At about the same time I was discovering my musical "ear", I was also learning how to read topographical maps. I loved those maps, I loved looking at contour lines, landmarks, rivers, roads and just about every other feature they displayed. Even more than that, I loved walking over the same land I saw on the maps. Walking in the bush around the escarpments, over rivers, down gorges and up the ridge lines. Finding the campsites we had planned. At times the plans went somewhat awry, usually the fault of the weather, I also love weather maps, and pay closer attention to them now.
My journey of discovery into music was pretty much the same, it was mapped in part by some, in particular my older brother, who had gone before me. My brother introduced me to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull and many others of that same era, but there were some that left a lasting impact. And for very good reasons.
Neil Young's Harvest. Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Yes, with Close to the Edge. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. These Albums perhaps had the greatest impact. The music was layered, authentic, it was the work of people that were willing to craft their work, rather than just pump it out. I was thinking today about some of the songs on Harvest; Old Man, Alabama, Words, A Man Needs a Maid to name a few. I can't tell you what it was about these songs, they were all different. But they all impacted me.
Tubular Bells is perhaps a bit obvious, or is it? Was it just an epic piece of work that quickly became the favourite go to piece for movie makers? Certainly the music has shifting moods and many big moments. Was it the astounding idea that one person wrote the music, played every instrument in that recording and did the recording himself? Possibly. There's nothing like a bit of (truthful) mythology to galvanise the attention of your audience. Or perhaps maybe, the music is just brilliant.
Yes, and their Close to the Edge Album. The Roger Dean artwork on many of their album covers is certainly a drawcard. But you don't listen to the artwork do you? No, the music must speak for itself.
Yes is not to everyone's liking, but they got my attention. Was it the music, again so layered and multi faceted? The dreamscape lyrics that took you into the fantastical artwork? Many of my contemporaries were less than tolerant of my love of this band, they dismissed the songs as too long, maybe the music was too complex. Yes' style was often described as, symphonic rock, playing "pieces" rather than songs. Their first three albums however had more of a Jazz-Fusion feel to them. Their first drummer Bill Bruford, like Charlie Watts, was a Jazz drummer. Their sound however changed and evolved. They survived a horrible period in the late 70's. Today they still play the music that marked them out from the mainstream crowd.
Pink Floyd need no explanation, they were more than ground breaking, they were earth shatteringly brilliant.
Back to the beginning. My musical ear was developing at just the right moment. Otherwise I might not have known how truly awful Disco really was, it was so in authentic, it was fast food pop. Driven by the gods of commercial wisdom and trend setting. Pop music for me, comes under the same umbrella. It's Mills and Boon with a tune.
The other night I was watching Les Mis',the one with Hugh Jackman. I had an epiphany, of sorts. I realised that truly magnificent music requires serious engagement, both from the listener as well as the writer. Isn't that true though of all writing? To write a song, or a musical score and then to perform it with some sort of justification requires a serious investment of yourself. At the time of the Beatles explosion on the music scene, the majority of popular music in America was written by just a handful of people. Imagine that, an entire market controlled by just a few people churning out the same diet of paint by numbers 3 minute 20 second pop gruel.
If you haven't made the investment, why should I buy it? You have to earn my audience. Pop music and it's current trend of performance criteria. Well see for yourself. Any live music performance that needs massive stage productions, bevies of dancers and performers, has just one purpose. To dazzle you beyond your ability to recognise a bad song. If the music itself is not enough to hold my attention, then it's not good enough. You know the saying about putting lipstick on a pig? Yeah, it's still a pig.
My firmest belief about music is this. There are two types of people. Those that put music on. Those that listen. Listening requires stillness, a willingness to shut out all else, to expose yourself to it, to absorb it into yourself, music must connect. Switchfoot front man John Foreman penned the lyrics. "If we're adding to the noise, turn off this song". A bold statement, if it doesn't connect? then leave it.
SO, where is my landscape today? Well it too has evolved. I still eschew mainstream pop. My choice of artists has evolved somewhat, I now include Many classical pieces to my playlists. But there is one group I have recently fallen in love with that pushes all the right buttons for me.
Future of Forestry. The name comes from a C.S. Lewis poem. The group had a previous incarnation as "Something Like Silas". What can I say about the music? Multifaceted? Layered? Innovative? Yes all of these, but there is more. Artistry, thematic, a shifting landscape. No one album hints at or echoes another. Front man Eric Owyoung refuses to be tied down to a style, constantly changing instrumental emphasis. But there is something more to it, the most important of all. It engages. Sometimes you want to dance, to cry to stand on the top of a mountain and shout to the heavens of its magnificence. It breathes as if a life of its own. This music is topographical, it is contoured and multi featured, it takes you places, places you want to visit time and again. When you go there, you're less likely to be seduced by the latest new sensation, you're content to stay.