Science of Music vs. Martin Amis

During a moment spent not freaking out about Facebook removing my civil e-liberties, or analyzing the weird dreams I had last night about ordering an Americano coffee in NYC, I read a compelling book review in the Economist. The last paragraph struck me:

“[The] basic message is encouraging and uplifting: people know much more about music than they think. They start picking up the rules from the day they are born, perhaps even before, by hearing it all around them. Very young children can tell if a tune or harmony is not quite right. One of the joys of listening to music is a general familiarity with the way it is put together: to know roughly what to expect, then to see in what particular ways your expectations will be met or exceeded. Most adults can differentiate between kinds of music even if they have had no training.

Music is completely sui generis. It should not tell a non-musical story; the listener will decode it for himself. Many, perhaps most, people have experienced a sudden rush of emotion on hearing a particular piece of music; a thrill or chill, a sense of excitement or exhilaration, a feeling of being swept away by it. They may even be moved to tears, without being able to tell why. Musical analysts have tried hard to find out how this happens, but with little success. Perhaps some mysteries are best preserved.”

The book is The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It by Philip Ball. And while I probably will never read it, this abstract does offer some interesting thoughts, like: Why does music even exist? Why does it make us feel? Maybe if I read the book some of these questions would be answered. But I so rarely read analog media (Economist excluded).

AND their review of the new Martin Amis book was pretty intriguing…for a Martin Amis fan. His best since Money? Come on.

Bring Back the Victory Garden

Why did this stop? North Americans in the 1950’s got so obsessed with consumerism and plenty vs. constant rations and shortages, that they forgot about the earth…which I guess after a world war is forgivable. But taking is always easier than giving. So while reading the Economist I was reminded about the Victory Garden: a WWII effort where Americans were encouraged to turn their backyards into vegetable gardens and grow their own food. Could you imagine? What would Michael Pollan say?

I was listening to the CBC news and they said a report issued by the city of Montreal on climate change and reducing our individual carbon footprints recommended Montrealers wash their laundry in cold water and eat less meat. Though, of course, I can’t find a link to back it up, because asking an entire population to eat less meat, while inspiring and groundbreaking, is also kind of unbelievable.

My friend Jason sent me this interview with Louis CK – a comedian – on Conan last year: “Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy.” And I kind of agree…we should be more grateful for our lives, live less with a feeling of entitlement and more with a sense of giving, sharing and community. We should rely on ourselves first, rather than on Wikipedia to answer all our questions (of which I am so guilty). Imagine if we reconsidered our real estate: not just a house full of things and stuff and the right paint colours, but as land. Could you imagine?

Less PS3 and more gardening…except in winter when we can’t get to the soil for six months. Although the “Victory Garden” does sound like a level in Bioshock….maybe that’s what I like about it…

Weekend Blogging

On weekends I like to spend my computer time on non-Dears stuff…you know, bigger picture things like catching up on back issues of The Economist, on Facebook and MySpace messages, and on my favourite sites: Wired.com, The Onion A.V. Club, Go Fug Yourself, The FAIL Blog, Spacing Montreal, Midnight Poutine and PABLOg. Lots of interesting stuff, informative bits, some cheap laughs (like Hamster on a Piano Eating Popcorn), and the usual drivel. As a part-time blogger, I was especially struck by a piece in the Economist about the retirement of one of the “founding fathers” of blogging, Jason Calacanis (from the story Oh, grow up). His quote on the saturation of the blogosphere crosses genres of communication, but really nails the general attitude on the online community (I’m thinking especially in music circles): “Today the blogosphere is so charged, so polarised, and so filled with haters hating that it’s simply not worth it.” Dead on, Mr. Calacanis. The article also discusses how the entry of blogging into the mainstream signals it’s death (so too, with “indie rock?”); usually meaning that blogging will morph into another form…anyway, I suggest reading the article and casting your own fatalistic conclusions into the cosmos.

