Monday, November 16, 2009


Why do we demand that our popular music have words? For the same reasons that American pop culture remains so emotionally stunted? That when the individual is made to feel politically and economically powerless, when economic life dominated by the interests of big government and big business, it leads to an emotional regression in the general public? Probably so. (Maybe separating words from music is what allows Jay-Z and Lil Wayne to sound more authentic/honest about their life?)

But no matter. Music is still awesome. It writes the stories we live by. It both defines and reflects our emotions. This is all as it should be. A story ties together emotional progressions. A melody ties together chord progressions. It’s a tight analogy. ‘Melody’ and ‘story’ are very much synonyms.

Take Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It starts in darkness, in a minor chord. Not quite darkness though, just a shady dimness, as we move from the tonic A minor, down to dominant E major (0:04 to 0:05), then back to the tonic again(0:05 to 0:06). This progression of minor tonic, down to major dominant, back up to minor tonic--from darkness, then a distant flicker of light, darkness again-—repeats three more times (0:07-0:23). Then finally—Hope!—light penetrates our darkness, C major followed by G major chords, (0:23-0:25). This beam is quickly drowned out again by the canopy as A minor follows (0:26), but the memory of light echoes for a moment in our minds (the dominant E major) making us search upwards that much harder (0:28-0:30). We end in the darkness of A minor, as we must (0:31-0:37).

The chord progression of music IS an emotional progression at the same time. The melody in music IS a story that ties that progression together. If self-consciousness is primarily a story, music is quite literally the stuff our minds are made of.

“Breathe, breathe in the air,
Don't be afraid to care”
- Pink Floyd