Monday, July 12, 2010

Luddite Music

In an age of runaway consumerism, the patenting and copyrighting of absolutely everything, and a near total dependence on high technology, one might be excused for assuming that the Luddite lifestyle consist of nothing but grueling, oppressive, backbreaking labor. This simply isn’t true, there’s plenty of time for leisure and recreation, and one of my favorite pastimes is homemade music.

I grew up in the age of rock-and-roll, and was especially keen on progressive ‘art-rock’. Most of my rock-and-roll fantasies involved me behind a rack of keyboards and synthesizers. Trying to morph these fantasies into reality, I soon learned, however, that I couldn’t make that kind of music on the meager amount of money I had to spend in pursuit of my dream. About the same time I discovered this, I discovered folk music – in my case, Irish and Scottish folk music, and it was a revelation. Here were people creating complex, listenable music wherever they were, whenever they felt like it, and doing it without truckloads of expensive equipment, and in most cases without even electricity.

There are of course, several traditions of acoustic and traditional music. I have my preferences and if you don’t already, you’ll have yours too. When it comes down to it though, you don’t even have to choose a tradition – there’s plenty of modern and contemporary music available to choose from as well. There are a couple of reasons I like traditional music though:

  • It’s freely available – no copyrights to worry about
  • There’s a lot of it – more than you can imagine, thousands and thousands of songs available, and of every type imaginable.
  • It’s ‘people’ music – it was made by people for people to enjoy, sing, play, eat, grieve, celebrate, live, work and dance to.
  • There’s a kind of synergy between the music and the instruments: The instruments influenced the music and the music influenced the instruments.
  • It’s as simple and easy or as complex and demanding as you want it to be. The level of entry is where ever you are right now – whether you’ve played and instrument or sang your whole life, or whether you’re simply dreaming about it and have never made anything resembling music in your life.

    Now I’m not a great, good, or even competent musician. I can bang a bit on a piano or a guitar, and I can read music. The instrument I find myself playing most often though is the Irish Tin Whistle. What I like about the tin whistle is that it’s rugged, small, easy, and cheap. My current favorite whistle (I have 6 or so) cost me 12 bucks – my first one cost me about 6 bucks. There are dozens of options though, such as the before mentioned piano, guitar, as well as the harmonica, mandolin, fiddle, various percussion instruments, autoharps, dulcimers, accordions, brass, woodwinds, and who knows what else. The key to a Luddite though, is that it be relatively simple, and require minimal inputs (The Luddite Code says that we’re willing to substitute skill for technology, and that the technology we use should work for us rather than us working for it).

    I said above that the level of entry into music was wherever you are right now. This is definitely true, but you need to beware the pitfall of all new musicians. You can start playing music from day one, but it will be a while before you’re playing anything and everything you want to play and playing it as well as you want. Like everything Luddite, there’s some work involved. It’s fun work though, and it’s building a useful skill. The payoff though, is a new kind of independence – being able to create your own music, when, where, and how you want. You’ll make friends and entertain the kids, and for me that’s the best part. It’s a great feeling blowing on my whistle and having the kids dance around, be silly, goofy, and happy as a result of blowing a simple tune.

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