Nature seems chaotic. To every semblance of logic and order, there are millions of situations that seem to be left to chance. This fish is supposed to eat that one, but just got gulped by a seal. That person rushes to her appointment, one that would decide her fate, but doesn’t make it because the train who would take her there was late. Every day we plan on something to happen, we have with the fear that it won’t. Our minds dedicate a big part to the fear of the unexpected.
The world of music reflects this situation. Music has a structure, whether harmonic or rhythmic. It also has a direction shown by the melody. And it has repetitions such as a Verse Chorus Verse Chorus form. But music thrives on surprises. This second verse will be fleshed out by a new guitar line. This final chorus will include some back-up vocals. “Boredom was born from uniformity” said Johann Sebastian Bach. If music is too predictable it becomes background noise, then a nuisance, like this jackhammer piercing our ears when there’s construction in the street. But give that jackhammer a little rhythmic improv on a metal bucket hit by a wrench and you got something interesting. People pay good money to see that kind of thing. The show “Stomp” proves that point.
Humans really do not like chaos. It messes up their plans. One is studying in College to become an architect but has to stop because her parents ran out of money. Someone else will move to California next month with a new job waiting for her over there, but Covid-19 shuts down everything and the job is no longer available. This kind of thing happens all the time. And we are scared of them.
That fright lead us to believe that we need to prepare for chaos. Some people even withdraw from society and live in bomb shelter or radical cult that are supposed to shield them from everything in life. But I think there is another way to prepare for chaos. I think that studying music is nothing else but getting a deep and practical understanding of the unpredictable, more than that, I think it is almost like wishing that something unexpected will happen and be nimble and alert when it does. The composer writing the second verse of his tune needs something to spice it up: doubling the tempo? modulating to a new key? adding a new instrument? He needs to create something new and unexpected to make his song work. He needs to add a little chaos into his creation.
Now, if a little chaos in music is a blessing, too much chaos can be obnoxious. Although, wait, free jazz is based on that concept: chaos to create something always evolving, always surprising. Still, in popular music, too much chaos kills the listener’s attention, one needs to be aware of that. And the repetitive chaos becomes a tick, a bad habit where every second verse (that’s a lot of second verse for one blog) the singer goes an octave higher or the drummer rides on the crash cymbal. After the third song, the audience starts to thin out.
We are now in a strange and unique period because nobody knows what’s to come. Even the most stable jobs seem fragile, even the strongest among us seem worried. This pandemic affect all of us. What can we do? Listen and play music while staying busy surviving. Music would be the soothing medication for our wounds. During the Great Depression people sang the blues on instruments they made themselves. They sometimes only found comfort in a sad ballad strummed on a cigar box guitar. Music is what will help us make it through. Music is what we need right now if we don’t want to go quietly into the night.