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Wednesday
Mar232016

Why EDM Sounds So Liberating

(Originally published in 2014) 

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) has taken over pop culture. Its infectious beats, airy synths, signature builds, and explosive climaxes are now a household sound, from car commercials featuring Dirty Vegas, to Maroon 5’s backing track to “Love Somebody,” to the viral “What Does the Fox Say?” Those who outright dismiss EDM as illegitimate art mock its bland repetition, its mind-numbing sameness.  Such critiques miss the subtle nuancing and gentle sculpting that occur over time, and they forget that EDM has a doppelganger in the classical world in minimalism, with composers like Philip Glass and John Adams. EDM is also quickly dismissed in an understandable move of guilt by association, because of its strong ties to the rave culture of drug use and promiscuity. Even so, I believe we can still see something redemptive, even beautiful, even liberating in the art form of EDM. Being well over thirty years old now, EDM has spread its tributaries far and wide into hybrid genres and sub-genres, but for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the mainstream EDM sound and the surprising, liberating gift it can give us. In this instance, I want us to not theologize on the art but let the art theologize on us. 

In the End…Dance

Almost all histories of EDM trace its roots to the 70s club culture of New York City and the 80s DJ culture of Chicago. EDM’s rhythmic sound came from disco, inheriting the thump-sizzle-pop as its most basic musical building block. It was exported across the Atlantic, amplified in the UK, and then re-given to the US in the 90s, finally emerging from the underground into the mainstream in the new millennium.

The EDM sound is not meant to be enjoyed in a passive recline on velveteen seats of ornate theaters. It is not receptive art but intensely participatory art. When you hear it, you don’t ponder—you dance. Understanding that EDM is inherently dance music is the first step in understanding why it resonates so deeply in the human soul. Dance is the human’s greatest, fullest expression of abundant, overflowing joy. When we are pleased, we smile. When we are kidded, we laugh. When we are exploding with joy, we dance. EDM puts us immediately in the context of what theologians call the “eschaton”—the end that we were built for…an eternal basking the pleasures of God. The Old Testament frequently pairs eschatological joy with dance (e.g. Jeremiah 31:4). EDM feels liberating, first, because it is the sound of the joy that is to come, for which every last human being is hard-wired to hunger.  This makes complete sense of the contexts out of which EDM thrived—the depressed economy of 1970s New York, the hard urban context of 1980s Chicago, and the gloomy streets of 80s and 90s London.

Painting Sound on a Canvas Without Edges

However, not only does EDM point to an eternal future of joy, it brings eternality into the present. Part of what shaped the unending, repetitive sound of EDM was its original context—the club—where the music never stopped. The two-deck, dual-turntable technology, pioneered in the late 1940’s, allowed DJs to blend the end of one song into the beginning of another. In dance clubs, one can literally dance to one, long song that conceivably could have no end.

EDM, unlike other musical forms, which have a more pronounced storyline from beginning to end (think of a sonata or a country song), places the listener-dancer into the playing field of the infinite. Put another way, EDM’s paints on a canvas without edges. It transports us into an eternal storyline. This is why EDM sounds so repetitive. It is an art form expressed in the context of eternity, catching us up in a never-ending loop of joy. The Bible similarly describes eternity as a euphoric repetition of heavenly beings who never cease crying, “Holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8). Perhaps EDM is equipped better than any other art form to help human beings grasp, even for just a second, what eternal rapture feels like.

The “Narrative Arc” of EDM 

But if we stopped with the above, we’d only possess a kind of unspecific, ultimately unsatisfying vagueness with which a Buddhist or, say, Oprah could happily agree. EDM speaks an even better word. Eternal dance is only the backdrop, for within the basic framework of modern EDM now exists a familiar storyline, a generic form. EDM artists today may play with that form, reconfiguring the order or leaving out certain elements altogether, but they all pay homage to the basic “narrative arc” of modern house music. We all know it, whether we realize it or not. A musicologist I was recently interacting with described the EDM narrative as “home, exile, and New Home.” This very simple, basic structure can be heard within the first two minutes of Swedish House Mafia’s “One (Radio Edit).” Listen for these elements in the music. (1) HOME: introduction of the musical theme (0:00-0:09), and development (0:10-0:23); (2) EXILE: beat drops out and it feels “darker” and develops, anticipates New Home (0:23-1:01) with the final build before the “drop” beginning at 0:56; (3) NEW HOME: full beat, the sonic spectrum opens up, it carries the original theme but in a blossomed, fuller way.

