose was not a rose any more.
I am often reminded of the poor rose by a situation that has been steadily expanding in the area I love the most – music. My favorites in the magic world of music are folk songs, and this is not only because I love to sing them. I love them for their authenticity when telling a story or when they are about universal emotions. After all, folk songs were generally composed by anonymous people with a sole purpose to tell a story, to express feelings.
Today folk songs are often treated as any other music that is supposed to make money. No money/clicks/likes/plays/downloads/adds-to-baskets/purchases/buys means that a song/singer/songwriter is worthless. The arrangements, choice of instruments, production are all made with the same goal – to sell well.
A long time ago people sang songs and played instruments with no mics, no amplifiers. It was a lot of fun and the energy, emotions and joy were sufficient to keep it all going and be considered as great entertainment. The introduction of a stage that made the performers be on a higher level than the audience, more visible to those listening and watching, brought some other requirements – the need to hear the performers better.
Everything was and is expanding in human society. There are good sides and bad sides to everything, and a lot has been done with the sole intention to improve things for all of us. Improving music for musicians and consumers has gone a long way.
One of the most well-known sayings about the human voice is the one by Richard Strauss : “The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.”
Today we have the situation that people no longer wish to listen to this most beautiful instrument of all when it is performing by itself, as in a capella singing, even when it is a very beautiful voice and the singing is excellent – even when it is well played. It must be accompanied by at least some other human voices, or other instruments, less beautiful.
But that is not all. So many wonderful technical achievements have been introduced that it is a rare occasion when singing, playing and recording is kept simple. The voice is made more beautiful by expanding it, changing it, coloring it, – gilding it. The same is done with instruments and recordings, and production experts/engineers are often the most important people in making records.
Like children playing games, everything available in the market must be included to make music better; otherwise you are not “in”. The most important thing is to invent something “new”, catchy for the ear and eye. The visual side of music today is part of the whole story – gilding it. It is not sufficient to make music – you must have the visual side as well. When performing live it is not enough to have a singer and instrument or singers/instruments on stage, but you must have a show including lights, other people (dancers), costumes, makeup…
It is a paradox that by introducing wonderful new studio possibilities musicians and sound engineers have made it more difficult to make music. By including all sorts of effects in recordings it is getting more and more difficult to perform and have live concerts that replicate the recorded music. It all began in the middle of the 20th century. Groups like The Beatles were very expensive in concert because an enormous quantity of money was needed to provide all the necessary equipment, and a very large crew was needed to run that equipment. Only bands making a lot of money with their records could perform their music live.
If you think about it in another way – it is quite absurd: several decades ago the technical possibilities were at a much lower level than today. And yet, live gigs were broadcast on radio and TV, – no problem. Today there is less and less live music and the reason for this is that everything must be perfect before it is released for the viewers, listeners. It is turning into the opposite, the very reason why everything is becoming less perfect. If a musician is constantly thinking only about how he should be performing, is he looking well; he tends to forget the most important thing – to feel the music.
However, we (musicians) should not be discouraged by not having money that provides all the necessary elements to become successful today. There is another way of looking at things – it has never been simpler to make music and have people listen to you. You can do everything yourself and broadcast yourself through the Internet. If you love what you are doing (making music), it is often sufficient to get people to listen to you, especially if you have not “lost that loving feeling”.
I don’t have anything against any kind of music or any of the things I have described above. It is great to invent new ways, new sounds, and new music.The only thing that should not be done is to exclude various approaches and various ways of making music from the overall variety and fun of it all. Also, it would be great if we could take a step backwards when we realize we are competing with perfect machines. A very interesting thing is going on nowadays in the music publishing industry. Vinyl records are back? One of the reasons for this is because they have “more soul”?
As part of the project I am working on now entitled “From Over There to Over Here” – I am recording songs from various periods of my life that I have not recorded yet. I am recording them in the simplest way: one mic for both the voice and guitar. The arrangements for the guitar are with the fewest number of chords, performed at site when recording – they are just the background for the voice. One of the goals is to encourage others to do the same – sing and play simple. A friend musician asked me recently whether I thought it was the right thing to do – play many instruments but not well enough. My question was: Well enough in comparison to what? Is well enough the number of notes played in a time period, or, perhaps, the difficulty of an arrangement? What is well enough?
Music should not be looked down upon when it is kept simple in performance and/or recordings. You don’t have to gild music. After all, one voice or just one instrument can sometimes touch you more deeply than a million (perfect) sounds. And the best thing of all is when you make music yourself. Anyone can do it, there are so many possibilities. Give it a try, it will make your life a better place to live in.
Songs recorded for the project “From Over There to Over Here” (U.S.A., England, Indonesia, Russia) can be listened to/downloaded at: