I’ve noticed what seems to be a pretty universal trend in the evolution of musicians and bands: their more memorable creations often gradually move from “ugly” to “pretty” as the musicians become more proficient.
Ridiculous? Let me elaborate. By “ugly,” I don’t mean bad, weak, or off-putting – I mean dissonant, off-beat, very clearly not mainstream (if you’re a musician, not Em | C | G | D). And by “pretty,” I don’t necessarily mean good, happy, or superior, and I certainly am not talking about elevator music. A decent example of the contrast I’m talking about can be found by listening to Mogwai and then Explosions, with the former being “ugly” and the latter being “pretty.” Obviously, there are exceptions even in my example, but I’m referring to the overall mood of an album.
If you don’t believe me, go back and listen to the earliest music that you remember from your favorite band. There’s a good chance you’ll spot some weird, persistent little clash resonating throughout the song. And there’s an even better chance that this little idiosyncrasy is what’s been stuck in your head all these years.
I’ll propose a guess as to why that is.
Let me preface it by saying a few things:
- I am no authority on music, don’t know every chord in existence (or even a considerable fraction of them), and by most standards am largely ignorant on music theory.
- My hypothesis doesn’t apply to bands who have been making “ugly” music for years. They do this very purposefully, and could play “pretty” music if they chose to. (Mogwai, for example, are more proficient musicians in my opinion than EITS, yet I still favor the latter.)
- I listen to and enjoy a great deal of “ugly” music.
Okay. If you’re still with me, here’s my take.
When you’re first beginning to blossom as a musician – you’ve gotten past learning basic chords, and can strum along if given the key of a song – it’s much easier to make unique, memorable compositions when you drop a few dissonant notes in the mix. An out-of-context note or two played consistently under a standard chord sequence often produces a provocative, fresh, albeit melancholy result.
It takes more skill, musical intuition, and technical prowess, I believe, to create equally expressive and memorable music without the unsettling dissonance creating by adding that little piece that doesn’t belong.
As of my last attempt to compose a song, this is the rut that I am still stuck in. My reasons (read as “excuses”) are a-plenty, but I’ll spare you for now.
The more time passes, the harder it will be to create “original” melodies and compositions; it’s just simple math. Those sarcastic quotes come from a belief which I chant over and over: there’s nothing new under the sun. Yet we somehow can still differentiate between one song and another, even though they’re following a similar formula, and working with the same notes that have existed since the beginning of time. The reason: as long as different people continue to create music, they will each combine these elements in new ways. A drought of music is nowhere in sight.
That was certainly not my thesis when I began writing this. But it’s an uplifting one, so I’ll go with it.