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The cards have been dealt

/ music, Awen, front

The cards have been dealt

The album is ready, the first two gigs are planned and we are preparing by rehearsing. Me and Lieselot have been working a long time on this little project called 'Awen'. Some songs are already really old (8+ years). While recording and making the extra layers of music for the album I was also looking for additional layers of meaning. 'Layering' and 'meaning' is something I consider to be important.

Incorporating 'meaning' in lyrics is relatively easy, certainly compared to injecting 'meaning' into the music itself. Sounds, notes and harmonies don't have a literal meaning, unless you'd convert notes to actual letters. 'Do re mi' then become 'c d e' and then you can form words. Of course you'll have to perform some tricks to cover the entire alphabet since this system only goes as from a to g (h for Germans, lucky bastards ;-) ), but then it becomes a coded language, not music. And listeners are not consciously active decoders.

Lyrics contain actual words and certain combinations of words are easily associated with a specific meaning. Nowadays the unspoken 'smiley' that I just used in a winking face, is of widespread use and recognized (almost) anywhere. And there is where musicians must work: In the association by recognition in the culture of the listener. Phew, such expensive words. So, let me elaborate.

To illustrate the scope of culture: Many grow up listening to mainstream radio, buying a few CD's of hit-producing pop-stars and that's it. Others are pushed or pulled into serious, academically approved pieces of the classical repertoire and build a collection of records containing the same pieces played by 20 or more different performers, just to spot the differences between them and crown the one they consider the best. Then we have very strict listeners of contemporary classical music (I know, strange to see 'classical' and 'contemporary' together as one 'genre', but it is real!) who blame the previous type of listener of wasting all that money in so called 'dead music'. But they do buy 20 albums which contain completely different musical pieces. Actually because those pieces have been recorded, in some cases even performed only once. And here it does not stop. We have jazz lovers, who also are divided between sub-genres of sub-genres. The same counts for metalheads, blues-fans, folk-lovers, and I haven't even talked about grunge, gothic, industrial, electro, dance, techno, drum&bass,... But I think you're getting the picture. If you want to illustrate 'music as universal language' don't use this text.

So, if I am a listener of classical music and I make a classical sounding piece to communicate something 'sad', yes, with my knowledge and experience I can create it. But will it sound sad to techno listener? Most probably it will just sound boring to them. On the other hand, as a listener of techno, making sad music, the result will probably trigger aversion to the listener of classical music, one beat would probably be one beat too many. Here we have the 'association' issue. How can a musician communicate something every type of listener would understand? Is it even remotely possible? (again: don't use this text to illustrate music as common language). I guess you figured it out: no, not really...

But not all hope is lost. I do appreciate music across the different cultures. No, I'm not saying I managed to cross those boundaries in the music we created. We'd be an instant international world conquering success and millionaires. Sadly we're not. But I do know I am not unique and if I manage to listen to different kinds of music, others do too!

What's the issue here? In searching for ways to express 'meaning' in music we did not choose a 'genre'. Actually we did not think about it at all. The first piece on the album is an arrangement of a renaissance piece. Yes, people who enjoy old music will probably really hate what I did.. I added distorted guitars... But it is what I felt was needed to communicate what I wanted to. The same counts for the other songs. Strings were added, recordings of friends during the 'Maison Hautefumeur-period' were imported, like the fantastic djembe drumming of Koen, Elke's voice and Pieters scary laugh. We just did, and still do our 'thing'. Was this a mistake? From the point of view of 'selling': oh yes. From my personal point of view: not at all! For someone who isn't used to hear all kinds of influences from classical to rock in one single piece, it probably will sound 'off' but to my ears it all fits together. And there is only one reason for that: The association to the cultures we've been living in. The end result is obviously influenced by everything we've done so far and it has become a very individual sound. Listen to it. I hope you'll enjoy it.

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