Listening to intentions.

Sometimes digital music is disappointing because we cannot hear the artist intentions behind the notes. Machines are great, don’t get me wrong, but they are, almost by definition, devoid of emotions, which, at least for me, is the reason why I listen to music in the first place.

Hearing the sorrow of Billie Holiday when she sings “All of me” touches me deeply and makes me resonate with her. Having my heart lifted by the voice of Jason Mraz serenading his loved one with “I’m yours” is irreplaceable. Same goes for a the use of a drummer versus a drum machine. I know that the machine has atomic precision and deadly accuracy, that drummers are more expensive and a touch more fluctuating with time, but that’s exactly what I want. I want the cracks in the music, that’s how the light gets in.

In the album “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis, every player pours their heart out from the very first tune “So What”. You can discern every one’s personality just by the way they approach their solo. Miles is a minimalist, condensing a lot of thoughts in a few notes. John Coltrane is a prophet on top of the mountain calling for the people of the world to hear his message. Cannonball Adderley is a great story teller with a great sense of humor. Even the rhythm section has their voice, each one contributing more than just their instrument, they also share their opinion, their sensitivity, their experience, in one word: who they are. I think using machines deprives us of some of that. By the way, to settle that debate, I am well aware that Miles Davis did entire albums with drum machines, synthesizers, programmed bass lines and such. The thinking then becomes that no matter the instrument, including electronic machines, the personality of the artist will shine no matter what. Yes, yes, I see what you did there.

Still, I think that my point is valid. When it is all analog, when every note is manufactured by a real human hand (and not over processed after it has been played either), it has a feel that’s more conducive to emotion for me. I love some form of electronic music, but I relish musicians who are on their instrument sweating it out, with their noble flaws and their failed grandeur. They have nowhere to hide and that’s great because I know that when we listen to music we are trying to answer the question: Who is this musician? A question that quickly followed by: if that’s the experience this guy is having, how does that help my own experience? In other word: as the musician tells me who he/she is, he/she also provides some answer about who I am.