Pending resolutions

Aside from a musician’s technical-theoretical knowledge, the notes he chooses to play also reveal information about his motives and general mental character. Music of a populist nature opts for more instantaneously gratifying note choices; meaning any micro-movement, be it a lick, a phrase, or a riff, will settle into a resolution or something resembling thereof as soon as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the artist has lesser goals in mind; often, an easy resolution is the only means amenable to conveying a message, usually relayed through a vocal medium, and that is a perfectly honorable ideal of itself, too. But even in that is a subtle takeaway: the message assumes responsibility and ownership over the music; in other words, the artist, albeit unconsciously perhaps, believes his music to not be potent enough to be the sole and overwhelming narrator in the arrangement. It has to be fattened on a diet of overt suggestion to make itself known to the audience.

Complex music, however, on inspection almost always reveals a deliberate putting off of convenient note resolution. Think about it in the musical abstract; would it be easier to create a progressive narrative by neatly wrapping up each individual section and beginning anew at every such point of closure? Or would it make more sense to leave that resolution pending, perhaps by circling back to the general vicinity of the root note, hinting at something a little divergent, a little differently fleshed out in the near future? The first would lead to severances in the musical fabric, making the song a collection of discrete moments; metal, of course, is replete with incidences of such ruptures which if anything end up adding to the memorability and spontaneity of the song. While that is well and good, it shouldn’t be forgotten that that memorability in this case is owed to the melodic prowess of the individual riff played during that rupture, and not to the narrative “wholeness” of the song. The first moments of an out-of-nowhere fresh idea still jar the sensibility; it is only subsequent conditioning that realigns us with the song, until it is time to come out of the breach, and back into the main body of the arrangement, which is when the disconnect makes itself felt all over again.

But the bootstrapping style of songwriting – where “riffends” are not really so much ends as augurs – is necessarily predicated upon a wider field of vision, one that stretches beyond a gratuitous immersion in the moment. In the artist it reveals a perpetual search, a seeker’s odyssey of sorts; his goals aren’t delineated at the outset; instead they evolve with him over the course of the arrangement, not in a haphazard, impromptu manner, but as contingent on a living, breathing chain of cause and effect. By extrapolation, this style of songwriting also imitates life; technology continuously strains to provide us answers to experiences we’ve never had; Google Assistant detects the song and artist playing in the background, but is this any substitute for actually having gone through the paces yourself? Definitive answers to the questions of life may not exist but the only true coin remains living life itself.

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