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Tis The Season To Be Melancholy


At this time of year spare a thought for those who like the weather are miserable... Artists of course! Organic explores the acute link between emotion and music...

It is a common observation that people can be and are emotionally effected by music. Be it a particularly relatable vocal message or at a maybe more fundamental level the music’s structural characteristics themselves. Prominent philosopher of aesthetics Professor Stephen Davies suggests what he calls appearance emotionalism. Which in the simplest terms says music is not sad because it feels sad, but rather because expresses sadness. It is effectively sad in it’s appearance. In the same way a person’s posture, or attitude can convey a certain emotion, so can music through structural characteristics. Dark timbre, unresolved tension, thick harmonic bass textures… It all lends itself to a certain feeling.

Appearance emotionalism does not however suggest that we all associate the same musical characteristics with the same emotions, or that these structures resemble behavior. Rather that many listeners share collective similarity in their experience of a particular music.

Keeping this in mind, some emotions seem to be more musically powerful than others. For the larger part, music that embodies and presents the thin line between euphoria and melancholy often makes for the most effective of cocktails. And it is maybe also true to say that to create the kind of records that exemplify these qualities you need to know that feeling personally.

But how to draw on these emotions while still remaining productive and equally as important, creative? R&S artist and established techno producer Alex Smoke lends some partial personal insight;

“I think anything which is used as a personal remedy has the inherent danger of becoming a crutch, and it's that losing of control which I think is the negative. Many creative people have periods I think, where they feel disconnected from what's going on in the real world and if it is ignored it can certainly lead to things like alienation and depression. The trick is to remain engaged with life, and not to surrender entirely to your creative whims.”

Alex Smoke’s perspective is very much in line with the philosophy at the centre of blues music. Any distance between techno and blues becomes obsolete in this respect. Music becomes a vessel for expression, and a potentially self-centric expression at that. Bvdub explains further how this manifests itself in his own work;

“I have extremely strong emotions, and always have. I leave it all on the table, and put it all out there. I only care about doing what I want to do, how I want to do it. My music is exactly how I want it to be – and that’s what matters.”

So does this all mean that if you can convey a true sadness musically that you will connect better with the listener? Maybe. I know from talking to certain artists (that for the sake of their dignity will remain anonymous), they have tried to chase or even create a level of pain in their own lives to then draw on that inspiration. To me this sounds crazy, but it does demonstrate that individuals have identified a clear correlation between connective music and personal pain of the creator.

In a purely practical sense it is probably not hard to get pretty miserable sitting in a studio all on your own for hours on end with only a computer and the odd bit of outboard gear for company… That can at least explain electronic music’s most emotive artists to some degree. Although I doubt my own ill-conceived observations would stand up to any great scrutiny.

This year while you spend your Christmas with family gathered around the log fire, spare a thought for those musicians and producers… Miserably blundering away in solitude. If not expressing their pain, at least trying to pre-create it.