history

It’s well known that one of the most important places in the world for music is Germany in many ways. The world was very different a few hundred years ago, and music wasn’t as universal so the place where you came from as a musician mattered even more than it does now. Germany became the land of magnificent composers that not only helped define the identity of a nation but the identity of mankind as we know it.

It sounds quite grandiose, but as a matter of fact, that’s what Germans were all about.

Origins in Germany

Interstingly enough, the history of music in Germany dates back to 1100s with Hildegard, a nun and Christian mystic. She composed some of the oldest known German music and it was quite good. “Ordo Virtutum” was her most famous work and it is still being played everywhere in the world.

After that the big names never stopped, Johann Sebastian Bach who wrote a good amount of music including the “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” which is one of his most famous pieces for the organ and the cantata “Herz und Mund und Tat”.Then there is Johannes Brahms who composed his “Third Symphony” in Wiesbaden, and Wagner worked on his opera “Die Meistersinger of Nürnberg” (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) in a nearby villa on the Rhine River and obviously “The Flight of the Valkyries”.

There are many more, but there is a lot of story to tell as well.

Kraftwerk

Germany

Germany was also the home of a band that helped synthesizers take over the world, this band was Kraftwerk. Giving a real meaning to electronic music, Kraftwerk brought something new to the table with strange sounds at a time when most bands were all about rock, blues, jazz and disco music.

In an interview with Trebuchet, Alexei Monroe asked writer Uwe Schütte, author of “Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany”:

You stress that Kraftwerk saw the (1970s) present as a void and that they wanted to create a more positive future from lost pasts (Bauhaus, Constructivism et. al.). Could you say a little more about this void and is this not relevant to our own time?

The 1970s were the years of my childhood, so when listening to Kraftwerk now and reading their interviews retrospectively, it resonated with my memories of that period – the first video games (like Pong), the Baader-Meinhof terrorist scare (which is a theme in Computerwelt) or [a few years later] the advent of was called BTX at the time [the BTX/Bildschirmtext phone/terminal communication system launched in 1982]. When I look back now as an historically educated/informed adult, I view that period in German history as a sort of paradise: social democratic rule under Chancellor Willy Brandt, social reform and liberalisation, better relations with East Germany and the communist bloc, modernisation of the education system, particularly the universities and so on. Both my parents have no formal qualifications, my mother is a refugee from Slovenia, my father an unskilled worker – yet I made my Abitur (A levels equivalent), went to university and became an academic in the UK.

But Kraftwerk, that is to say Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, were a generation older than me, they saw their present as a continuation of the Nazi past, and their intention was to build a way, artistically, to arrive at a better future, a better Germany than the horrible Nazi past in the aftermath of which they grew up. Hence their recourse to lost pasts cut short by the Nazis, as a way to construct a new, untainted sense of German identity. And it is that vision which I believe is very important today, at a time when we see the world crumbling around us: global warming, right wing populism, digital surveillance and the sordid rest…

Beyond Music

This trend of incredible musicians didn’t stop, and one of the most well known musicians is actually working on big movie scores, you’ve probably listened to his work. Hans Zimmer is a master of soundtracks having worked in films like The Dark Knight, Inception, Blade Runner 2049 and many others, he not only has the spark of a great composer, but he also manages to use all of the tools and technologies that are at his disposal.

While today it almost seems like it doesn’t matter where you come from in music, the roots exist, and knowing about them is something that will make musicians understand how it all came to be in the large picture, in this case, Germany had a big part to play in the history of music.

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One thing is the origin of a specific genre of music and another is its crowd or audience, which have the big cultural repercussions on their hands, as it happened with rock.

There is a need to make this particular difference because there are indeed too many genres of music to remember, there are so many ramifications and small variants at this point that many people just say that they listen about everything to avoid getting into a very boring and complex subject of labels and names.

However there is just not an audience for each genre of music that exists out there; if we take the word “audience” as a group of peoplethat listens to a type of music, we should also add to it the power of cultural movements and change.

According to Jordy Cummings:

The important distinction, thus, to make, when gauging the origin of a specific cultural form is not merely the origin of the form itself, but the origin of its audience, which can roughly be dated to 1955 and 1956, the years of “Tutti Frutti”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, and “Blue Suede Shoes”. This audience exponentially grew in the fifties, among young men and women, among white people and people of colour, largely due to the advent and mass-availability of television sets, ‘Hi-Fi’ systems, and the growth of music-oriented radio stations along with radio ‘personalities’.

Forces of Chaos and Anarchy: Rock Music, The New Left and Social Movements, 1964 to 1972, Jordy Cummings

The Message

Audience

Rock adn Roll delivered a very simple message, it was one of autencity and rebellion against the suit and tie. At the time the world was steering towards a well oiled modern machine with the boom of media, advertising and technological advancement. For many people it was easy to find themselves in this sort of sentiment, and it spread fast and easy.

This was a message in a bottled that was then carried by the hands of bands like “The Beatles” to “Nirvana” and now artists like ” Jack White” and “Josh Homme” from “Queens of the Stone Age”.

The message is still the same, even though the eviroment has changed the establishment will always close doors and the counterculture will find their way to break its windows.

