Lyric and Performance
November 4, 2007
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Nate over at what in the hell… manages to capture pretty much every critique I’ve ever written of another theorist, in a post on immanent contradictions within musical forms:
…most of my favorite songs have a pretty despairing content lyrically. It’s part of that sensibility I like of being trapped as opposed to lost. At the same time, the music isn’t actually conveying “give up.” The content of the lyrics tends to convey that, but that same content has no explanation for why the song was written. That is, if the lyrical content told the whole story, the song would never have been written or performed. What I like about this, is that performance of a song like that conveys something that the lyrics don’t. The performance says something more than “give up,” it says “we keep on keeping on.” The “we” is important. The despairing sensibility in the words as written is usually an individual sentiment, whereas the performance involves one or more singers alongside multiple instruments and (in live performance, where music is best) a bunch of interactions with the audience which can make or break the quality of the performance. That conveys less of an idea and more of a feeling that there’s more than dead ends, that circumstances which can provoke despair can be pushed on through.
Nate goes on to suggest that perhaps the performance of such an experience is more important – more powerful – than its explicit lyrical expression could ever be:
For some reason the performance of that feeling is more powerful than the straightforward statement of that idea, I think because in moments of despair the problem is often less one of right ideas than it is of conviction in those ideas. Ideas can be (probably always are) a part of despair and its alternatives, but ideas aren’t always a sound answer, and it’s the non-idea or extra-idea parts of music that I think help to get the bits that need more than or other than just ideas.
Here we might part company a bit – although I’m open to the possibility that Nate might be right about this: I understand my work as an experiment predicated on the hope that we might become much more powerful, if we can also somehow learn to express and understand the potentials we collectively enact.
Incidentally, for those who haven’t yet seen, Nate has committed to writing a post a day this month, with an average target length of 500 words per post, as a blogging variant of National Novel Writing Month. So check in regularly to see what he does with this…