This arc is discernible in pop radio hit, “Wake Me Up,” by Avicii.

The reason this narrative arc is significant is that it is the very storyline of the Bible—Creation, Fall, Redemption. And this brings us to the heart of why EDM feels so liberating when we hear it. EDM’s basic structure echoes the story of the gospel—God’s creation of humanity and our home, our rebellious fall and exile, and the redemption of Jesus Christ, ushering us into our new, more beautiful, eternal Home. Some EDM artists would accuse me of imposing my theology on their songs against their intention. I actually think it is the reverse. I am exegeting the story written on our hearts that we were all built to be enamored by, whose main Character and specific plot line were blurred and veiled by our sinfulness but not completely forgotten. The vague gospel story reverberates in all human beings like a fourth-generation echo, which gets stronger and clearer when its original story draws near. EDM feels like what the gospel crystalizes: there is redemption, freedom, and eternal joy to be found in what Christ provides for us, in unbridled grace, by His death and life.

Sonically, this is why the best EDM producers and DJs know how to tease the listener with tantalizingly delayed gratification. They drag the narrative out through false summits—builds that lead to partial gratification, ultimately unfulfilling. Listen to Markus Schulz’s “Loops & Tings,” and you’ll feel many moments of the Promise Land being yanked from you when it’s just within reach.

But when the “drop” finally happens in a song, when the new heavens and new earth are unleashed, it’s always sonic rapture. The ear had been previously deprived of certain frequencies—subterranean lows and sizzling highs—but suddenly it all blossoms. Full bass and kick, wet, sizzling keys with washed out highs, and a saturated mid-range. We finally hear and feel everything we were waiting to hear, meant to hear.

This is precisely how the gospel feels when we truly hear it. All our longings, all the deprivation, all the lost hope, all the unmet expectations and false summits that can’t deliver on what they promise…they all dissipate as the Truth suddenly blossoms in a single, penetrating moment when our heart thumps like never before, resonating to the news that Jesus paid it all and lived it all. EDM feels liberating because it microcosmically echoes in musical form what the Gospel proclaims boldly in sermonic form—Jesus Christ, the answer to everything.

For Meditation and Further Listening

If you dare, take a moment out of life for a ten-minute guided tour of the narrative arc of Deadmau5’s epic song, “Strobe,” whose structure I’ll interpret from the model of the biblical storyline.

Creation (0:00-5:10)

  • 0:00-3:56: Opening motif, a budding creation and a meandering melody
  • 1:40: introduction of low-mid saw; the story gets more dramatic, complex, beautiful, intriguing; other elements (piano, sizzle, strings, shakers) emerge; life begins to “teem”; pulse slowly accelerates into…
  • 3:56: introduction of beat; creation moves, flourishes; a simple kick
  • 4:25: beat gets deeper, then snare enters (4:41), intensifying

Fall (5:11-6:47)

  • the beat drops out, and an eerie stillness
  • the stillness turns into agitation, disruption, uncomfortability, jolting syncopation (5:39)
  • a low-end build introduces the ramp-up; where will all this disillusionment go? (6:21)
  • final build as the “wind” blows in (6:41)

Redemption (6:48-end)

  • full beat, full throttle; the dance begins

For further listening, here are some of my favorite EDM artists who I think are doing extraordinary musical work. I’ll even recommend songs I like, too. (Note: Some of these artists fall into sub-/side-genres that some would classify as offshoots of EDM, but I’ll lump them all together.)

