Sound Masquerading as Music: The Inherent Progressivism of Art

Hello, dear reader. 

I write today from my little studio/office in Colorado while listening to a record of ELO's greatest hits. The birds chip and somewhere the continent sighs at the weight bestowed upon it.

I am currently reading a book about the history of conscientious objectors to war, called "Ain't Gonna Study War No More". It's quite enlightening and has me thinking (a dangerous proposition, I know). 

I conscientiously object to much of what society has to offer, including the attempted and sometimes successful hostile takeover of governments by religious zealots seeking to impose their unfounded belief systems onto free peoples, the altogether too common mirthful embracing of anti-intellectualism, and the frighteningly muscular bonds of racial pride, nationalism, and patriotism.

I bring my objection into reality primarily through the study and practice of music, literature, and other arts. Art seeks innovation, making it inherently progressive (definition: going forward or onward).

Do not be confused. If it does not seek to innovate, it is not art. The definition of art notes it is "of more than ordinary significance." If it is only derivative, contains no element of surprise, then surely it does not surpass the ordinary.

To that point, sometimes I fail and make sound rather than music. Probably most of the time. There's plenty of sound out there masquerading as music.

Sound masquerading as music is conservative by nature. The definition of conservative? The inclination "to limit change." 

But in truth, to be conservative is simply to be progressive minus a handful of decades. If cutting edge New York fashion is progressive, then conservative is what they sell at Kohl's in Iowa 20 years later (I can say that, I grew up in Dallas Center, Iowa).

Music, of course, can have conservative elements while still attaining innovation. Perhaps progress manifests itself in the lyrics, in the way the recording sounds (the production), the types of instruments used, the arrangements, or chordal/melodic/harmonic structures.

Technical precision on its own is conservative, in that it abides by existing expectations of what is "right." This is why there are so many bands that are seemingly perfect in every way but somehow unbearably boring.

Still, many great artists have employed technical prowess as a tool to achieve a vision, but it is only one of numerous options in a musician's toolbox.

Artists again and again have eschewed expectations of what is technically correct, exploring greatness in the process. I cite Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan as just a few examples. Only later did their progressive acts become part of the conservative canon (Nina may be an exception to this; her recordings continue to shock. On the other hand, she did finally get inducted into that most conservative of progressive institutions, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame).  

Of course, as someone who struggles to find the right notes and play them in time, I am biased against the oppressor that is technical perfection. I more than likely have a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. He kidnapped me and holds me captive in his basement, yet I continually try to please him. I think I may just love him. Oh god, where am I?

But perhaps sound can become art through the innovation of intent, in that if a songwriter achieves unique expression of self through a musical statement, art is created.

Thoughts done.

Now, some news from my side of the world:

  • Patreon: I continue to record some of my favorite songs by classic singer-songwriters, along with requests, over on my Patreon page. Recent contributions include songs by Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, Carole King, and Queen. Become a member and listen to over 50 songs right now.
  • Documentary: I recently finished a project in which I traveled to 10 recording studios across the state of Iowa over the course of 10 days, writing and recording 10 new songs with 10 collaborating artists along the way. The documentary, Give What You Can Give, will be premiered on June 2nd in Des Moines, Iowa. You are invited. It's free. More info here.
  • Podcast Appearance: I spoke with Richard Sutton about songwriting, the intention behind my song "Mama, I Wanna Be James Brown", what I'm thinking when I get on stage, and share a new song on his podcast Your Own Private Iowa. Listen here.
  • New Music: I am heading into the studio next week to finish a new song. That, along with another being produced by Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady, will be released sometime in the near future. Ears peeled!
  • Spotify Playlist: I am always updating my "Tour Playlist" over on Spotify with songs that I am currently spinning the hell out of. These songs often reflect my worldview and almost always, I daresay, achieve innovation. Check it out here.
  • Summer Performances: I have just a handful of shows scheduled around the Midwest and Colorado for this summer (hopefully more to come after new music drops).
    • 6/01 Waterloo IA
    • 6/08 Des Moines IA
    • 6/09 Central City CO
    • 7/26 Grinnell IA
    • 8/03-8/04 Appleton WI
    • Details here.


Very sincerely



Photo credit: Graham Images & Photography