Nana Tsay | Click for photo essay.
Music is profoundly illuminated as the ‘universal language’. It possesses the ability to instill emotions within us and communicate feelings through manners that do not utilize semantics or grammar. The art of music is much more than an arrangement of articulated sounds—music speaks. It has a tone that portrays meaning, affectivity—something human. We experience a vast array of sensations when we listen to music—bliss, melancholy, and even bitterness. Music can alleviate or accentuate and amplify particular sentiments beyond text or the spoken word. While music is not a true language—meaning that a statement like “the flower is beautiful” cannot be undeviatingly transliterated—it contains elements such as melody, meter, rhythm, and other ‘rules’, that make it structured similarly to a language. The activity in the human brain whilst reading and performing music is also interestingly analogous to that of spoken language and syntax.
This past semester at Columbia University, I took a course that centralizes on the humanities of music which truly invigorated and further enlightened my previous musical knowledge I had acquired from studying violin and piano. It explored the critical framework, technical vocabulary, and historical contexts essential to understanding art music. It allowed me to connect deeper and appreciate music in another light. I saw how music evolved over time from Medieval Plainchants to Classical to The Late 20th Century Minimalism. Because of the vast multitude of music genres, I became inquisitive and curious what music means to others and the tones that they gravitate to.
The artists that I resonate with are relatively minimal and piano-intense. They tend to reflect blue undertones of wistfulness and melancholy much like my photography—Emancipator: With Rainy Eyes, This Will Destroy You: They Move on Tracks of Never-Ending Light, Ludovico Einaudi: Andare, Claude Debussy: Clair de Lune, α·Pav : 永遠なる夏.
It was an honor to be featured in the Brilliance Magazine Vol. 2 Summer issue (p.196-199)—a diverse consolidation of interviews, enticing articles, and minimalistic photo essays. I was requested to head up the preceding Vol. 3 Fall issue in the music section titled “TONE” which encompasses minimalistic photography embellished with musical elements. Unfortunately, the Editor in Chief & Founder of Brilliance announced, with much regret, that the upcoming publication has been extendedly postponed, however, he has strong hope to enliven the magazine in the future. The article that I composed is instead published here.
EDIT: The Editor in Chief & Founder was able to publish Brilliance Magazine Vol. 3 which can be found on: brilliancemagazine.com.
I interviewed four artists and asked them to share a personal photo. Click ‘Read More’ below.
Trevor - @asthesunsets
Music is a very powerful thing. For me, it’s this incredible creation that has so many different cognitive associations to it. Anger, depression, joy, fear, any emotion you can think of, can be and has been associated to a particular song, a certain singer, a line in a song that gives you Goosebumps every time you hear it… I think music is truly one of the only art forms outside of film that can evoke such differing emotions, memories, and thoughts. To me, that is an incredible thing, and why music does and always will mean so much to me. Much of my life is remembered through the songs and bands I was listening to in that specific point in my life. Hearing a song you haven’t heard in years, and suddenly being transported back to an exact time and place in your mind, and feeling the emotions connected to the initial hearing of that song is pretty powerful. That’s why music will always be an important part of my life.
What are your favorite albums? Trying to come up with a definitive list is always so hard, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. These three albums were life-changing experiences for me the very first time I heard them. I know they are special, because no matter how many times I’ve listened to them, they never get old. I never get tired of them. The memories attached to these albums run deep, and run the gamut from extreme happiness to extreme depression. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is of course no particular order of favorites—they’re all tied for number 1.
1. Sigur Ros: ( ) - What could I possibly say about this album? Literally the most beautiful music ever recorded. On my initial listening to this album, I cried. And I have never done that before listening to this album.
2. Page Fance: Hello, Dear Wind - Words can’t properly describe how beautiful this album is.
3. The Receiving End of Sirens: Between The Heart And The Synapse - An absolute masterpiece—from the multi-layered vocals, to the production, to the concept of the whole album—just an absolute masterpiece.
