Sweet Melodies

The re-composition and improvisation of a musical journey

MUSIC is what life sounds like, so the saying goes. According to Jean-Jacques Nattiez, a noted French musical semiologist, there is no single and intercultural universal concept defining what music might be, except that it is 'sound through time'. He was elaborating on the border between music and noise, yet the statement subtly captures the Delphic wonder of this art form.

With or without the rhetoric, a life without music is just like an underwear without elastic. Nothing more. And nothing less.

I hit the road on this wonderful journey of melody and harmony with Guns n' Roses, Judas Priest and Bryan Adams, almost together with the nursery rhymes. That was nearly two decades ago, and I was just out of the kindergarten when I got the first few tapes from my cousins. Then MTV came and changed my world for good.

Gradually I got the message that rock n' roll is in fact a global cultural force. The Beatles might not be bigger than Jesus Christ but the triumvirate of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath certainly was... When the cymbals crashed, the riff kicked off and the vocals hollered, you know you are almost getting your rocks off.

Old folks, who relish on Kishore Kumars and Mohammed Rafis would argue that 'higher-grade' music has attention to detail, those songs require active, focused listening – and indirectly, rock is low grade. Rockers or rock fans, to their righteous judgement, are tantamount to a junkie or a pill-popper.

I don't mind then because I know these people had never heard of Pink Floyd, the Sex Pistols, the Doors, Manowar, Ramones, Jimi Hendrix, RATM, or the quieter ones, such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, CCR, amongst others. They were so blind to the medley of Moby, the Chemical Brothers, JJ Cale, SR Vaughan et cetera. No wonder, the old wo/men were oblivious to psychedelic music and raised their eyebrow when they hear the anti-establishment lyrics.

The nay-sayers have missed the wood for the trees, failing to see that rock music fulfills the specifications, which are marked to appreciate serious or classical music. A Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen can be placed on a level with a JS Bach baroque piece, leave alone any obscure hindustani oeuvre.

Once I used to collect the vinyl tapes irreverently. I remember it cost 45 bucks only (when I started my assortment), then it increased to 60 and further to 90, 125 and expensively 150. Since then, classic metal has remained my all-time favourite.

A tape has only a dozen of songs at most and I have the luxury to appreciate each song. Now in an mp3 format, I have an uncountable number of songs and it is often hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Still, it has become so convenient to stockpile the files. Getting the discography of any favourite band is no more an issue, whilst getting the tricky Greatest Hits tape is a passé.

In retrospection, Bolywood did influence my choice of music to a large extent as I grew up watching a lot of Hindi masala movies. Manipuri songs are also on the list as well, however the pieces were restricted to radio songs and low-end albums. But I have always been hypersensitive to hindustani music, which comprises these Hindi and Manipuri songs, for their muted articulation and lightness.

To begin with, there is a seemingly dearth of expression in hindustani music – I have never heard a song in Hindi or Manipuri with a teenage angst or with a hard and heavy tirade against real or imagined antagonists. Then it is regretful at times why Manipuris songs are arranged in nonnative scales! They call them the Lucknow gharana, the Agra gharana and what not, forcing my middle finger to poke out every time they tap the heel of their hands on the 'dayan' and the 'bayan' of a tabla.

On the other hand, it is criticised that rock n' roll and pop music in any language, for that matter, is aesthetically deficient, that it is driven by the imposition for emotional expression and for dance rhythms. Again missing the woods for the trees, eh?

It is beyond doubt how much rock music is dominant in shaping our way of life and fashion. For me, a mere Yngwie Malmsteen figure looks more appealing than a score of singers who croons on the never-say-die FM radio day in and day out. A Jefferson Airplane or a Deadhead number takes me to a serene and surreal world, if not it makes me unbend at my leisure.

However, it would be profane to glorify rock music at the cost of other forms of music. The nuances of hindustani music from Lata Mangeshkar and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, in addition to the several classical instrumentalists, are also easy on the ear. We also have a current crop of contemporary musicians, such as AR Rahman, KK and Vishal (of Pentagram fame), who churn out good pieces now and then.

And in native tongue, there is the group of minstrels – with Nongmaithem Pahari, Chongtham Kamala, Hamom Naba, Laishram Memma and their ilk, whose songs are laced with nostalgic elements; plus Sadananda and his team, who have found a new lease of life in digital movie industry after a failed tryst with picturised album songs – having the people's ear. And mine, too.

Now MTV is gone, with the localised version concentrating on funny Bolywood music and ridiculous reality shows. I'm neither a taker for VH1 or Channel V; all of them are focusing more on visual delight than in satisfying aural sense. But that's no issue, as I can resort to internet, which provides a plethora of preferences – free download, online radio, sharing sites, and the list goes on.

Gone are those days also, when my cousins would frighten the shit out of our neighbours' dogs with their exploding speakers playing Bark at the Moon. Thankfully, I have become more sensible towards different genres. In this creative journey, I have also reached adulthood – it's been long I had stopped playing Pantera, Slipknot or Slayer fortissimo in the middle of the night.

Presently I long for good music. I believe in RW Emerson when he said, “Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto.”

The old cliché that a piece which is music to a person may be a noise to the other, preaches us that we have different tastes in life. Like beauty and truth, it calls for metaphysics to define the chimera of a perfect music. The most logical science cannot tell a good piece apart from a bad piece. Everything is relative in this universe, Mr Watson.

PS: These days, my favourite folder is the 'Mixed Feeling.' It has 104 files, which include foot-stomping numbers from Alice in Chains, Albert King, Bad Company, Bob Seger, David Bowie, Chuck Berry, Cream, Grand Funk, KOL, Lita Ford, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Manowar, Muddy Water, Rainbow, RATM, Steppenwolf, Uriah Heep, Velvet Underground etc etc.



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