Friday, March 18, 2011

Essay: Music Consciousness vs. Music Addiction

Music Consciousness in the Work and Market Place

Seattle, photo by Patricia Herlevi
So many times I walk into a business or shop and leave immediately because I don’t enjoy the music playing in the store. In some cases, I’ve heard NPR or some other news source blasting from a radio. In either case, those shops lost my business because I felt unwelcomed by the audio choices. I’ve been blasted with heavy metal at an Aveda beauty school (Seattle), I’ve had to listen to 70s and 80s pop music getting my hair cut at other beauty schools and also strangely enough waiting for a counseling appointment and ditto for a naturopath clinic. Nostalgia is a dangerous thing and drum machines pattering away do not provide a healing environment. Some lyrics might trigger painful memories. This is why massage therapists and other energy healers provide either silence or soothing tension-free music to their patients.

All of the above scenarios portray unconscious music/audio choices that might have a detrimental effect on clients or patients of that business or clinic. I’ve already mentioned how music affects our soul, mind, body in several articles on WME. However, the wrong audio environment in a workplace can cause everything from low productivity to depression and anxiety. Some people are unable to work around music period because they feel distracted. So then you would need to choose a neutral instrumental music that doesn’t dull the senses or cause hyperactivity. You’ll find that new age music might work for some workers, but others fall asleep to it. And jazz instrumental music might sound too lively for someone who must concentrate on rows and rows of numbers.

Personally, I would advise providing no music in an office environment, but allow workers to take music breaks with their portable players or have an audio room set up with musical choices to be listened to over headphones. In these instances music is used in a purposeful manner to uplift a worker during the midday hump, to help with digesting lunch, or to ease tension after dealing with stressful situations. However, oversaturation of music whether in a grocery/retail or office environment is straining on the nervous system. It’s just too much stimuli to take in while working.

On the other hand, the right music can enhance a retail or salon environment. Music can contribute to the marketing and branding of a business. Though I wonder if The Whole Foods Market desires to be branded along with 80s rock music which permeates its store in Seattle. I certainly don’t see the connection between organic healthy food and nerve-jangling music. But maybe Gen-Xers purchase more food when they’re feeling nostalgic and they’re pumping adrenaline. I tried to educate the folks at Whole Foods once about music consciousness and my efforts were unrewarded, to put it mildly. Besides, the store wasn’t exactly hurting for business.

Seattle, photo by Patricia Herlevi
I actually feel uneasy every time I go to Best Buy so I try to avoid that store, unless I absolutely need to go there. First, of all a customer is oversaturated with images on the various television and computer screens, and then inundated with the store’s audio system (using playing rock music), and then the various screeching coming from stereos customers try out. I’m not sure how much of all that is necessary and I think most people on a scale of zero to ten, zero conscious of how music affects their minds and bodies. No one is equating diseases from exposure to sounds/music/noise. I’m talking about average people and not research scientists and psychoacoustic experts.

As a society we are addicted to music and afraid of silence. But musicians at least realize the beauty and importance of silence. I remember interviewing the vocalist Mamak Khadem when she was with Axiom of Choice and I asked her what she listened to when she was recording. She said only her own music which makes sense. An uncluttered mind (even from favorite music), provides fertile ground, not to mention allows you to focus on your own inner music.

Music has much power and potential that is diluted when we are inundated with it. Since when do humans need music for shopping? Does music enhance the experience of choosing the right tomato? And what does music do to a worker who has been listening to it for 8-hours straight? Sure, it might add something extra for the customer who is in and out of the store within 45 minutes, but why wear the workers down with an audio overload? Personally, I love music, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it for 8 hours straight on any day, unless I was attending a music festival. And even then, I would take a day or two off to retreat in silence after the festival ended. With Music, like food, you need to digest it.

Overindulging in music won’t lead to obesity as far as I know, but it could lead to tension which leads to inflammation which leads to disease. It could affect a person’s mental state. We don’t need to hear music all day long and we don’t need a soundtrack to accompany all of our daily activities. I understand why people use it to pump up their energy when exercising, but I don’t even recommend that as a healthy practice. Some people use music to mask boredom while working at a tedious job, but if you’re not conscious of the music and only using it as wallpaper, then I question that practice.