Louise - @louise_stormborn
I grew up in a household that revolves around music. From the kitsch décor my mother collects, embellished with treble clefs and quavers, to our cat named Jude, a nod to The Beatles. My father, a professional drummer, bassist, and guitarist exposed me to the world of organized sound at a very young age. By age 4, I had my own pint-sized guitar. I started piano lessons at age 8. Although the reason eludes me, it wasn’t until I picked up a pair of drumsticks at age 14 that I truly understood what it was like to be entranced by the harmony of sounds that I myself could shape, arrange, and perform. The euphoria I felt the first time I successfully coordinated my hands, feet and mind to execute a perfect 4/4 straight beat is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Drumming is like that. It is physically and mentally demanding, but the reward is sweet—the drumbeat is the heartbeat of a song—oddly appropriate for me, since I went on to study cardiovascular science. Over my teenage years, with my father as my tutor, I was thrown headfirst into the realms of rock, jazz and Latin drumming, into unfamiliar cultures and into decades past. These experiences were invaluable. The bond my father and I formed by playing music together is unique to any other in my life—and forged through the simple and utterly organic concepts of togetherness, communication and cooperation. Furthermore, playing an instrument has taught me the virtues of patience, practice and dedication, which have been pivotal in my career as a medical scientist. Music has been the teacher of so many important life lessons. It has played a fundamental role in my upbringing: a third parent.
What are your favorite songs? One of my favorite songs would have to be The Eagles: Hotel California. It was one of the first songs my father and I played together. Musically, it is actually quite simple. The lyrics, however, juxtapose this simplicity with tantalizingly cryptic words. In my interpretation, the song highlights the sinister side of the music industry, the side that can thrust a musician into an inescapable, downward spiral of greed and lust. What better way exists to highlight this issue than through music itself? This song is a classic because it is so clever, robust, powerful, and it forces the listener to employ cognitive power in order to understand the message. This song warns musicians (and everyone, for that matter) to stay sharp, and stay humble. And of course, a mean guitar solo never hurts anyone.
There are countless songs I would elevate to the rank of “favorite,” but at the moment, I have a few auditory gems on repeat. Fleet Foxes: Mykonos, The Shins: Australia, Grizzly Bear: Two Weeks, Great Lake Swimmers: Your Rocky Spine, and Phoenix: Listzomania just to name just a few. All of them feature on an easy listening, indie/folk inspired playlist to get me through a monotonous day in the lab.
Sarah - @polagram
Music is my alternative to coffee. It wakes me up and puts me in the mood that gets me through my day. The music I listen to expresses how I’m feeling. Sometimes, it’s cheerful with calm undertones and every so often, it’s fast, erratic, and I need to play it louder. Music is one way I can relate to other people—figure out what their interests are and what inspires them. Certain songs have a nostalgic value and I’m always reminded of unique moments from my past. The way I look at it, I need music in my life; it elevates me to a better and happier place.
What are your favorite songs? Nujabes: Aruarian Dance; Stevie Nicks: Landslide (acoustic); The Little Ones: Argonauts. Why are they your favorites? Nujabes was by far the best producer out there! Rest in peace, Seba Jun. I play Stevie Nicks for my son all the time. The Little Ones just makes me wanna shake it.
Eric - @ericleva
Music is [like] a language. I have studied a great deal of music very thoroughly—from classical to today’s Top 40 hits. The overarching sentiment is that music and sound evoke a certain degree of emotion in a listener that, for most people, can’t be attained through other senses. I once had a mentor that would say “the masses don’t know how they feel until they hear it in a song”. I think there is a great deal of truth in that. As a creator of music, I feel responsible for writing things that will connect with an audience and help them understand their emotions. Music has certainly helped me understand my own.
What are your favorite songs? One of my favorite songs has always been Soldier by Ingrid Michaelson. The song is the first track off of her album, Everybody, which came out on my birthday in 2009. When I first heard the song, I remember feeling overwhelmingly proud to be a songwriter within the first couple of seconds. I can’t explain it—it really struck me in that moment. But now when I listen to the song, all I can think about is autumn in 2009 and it’s like I can relive exactly how I was feeling throughout that whole season. Some songs are like time machines. Soldier always brings me back. If I listened to it right now I’d be a senior in high school again, just trying to figure it all out and make a plan for myself.