A very thin slice of musical

history (less than 10 calories).  My buddy Jack wanted to play a song for me but first apologized that it was a remake, something that he generally does not like.  I share this aversion but I have also just re-read Langer’s Feeling and Form chapters on music, so here is the slice.  Music is an occupant art, one that must be performed anew to be complete, as opposed to a plastic art, like painting or architecture, which remains for all to experience once completed.  Viewed in this way, music can only be appreciated through remakes.   Of course she was thinking more about classical music and live performances.  The composer finishes writing his or her piece but it is not complete until performed, whether by the composer or a performer matters little to its artistic integrity.  Our distaste for remakes must stem more from the modern phenomena of recordings, radio and now iPods.  We hear the same version repeatedly and our memory of the piece coalesces around that one performance (or the conglomerated performance of today’s sound engineering).


I recently had the great pleasure of hearing Joan Osborne live accompanied only by her husband-keyboardist.  Wow, simply presented, elegant, and powerful.  Never to be replicated in exactly the same way.  Buying her new album and listening to the songs I loved live, I found the engineered version with orchestration, etc. rather overdone. I still like it but I must concentrate on the song and her voice and leave the other stuff in the sonorous background.

Some may remember other ‘remakes’ and the criticism that they caused even when the composer made them.  Bob Dylan caught holy hell for going electric with his songs.  And I still remember my reaction when, after hearing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” on the acoustic first album, Wednesday Morning 3 AM (?), I heard the electric version on their next.  Oh, aren’t we persnickety listeners?

And now Jack plays another remake of “Sounds of Silence” by Disturbed, a heavy metal band, and oh my, it is good.  I continue to listen to it and note with delight the slight changes in timing, tone, and notes that characterize a new vital performance.  The ‘original’ was mostly somber and mournful with just a hint of feistiness.  This new version is almost martial in tone with just the slightest undercurrent of sobriety.  Try it–I hope you like it too.

By the way, if you were wondering about what might be a silly but important bit of knowledge, I submit this.  From the Origins of Music book and Walter Freeman’s piece in it entitled “A Neurobiological Role of Music in Social Bonding” I learned that the ancient Greeks categorized music in 3 ways:  Phrygian music was martial, Lydian music was solemn and plaintive, and Ionian music was joyful.  So I guess the song “Sounds of Silence” in its original take was Lydian and in this more recent one, Phrygian.  And I hope this post feels Ionian.  Just saying.

Better travel on here.

P.S. I can’t help but add that my wife listened to the new version and did not hate it, saying it was a bit melodramatic and that the singer, who growled and yelled more than sang, seemed slightly tone deaf, which I might not notice given my keen lack of auditory discrimination.  All of this may be (ok, a high probability) true but still . . .