Okay, so I got to asking myself recently: what does ambient music and punk (new wave) have in common that I keep listening to them and drawing enjoyment and inspiration from them both? Other than the fact that Brian Eno was there at the birthing of both of them, midwife to one, father to the other.
Let me provide some examples to make this clear. How is it that I can thoroughly enjoy listening (and watching) something like this:
And then turn around and also thoroughly enjoy listening (and watching) something like this.
(BTW: The Ting Tings and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are my current fave punk / new wave bands. The YYYs are a bit dark and/or 'inappropriate' at times. But, nevertheless they have this ebullience that I am talking about below and that I find really attractive.)
Eno once said about his shift from rock music to ambient music that rock and roll was essentially an adolescent kind of music. He had grown out of it, so to speak. He was ready to do something more adult, mature, beautiful. I basically want to agree with this. And all that I dislike about a rock song, when I dislike a rock song, can usually be summed up by saying something along the lines of "O my, that is just so adolescent." I am not in high school anymore. Thank God. And I never want to go back.
For all this I find the joy I take in these seemingly disparate forms of music to actually be quite similar in the end, if not in their respective means. What I mean is that dance/pop punk (new wave) and ambient music are both, for me, about the positive release of positive energy. And by positive energy I do not mean "happy happy." I just mean that the emotion is real, authentic, and builds up, rather than tears away at, reality. In the end, with either genera, I wind up feeling happy and relaxed. But with one, that state comes through a kind of ebullient and energetic release of energy (new wave), the other through a more relaxed meditation.
Okay, brief aside: why do I keep calling this stuff "punk" and putting "new wave" in parentheses. Well, I would just call this stuff straightforwardly "New Wave," but when you say that people start thinking that you are talking about something that includes, mainly, groups like Human League or Naked Eyes instead of something that originally was wide enough to encompass groups like Tom Petty's Heartbreakers or the Pretenders, as well as, of course, the Talking Heads, Ramones and Blondie. By New Wave I do not mean "synth pop" (which usually bugs me: "so adolescent"). So when I talk to folks about what rock I like, rather than explain the shared but divergent history of Punk and New Wave, proper, I just say: I like fun, non-political punk music. Good enough.
Now, back to my commentary: So, in the end, I feel as though I have encountered and released positive energy when I engage these two kinds of music. And, as different as they seem in means, I see some similarities. They both adhere to a kind of minimalist philosophy of music. They both latch on to simplicity and accessibility. Ambient may use modes, but they are tonal. New Wave punk may use distortion, but we can all sing along with the chorus when it comes back round. New Wave and Punk both call for a return to a more simple, "any body can do this and have fun" philosophy of Rock music. Ambient music calls for quieting down, slowing down, and listening to the beauty in the tonality of what surrounds us.
They both adhere to a kind of DIY philosophy: anybody can pick up a guitar and slam out some fun punk; anybody can do some field recordings and send it through an effects processor. Eno is always glorying in the "fact" (questionable) that he is "not really a musician." Hmph. I sure wish I were as good of a "not real musician" as Eno! Well, anyway, we get the point.
I keep coming back to ambient music, and keep trying to create my own, because of its adult, mature, honest simplicity. If rock music is "three chords, a red guitar and the truth," then ambient music is (I just made this up, tell me what you think, or give me your better version): "three modes a colorful formant and a sense of beauty."
When I turn to new wave and punk, I don't find myself attracted (anymore) to the aggression in some of it, nor the overtly anarchist politics of others. I avoid that stuff now. That is the stuff that reminds me of all that I remember hating about being a teenager. I keep coming back to the new wave and punk stuff that is fun, almost "pre-adolescent:" an ebullience for life that says "dance," "jump up and down," release this energy, have fun, and help others feel good too.
It is, however, hard, as a guy with a "hobby" project studio to make dance punk at home. I guess I better buy a pickup for my acoustic guitar! Next, I think I need to post about why I dig the minimalist aesthetic, whether in rock or in other electronic forms of music, like ambient music.
Here is the question I'll have to ask myself: am I a minimalist out of some kind of legitimate philosophical position? or just because I lack virtuoso musical skills and I'm just Pollyanna?! Thanks for reading, and thanks for the support.