In any sort of music critique, it is so easy to rely on the narrative provided by the vocalist. But it is a complete misconception that there is no narrative in instrumental music. Our ears have fallen deaf to music that provides no literal vocal narrative. The narrative is, nonetheless, still there. We just have to learn to hear and then to trust that we hear it. Shostakovich related in his memoir that Russian culture had a rich history of instrumental narrative. His explanation of the narrative in his own work made me listen to all music differently. What I understood after reading that was that even the lyrics of a song were unreliable as a guide to a narrative.
Communication is complicated. You can say the same thing many different ways and it can mean different things. Tone of voice can help a listener determine if sarcasm is intended or sincerity. Misinterpretation of tone can also lead to misunderstanding. There is no one way to hear anything. We hear everything through our own filters. This makes the interpretation and criticism of music open to anyone. It also opens the door to an infinite number of narratives.
My narrative about Zwei Streifen Im Blau begins with a listener and a musician. The listener keeps asking questions and the musician keeps answering with music. The listener is confused. The musician repeats the question in music. The listener still doesn’t understand and starts to talk over the music. So the musician repeats himself. Then there is this sarcasm where the musician and listener exchange phrases repeatedly. The musician says: “Don’t you understand what I am saying?” The listener says, “No I don’t understand.” But obviously the listener understands. He keeps answering the question.
At one point, the musician breaks down and tries to start over. “Do you hear this? Can you recognize your own question? I’m repeating your question back to you?” Then there is this chorus from the listener where he keeps repeating with his hands over his ears, “I don’t understand.”
I’m trying to reach you. I’m trying to reach you. Do you hear what I am saying? You are not alone. Here is all this warm sound. Here is the embrace of the arrangement of sound. Here is 4 minutes and 30 seconds of compassion. Don’t you even understand what it sounds like anymore? Listen to it enough and you might begin to hear yourself. Listen to your own pleas. Let me teach you how to listen to yourself again. Let me show you what your reflection looks like.
It’s the conundrum that faces us in the age of technology. There is more communication than ever before. But as we communicate more, we forget the basic rules of communication. Here in this narrow format, we lose all sense of the purpose of communication. Communication isn’t just for providing noise to digital receivers. Noise that only serves as evidence that we exist. “Ping I’m here.” Existence is a valid thing to communicate. But being is lost when we forget to tell our narrative.
What is your narrative? Do you have time to listen to an instrumental and provide your own narrative to yourself? It’s possible that the answer is “no”. There are valid reasons for that answer. Most of the time that is my answer. Life is full of business that has to be attended to that doesn’t leave time for contemplation of instumental music. It’s easier to have the narrative packaged and handed to you. But you have to admit that it’s sad.
Zwei Streifen Im Blau calls for a renaissance of language. It isn’t merely a translation problem. We have lost our passion for communication. The passion for learning something new from each other and from ouselves. Communication is a puzzle and we all come from different countries with different cultures. If we reject immigrants and tourists who can’t communicate in local dialects, then we reject anything we don’t understand at first blush. We reject instrumental music out of hand. We reject narratives that don’t immediately make sense. We don’t even try on different narratives that help us to understand the plight of our fellow human beings. Our rejection of language barriers becomes our insulation against anything that makes us uncomfortable. We wallow in the bitterness of our self imposed isololation. We have only to try to say something real when we have already succeeded.
I love the mix of analog and digital sounds in this song. Rather than one dominating the song and the other providing some cohesion, the mix leaves room for both. The sounds are distinct. There is a lot of patience in the composition. There are themese that have to develop for the transitions to make sense. Then in the end there is an abupt but subtly dissonant surrender from the musician, “I give up. He won’t hear me.”