Everyone has a certain response to music. Even those of us who aren’t great “listeners” or “musicians”, have a certain song, genre or even section of notes that can hit something deep within. It is something that sometimes can’t be put into a verbal definition, but causes a passion inside people that reverberates into every aspect of their life. Nick Hornby relates to music well, turning its ambiguity into something personal: “I love the relationship that anyone has with music…because there’s something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out…It’s the best part of us probably…”
I have always agreed that music, like many of the arts, is a universal cathartic element and it should be celebrated. Michael Jackson and James Brown spurt a “get up and go” into you, Eminem spills lyrical euphoria into your ear, Nina Simone, Carole King and Louis Armstrong crackle into your Sunday afternoon head and Rodrigo y Gabriella shoot energy into you. Example, Beyonce, Coheed and Deftones make you want to dance into the night, Adele makes you sing, Led Zeppelin reminds you not to roll, Coldplay and The Foals make you feel, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Brooke Fraser and Mazzy Star mellow you, and Seth Lakeman and John Butler lead you in a jig. Kamchatka, Stevie Wonder and the Toots and the Maytals help you find your groove. Kayne and Rihanna lend you an ego, Free says it’s ‘Alright Now‘, Bob tells you not to worry, Lost prophets scream with you, Incubus and Red Hot Chillie Peppers take you to a beach. Muse and Wolfmother empower you, Maynard James Keenan takes you to another place, Sting and The Police Bring on the night, Thin lizzy, The Clash and R.A.T.M sing the words we’re all thinking. Oasis keeps our memory in check and Simon and Garfunkel assure us heaven holds a place for those who pray. I would be shocked if Wise Guys Oh la la didn’t get you moving, or Eddie Vedder performing Black with Pearl Jam didn’t cause a small tear to your eye.
Music creates and explores. It encourages emotion whether we are aware of it or not. Although I can appreciate all of the above as cathartic, there is the argument that music is more so when it is instrumental, “pure” music, such as classical scores or film soundtracks. Classics such as Bach and Beethoven have proven that their music is timeless. I specifically find present composers of film soundtracks such as Angelo Milli (Seven Pounds), Mark Isham (Point Break, Blade, Crash,, The Black Dahlia), Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption, Meet Joe Black, American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Finding Nemo, Cinderella Man,), Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Holiday, Dark Knight, Inception), James Newton Howard (The Village, King Kong, Blood Diamond) and James Horner (Enemy at the Gates, Troy, Avatar) produce some of the most beautiful music, scores that evoke heavy emotion. Thomas Newman’s starting notes of American Beauty are iconic, not to mention, make me crumble every time I hear it. You could argue that as soon as vocals are introduced to a piece of music it becomes more signified, directed into the meaning of the words rather than the sound of the music itself. Is this the case? Or is it solely dependent on the individual?
A recent example which proved to me that instrumental music possibly holds greater cathartic power was in November at the Apex concert hall, Bury St. Edmunds, where I saw Italian musician Ludovico Ein Audi perform. Described as an ambient, minimalist contemporary pianist, Ein Audi’s music has grown throughout the world, engaging both traditional classic music lovers and those of a more modern nature. He is more widely known through film scores such as the poignant This is England, and collaborations with Channel Four, such as the drama Any Human Heart, which Ein Audi’s album Nightbook was used. I was introduced to him through the Le Onde album. I immediately fell in love with his simple compositions and sweeping melodies- specifically teaching myself Le Onde on piano which truly echoes the motion of waves. From this album I have to highlight Questa notte, Onde corte and Passaggio, all three tracks having very fluid, slightly buoyant elements to them. With Onde corte and Passaggio specifically it is as though Ludovico is taking the music dancing; listening to the tracks one gains a real sense of freedom, hope and character.
Therefore, going to see him perform, I was anticipating how a live audience would react to his music, how I would react. The Apex itself gave a real sense of contemporary grandeur, the space open, the walls lined with light oak. Going into the auditorium, I was reminded of the inside of Sydney Opera House and immediately felt that quiet anticipation that embarks before a gig or music concert. As I took my seat amongst the rows of pews and looked at the towering ceiling, I couldn’t help but imagine the concert hall as a type of church, as though we were taking our seats for something spiritual. The Steinway piano stood proudly on stage, burnt orange blinds hung behind at the window, embellishing the seclusion of the room. I was aware that this may be due to my personal relationship with music but looking around at other audience members, I saw many with bowed heads or looking up at the space around them.
