If The World Is Sound, What World Is Your Music Creating?

BY Parvati

A big shout out to IMSTA, the International Music Software Trade Association, that put on a free trade show this Saturday September 6, 2014 at Ryerson University School of Media in Toronto. Full of fun facts, helpful workshops and informative product displays and demos, it was packed with music industry players. Audio engineer and music producer Young Guru, most known for his Grammy Award winning work in 2011 on “Empire State of Mind” with Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, gave his opening keynote speech in a standing-room-only, bustling auditorium.
One of the panel workshops I attended was on electronic dance music (EDM). Early into the discussion, the MC tried to summarize the points made by panelists by saying you don’t need to know anything about music to be a music producer. I almost fell off my chair.
My intently waving hand shot straight up as I exclaimed: “I passionately disagree!” Being in the front row, I took the mike and shared my thoughts:

  • It is easy to identify music that is compositionally unsound
  • We need to be boundlessly creative in all art forms
  • We must respect the laws of nature that apply to all art forms, including music
  • Picasso said that it took his whole life to learn to draw like a child – in other words, his freedom of expression was based on a lifetime of study, practice and technical mastery

As I write this blog posting, I note that even WikiHow suggests learning a musical instrument and musical theory as the very first step in becoming a music producer.
I also enjoyed Ian Shepherd’s remark on Production Advice:

“The term ‘music producer’ means different things to different people. Some are musicians, some are engineers, some are remixers. So what does a music producer actually do?

In very pragmatic terms, the producer is a ‘project manager’ for the recording, mixing and mastering process. She has an overall vision for the music, the sound and the goals of the project, and brings a unique perspective to inspire, assist and sometimes provoke the artists.

The producer should make the record more than the sum of its parts – you could almost say she is trying to create musical alchemy.”

At IMSTA, as one of the panelists responded with openhearted agreement to my share, I sensed that most of the attendees did not know what I was talking about. After all, what does Picasso have to do with EDM?
My memories of being at university were different from sitting in this auditorium in chairs with flip-up desks. I graduated from the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, which prided itself on a three-part approach to art education: design, technology, and cultural history. We learned how to imagine new works creatively, build new pieces soundly, and understand how they fit culturally.
I realized that most in the room had not been so lucky. I had after all attended an elite program that was harder to get into than med school. The MC’s comment, my response to it and the fog that hovered through the room afterwards showed me that we need to talk about creativity, technology and cultural history in the arena of electronic music. Such knowledge not only gives us creative power but also respect for our environment and each other. It opens a dialogue among colleagues. It supports evolution.
I remember my father coming home from working in his graphic design studio saying he could not find skilled help because students were learning to design without knowing typography – how different fonts were made, how they work and why. They could simply download a font and make it look “cool” without understanding design technique. This issue exists in all art forms today, as technology makes it possible for anyone to call himself or herself a graphic designer, a musician or a music producer.
Offers to buy into new technology fill our inboxes daily. Though these tools can free us creatively, it seems that the speed of technological advances encourages us to consume at the expense of well-rounded growth. Technology, when not balanced with natural laws, feeds our human tendency for greed rather than our human potential to evolve.
In an auditorium brimming with Millennials, I thought of this generation that is often ungrounded, out of body, having grown up using technology to communicate rather than through human contact and interaction. In addition to digital music creation and production, Millennials have also seen the rise of autism and ADD, the birth of genetically modified foods, and the alarming increase of the climate crisis. The speed of technology is challenging our essential harmony with nature. Our harmony with nature is essential not for poetic or sentimental reasons, but because our very survival depends on our strong connection with nature.
As I watched the panelists continue their discussion in front of a projected image of Toronto, I fantasized about a cityscape designed by aspiring architects without basic respect for the laws of nature. Boundlessly creative building shapes and sizes would turn to goop without structurally sound inroads, or simply fall if disrespecting our adherence to gravity. In a world of short-lived musical hits as lasting classics fade, are we trusting technology at the expense of sound musical structure, turning sounds into formless, moment-pleasing collages while overlooking our connection to nature?
Ask any astrophysicist or cymatic scientist (one who studies the science of sound) and he or she will tell you that the universe is not dissonant, but conspires to extraordinary harmony. Modern science now tells us what ancient sages knew thousands of years ago: the universe is created and sustained by sound.
The cliché image of the opera singer’s voice shattering glass easily points to how we, as musicians and producers, have the power to literally create and destroy. In the field of sound therapy, modern research illustrates this by proving that some music encourages plant growth, while other music kills plant life. Cymatics also show that certain beats, such as the stopped anapestic beat often used in popular music, interfere with brainwave patterns causing mental stress and can become physically addictive. So I am left asking, since our world is literally sound, what world is our music creating?
Next time you turn to create your beats or tunes, ask yourself that question. May you be inspired by a fresh new place, one that is connected to nature and your beautiful, unaffected self, one that leaves you and your listeners feeling rooted, vital and expansive.
If you want to know more about the world as sound, a must have for any musician and anyone interested in sound is the book “The World Is Sound: Nada Brahma: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness” by Joachim-Ernst Berendt.
Perhaps next week we can explore in more depth what Picasso has to do with EDM. In the meantime, please share this blog with your social network and pass it on. I wrote it for anyone and everyone to enjoy. I also welcome your comments below. I would like to hear from you!