Above and Beyond (“Walter White,” “Sticky Fingers”)
Kaskade (“Lessons in Love,” “Turn it Down,” “Last Chance”)
Deadmau5 (“Some Chords,” “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff – Nero Remix”)
Avicii (“Dear Boy,” “Levels”)
Swedish House Mafia (“One,” “Don’t You Worry Child”)
Skrillex (“Kyoto,” “Ruffneck,” “First of the Year – Equinox”
David Guetta (“Without You,” “She Wolf,” “Bad”)
Daft Punk (“Human After All,” “Aerodynamic Beats”)
Nero (“Promises”)

Here’s a Spotify playlist I put together of all of these. What songs do you love and what artists would you recommend?

Monday
Mar092015

New Music Roundup - Early 2015

The landscape of great worship music continues to broaden and deepen. Styles continue to diverge, and I'm finding that lyrical depth is increasing on many fronts. This is all very encouraging. This post rounds up the first half, but check back later this week for the rest of the roundup.


Citizens & Saints, Join the Triumph

I am man-crushing all over this album. Citizens & Saints, along with Dustin Kensrue, are cutting their own path. What I love most about their writing, that I see so little of elsewhere, is their ability to write energetic, up-tempo songs exploding with great theology. In my opinion, the folks in this crew are the gold standard. The production is also very original, very poppy, very synthy, AND very out-of-the-ordinary. Just listen to the first track, "The Strife Is Over": moog-ish portamento and a Who-like synth pulse. Very fresh. And then, on top of all of this, they continue to tighten their proclamation of a raw, unadulterated gospel. This is an album that proves you can be "triumphalistic"...in Jesus triumph.


Journey Collective, Nothing But the Blood (Single)

A stompy, soulful arrangement of the hymn BUT...with some great rewritten verses highlighting (especially racial) reconciliation, which I know is big on the heart of Journey Collective's Russ Mohr. I admire him and Journey for this bold and beautiful recording. I'm of the persuasion that we need more Christian responses to injustice that look like THIS. I'd recommend churches to engage these alternate lyrics with whatever arrangement they're used to. It's a fresh way of approaching hymn-singing with pastoral intentionality. Download a chart here, and get the song for free.


Hillsong Young & Free, This is Living (EP)

I interacted with this album a bit on my post about how EDM could be influencing the form of song-structure, but I wanted to point it out as a sign of the times. The music is fun and dance-able. I wish the lyrics were a bit stronger (still a lot of triumphalism...e.g. see the opening lines of "Energy") to match the beauty and joy of the music. I would challenge the folks doing great EDM-worship production to wed the music with fantastic texts so that dance music can be all it can be for the sake of the Church.


Coram Deo Church, Swallowed Up Death

This album is incredible. Top notch musicianship, creative production. The title track reminds me of Modest Mouse meets The Sing Team, with a generous helping of Motown. Their "Come My Way" is the first convincing tuning of this poetic hymn that I have ever heard (never been able to fully sing some of the standard tunes). "How Heavy is the Night" is an early-Radiohead-ish confession and clinging to the cross. "The King Shall Come" is a remarkable song for Advent. I love how albums like these are, in addition to repackaging hymns, interacting with the hymn tradition in the NEW songs they write. So informed, so passionate, so beautiful. I'm very inspired by this record.


Sojourn Music, New Again

They can do no wrong. I sang "New Again" with tears in my eyes for the first time at the Doxology & Theology Conference just a few months ago, and I was hooked. It's another artistic, raw, roots-rock record in the musical spirit of The Water and the Blood. The texts are remarkable and deep, spanning the important and under-served themes of lamentation ("Psalm 126"), justice ("Let Justice Roll"), God's special affection for the weak ("Blessed Are the Poor"). My favorite songs are their two eschatological masterpieces, "New Again," and "Where Your Praise Never Ends."


