I wrote something a while back about voices in music, and it feels a lot of the time like voices are taking over my life, mainly my own voice. The voice in my head is loud and constant and mostly anxious.
Today I listened to The Wanting by Glenn Jones. A friend recently described to me his “secret fetish for oldy timey guitar playing that isn’t fucked up with singing.” This is exactly how Glenn Jones feels to me today, music that is completely unfettered and un-fucked-up. Its floating, winding, drifting with each string, each fret held or not held; it feels timeless. The style he’s playing is called “American Primitive” meaning self-taught but that also gives it a sense of otherworldly, un-connectedness. A music not troubled by modernity, or technology. A romanticizing of a mythic (i.e. fictional) past but one that creates a beautiful artistic space that is happening now.
Glenn Jones moves leisurely through chords. Each string sounds perfect together as a whole. As I sit and listen I find it hard to imagine that these sounds are coming from a guitar. Guitars which are so familiar to me that I can’t even see them when I look at them and can’t really think when I play them I just play. But this music makes the whole idea strange to me.
My friend Bert wrote this the other day about music and expression.
“I guess maybe I’m saying that making art to express yourself is great and maybe one of the best and most fulfilling things in the world but I should definitely not use it to hide behind and never talk about anything because I’ll just be lonely forever.” http://twishort.com/UC7fc
Its a useful thing to remember, that music isn’t a stand in for talking or for human contact. I think I often use writing as a tool to connect to people. I write a song or some words and I e-mail it to someone and I feel upset and dissatisfied when it makes me feel further away from that person, although it can sometimes make them feel closer to me. This is a frustration I find difficult to think about.
The need to express yourself gets greater as time goes on and life gets more complicated. The songs I wrote before no longer express feelings I am familiar with. But this makes me wonder about instrumental music. Does a tune lose its emotional reference point or is it just the lyrics that make your songs dated? My songs are so stubbornly tethered to their words and melodies I can’t imagine writing an instrumental.
But listening to instrumental music today is a release. Anxious thoughts are repetitive, circuitous. It has been explained to me as patterns that get forged throughout your brain, unhealthy and restrictive. The songs on The Wandering use repetition just enough for familiarity, but not so much that it becomes boring. The last track is the most repetitive, a great building, circling 17 minute long crescendo with beautiful clunking drums. But by this time the cascade of little notes springing up and in and out of sound have calmed me enough and I can listen to the repetitions and find each time something new. These songs encourage a loosening of my thoughts into areas I haven’t been.
What I like about it is its not drowning anything out. Its not blocking one voice with another, which is what I often try to do. These songs quieten my voice, encourage it to move a little differently, speak a little slower.
There is a similarity between this music and swimming. Where every bit of you is in contact with this slowly moving thing that is one thing (water, music) made up of many, many things (drops, notes) that move around and past you to create the whole and you move around in it and its so much like water this guitar. A voiceless guitar, the man behind it is erased and I can’t even imagine his fingers and all there is is drops drifting.