If you want to take a more purposeful approach, then find the appropriate music for your activity. That’s why work songs were invented originally. The beauty of work songs is that they were sung to the right rhythm for whatever activity was being performed. Think of railroad working songs, think of wool-dying songs, and songs of fishermen. Now, that’s using music consciously. I remember when I worked out for a tulip grower digging bulbs out of the dirt and I brought my radio along with me. That radio was my lifesaver until it was stolen and the Universe sent me a message, which I actually didn’t get until now. I still miss that radio, the only one I ever owned with good reception.

As I type this essay, I’m typing it in silence. My ears are still buzzing and my body is still vibrating from my previous music selection, “Westside Story” (Broadway Soundtrack). I’m allowing my body to digest the complex music of that recording. And it is complex with Latin rhythms bumping hips with jazz motifs, not to mention the symphonic side of the music rearing its head now and again. I prefer to savor the music rather than toss on another recording to drown out the last one. I don’t need to get drunk on music and in my case, less is more. After all, I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life!

So if you are a business owner, or provide some type of healing service at a clinic, do yourself a favor and learn how music affects the mind, body and soul. Choose appropriate music for your business, if you need music at all. Music has the potential to heal and to provide solace, but it also has a destructive side that can wear away at the nerves, cause headaches, and physical exhaustion. Too much of a good thing, is still overindulgence. With music, a little goes a long ways. You wouldn’t ask your patients to go home and eat an entire chocolate cake, yet, playing a radio station in a lobby, complete with commercials, news, and pop songs, doesn’t provide the healing your patients seek. And some of us feel like that audio wallpaper has been forced upon us.

When you grow more music conscious you could seek out audio CDs to help patients with various ailments. Brainwave and psychoacoustic recordings exists for this purpose. You can consult with trained bedside musicians and music-conscientious hospice workers about appropriate music for your individual patients. I emphasize individual as opposed to broadcasting music in a clinic lobby unless you’re playing a drone recording or tension-free music. This could however, cause some patients to fall asleep in the waiting room.

It is my hope that your journey into music consciousness strikes the right balance between audio and silence, while improving your business or clinic environment.  Many people detox their bodies each spring and fall. Consider taking a music-fast at that time too.

Photo by Patricia Herlevi
Retreat to a quiet place

Refrain from playing any music

Refrain from watching TV, DVDs or videos

Refrain from listening to music online

Spend time in a natural setting

Do this for a week

To build music consciousness

Pay attention to activities that require music

Discern whether or not you could delete the music

Listen to your body when listening to music

Track your emotional and physical responses

When faced with music overload (from daily events), sit in silence for at least 30 minutes

Meditate more, watch TV and listen to the radio less

Tune into yourself

Clear the clutter from your mind

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In review--Brave Viking Violin

Susanne Lundeng
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

In 2004 I reviewed Norwegian fiddler-violinist Susanne Lundeng’s Strange Journey for my former website Cranky Crow World Music (2002-2007). While I found that album ambitious blending jazz and traditional music, her 2011 recording Mot (Courage) represents contemplative Nordic music where jazz, traditional, and classical intersect. Lundeng experiments with tonality on Imella where she’s joined by BØde Sinfonietta. On the remaining tracks she either flies solo or pairs off with a chamber musicians Min Ensemble, piano and accordion. While the songs moves along at a slower tempo, they possess a primal, untamed feel, such as on tracks 4 and 7 when the violin takes on a Hungarian gypsy quality.

I think the courage in the album’s title refers mostly to Imella (track 6) in which the violinist experiments with tonality. However, the dissonance on the track leaves me feeling uneasy. I prefer the more pastoral songs on the album. I realize many Northern European musicians enjoy exploring tonality, not sure the reason. If I lived in a cold and dark place for most of the year (I did this year), I’d be listening to tropical or Mediterranean music not music that leaves me feeling tense. Gaven with Lundeng’s violin swirling and whirling over the chamber ensemble strings, the lively NØktern where the violin leaps from grace notes, and the dreamy Havn with its clarinet solo and waltz-like violin and piano all hit the spot. These pieces portray enchantment, revelry, while leaving space for dreaming. You’ll even hear Lundeng sing on Havn.

The folks at KKV draw a comparison between Lundeng and the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. While Lundeng possesses some fabulous musical chops and a gift as a composer, I think the comparison to the master bandoneon player is too far a stretch (he's one of my favorite modern composers along with Nino Rota of Fellini fame). Still, there’s nothing to scoff at here. The musicians give their best and break new ground. The violin playing sounds fabulous and might just hit the spot during contemplative moments.