Bethel Music, We Will Not Be Shaken (LIVE)

Musically, this album is elegant, passionate, and artistic. Their production choices are unique, and they are the masters of creating music that you can feel. Textually, there's a lot on this album really worth engaging. The message of the gospel is prominent throughout the record, and I'm drawn to many of the unique turns of phrase they offer to describe the age old Story. Listeners should especially pay attention to the rich theology of "No Longer Slaves" and "Seas of Crimson," which are the two songs I keep going back to. The Bridge of "No Longer Slaves" has a wonderful phrase loaded with redemptive-historical allusion: "you split the sea so I could walk right through it."


Drew Collins, Songs for the Liturgy

Denver-based worship leader, Drew Collins, gives us a small group of songs inspired by the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. I recently sang his "We Hear" during an Anglican service where the cross was processed in. Songwriting like this helps liturgically-oriented congregations fill their worship with both passion and understanding. Moments of rock, but overall a very acoustically-driven record. Liturgophiles will find Collins' rendering of the Sanctus joyful and accessible. I only recently became aware of this album, so I share it with you all now!


The Brilliance, Brother

The soundscape of modern church music is changing, and one of the groups we have to thank for expanding its palette and imagination is The Brilliance. With roots in the charismatic tradition, David Gungor and team have fallen head over heels in love with the Church's rich liturgical heritage. Combine this with folk and classical sensibilities, and you've got a small taste for what their mellow, brooding, and introspective music is like. This most recent gift, Brother, resets tunes from previous records (a few of my favorites are "Does Your Heart Break," and "Breathe,") and offers a few new ones. The simplicity of the meditative "Brother" has been working on my heart. "Prayers of the People" could work in many liturgical contexts. It's encouraging to me that The Brilliance is making such headway in Worship Leader Media, with both their conferences and magazines, and I wish them the best of success there. But whatever you do, don't miss the fugue-like surprise ending to "May You Find a Light (Reprise)" that begins after the four-minute mark.


Robbie Seay Band, Psalms LP

In case you've missed Robbie Seay's last three EP's, he's combined his psalms-obsession into one album. There's no new material on the record, but you can now find all his psalm-settings in one spot. They are tasteful, singable, modernized renderings of the only fully inspired Hymn-book ever written. If you haven't heard them yet, get acquainted!


Tyler Clements & Ryan Mayo, Songs for Danforth Chapel

A quaint, elegant acoustic-pop record with some wonderful options for playable, singable hymn arrangements (some retunes, some fresh arrangements of original tunes) which are accessible and congregation-friendly. Both in stylistic choices and singing, this sounds very much like early Caedmon's Call. I love the opening verse of "Well-Worn": "In grace my Savior did pursue / Though I to other saviors flew / By Jesus sought, by Spirit born / For grace has made its path well-worn." It was released two years ago, but I've only recently come across it.

Thursday
Feb052015

How EDM is Changing the Form of Song Structure in Pop Music...and Maybe Congregational Music

The New EDM "Chorus"

Anyone who has been listening to pop music especially the last five years can note the spilling of electronic dance music (EDM) into the mainstream. More and more collaboration is occuring between major EDM artist/DJs/producers (think David Guetta, Avicii, Skrillex [I'll lump him broadly in]). Songs like Avicii's "Wake Me Up" and Guetta/Usher's "Without You" are the kinds of things I'm talking about.

One notices, though, a clash of forms as the two genres of vocals-driven pop and instrumental EDM collide. The chorus becomes a battleground where the sensibilities collide, and the more ground EDM takes, the more we're noticing that the climactic "chorus sections" of songs are instrumental, preceded by various EDM mutations of builds and drops.  Current radio hit "Blame" by Calvin Harris (feat. John Newman) is a great example. The "Blame it on the night" section "works" like a Chorus but in actuality, it functions as a Pre-Chorus. It's really the instrumental section that follows (at about the 0:56 mark) that feels to be the Chorus:

Pop music perhaps began with either a strophic (verse by verse) or Verse-Chorus form (inherited from folk and blues). Then Bridges were introduced. Then Pre-Choruses. Then alternate endings. Over time, pop strucutres have complexified. Most people say, though, that the reigning pop form is still, roughly, Verse1-Chorus-Verse2-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus. Many, many songs are structured this way. It is the "sonata form" of modern music that most composers/producers in the genre are striving for and aiming toward.

