Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews - October 28, 2012
In the past few months I have been reflecting on how music has affected me throughout life, and how my understanding of music has changed in certain ways but is fundamentally the same. When I was younger I had many eccentric thoughts concerning music, and when I started to play in school, I noticed that no one else seemed to be having the same experience. I felt I must be doing something wrong or weird and subconsciously decided to shut these thoughts out. For instance, when people would talk I would notice the contour of the way they phrased their sentences, over what they were actually saying. When I would listen to music with lyrics, I wouldn’t notice the words at all, but more the general sounds that were being created. I grew up in a house surrounded by the woods on a secluded island, the sounds of frogs and birds emanating from the pond. I would often take a walk in the woods, taking in all of the sounds and notice how they would interact. Now I feel that I rarely have this experience anymore as I have settled into a lifestyle with nonstop social interaction and schoolwork.
Then when a friend of mine turned me onto the Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal a few months ago, something clicked. My way of listening was instantly transported back in time and related to his music on some basal, fundamental level in a way I had not experienced in years. His concept of the “The Sound of the Aura,” that any sound is a valid describes my childhood experience of hearing pitches within speech patterns innately and unavoidably. When I traveled to Paris this summer with other UW students, I had another childlike, surreal experience sitting in a field near one of the churches in Auvers (where Van Gogh did much of his painting), listening to young French children playing and chattering in a language I could not understand in the traditional sense. My lack of understanding of the words themselves drew attention to the other aspects of the sounds they were creating, and this “ignorant” approach to listening is one I want to explore more. When we study music and supposedly achieve a greater understanding of what is going on, I would argue that we are equally limiting our approach to what we are creating.
For my curation, I will do a few of my own vocal transcriptions in the same vein as Hermeto’s, and some composition using the childlike improvisatory approach that I became so removed from as more and more information was crammed into my brain. This is the concept I want people to think about when they improvise in the session – that everything is new and valid ideas. One should try to approach the instrument, whatever it may be, as if it has never been played or heard before, by anyone. No analysis – simply spontaneous, curious creation. Rather than attempt to play something that is cohesive with everyone else, understand that your intuition and fundamental understanding of music is all that is needed to create something beautiful. In this way, the instrument is solely a tool for expressing thought of the one using it, rather than the voice of the instrument itself.