Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Music or words?

One of the interesting things at Sonar is the lack of words accompanying the music. It is not entirely, but substantially instrumental (if that is the right word for electronic music, or electronica-inspired). Kraftwerk, one of the headliners, are (unusually, I suspect) more wordy and song-based than many of the act and artists I have seen.

For me - and I know this is not for everyone - music speaks more than words, often. In fact, words can often detract from the message, because they are a clumsy method of communication. Some of the most intense, wonderful, passionate and emotive performances involved people expressing themselves through the music, not the words. The reason is, in my view, because music expresses emotions and feelings better than words.

So why is it that church music is very substantially accompaniment to singing? Even the occasional times when the musicians or organist play something without congregational involvement, they normally play a song, something recognisable, that people might sing along to. It seems that music in church is song and hymn tunes.

That is wrong. Letting musicians express themselves using music, using the instrument that they play (and, for many of them, is a way of worshiping) may not appeal to everyone, but will be worship, and sometimes will be very powerful worship.

There are two Sonar performances that, for me, illustrate the importance of music without words. Firstly, Elektro Guzzi, who performed a musical piece for 50 minutes, and it was moving, emotive, touching, worshipful. It was three musicians who were exploring with their instruments, and this exploration was exciting, imaginative, and fun. The musicians were enjoying themselves, and this was communicated to the audience. Was it worship? Maybe.

The second performance was Beardyman. He is a performer who records sounds with his mouth and uses them to generate music. Everything we heard was sounds he had made, but very little singing (there was a little, but even this was not "songs", but words used as musical components). This was music, made with the human voice. This was an indication that the human voice can be used in music, without it being "singing".

Christianity puts too much emphasis on words, I think. We like our books, our service orders, our songs, our words. I don't mean that words are irrelevant, just that we miss out on so much else when words are always our focus. We miss the emotional engagement that music has, we miss the versatility of the voice, we miss the power of pictures and images. And so we miss out on so much of Gods creativity.

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