In and Out

While the rock audience used to strongly represent the counterculture, there is now a more of a gray area, since everything that has a strong enough impact is a money maker, this happened with rock as well.

As established entertainment conglomerates took over rock and roll and created its own star system, the means with which one could be unique depended far more on self-marketing, mystique and virtuosity. Or it could just as well mean being buddies with people at the major labels, hippies turned hip capitalists. Rock criticism, as form, started out in the“underground press”, including the newspapers of the far-Left, with smatterings of material in the journals of the intelligentsia, notably the New Yorker.

Forces of Chaos and Anarchy: Rock Music, The New Left and Social Movements, 1964 to 1972, Jordy Cummings

It’s actually a bit strange because the nature of what makes rock what it is, revolves around the fact that it’s all about going against the establishment in some way, that “I don’t care attitude” and making music just for the sake of playing, however with such a big audience it’s hard for it not to be mainstream sometimes. With bands such as “The Beatles”, “Nirvana”, “Metallica”, or “Queen” there is a very underground beginning which ended in them being extremely famous, but there are some layers to this fame.

Different Rock Audience

After the sixties, began a transition, which in turn changed the audience.

At its best, this transitional form led to real sonic inventiveness, even sometimes the use of traditional folk instrumentation alongside a rock rhythm section, other times predominantly covering other artists and quite literally superimposing Dylan with the Beatles, as was the case with the Byrds. In England, this took the form, for The Kinks in particular, of incorporating music-hall and vaudeville type songwriting.

Forces of Chaos and Anarchy: Rock Music, The New Left and Social Movements, 1964 to 1972, Jordy Cummings

Rock also began to be a middle ground between all other genres, due to its flexibility an incredible amount of sub genres began to appear, but there was always the “rock” part of it alive in every single one.

As for the rock audience, they may very well be just people that want to enjoy something real, something that screams from inside and resonates with passionate locked ideas and inspire them to keep going, to be more specific is impossible after the 60s and 70s.

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Despite all the connections and relationships between different cultures, there is still a big difference between the east and the west mostly between Western culture and Asian culture, including Japan. While music is a place to share a universal language, there are many interesting differences in the way music developed since many centuries ago.

According to britannica.com there are: “three general concepts: (1) the sound ideal, (2) the structural ideal, and (3) the artistic ideal; but those three things are not clearly separate in any musical event”.

Ancient and Nara Period

The very first signs of music in Japan showed many similarities with China and Korea, so in a way, they influenced eachother very much, and at the time, there were few lines that separated them in terms of music. It wasn’t until the time when Japan was known as Yamato Japan due to the domination of the Yamato clan that Japan started to use instruments such as barrel drums which were played with sticks, while another figure is seated with a four or five-stringed board zither across his lap. Crotal bells (pellet or jingle bells)

The way japanese music evolved was that it managed to produce avery complete sound with few instruments.

8th Century Japan

It was at this time the history of Japan’s music starts to get clearer and a sens of the musical structure, instruments and composition can be understood.

In terms of the structure in Japanese compositions there was a clear difference from Western music, and that is the  jo-ha-ky?, this is a three part sturcture which Japanese music followed. First, an introducction, then scatterings and finally, rushing towards. The interesting thing about this, is that all three parts were different from each other, as opposed to the western structure of recapitulation.

Edo, Meiji And World Wars

Everyone has some sense of what the Edo period was in Japan, even if you don’t know it. The Edo period was the era of the Samurai and shortly after Ninjas, which have been used in many forms of art, stories and games.

There is also a type of music that comes to mind which often includes the “shamisen” and the “shakuhachi”, the first being strings and the second a type of flute. There was also a lot of use of drums, called “taiko”.

Before the second world war, Japan was very interested in their traditions and identity.

“In the writings and musical works of the composers, Japanese-style composition is seen as an act of seeking and creating a Japanese identity in an international context”

LASSE LEHTONEN

After that, the modernization of Japan came with European and American influences, but Japan managed to preserve its tradition and essence; the result being, new and fresh ideas for their music.

Modern Japan

japan

It’s actually interesting to go on youtube for example and search for japanese artists, because while many of them still perform very traditional folk music, the way they’ve incorporated other genres is very interesting, genres such as Jazz, Rock, Hip Hop and Pop. In a way Japanese music manages to be extraordinary most of the times in terms of the performance and composition.

One of these great artists was Ryo Fukui, a self-taught Jazz pianist. While he is not one of the most famous he certainly brought a lot of new inspirations to jazz, however it did not reached its full potential.

Thelonious Monk taught us the beauty of improvisation. Louis Armstrong helped us find fun in swing. Duke Ellington showed us the wonder and joy to be had with a big orchestra. Ryo Fukui had all the material to make a similar impression on the world of jazz with the modal masterpiece that is 1976’s Scenery, but among some of music’s biggest injustices, the lack of a global stage for musicians of Fukui’s ilk is one of the most unfortunate. When listening to Scenery, it’s hard not to think about the countless other potential works of art that the Western musical zeitgeist has failed to account for.

Jazz Izzin

Ryo Fukui 1976

It’s up to you to explore a bit more in the area that you prefer, but there is no doubt that Japan is one of the most interesting in terms of music.

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