Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Melodic musing

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Lately I have been possessed of an urge to create music.

Which is nuts.

I mean, I’ve never had much of a head for music, apart from genuine appreciation. I played trumpet in band for a few years in school, and was better than I had any right to be (which is not to say that I was good). But apart from that, I don’t “see” music in my head the way that musicians apparently do, and the few times I’ve ever had a tune pop into my head that seems at all original, it has vanished within a matter of minutes.

I can’t read music for squat. Oh, sure, put some sheet music in front of me, and I can slowly plink out the notes on a piano, after much thought and strenuous deliberation. It might even sound vaguely like the melody the composer intended. But past that, I can’t read it at all.

Part of the impetus for this is a long-gestating novel I’ve been noodling with off and on for several years. As conceived, the book is experimental in form, and I’m quite unsure that it will ever be finished. The conceit is that it is a book-length set of liner notes to accompany a tribute album for a fictitious band. I know the name and tone of each of the thirteen songs on the album, and have partial lyrics for some. And I’ve wavered back and forth as to whether music should actually be created for the project. So, that’s been at the back of my mind for some time.

Then there was the recent, very ugly breakup I’ve gone through. The breakup itself hasn’t inspired much in me (other than relief), but it has made me go back and re-examine some very old business from my past. One day in February, as I was sitting at my computer working on something else, I opened up AbiWord and, without a lot of conscious thought, pounded out some very suggestive fragments of what I first thought was a poem, but then realized was better thought of as a song. A Social Distortion song, in metaphors and tone. There’s no tune yet, but it sits there, waiting for life to be breathed into it.

Another decision I made recently, also in connection with that very old business, was to write and, hopefully in the next year or so, shoot a short film. And one of the most important aspects of this is that I already have the open source soundtrack picked out and arranged. The music didn’t quite come first, but choosing and arranging it helped me get the film clear in my head. There’s no need for me to compose in this case, but for some reason it makes me want to be able to do so anyway.

Furthermore, it bothers me that I cannot talk about music in any intelligent way, and particularly jazz. As a specific example, I am absolutely unable to explain to anyone else what modal improvisation is. And if I can’t explain it, I can’t feel that I genuinely understand it, certainly not in the way that I like. (My current understanding is limited mostly to recognition — I can say “that’s (probably) modal improvisation, and that isn’t” but nothing more than that.) This lack of language when it comes to music can be embarrassing, such as when Allison Crowe’s manager left a comment the other day, and I felt like emailing to apologize for how poorly I described her work.

So the question is, what remedies am I going to apply to these underdeveloped areas of my mental life?

Well, I’ve downloaded a text on music theory to study, and am hoping that will help in my abstract understanding.

I got a cheap “learn the harmonica” set from Barnes & Noble over a year ago, and I’m starting to go through that. (It’s a nice set, incidentally, including not only a decent little harmonica and a book, but also a CD and a DVD, all purchased for something south of ten dollars.)

I also have a couple of LiveCD Linux distributions that are geared toward audio or multimedia production, dyne:bolic and Musix. Either one runs on my desktop reasonably well. I’m thinking of using them to teach myself the software, and to hear how truly awful my sense of musicality is, maybe by creating an album in a day.

I don’t have oodles of time to devote to this self-improvement, but I’m going to take a whack at it anyhow.

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