Monday, January 08, 2007

Paul Tillich's Theology of Indie Rock IV

Part I, Part II, Part III.

So what are the problems with this approach to the religious or spiritual dimension in music? Well, first and foremost, and this may also be considered a strength depending on you point of view: it presents an objective criterion to religious music, while most people spontaneously would feel that what constitutes a spiritual experience in music is something extremely subjective.

However, it seems to me that this criterion is not really objective, it is rather to be understood as a more specific way of saying 'to me this song is spiritual'. It says goes a bit further than merely stating a subjective feeling, it describes why I have this feeling. The interpretive element is not removed completely: what specific pieces of music that is considered Gehalt-oriented is not something 100% objective. So one could claim that Tillich's approach gives a way of avoiding both the 100% objective approach (a kind of ex opere operato notion of religious music) and a 100% subjective approach (Which of course turns religion into a part of the individual, and removes the ultimate aspect completely).

Another problem with this approach is that it does not seem to fit all kinds of music as well. I chose these example because even though they are very different they all share the same basic aesthetics: It is the kind of music where melody, sound and harmonies are important but there is also a notion that these cannot be made into a goal in themselves.

If I however took this same mode of analysis, and looked at for example an artist such as Bob Dylan, I would not really get any results. Now it is undeniable that many feel that Dylan is very spiritual (in parts), yet - it has to be said - melody, sound and chords rarely seem very important to him. For him, the Form of the music is almost irrelevant. However, it may be possible to treat these kinds of artists (see also Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen etc.) by focusing more on the lyrics themselves, and apply the Gehalt-form scale to just the lyrics, and maybe to the way the artist performs them.

Another similar comment is that there seems to be something very existential in the mere performance of music. Could this be another area where these tools could be used? How about instrumental music?

I will in another post (this series just keeps growing), address the question of so called Christian music, and then finally address why I actually feel this is important. Until then, go back to the previous parts and check out all those youTube clips once more!

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