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How I Learned From Adrian that Music Transcends Language

Updated: May 31, 2020

I've always had trouble expressing my feelings. I used to blame shortcomings in language, until I learned better. I may know too few languages, perhaps. But only if I aim to describe everything I feel in pithy ways people can quote in their next therapy sessions. I may know too few languages. It is more likely that I'm too precious with my demands on my language. I once spent fifteen minutes explaining to someone what I felt instead of boredom. They said to me that it sounded like boredom to them. Because I am stubborn, I insisted that they didn't know; they weren't in my head. A self-defeating argument, I discovered after breaking it down, because I had no idea what was going on in their head either.

Talking's never been my great strength. I have always found difficulty in the translation of thoughts into the lingual gymnastics required to speak beautifully. I find a well-spoken word quite powerful. I've always wanted to be that sort of person who can talk the birds out of the trees, as it were. It was never my gift.

Which is why I like singing.

I've Never Heard Anyone Say, "You Need to Dance Before You Can Walk."

If they did I think I would understand what they meant. The magic in speech is as much in how the words sound as it is in which words get spoken. Songs place a HUGE emphasis on how the words sound. You may or may not have noticed it.

I've been talking to musicians in Barcelona recently--to musicians and related operators. It's been a great adventure, greater than the Powers That Be Kristina may have realized it would be. She didn't know it, but she appealed to my deepest anxieties. She asked me to have a conversation with strangers in another country about their area of expertise. She asked me to do a terrifying thing. I'm here to tell you that one of the best times to learn how to overcome your anxieties is when you're faced with them.

The conversations have all proved to be excellent conversations.

My most recent one was with Adrian.

The Face Behind OhYeah! Records

They're a recording studio based out of Barcelona. I'm kind of a naive person, I think. I've been worried that some of these conversations would lack common ground. Adrian is Spanish. I wasn't sure if there would be some kind of Spain-based analog to Bob Dylan. An artist that I had never heard of that I might need to read up on before Adrian and I could talk.

Turns out not. Or maybe there is one, of sorts. Maybe there is a Spanish Bob Dylan. A guitar-plucking Spanish songwriter. Someone who found his voice in the shady back corners of Madrid in the late '60s. He would have been a singer of warbly songs about the ramifications of impending democracy, or whatever. There could be a poster boy of Spanish Bohemia who could barely carry a tune but brought the greatest profundity to the subject imaginable. That guy could exist, maybe. Berto Diaz, the first among Spanish hipsters.

And Adrian COULD know about this mythical Berto Diaz, and we could have talked about him.

But no. It turns out that there isn't anyone quite like Bob Dylan other than him. I mean, even if this mythical Berto Diaz did exist, he'd be talking about the rise of democracy and the strange implications of that. That's already different.

I Talked About Bob Dylan With Adrian, and We Agreed on a Few Things.

They were all the usual things that people always say about Bob. If you're at all a Bob Dylan fan you've heard the same things. The man could only sing three notes badly, but he sang each of them with so much feeling. And the poetry! No denying the spirit in the poetry.

I shouldn't have been surprised to connect with Adrian over Bob's music. And I wasn't surprised. That was the surprising part. Then I did a little self-reflection. I asked myself if I felt surprised to be connecting with someone a third of the way around the world over our mutual love of Bob Dylan. I didn't feel surprised.

I didn't feel surprised, because the music did what music does better than anything else. The music transcended language, and the music brought people together.

I shouldn't have been surprised, and I was only sort of surprised.

Adrian is one of the central personalities at Oh Yeah Records. He's the kind of operator that I'd want on my team if I were a musician. If I were in any noise-producing industry, in fact. Because it requires a lot of similar equipment and expertise to record a good podcast as it does to record an album.

If You Want to Record a Performance, You Want Someone Who Understands the Art.

Adrian's one of those people. He's got a technical skill. He could easily be someone who just presses the red button, captures the noise, and leaves the sound to you.

Not him. He's got a deep appreciation for the music.

It's all about achievement. If you work with Adrian, the way he says it he can give you muscles. The recording isn't the important part. Recording is noise. Recording is passive. It's the producing that's important: it's taking that noise and making it into a sound. But everyone concerned--musicians, Adrian, whoever--needs to know what the artist wants to achieve. Everyone concerned needs to be honest. Artists may all say they want to sound exactly like Enya, but do they really? Or are they just saying that because they want to make a record that everyone will buy? Because if they're just saying that what they want is to make a commercially successful record, then that's what they should say. There's nothing wrong with that. But if they want to sound like Enya because they genuinely want to sound like Enya then, well, that's good.

If Adrian and the artist can reach a place of honesty, where everyone knows what everyone wants, that's where the synergy flows. That's where the magic happens. It's not work if it just works.

I Don't Know Why I Picked Enya.

Doesn't matter. Pick anyone.

But the honesty needs to be there. So much of making a powerful piece of music has to do with things that language can't explain. Music's weird. A virtuoso can play perfect notes, can sing with precision and create a performance exactly like the score describes. With enough practice, anyone can be a PERFECT performer. And that's what they tell us to aim for, right? Fewer mistakes. That's how to make beautiful music: play precisely and mistake free.

Yeah, which would have put Bob Dylan out of a job. He could barely keep time on some of his tracks.

Music Is the Most Mysterious Art.

That's how Adrian put it. With other art, with painting or sculpture or something, or even with writing, the artist creates something static. For written things that's a little different, if they're performed for instance. But for the most part, in most media, an artist creates a monument to a moment. That art is certainly beautiful, and the observer engages with it and creates different emotional dimensions by engaging with that art. There is no end of meaning to, for instance, any of Michelangelo's marble statues, some particular favorites of mine. I could spend hours looking at them.

Music has a unique depth to it. Unlike (most) other media, music converses with those who stand to watch it happen. Especially live music, but recorded music as well. There's something in the way that music works that transcends "communication," whatever that means, and cuts right to "understanding," however that works. Music can do "meaning" better than anything else can.

And we all struggle to say how that works because we would need whatever power is in music in order to explain it.

So instead, we shouldn't bother.

My Point Is That Music Can "say" What Can't Be Said.

The way Adrian talked about it, he says that when a musician makes music, it's like they're channeling another dimension. He used the word "plano" first, the Spanish for dimension. It was a wonderful way to show exactly how music can say things that we struggle to say with words. I got his point before he made his point.

Over the course of the conversation, Adrian made clear his feelings. I could tell how much he felt by the sheer breadth, force, and precision of what he had to say. He is an expert of the best kind: he knows how the technology works, and he cares deeply about the art behind it.

That's my kind of operator. Maybe someday I'll be an artist who makes sounds for a living. If I'm that kind artist, the operator I want behind the mixing board is someone like Adrian. I want a person who knows that to make music is to be a conduit to another dimension.

And I'm saying that as a storyteller. Someday I will get my act together and I need some studio-grade recordings of my stories. When I do, I want Adrian or someone like him to do it. All sound has some degree of that magic.

Adrian has been in the business of making and recording music in and around Barcelona since he was fourteen. What's most important to him, as a sound recording professional, is making a record of the most honest performances possible. He's got the skills. He's got the experience. And he's got the courage to believe in the art.

Adrian. Pretty powerful operator. Ask him about how music is like trees.


Editor's Note: OhYeah now has Co-Working Spaces for Musicians (and other humans) Here's The Menu

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