Monday, February 27, 2006


Music is Universal

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot today about where singing came from. At what point does speaking become singing? We use tone, pitch, inflection, etc. in speaking to communicate emotion and add character to normal conversation, yet singing is a distinctive and separate entity. Perhaps it is some divine gift, or maybe it was just an accident. The origin of singing intrigues me much more than the origin of "music" and any musical instrument, which seems strange. I don't have any answers to any of this, but I do believe that singing is now universal. Drums may be universal too, but I'll have to think more about that. Of course, singing isn't used everywhere, as in tribal drumming and instrumental music popular in America and Eastern Europe, so I think music in general can be said to be universal.

Music has infested every nook and cranny of the entire globe. Whether it's a rock club in Los Angeles, a black metal show at an old church in Norway, an opera house in France, or a fireside ritual in remote regions of South America and Africa, it would be hard to find a person that doesn't have music in their life in some way. Rock music is what amazes me the most. I think it is definitely the most widespead genre. There is so much passion, energy, and rebelliousness that can be a part of rock n' roll, and those characteristics can be found in people all over the world.

I first realized that music surpasses language when I heard a split album between Cursive and the Japanese band Eastern Youth. This is a group of three guys from Tokyo that at some point got their hands on a bunch of Dischord Records albums and fell in love with US punk and hardcore. I think part of music however comes from immersed in the culture of the genre's "scene" and the music being more than just music to a person. I bet there are hundreds or thousands of foreign bands out there with horrible wannabe-American punk bands, but a band like Eastern Youth started putting out amazing music reminiscent of Jawbreaker and Fugazi, but with Japanese lyrics, and it works amazingly, and they sound great. Then of course there's Sigur Ros and Bjork, who come from Iceland, a country not very well known for their music but who has produced artists extremely popular in America, although their vocal stylings are different, and in Sigur Ros' case, the lyrics sound like gibberish.

I think English speaking countries have definitely set the standard for rock music, from The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Radiohead, and Oasis to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nirvana, KISS, and Aerosmith. But that also makes me think of musical styles we have imported from other parts of the world. The metal of Sweden and Norway greatly influences the metal of America, and spawned bands in Florida to put an American twist on it all and form the death metal genre. I think we as Americans do take music and run more with it, with a large arena for music: record stores galore, radio, concert venues, iPods, etc. But I think rock music has made it everwhere. Sure, most of the bands probably sound like bad versions of Soul Asylum or something, but that's just because rock music hasn't become bland there yet, and bands like Animal Collective and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah aren't necessary yet. Of course, some foreigners are just crazy anyways, so experimental music has been made all over the world (i.e. Melt Banana) but has not gained the popularity that genres like freak-folk and trip-hop are gaining here.

Yet we still hold strong to our cultural roots with musical styles that have not greatly crossed borders or oceans. Blues, jazz, mariachi, opera, bagpipes, tribal drumming, throat singing, and on and on still remain cultural genres. But I think they can all make any of us feel something, whether it is peace, disgust, annoyance, or excitement. Why is this? Because music is universal.

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Hey how are you doing? just letting you know that someone from Central America read your blog!

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I would agree. Music is definitely universal. Living in a country where not many people speak English I have found that the only thing in common is music and sports. They are a language that everybody knows or at least appreciates. Great post.
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