Ludovico arrived quietly on stage to applause. He began with pieces from Nightbook, caressing the piano to create a melodic dream. For the first three pieces I was immersed into his music, losing my sight to the Steinway and letting my ears soak up the sound. Part of my way of understanding music as a cathartic element is that I imagine it to be something innate, something that is constantly “playing” around us and that is when we go to play an instrument or “tune” in that we experience it in our world and allow it to affect us. Watching Ludovico play, I noticed how, like many musicians he too was lost in his music. He was playing with his eyes closed and by taking the expressions on his face, it was as though the music was being composed by his mood rather than any planned manuscript. This reminded me of what my piano teacher once said- “ Always play so that it feels right, even if the notes aren’t” Of course, I was never much of a pianist and I have a feeling it was said more out of reassurance than anything.
Ein Audi, after hooking us with the evocative beginning then went on to play a more funky, hip hop beat. Elongating the notes by holding down the pedal, stringing them into one, he effectively placed his flowing trademark onto a rhythm that is usually quite defined and happy staccato, bringing the element of blues. I was surprised at how quickly my mood changed and I felt myself nodding along with a real sense enjoyment. I looked around at the audience, who of all ages and surprisingly a lot of men, were too nodding along to the beat. Everyone seemed genuinely happier than five minuets previously- aside from a man that was sitting two rows in front who seemed a little lost at the sudden change in mood and kept clutching at his neck. Watching the audience members I felt rude as I realised what a personal moment I was invading on but at the same time it clarified my thoughts of music as cathartic; there was a sense of calmness, poignancy and emotion. This was heightened further when Ludovico went back to his more melancholy sounds with the album Una Mattina (2004) from which he played the piece Nuvole Bianche. It was at this point that the snuffles in the audience that has previously been stifled became highly more audible- people all around me were crying. Some were silent, some were looking away, and others were sobbing. I could feel the lump in my throat that had been growing for a long time, press even further into me. The man two rows in front had let go of his neck and was now with his head in his hands. I have never experienced a grown man completely breakdown before. As Ein Audi brought the notes together in a soft climatic build, I realised the extent this man had taken solace in this music. Following this came the Divenire album, which holds two of my favourite pieces the enigmatic Primavera and Oltemare. The album means “to become”, “to grow” in Italian. After experiencing quite a depressive, emotional piece before, these two brought into me a great sense of determination and realization, especially during the build of strings in Primavera.
Ein Audi spoke to the audience between sections of his music, which at times, I felt interrupted the atmosphere. Yet, one memorable time that seemed to justify his interlinking discussion was after playing from Divenire and explaining the influences for the music. He described a festival in Italy that takes place in the mountains and explained to the audience how he had asked an artist to paint the mountain scene. He related the music to the painting and how these mountains were “framed” in life and the image was cinematic. He described how he put the original melodies onto his ipod as a “canvas”, creating a basis for harmony and then layered over the piano as “paint”. Ludovico went onto play pieces from This is England, starting with the haunting track Ritorante. As a track on its own merits, this piece easily creates atmosphere, yet, knowing what scene it is used for in the film, I couldn’t help but relate to that moment which only encouraged my emotion further. The album, unlike Le Onde, is terribly beautiful with moments of real ambiguity.
Playing pieces I didn’t recognise, Ludovico suddenly went darkly staccato further down the piano. Immediately I was provoked to imagine gothic castles, dark atmospheres. To be able to influence my mood so much in such a short amount of time was worryingly impressive. I had realised by now that trying to contain my emotion was proving difficult. If the man in front of me could let go, why shouldn’t I? It was a strange sensation- with every note of Ludovico, came heavy tears. I’m talking about real crying, crying where you can feel your chest shake, your breath shudders, when you don’t have any control. Where was all this emotion coming from? All I knew was that it felt right, it was a release and to be sharing the same experience with the rest of the audience made me happy- we had all forgotten our British inhibitions, this music had moved us. All, as an entirety. This was reflected in the standing ovation. I don’t think anyone will forget that concert in a hurry.
Music is, as with any art form, based on personal opinion and influence. Some of us are more avant garde and others Einsteins, some of us prefer tea to coffee, some of us are equally as moved by Jay Z as we are Mozart. I personally blame my Mother for playing Enya whilst I was in the womb. Either way, music, whether instrumental, hard rap or moody blues holds something to each and every one of us. If you do anything new for 2011, I would recommend that if you haven’t already, impulsively buy a film score or even better, a Ludovico album and give it some attention. Music is cathartic and I find that instrumental music, especially when being played by Ludovico, compels you to take time out of this busy world we live in and listen.