music for simple living

old white male farmer looking at his computer screen confused at finding a city slicker on

What is the role of music in a simple life - a life, say, in the countryside with the nearest pocket of more than 200 people at least a half hour away, without a big box store in sight?

Let’s, for the sake of cohesion, define a simple life as a life as free of technique as possible (technique in the sense Ellul1 laid out - any series of means that are established to achieve an end as efficiently as possible), then simple, traditional music is preferred.

One dimension worth considering is choice of instrument. The hierarchy of instruments in this case, from least to most ideal, is: computers, synthesizers, samplers, effect pedals, electric guitars, ornate instruments that require large sums of money up front and/or over time (piano, pipe organ), orchestrial instruments, acoustic guitars, choir vocals, solo voice. Even then, someone who chooses to sing must also choose a subset of vocal tecniques picked up either by ear or by formal study, with the goal ideally being efficiency in creative expression. Most Protestant Christian churches draw the line at electric guitars, but many orthodox churches are more strict and prefer only voices, as to not obscure the meaning of the text.

But another more subtle dimension - one that keeps me up at night - is the cultural lexicon of a genre. Hyper-developed and highly contextual genres like jazz or its many fusion offshoots like 電波 would seem to have no place in the simple man’s life, as those genres are renmants of the highly scaffolded society of which he or his ancestors consciously rejected, and constantly touch on themes of consumption and excess.

This kind of music being my preference, I have to make the decision whether or not to introduce my children and my community to this foreign culture. Would that outst me as taking up the role of God in dangling the apple of knowledge over the eyes of my creations, or am I just being paranoid? Most realistically, they would take bits and pieces of what musical techniques will inevitably make their way from these underground scenes to the mainstream (after all, the mere presence of technique bring along universiality and consolidation, like a virus), and not care about the more esoteric aspects. Still, I laugh at the notion of my son adopting from my playlists and later being asked the origin of, say, the first opening theme of うる星やつら (a straight up bop, btw) and drawing a complete blank.

But I must not forget that I am not working with blank slates. Music to many is expected to serve a common interest and cater to their inner taste and reality. For rural people, it would most likely be a mix of pop and country. Would my notion of making jazz arrangements of church hymns be entertained by the choir members at all, the few I have if any (“What the hell is a sharp 11 and why do I have to sing it?”), or at the very least, not considered heresy? Would my neighbors be receptive to small concerts featuring the foreign music I would tirelessly study and incorporate into my repertoire, or would I be resigned to performing for an imaginary audience on the internet?

On the financial side, would anybody pay me to teach their children the proper western music style I , I mean, the state paid to learn (bel canto voice, classical fingerstyle guitar) or would I do what my Mexican guitar did - secure a weekly gig, teach me 3 chords, and leave the rest for me to figure out? Assuming I want to swallow the auto-didactic pill, I assume the latter is more correct. In any case, I will inevitably spread the Western Classical aesthetic by the example I give, but I will not go out of my way to inhibit any direction to the contrary. As long as I’m flexible to whatever trends my students pull from online (or whatever hyper-reality supersedes the internet) and give students the proper platform to express themselves and work towards a common goal, I should be good.

Last, there is my biggest fear - what if music simply isn’t a part of simple living? I recall friendly unabomber Luke Smith saying in a live stream that he doesn’t have a favorite genre of music because he doesn’t listen to music that much in the first place. He considers the consumption of music as a product (background noise in lieu of silence or mental dialogue) to be weird at best and trance-like, bordering on demonic at worst. I have to wonder if this apathy to music is merely the last stage of the based and red pilled journey. Can I expect this from my neighbors and the families around me once I’m innawoods?

Generally, I try to write about what I have learned as opposed to what I want to learn, but these questions have been eating away at me for the past few months or so, especially in the midst of finishing my music degree (spring of 2024), so I give myself permission to be more personal and speculative this time around, in the hopes that I can easily get answers and discussion points at a later date. And of course, you, the reader, are more than welcome to email me using the address in the header of the page.

  1. Ellul, Jacques - La Technique ou l’Enjeu du siècle (The Technological Society) ↩︎