I wrote this post at the airport while waiting for my plane:
One of the comments on our Indiegogo campaign page mentioned the need for good music; it was a passing mention, but it got me thinking about a song I remember and still enjoy: Istället för musik, Förvirring by Bob Hund. The translation of the title (and repeated chorus) is Instead Of Music, Confusion. Here’s the video:
So here I am in Heathrow Airport, sitting in a packed cafe, drinking my coffee and waiting to catch my plane to San Francisco. To my right, a couple from Finland in their late fifties. In front of me, the counter; servers from South America, Asia and Eastern Europe serve the non-stop flow of customers. A cart rattles by piled high with trays, clattering on the corrugated metal floor. To my left, a row of tables, all occupied, everyone’s nose buried in their food, their phone or their laptop. The one or two exceptions that prove the rule stare off into the middle distance.
From speakers mounted throughout the room, some warbling approximation of what people call music nowadays burbles away, inoffensive lifestyle wallpaper – what I call “music for people who don’t like music”. Branded hoardings surround us on all sides, reminding us how great this place is, how pure the company is, how fresh the food, how healthy and homemade all the sandwiches trucked here from the depot are.
Directly next to me, maybe three feet away, two men stand at the coffee countertop where they drop sugar and milk into their cups. They talk to each other in low tones but I can hear every word. Why wouldn’t I? They’re right there.
In fact, I can hear everything said at the counter. They’re right there as well – ten feet instead of three.
A server breezes past, drops a tray onto the stack on the counter with a clatter and moves off again. Back and forth, back and forth. The gritty sound of plastic wheels rolling on laminate and steel. The clang of the coffee machine as another dose of grounds is chambered and then blasted with hot water.
Outside the cafe, an alarm goes off briefly – for ten seconds the rotor squeal pierces my ears.
I like traveling, principally because it is absolutely the best way to meet new people, and I love people. I’m fascinated by their stories, their faces, their ideas, their relationships, the way they behave, the way they make their decisions. That’s why I would have studied anthropology at university if I hadn’t been so singularly convinced that I was going to be in a platinum record-selling rock and roll band when I was a teenager. That’s why directing in particular attracts me – interacting with, examining and understanding people. Their motivations, their emotions, their actuality.
So if I love people so much, why make a film about population issues and crowding? Why write about the distractions, the noise, the intrusion of this fairly typical public place?
I love music as well. I play the drums, not so much these days though – my shoulder ain’t what it used to be and my bald spot doesn’t look very sexy under a spotlight. Zappa said “music is the best”. Stephen King calls it “the fabled automatic” for its ability to transport us instantly to a memory, a state of mind, an emotion. Magic, pure and simple.
But music is based on principles of melody, harmony, form and composition. Even dissonant music, of which I’m a big fan, has order within it, intentionality. Two of the most important elements of powerful music are restraint and quiet. The guitar solo you love probably wouldn’t be so beautiful if the guitarist tried to play every note on the guitar the whole time. Restraint. The part where the song pares down to a single instrument, holding a pulse or tune, and then it builds, slowly, tremendously, to a thundering climax that makes your heart race, your hair stand up, your skin go goosey – if it was full-on loud with everyone playing at once for the whole song, it would lose its power. It would lose its implicit order, its intentionality. It would cease to be music and instead, become confusion.
The beginning of Jungle Boogie, when the bass kicks in, is one of the funkiest moments in the history of music. If you don’t find yourself moving to it when it takes off, get your pulse checked because you may be deceased. Why is it so balls-to-the-wall funktastic? Because the bass isn’t playing up until that point. When it kicks in, you notice, because it is new, insistent, intense.
John B. Calhoun, the doctor whose experiments form the narrative backbone of Critical Mass, described a phenomenon among the rodents which he called “overliving”. As more and more rodents crowded together, they bumped into one another ever more frequently until it became unbearable for them. Too much unintentional contact with one another eventually made meaningful , intentional contact between them less likely, even impossible. A society, which is fundamentally a network of individuals communicating meaningfully with one another for their mutual pleasure and benefit became instead a muddle of competing noises and competing interests. Connections were briefer or non-existent, lost in the cacophony.
Going back to my three-chord punk band at the age of sixteen, which morphed into a prog outfit playing twelve-minute through-composiitions – there were four of us. Perhaps with five, ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty people, we might have written truly exceptional material, way beyond what only the four of us were capable of. But if there were fifty, a hundred, a thousand people in that band, what melody, harmony, form or composition would be possible then? Would it have been music, or confusion?
When I set out to make this film, I wanted to learn about the subject of population and introduce people to it so that we could have a real dialogue. I wanted to know what kind of music we used to play, what we play now and what the songs of future will be if we don’t change anything or could be if we do.
I love people, just as I love music. That’s why I think we should have an open conversation about what is going on around us, so that in the future we, our children and our children’s children can have music instead of confusion.