Thursday, August 03, 2006

AI 03: Aural Stimuli & Influences

Do people 'mellow' as they mature, or are they actually returning to their 'roots' –turning their ears towards music whose melodic content is reminiscent of what they became acquainted with in early childhood –and regardless of whether or not they enjoyed it in their youth? Contrast the way you felt about your parent's music collection when you were young, for one instance, and the way you feel about it now:

Do you think you enjoy Sinatra or Chopin because you've acquired a level of sophistication that only comes with age? Or does this music appeal to you now because you were exposed to it long ago it at an impressionable age, while your parents played it for themselves?

Just what is the underlying impulse that makes you musically you? What’s at the sonic core of your soul? Maybe it’s Sesame Street? Maybe not –or maybe so! Personally, I think it’s whatever you were listening to before you reached your twelfth year.

Actually, I don't want to limit early 'sensory gathering' to mere listening alone. When I was a child I noticed sunlight flicker through trees, and I thought how one day I wanted to write music that sounded the way the light in that moment danced across the branches. So, I experienced a persuasive aural response to visual stimuli which I found not only entertaining, but it thereafter left a residual effect on the way I listen for music when I create it and generate it myself. What the eyes witnessed, the ears wanted to replicate. It was more than an influence, it produced a creative framework.

I once read a magazine article with some young rocker impressing upon the interviewer that his 'major' influences (dude) included Metallica and Nirvana. But I couldn’t help but think to myself: ‘Well, maybe you were influenced by Nirvana –but you got your mojo from Sesame Street.

And 'Metallica is to your soul what edging is to a Mother Goose granite counter top.'

One only has to consider how Carl Stalling's repertoire of Warner Brothers Cartoon Scores has shaped the inner ear of the latest generation of classical composers to realize that this must be at least somewhat true.

To read the complete Aural Intelligence Article, follow the links:

AI 01: Aural Intelligence
AI 02: AI Quotient
AI 03: Aural Stimuli & Influences

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

AI Quotient

When someone asks you to list your musical influences, they usually expect you to identify 'primary sources', that is artists and compositions that you consciously enjoy. After all who is really interested in what nursery rhymes you heard as a child? But, in fact, there's every reason to believe that one's underlying influences are those very same nursery rhymes, and not one's current list of favorite recording artists, for instance.

Of course, Americans who were born in the United States since at least 1980 have grown up listening to pop music from the day they were born. My friend, Andrew Hager, a composer who graduated from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program, noted that for Baby Boomers, the bands of the sixties represented rebellious music, whereas today’s kids are lulled to sleep in their cribs while their mothers play Beatles tunes.

You might even argue that kids growing up today will understand rock’n’roll in an innate way their parents never did, because they grew up with the genre –within the genre– rather than discovered it as the innovators of the medium rolled it out to teenagers.

My own exposure to pop music came a little later than most Americans because not only did we live overseas until I was thirteen, but also at the time the places we lived were considered remote. We were lucky to have any kind of television programming, which when we did was never in English, and this was certainly before the birth of the Internet.

What accounts then for the diminishing interest in the music of early childhood, and the increasing enjoyment for other forms of music, sound, conversation, etc? Human beings by their very nature require variety. And Maturity begets a taste for more sophisticated forms of music than the simple melodies of nursery rhymes. Thus as we evolve, we become more sophisticated creatures, whether we intended to or not –and some would say jaded, as well.

Once exposed to variety, it follows that we will require more and more complex forms of communication/ stimulation to keep our minds engaged.

But I think the substratum upon which all this mental processing is built, the architecture of sound, your personal Aural Intelligence Quotient, if you will – is formed as a child and forever remains the filter through which all subsequent sonic experiences are interpreted.

How could it not be the case?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

AI 01: Aural Intelligence

Scientists studying bird song believe that the process by which birds learn to sing may be relevant to understanding how people process speech.

I believe the reverse is also true in humans. That is, how and what we learn to speak has a direct casual effect on our relationship to music.

When I consider how music may have shaped my own ability to process sound, –whether as a human being, generally speaking, and as a unique individual– the first thing I consider is the music and sounds that I was exposed to in early childhood.

Before I continue let me offer a definition of the term: 'Ability to process sound'. I think of it as the summation of the following several actions:

A) Hearing
B) Listening (Focusing on specific incoming information)
C) Processing/Understanding
D) Executing an appropriate physical and often vocalized response

Early childhood naturally represents a critical period of human cognitive development. Researchers believe that by the time a child is five years old, they will have accumulated a 2,500 to 5,000 word sized vocabulary.

It has occurred to me that not only does this finding exemplify a fact of human language development, but it also indicates a more general and innate ability in all people to comprehend and communicate improvised, sophisticated patterns of sound (conversation), and from a very young age onward. As a skill, this does not strike me as too much unlike what I would describe as basic musicianship.

It follows then, congenital deafness notwithstanding, that as dependent on the ear as learning language is, language may in fact turn out to be a critical component in the development of musicianship.

I’m therefore also inclined to believe that the music I heard and learned as a child had a primary effect on my musical ear, whereas the music that captured my ear as a teenager –rock, for instance– had a secondary or even ternary, and primarily stylistic effect. –Not a negligible effect or influence, but neither a dominating one.

First there is the essential self, and all its birthright gifts, which some believe –I do– contains some fundamental musical information (See Ur-Song ). Then there is Knowledge: What we learn from the environment, and it follows what we hear in it. And then there is Stylistic Choice: How we chose to distribute to others the knowledge we've acquired. However, whether or not a role model presents itself, our brains will figure out their own way to distribute that knowledge, endowing you with a sort of innate style all your own.

And that's why classical musicians playing jazz and European musicians playing Asian melodies sounds wonky to even the least discerning ear. I suspect it may also be why an adult who learns a foreign language can rarely –if ever– completely hide their original accent.

You are what you are: An American in Paris, maybe? Everyone can tell, baby.

The clothes don't make the soul. Nor a new coat of paint change where the kitchen is. You can learn to dance but who taught you to walk like that? –now I'm on a riff, but anyone have a better metaphor?

If it still sounds convoluted, allow me to define yet another term.

I define ‘Influence’ as:

A compelling, but nevertheless indirect persuasion upon one’s behavioral patterns. A shot of vodka and a beautiful woman might influence my behavior, but neither precipitates my core personality.

Although, my father may reasonably disagree with that assessment.

To read the complete Aural Intelligence Article, follow the links:

AI 01: Aural Intelligence
AI 02: AI Quotient
AI 03: Aural Stimuli & Influences

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