Earlier I mentioned “non-Dears” stuff, but that’s kind of impossibility because nearly everything I do, other than domestic shit, is somehow Dears related. That’s just how I roll. Like later I’m gonna update our tour date archive. There are some wrong dates there. The Broph emailed me a link to all the past news stories written on ChartAttack.com so I’m gonna link live reviews to their shows. Also my mom revealed that she had a bunch of stuff that wasn’t online that she’s gonna get my uncle to scan and then I have to give her a tutorial on how to upload a file. You know, things we do so automatically are a big deal to baby boomers sometimes. I’m suitably impressed at how my mom has figured out this whole internet thing. Love ya mom!!!

Anthropology or “What you Readin’ For?”

In this week’s Economist I read a piece on the discovery of a cluster of 9th century, super organised (and now defunct) cities embedded deep in a part of the Amazon rainforest that was previously thought of as uninhabited by humans (read Amazon Garden City). I was especially intrigued by the fact that these “cities” had plazas: open places for gatherings, political or as a marketplace, a cemetery, a place for commmunity. Like the greek agora and other european models.

So the idea of assembly, the hard-wired human need to congregate and exchange ideas and wares, is so basic that the way these instinctive characteristics materialise themselves in modern times is indeed revealing.

I am constantly trying to understand human nature, to explain our existence in a meaningful, spiritual way (yet non-religious): to prove that there are greater forces at play, instinctual tendencies that inform us.

I immediately coupled this commuanal tendencay with another study: one that found our personalities can be described by the kind of music we listen to. Findings are as follows:

PEOPLE INTO MUSIC

Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease.
Jazz: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease.
Classical: High self-esteem, creative, introvert and at ease.
Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing.
Opera: High self-esteem, creative, gentle.
Country & Western: Hardworking, outgoing.
Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at
ease.
Dance: Creative, outgoing, not gentle.
Indie: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle.
Bollywood: Creative, outgoing.
Rock/Heavy Metal: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, not outgoing,
gentle, at ease.
Chart pop: High self-esteem, not creative, hardworking, outgoing, gentle,
not at ease.
Soul: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease.

I mean its kind of silly to suppose for a moment that music and personality are not connected: music and art are such a bottom-line part of culture, and the bits of culture we choose to like or identify with define who we are. So in some ways I find the “study” a little on the redundant side, but with a certain beat-you-over-the-head validity.

Can we take these two ingrained traits together, and further? If gathering together is a primal instinct, then how do the musical tastes defined as “introverted” differ from those that are “outgoing”? Culturally, identifying with music and congregating at a concert to share in an experience attests to this idea: that even a genre that boasts fans with low self-esteem, introversion and laziness still compells its audience towards community?

It explains a lot – physically and digitally – of the hipster indie rock culture: of the Stilleposts, Pitchforks, Brooklyn Vegans, SXSWs and CMJs, Pop Montreals and Pop Explosions, and the kinds of euphoric/frustrating experiences they beget.

Even xenophobic misanthropes can’t deny their need to be among other people, belonging to some kind of self-affirming culture.

Stupid and Smart

Here are the two magazines we currently have subscriptions to:

STUPID: Vice magazine. Duh. Since I wrote for them for free years ago, they started sending me this free subscription, which never stopped. I don’t mind really, because I just read it while gawking and gasping and thinking: “This isn’t funny anymore.” I think of it as cultural research into a culture that is so overwrought it has lost its identity. Pretty mindless, but I mostly look at the pictures (probably the best part that has evolved out of the magazine).

SMART: The Economist. Super smart. They use big words and make money chuckle-worthy. I also like to look at the pictures because the captions below them are the best. I actually read articles in the Economist, though, which give me cockamamie investment ideas. My famous story is the idea to buy stock in Apple right before they launched iTunes, which was inspired by 1) being in the music industry; 2) believing in Apple and their computers; and 3) reading The Economist. Well, needless to say I didn’t have any money back then to buy anything other than beer, so that never happened. But my banker uncle keeps bugging me about what a great call that was.