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The Musical Drive

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

The Musical Drive

Andrew Ryan

People have been creating music since… nearly forever. It is ubiquitous within human culture, evolving into all kinds of styles and genres based on our individual environment, upbringing and personal taste. But why is it that music even exists? It is an inherently human trait to want to express ourselves creatively, but why do we do it? What is it that drives a person to learn an instrument, create a piece of music, then want to distribute it among their fellow human?

Well, it all started in communication, baby. It wasn’t long after humans developed speech that some guy heard a bird sing and was all “Holy shit, that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.” One theory as to how babies first learn to speak is that they instinctively mimic the noises they hear. We are also slaves to our pleasure drives, and the process of listening to music can release similar dopamine levels to that of being stroked by a lover. It can definitely send bigger shivers down one’s spine. So, take a look at the human race as an individual; in our infant stages, we heard a bird sing, it gave us pleasure, so it makes sense that we would have mimicked the tonal varieties in voice for make-benefit the rest of our tribe. After generations of practice, combined with the discovery that wind blowing through reeds can create a pleasing sound, and that two hard things bashed together can replicate that sound we hear coming from deep within our chests, teenage humanity has found a way to express the things he thinks and feels, and communicate it to whoever is around to listen to it.

For a long time, a song was written to compound a shared experience. A hunting song, a gathering song, a thank-you-sun-we-love-your-light song, a we-fought-those-other-guys-to-the-death song; all of them handed down father and mother to son and daughter. Sometimes this was done as a way to instil desired values in a child, whether it be a respect for nature and/or the people around you, and sometimes it would be a learning tool, to help the child remember the best way to catch a certain fish or animal. This then evolved into religious praise, which has remained a giant part of the collective human experience. But as human society changed, so did the nature of music.
After the invention of money, everything became a commodity. Oh yeah, I went there. Artists were paid to paint ceilings, they were paid to carve the king’s portrait in stone, and they were paid to compose national anthems. While an artist’s life has most often been one of poverty, it soon became evident to creative types that if enough popularity were to be gained, it was possible to live very, very comfortably from the profits of artistic endeavours (and then non-creative types realised the same fact, and thus, the music industry as we know it today was born). Since Elvis and The Beatles happened, it was an accepted fact among all young people that if you play the guitar, and you’ve got the right swagger, you could become famous and earn a whole bunch of money. It changed the way humans looked at music. Sure, it’s still shared experience and all of that, but it had also turned into idol worship, something previously reserved for political figures (kings, presidents etc) , war heroes and the like.

These days, every musician has his or her own reason for writing a song. Generally though, if a 10 year old kid tells his parents he wants to play guitar, you’ve got to hope that the image he has seen of the guitar player on TV has resonated within him the sense that broader, deeper communication with your fellow human being is possible. If he’s playing his own songs 5 to 10 years down the track, and has a collection of notebooks full of poetry, drawings and pictures cut out of newspaper, and some recordings on Myspace for his friends to hear, then you know that this kid feels a deep, base urge to express himself, and can’t not do it. The creative urge is not a controllable one. If, on the other hand, the kid decides to start studying marketing at university after being in a few bands in high school and not really meshing creatively with his fellow students… well, you can see where I’m leading with that one. That guy is in it for the money; MTV has taught his practical, left-side dominant brain well.

The drive to create music is a complicated one. I’ve attempted to explain best I can, but while writing this piece, I have been subjected to the jamming session of the boys downstairs; so while I find this topic fascinating, I am definitely, and quite suitably, distracted. I suppose the act of listening to music is explanation enough. A piece of music takes on a different meaning as soon as it is heard by anyone other than the creator. All art is subject to interpretation. And the need to express one’s self varies so much that it is impossible to summarise in 800 words. Why do we make music? Because we can’t fucking help it.