New Year is the time of making resolutions that you are destined to break by mid January. The longest I managed to stick to my resolutions was back in my college years, when I vowed to drink more alcohol, enjoy more recreational pharmacology, eat more bad food, and take less exercise – I lasted until March before ‘the intervention’. But nevertheless it’s possible to strive to and stick to resolutions in the audio world, and they can be surprisingly good for you too!
The first I suggest is to take stock of your audio system, and especially its place, both in your life and your environment. The replay of good music in the home can be a life-affirming and beneficial part of your daily life, it can be a place of refuge from the drudgery of work… or it can be a gilded cage of your own making. Audio at its best has what are described in the UK as ‘Reithian values’ (after Lord Reith, the first Director General of the BBC), in that it can “educate, inform, and entertain”, but many use it as a means of escaping from family life. There’s nothing wrong with using your man cave as a place of calm, but if you are spending every evening locking yourself away from friends and family in search of ‘calm’, maybe you’ve gone too far. It sounds counter-intuitive that an audio website might suggest turning off the hi-fi system, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
Those aforementioned Reithian values only apply when you challenge yourself, musically. We are in a wonderful time of musical access, and online download and streaming services give all of us more scope to explore the musical canon than could have ever been dreamed of even 20 years ago. Rather than holing ourselves up with our finite collection of music on disc, why add to your musical experience with a diet of music you might never normally consider. Why not add a composer a month to your listening, or pick your favourite composer and include their less well-known contemporaries. And, while we are discussing this, why challenge yourself once a week with something entirely outside your comfort zone? So, someone who only listens to 1970s heavy rock spends one Sunday in January exploring the works of Bruckner or Mahler, or someone who has every Beach Boys album ever published in their collection devotes an evening listening to Josquin or Palestrina. For that matter, anyone who has a taste for the Baroque should jump forward to Progressive Rock or even Tool. OK, so it’s a stretch to imagine that inside of a year everyone will have a collection running from plainsong to gangsta rap, or from Dufay to dubstep, but a regular exploration beyond your musical norms is always worth the effort.
As a relative late-comer to orchestral music, this is precisely what I did. I found my own tastes in music were ‘sort of’ progressing, but those formative years from around 13-24 can leave you mired in the past all too easily. Every generation believes the music played during their teens and twenties was the best music ever (in fairness, if you were born around 1910, 1942, or 1950, you might have a point) and it is incredibly easy to just let the music that came out of that period become all the music you ever listen to for the rest of your life. In pre-digital terms, your musical life moves gently from FM to AM without you ever noticing. I still extract a lot of from music by Led Zep, The Clash, Kraftwek, and The Smiths (which just about cover my formative musical years), but it’s too easy to slip into only listening to these artists. However, it’s often difficult for someone born at the end of the Baby Boom to fully appreciate the music that is fundamental and formative to the present Millennial generation. There is a lot of excellent new music out there, but not all of it will resonate with a fiftysomething the way it does with someone still in school. Nor should it.
Rather than look like one of the dads at a concert, desperately trying to enjoy something they simply are not in the right demographic to ‘get’ on any level, I branched out. I looked to the influences of those who were important to my formative time, and their influences, and so on. Kraftwerk especially was like a musical can opener, leading to groups like, er, Can and Neu! But also to a more tempered electronic music style, which led quickly to Wendy Carlos playing Switched-On Bach, which led to trying to hear Bach’s inventions and Brandenberg Concertos played on original instruments. And then Bach became the Rosetta Stone of music for me, opening up avenues of musical exploration I thought beyond me back when everything had to have been written between 1955-95 at best.
Put simply: admit it… you won’t stick to that diet, so put yourself on a musical diet. You’ll feel better for it, and might just be holding on to those New Year’s Resolutions well into 2016.
Happy New Year!