But now, with EDM, more and more "choruses" (perhaps it's debatable that we can call them that) are not sung verbally but felt instrumentally.

Complexification in Recent Worship Music History

Moving on to worship/congregational music, we're noticing this phenomenon on the latest "young" worship records, like Hillsong Young & Free's weeks-old, This is Living (EP). Here's the title track:

The drop and ensuing chorus are instrumental, with interspersed "This is living now" phrases. (The second time, there is a "you take me higher" section that contains more words, but the effect is still the same.)

It's too early, in my opinion, to see what this shift will do to both pop and congregational music inside and outside the church. Some may say it's heralding a move further away from a word-based culture and more into a post-literate, perhaps more feeling-based (therefore less concrete) sense of truth, which could have consequences for the never changing Christian message. (It might be a tad ironic that the second track on Young & Free's EP includes the phrase "Your Word rewrites my destiny.")

So why point this out? Contemporary worship historian Lester Ruth has noted that shifts in congregational singing have occurred with the introduction of new song form structures. He observes a turning point in 1994 when, on the top CCLI reports, we witness the first song that contains more than a Verse and a Chorus: "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," complete with Verses, Chorus, and Bridge. (Worship songs certainly did this before, but this is the first instance on a CCLI top-25 report.)

From there, we notice in the charts (based on Dr. Ruth's forthcoming research) more and more songs that have Bridges:

  • "Better is One Day" (1995)
  • "Days of Elijah" (1996)
  • "Open the Eyes of My Heart" (1997)
  • "The Heart of Worship" (1997)
  • "Trading My Sorrows" (1998)
  • (It goes on with increased frequency)

Then, the first instance of a Pre-Chorus hits the top CCLI records: Chris Tomlin's "Forever" in 2001. What follows in the charts are an increased number of four-part songs. Quickly we've seen, too, the rise of "regularly scheduled" instrumental sections and surprising new sections (new melodies/progressions altogether) at the end of songs.

Many, in answer to the question, "Why aren't people singing anymore on Sundays?", have said, "Well, if it looks like a rock concert, and smells like a rock concert, of course people will know that they're there to listen and not sing." Perhaps another reason people struggle to sing is because of the "complexification" of worship music song-structure. It simply takes more effort for the congregant to learn, imbibe, and sing forth a modern song with four and sometimes five different sections. As one friend recently quipped over email, "A worship song isn't a worship song unless it's a maze."

EDM's Answer: Hopes and Hazards

Suspending judgment on some of the things I'm poking at above and going back to the task at hand, perhaps on the positive side, EDM could be giving a two-fold gift to worship music right now.

First, perhaps it could force some of the worship songwriting back in a more simple direction, when it comes to texts and melodies. An instrumental chorus means that there's one less of the five potential sections where congregations are having to learn a new melodic and rhythmic pattern. 

Second, because EDM stands at the top of musical genres which evoke dancing, it just might break open a part of our souls (and bodies) that gets locked up when we gather with the people of God. I'm a firm believer in full-throated, whole-bodied, "shalom-y" worship, and I notice EDM tapping into a realm of the human affections of which worship music tends to only tiptoe on the borders (at least in my contexts and traditions).

On the flip side, EDM might carry with it some baggage that we need to receive with wisdom. First, though the genre doesn't have to, it is culturally associated (often) with some not so wonderful human practices that we can all guess based on EDM's connection to "club life." (Though check out this countercultural "morning rave" practice happening in the UK.) Second, again though the genre doesn't have to, it's associated often with text-less triviality. For most EDM songs, you can really take or leave the scant vocalisations that are interspersed here or there. DJs and Producers don't so much use them to send a message through the text as "sample" them as another kind of instrumental sound. This can have a trivializing effect on text in the genre.

Finally, I might say that, in addition to checking out Hillsong Young & Free's engagement with the genre, check out what my amigo Alf Bishai is thoughtfully doing up in New York.

