I don’t need music to soothe me

Inspiration to write something at 7:08 a.m.? Blasphemy!

Anyways, yesterday I was on Facebook and one of my Facebook friends had a quote in his status from Maria Callas, the late American-born Greek opera singer. It was as follows:

When music fails to agree to the ear, to soothe the ear and the heart and the senses, then it has missed its point.

I had an immediate reaction to this quotation, and I think it’s because of what I’ve been listening a lot to lately, which I’ll get to in a minute. But as soon as I read the quote from Callas, I knew I disagreed with the sentiment.

Now, this isn’t to discredit the soothing power of music. Music has indeed gotten me through really rough times, and sometimes when life gets chaotic there’s nothing better than turning on beautiful music and allowing it to wash over you. For some music, I don’t mind that.

But the quote seems to think that music exists only for this reason, and for that I disagree. Now, to be fair, this quote is coming from an opera singer. As far as I know, opera isn’t meant to be jarring and endlessly complex. I have tons of respect for opera singers, as it requires a lot of breath and volume control that I know I’d never have.

However, lately I’ve been obsessed with an album that does not exist to soothe the heart and the ear and the senses. The album is by a band called Ghostkeeper, out of Calgary. Ghostkeeper have been one of my favourite bands since hearing their self-titled sophomore album in 2010.

Next week, Ghostkeeper will be releasing Horse Chief! War Thief!, their third album, and it flips the notion of what roots music is all about on its head. Lead singer Shane Ghostkeeper has a unique vocal style that’s almost like a stutter at times, and it blurs the line between spoken-word poetry and actual singing. The melodies themselves are never predictable. As in the song “Gospel Slinger,” a song can start with little but vocals over a synthesizer beat before exploding with droning noise, shouts and drums.

Ghostkeeper will never be a band that people listen to to soothe the senses. Similarly, towards the end of last year I reviewed an album by Tippy Agogo and Bill Bourne entitled Amoeba Collective. I don’t quite remember the album as much now, since it’s been a while since I listened, but it’s also not an album that will make anybody feel better about life. It’s also filled with very complicated melodies. The songs don’t necessarily shift as much as Ghostkeeper, but no two songs sound exactly the same and they integrate influences from countless genres.

Now, again, I’m not saying that soothing music has no place in the world, but I don’t think music has to have one rigid goal that means it either has or hasn’t missed the point. However, if this is truly the idea of what music should be, then I don’t mind listening to music that misses the point every once in a while.

And I believe listeners should too. A listener should be challenged by the music they listen to from time to time. I feel that if someone never feels unsettled or challenged by the music they listen to then they aren’t venturing far enough into the world. I include below the video for “Haunted,” by Ghostkeeper, from their 2010 album. The video is as unsettling as the song is.

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