“Where words leave off, music begins.”
― Heinrich Heine
“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”
― Kahlil Gibran
Music is indeed, the language of the spirit. It is also the language of the body and the mind. It is a language that transcends the boundaries and boxes in which our words so often enclose us. Where our words are often used to divide this from that, a from b, you from me, music’s premise is unity.
Long before the three minute pop song there was music. Before Youtube, Spotify, Pandora, Social Media, MTV, and radio, there was music. Before stadiums, performance halls, nightclubs, bars, or stages of any sort, people got together with one another and created music, and in so doing, they created relationships and strengthened communities.
The assumptions many of us make today about music are based on the context of art and music as a product. Today, instead of gethering in someone’s home or around a fire, most modern Westerners consume their music through recordings (often, even the “performances” are recordings). Many of these recordings fit a very specific set of criteria. They are about 3 minutes in length. They have a predictable form and have a “hook” which is manufactured to be memorable and generic enough for millions of people to relate to. They use and re-use tried and true combinations of instruments, chord progressions, and rhythmic ideas to evoke popular, bold, intense feelings. This formula is what has been found to be most marketable. For some musicians, this is what pays the bills.
While I have no objection to modern creative and economic processes leading artists and audiences to create and consume music in this way, I would like to explore some additional territory. What many consumers of music today don’t know is that for every three minutes of music they hear on their media device of choice, there are hours of music that are created among musicians for the sheer joy of making music. It’s true that much of that music is not as polished as what folks hear on recordings. There are blemishes, flaws, and mistakes. but there is also pure authentic inspiration. This is where discovery happens, and often where the most magical musical moments happen.
A few years ago, I attended OzzFest, which is a nationally touring, genre specific music festival a few friends were performing on. The music on stage wasn’t my cup of tea, but attending gave me a chance to catch up with folks I hadn’t seen in a long time. I spent my time in the band area while the guys waited to go on. There, I met musicians from several of the other bands. I had been told that there were often jam session back stage and was invited to bring some instruments of my own. I may be sharing a dirty little secret here, but some may be surprised to learn that many of the musicians who were performing at this event weren’t the pissed off, violent, rebels that their stage act implied. There were educated music school graduates with nuanced musical sensibilities and musical vocabularies that spanned broad areas of genre. In the short time I made music with these guys back stage, I suspect we covered more musical territory than was covered in the entirety of the days’ performances on stage.
The musical connection I experienced was typical of what happens when creative musicians get together without needing to sell a hit record. It was music for it’s own sake with no particular boundaries. I’ve been around musicians all my life and I have been blessed to witness and participate in this experience many hundreds of times. I grew up with the understanding that this experience was a fundamental part of the life of musicians. I’m not discounting the value of composition, practice, or a narrow, targeted, artistic vision (nearly everything I have shared with the public in the past has been focused, prepared, and pretty specific), but in limiting what we release to that kind of musical creativity, I feel we have been keeping something really meaningful from audiences (the term “audience” in itself implies a separation between creators and consumers which I think is a recent and not always ideal product of commercialization, but that is a post for a different day).
House Veritas is a performance project that has, at it’s center, the goal of making the musical creative process transparent. Each time we get together, we are engaging in the ancient and timeless practice of spontaneous creation. There is no composition. There was no rehearsal preparing the music, and the only focus is to have a shared co-creative experience; to transmit and reflect our internal experience to one another and to all those who are present.
As I mentioned, I’ve been around this stuff all my life. It’s like a family gathering on the holidays. It’s intimacy, it’s authenticity, it’s home. For those of you who have not had this experience, I invite you into our home. Come. Dance. Meditate. Or just bear witness. You are welcome.
— Julian Douglas