Another post from James Wallace
Hi everyone. In responding to my last post, radio gnome from the station Radio Hidebound made a comparison between passive and active music listeners.
Passive listeners have music in the background and hum along with the melody, while active listeners try to soak in all different aspects of the music such as the lyrics, the tone of the instruments and the different rhythms and melodies. As a teenager, whenever I discovered a new artists or a song I was really crazy about, I would play that music for people I knew anticipating that they would be able to find the same aspects of the music that I dug so much or even better: perhaps they would hear something that I didn’t and would be able to give me a whole new perspective on the music. Usually I would get a cool response like “oh, it’s ok” or “not bad” or “I don’t know.” I can only think of a couple of people who were able to give me instant feedback and would be able to describe what they heard and reference other music in the process. I realized that a lot of people need time to come to accept new music, particularly music that is challenging and does not use a conventional approach to melody.
This brings me to the pop hook. Popular music of all genres needs to have the pop hook to function. The chorus of the new country song or the beat of the latest hip-hop track all need to have a certain melodic structure in order to get the listener humming along. Modern pop music particularly focuses on a repetitive chorus that is catchy and easy to sing along too. You will rarely hear music that ever breaks this rule on contemporary radio and it is this “hook” that is a necessity for the passive music listener. My friend’s father from
As I listen to Sun Ra’s Spectrum on Sky FM’s Modern Jazz station while I write this blog entry, I think of the vast universe of music that gets left out of the equation when the need for the conventional pop hook usurps all other aspects of music. Many peopled have argued with me that it is this approach to melody and song structures that people are drawn to at an instinctual level. However, I don’t know whether or not this is true. I lived in
What I came to realize was that Korean traditional music requires more active participation from the listener for it to be truly appreciated. And I find that this true of most music that doesn’t follow the conventional pop structure. The listener doesn’t mindlessly hum along to the chorus but rather has to be engaged in the experience. Just as a Thomas Pynchon novel requires more of the reader than one written by Stephen King. Just as a Werner Herzog film requires more of the viewer than one made by James Cameron. However, if the listener, reader or viewer is willing to do the work, then the rewards I think are huge. I would love to see listeners of commercial radio be able to take the time to really appreciate beauty of Indonesian Gamelan music or the compositions of Bela Bartok. But then again maybe I’m dreaming.
In case you didn’t think I liked any pop music, here are some of my favorite pop albums:
- Brian Eno-Here Comes The Warm Jets
- The Jesus and The Mary Chain-Psychocandy
- The Pixies-Doolittle
- Change Of Heart-Smile
- The Rheostatics-Introducing Happiness