Musical Bridges

Previously, I’ve discussed how ‘alternative’ music is more interesting/ innovative/ soulful, than ‘mainstream’/ popular music. Much of the appeal of popular music is often about factors outside the music, for example association with a popular TV programme.

‘Mainstream’ music is  popular perhaps because it is more accessible and less intense. Hence it is easier to sell; attract advertising, less offensive to sensibilities. For these reasons, it sometimes earns the label ‘boring’, however good it often is.

As an avid ‘alternative’ music listener, I used to agonise about why people don’t look for deeper stronger music, why do people listen to this when there are better things out there? It is partly a question of exposure due to: novel acts , emerging artists, reduced funding for promotion. It is argued that fantastic less well known musicians aren’t heard so widely as mediocre well known artists. It is also an issue of access, the music appears less in popular media. It simply frustrates me that the world has a system which doesn’t allow great music to shine.

Music requires people to listen. This statement requires explanation. People can hear a piece of music multiple times without ‘listening’ to it. Sometimes a piece of music and often whole genres of music require the listener to ‘get it’ to understand the ‘vibe’:

I used to like classical music. Some of the incredibly well known popular works I hugely enjoyed. So I would be inspired to listen to more classical music, but didn’t ‘get it’, it just washed over me. Then one day, about four years ago,  I suddenly ‘got it’ and became a lover of classical music, I stopped trying to rationalise the music so much and just ‘listened with my ears’ (A rather glib statement, but I can’t think of one better). For the last few years I’ve been on an incredible journey of discovery of classical music. I feel it’s going to happen with Jazz soon too. I am finding a greater proportion of Jazz music that I get into, though yet to make the big leap.

A big leap? Crossing a bridge to the other side from not getting something to getting it. What is this bridge?

I have a theory. If we take a spectrum of accessible mainstream music to ‘alternative’ complicated music. For example Mozart to Stravinsky. To appreciate the works of Stravinsky, I feel you have to first get classical music, some getting your ear in is required before the genius of his music can be appreciated. On the other hand Mozart’s genius can perhaps be understood a priori.

For the listener to get to the more interesting music then requires a way of going from one end of the spectrum to the other. Hence the concept of ‘Musical Bridges’. Artist whose works have accessible elements and deeper elements. So by listening to music with  increasingly complex elements, one eventually reaches all the way across [the bridge!]. Sometimes there may be an artist the listener loves that is in the middle of this spectrum, through which mere stepping stone, the listener can cross all the way.

I used to love listening to the legendary John Peel’s shows on BBC Radio 1 FM. I subjected my parents to it, who regarded it as noise. I think I get into such things as ‘noisecore’ because I ha crossed all the way over the bridge with more and more styles of contempory music.

This doesn’t happen in isolation. Culture is in continuous flux. Even popular mainstream contemporary music is in flux. For example Lady Gaga, a hugely successful contemporary artist. For the new generation of young folk listening to music she is mainstream, a pioneer of a stylistic trend in popular music. To the older ‘mainstream’ listener she seems a perhaps controversial radical figure. To older ‘alternative’ listeners, such as myself, I am less engaged by her music, I find it ‘boring’. I appreciate what Lady Gaga is doing as it is interesting. I like accessible music too, I just don’t want to hear it all the time.

MOR – Middle of the Road [bridge?] music. is a term that many people dislike. It implies music that is neither innovative and complex, nor accessible and mainstream. There are many fantastic pieces of music that can be broadly labelled MOR. As listeners we actually require MOR to act as teh bridges or stepping stones to access the wonders at the perimeters, the ‘hardcores’ of particular genres.

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