Oh, and check out my "exegesis" of EDM over at LIBERATE, too, for some reflections on the intersection of the music with the gospel.

Wednesday
Nov122014

The Only Two Albums You Need This Christmas

Sovereign Grace, Prepare Him Room

The music of Sovereign Grace always has to be included among the top content out there being written for the modern church. They've been doing it for years, and they've been committed to engaging lyrics, profound theology, and a dogged Christocentrism. Their new Christmas album, Prepare Him Room, does not disappoint their legacy. In fact, I think the production on this record is some of the finest to date. The instrumentation and melodies are beautiful, the arrangement of some traditional carols and hymns are fresh and fitting (I love what they've done with the underlying structures of "O Come All Ye Faithful"), and the new texts are incredible contributions (ones that I hope are lasting) to the hard-to-expand corpus of Advent and Christmas songs. If you read the credits, you become very aware that the albums sound and style is largely due to their producer, Neil Degraide, who seems to know how to play almost every instrument, and play each well. Every part is tasteful and purposeful, and the choices are unconventional but not jarringly quirky. The arrangements are sophisticated and creative. I love listening to this album, and I will love introducing these songs to our people.

Really, all the songs are excellent. Here are the ones that keep jumping out at me:

Come All Ye Faithful: Again, I love the arrangement and progression choices underlying the classic melody (esp. the ii-vi under "behold him"). They expand/elongate the final line, "O come, let us adore him..." and while I think it's awesome, if I were to lead this congregationally, I'd be inclined to shrink it back so that people don't trip up. I don't think it destroys the integrity of the arrangement to do this.

God Made Low: Unless things change, I'm planning on introducing this fabulous new song to Coral Ridge this Advent. It's an epic song, and the chorus summarizes the song's explication of the incarnational paradox:

Emmanuel has come to us
The Christ is born, Alleluia!
Our God made low to raise us up
Emmanuel has come to us 

Who Would Have Dreamed: Wow. Powerful. The Chorus:

Who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands
The Giver of life was born in the night
Revealing God's glorious plan
To save the world 

There Blooms a Rose in Bethlehem: I have always desperately wanted the traditional hymn "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" to be a little easier for congregations to sing, not many Advent songs say what it says. Neil Degraide has rewritten its words and melody but kept the essence...and I think the song is actually better. This song is nice for congregations and choirs...very lyrical.

The Unbelievable: A perfect way to begin a Christmas service...an invitation to come and see the One who will "Heal the unhealable" (what a line!). I love this song.

Cardiphonia, Songs for the Incarnation

Church music is always in need of needle-movers and boundary-pushers. Cardiphonia continues to be one of these entities with its eclectic output, exemplified in its latest, Songs for the Incarnation. Music which sounds unconventional often causes us to think and emote differently...it's one of the great gifts of how art takes the soul places it wouldn't normally want or think to go. In this anthology, Cardiphonia has gathered 20+ artists and commissioned them with re-setting a bunch of forgotten gems of Advent hymnody. Not all songs are congregational, but they're all edifying and a great way to engage the season this December. In Cardiphonia's post on the album, they thank the artists for "stretching even their own conceptions of what constitutes music of the 'season.'"

Songs I'm really digging:

JG Hymns' "In the Night a Heavenly Song Came Down": Nothing on this track sounds copied or imitated. Everything from from its swung groove, to mixed meter, to its minor-to-major shifts, to its glassy vocals, to its space-age FX, to its swanky horns: it's just simply awakening, like smelling salts for the soul...which is, well, what the incarnation was!

Holy City Hymns' "Love Came Down at Christmas": I love this simple arrangement of a great hymn, and it is supremely singable for congregations.

Jered McKenna's "Hark a Burst of Heavenly Music": I'm a sucker for groove. And I'm a sucker for slap-happy crisp, disco-pop electrics paired with strings. Takes me to a a Jackson-Fiveian place of innocence and freedom. :)

Coastland Commons' "In the Bleak Midwinter": I love this very haunting arrangement of this now classic tune to a classic Christmas poem. 

