Music Is a Miracle

I've gotten around to reading the comments on my article regarding the video games Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and I also took a cue from my colleague Mr. McKagan and checked out some of the chatter around the Web.

Like I said in my last article about these games, they're a good thing. According to Network World, "many of these music gamers reported that the gaming experience had a positive outcome, such as creating music discovery or triggering a digital-music or CD purchase."

But, what struck me in the reader comments was how many made comparisons to the technical ability of playing and instrument and the game controller. Indeed, it's hand eye coordination. But what about the muse? I didn't see any comments on conjuring the magic that is music. Technical skill is important but you really don't need proficiency to capture a listener's imagination.

First of all, what is music? Why do we respond to certain tones and rhythms? It's a miracle we humans enjoy. When I play my favorite songs, and turn up the stereo, I wonder what my dog hears? I'm afraid it's only a bunch of thumps, howls and crashes.

On the other hand, I get moved by a good groove. And a great guitar solo or bass line doesn't have to be technically proficient. Listen to Ace Freehly on the Kiss tune Strange Ways. Ace dialed in an insane sound that's more about sustaining and bending the note.

Flipper just re-released their first three records. (I write the liner notes for Generic.) I wonder if any tracks will be available for games? How would Ted Falconi's guitar playing translate to the game format? Perhaps instead of single notes cascading the screen, there would be these amorphous pulses that the player would lock in with. Ted is the Jimi Hendrix of rhythm guitar. His style is an atonal barrage, but there's a method to his madness. I'm fortunate enough to have had the chance to play with him, and I've observed his technique very closely. It may come across as a wash, but there's a subtlety that's worth listening too. (The new Flipper record comes out in May, by the way, with yours truly on bass. Jack Endino recorded it, and as you can expect, the guitar is out front.)

It's alchemy. Conjuring compelling music is like turning lead to gold. And this is no accidental analogy either. Most gifted musicians usually spring up from nowhere. History shows how their talent gets recognized by the music establishment and the greenhorn musician winds up signing a crummy record contract.

The music industry is only bottling magic and somebody needs to produce the golden egg.

Now there's games, and it only makes sense because music has always advanced with technology. Les Paul invented the modern electric guitar and that in turn gave us the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and others.

In Electronica, the computer is the tool to make sounds that compel us. I love the sounds of Muslimgauze, Crystal Method, Chemical Brothers, Bjork and others who use a mouse and keyboard instead of a guitar fretboard.

Some kind of spark compelled the artist and that feeling/magic is transmitted to the listener. It's a pun but, it's true: you can't put your finger on it!

Krist Novoselic's column runs every Tuesday on the Daily Weekly.

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