Michael Van Patter's "Jesus Came, Jesus Comes": The text of this song is incredible, paring Christ's first advent with the "personal Advent" of our experiencing of His coming to us in salvation.

Also check out the many different versions and twists on the Magnificat...music has a way of refreshing old meditations.

My Contribution: "Come See a Child of Low Estate"

Being in South Florida, the land of EDM, I've been listening to a lot of dance music. I've also been in conversation with a new friend, Alf Bishai, a NYC-based artist and composer who is taking a serious stab at exploring the intersection of EDM and worship music (support his work here!). The sum total of all of this is my own desire to see how the genre's strong suits can speak into how the church sees, understands, and expresses her worship. And I believe EDM has something to offer (I've offered some theological reflection here). So...this song was my attempt at melding an Avicii-inspired style with a riveting old text. My friend, Dan Diaz, mixed it. Hope you like it! 

Even if you don't care for the recording or style, it's flexible and could be done it a bluegrass or rock format with a lot of integrity, I think. Set down a step or two, and it's in the congregation sweet spot. 

One final thought: A great experiment in what songs can do to the character and affect of a text would be to listen to my version alongside Karl Digerness' equally wonderful (but different) version of the same text. Ask how the nuances of the text and its message change with the musical setting. Answering that question starts to poke at how music joins text to create (not just accompany) meaning.

 

 

Monday
Jun162014

Exegeting Sound: Hearing the Reverberations of the Gospel in EDM

Update: The article referenced is no longer available on the original site. It has been posted here.

A post of mine just went live this morning over at Liberate entitled, "Why EDM Sounds So Liberating." Consider it an attempt at what some call "cultural exegesis"--an exercise in understanding culture by teasing out meanings and subtexts.

Worship leaders like me theologize far less about music than lyrics. When we're talking about "theological depth" in worship music, we're often talking about the propositional content of the words of worship songs. But this isn't the only theological work happening. Music says a lot. In fact, it may be that our culture's music theologizes even more than its lyrics. 

Some folks feel like this is dangerous territory because once you start dabbling in the "messages" of music and art that are textless, you may be venturing into the quicksand of relative truth, subjectivity, and listener-based meaning. Here's the difficult part about those fears. When we obsess over those debates (that I admit are not unimportant), we lose sight of the fact that the art of culture is shaping culture and part of our job is to dissect and inspect, rather than simply argue about how or whether we should do it.

So, consider my post about Electronic Dance Music (EDM) an attempt at taking the art form for what it is and truly trying to hear it--to listen for the deep human heart beneath this genre. Some people write off EDM because of its roots in the debauchery of the clubbing lifestyle pioneered decades ago in places like Chicago, New York, and London. Others write it off simply because they think it's "bad music." For better or worse (I think, for me, it's for better), I am unable to write it off, because I serve in a metropolitan culture (Miami / Ft. Lauderdale) where this music "speaks." And so when I began listening, I found some very wonderful things to appreciate, enjoy, and, yes, exegete. I heard the "reverberations" of truth, echoes of the gospel there. EDM is great music.

If none of the above thoughts are convincing enough to check out the post, consider this additional thought. EDM is everywhere. It has taken over pop radio. It has taken over the media and advertising world. It has even gained prominence in worship music (think Hillsong United, Hillsong Young & Free, Bethel Music, and Jesus Culture) and worship services (think of the growth of the use of loops and live software platforms like Ableton).

Here's a little teaser, but please go read the whole post here:

EDM, unlike other musical forms, which have a more pronounced storyline from beginning to end (think of a sonata or a country song), places the listener-dancer into the playing field of the infinite. Put another way, EDM paints on a canvas without edges. It transports us into an eternal storyline. This is why EDM sounds so repetitive. It is an art form expressed in the context of eternity, catching us up in a never-ending loop of joy. The Bible similarly describes eternity as a euphoric repetition of heavenly beings whonever cease crying, “Holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8). Perhaps EDM is better equipped than any other art form to help human beings grasp, even for just a second, what eternal rapture feels like.