Music, Order & Chaos
“Art is how we decorate space, music is how we decorate time.”
— Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Even if you don’t think you have to, everyone should see a therapist, at least twice a month. Having a non-judgmental wall to which you can throw your emotional spaghetti has been very important for me, especially during these months of lockdown that we’ve been forced into. After our most recent conversation, Doc (we’ll call him) told me that he noticed capital-O “Order” was clearly a really important aspect in my life, and something to focus on for future conversations.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had pretty bad OCD, which has manifested itself in various ways. It was pretty bad for a while, but I’ve tried to harness my OCD, and with it, my understanding of Order & Chaos, to better perform in my career, build a more fruitful social life, and create the best music I can. Doc has been helpful in this regard.
Quickly, I’d like to discuss the dichotomy of Order and Chaos, or what is rather two sides of the same coin. The Yin/Yang symbol explains the relationship between these two concepts well — they are twins, with a little of each other in themselves. You cannot have Chaos without Order, or Order without Chaos. Both are preconditions for the other, like the Egyptian gods Horus & Set (in cosmogony), sometimes abstracted as the Egyptian qualities of Maat and Isfet.
The famed Jungian scholar-philosopher-author Jordan Peterson brings up the idea of Order & Chaos a LOT in his lectures — it could be seen a central point not only in his work, but also in Philosophy’s role in understanding our world. Philosophy, the meta-discipline from which all other disciplines have sprung forth, bred Science, in which a deep understanding of our world is the goal. One of Peterson’s many deeply important ideas, at least to me personally, is that one must keep one foot at all times in both Chaos & Order, understanding the need for both in your own life, as well as their circular relationship. Stay comforted by the Order in your life, and keep it exciting by injecting (allowing) a little Chaos in there as well. Ok, onto music …
Music is therapy to me — not just listening to it, but creating it as well. I’ve always been a “music producer,” since I was 13 years old making shitty beats on Garageband with stock Apple loops. It’s been a way for me to control, to instill or inspire Order in, a small aspect of my life … namely the sounds coming from my laptop speakers. Through the smallest turn of a synthesizer knob, entirely new sounds can be created or destroyed. Creating music in any form is a way for your to control your personal decoration of time. Shouts out to Basquiat.
Now, a little over 12 years later, I’ve been doing a lot with my music. I’ve made dozens of remixes of songs I love, produced probably hundreds of hip-hop instrumentals, written songs for rock bands and acoustic ensembles — you name the genre, I’ve probably at least tried to make it, if not fallen in love with it. That’s really the only way to find out if you’re good at something, anyways. I grew up seeing random Norwegian kids becoming millionaires after releasing a surprise-hit that quickly became the anthem for Electric Daisy Carnival that year, and thought, “Well, if they can do it …”
Order and Chaos exist in every piece of music that you hear, from Beethoven’s piano concertos to the latest hit trap banger fresh from Atlanta. Order in music, for example, could look like a highly-structured chord progression, perfectly in-key and within a classical framework — no surprises to be found. Order could also be represented in the aesthetic experience of hearing a piece of music which doesn’t have a lot of tension, a concept usually associated with chaos. (A piece of music with little or no tension is also known as “boring,” which is why you need a healthy mix of both.) A tune like “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is perfectly orderly, resolves on the tonic (root-note), and is also perfectly boring. I’ve seen some fascinating jazzy re-harmonizations of tunes from “Mary Had A Little Lamb” to Zedd’s “Clarity,” which play with the idea of taking something extremely orderly and pop-friendly, and bringing it into the realm of jazz, which for new-comers is a little like the “Twilight Zone” of music genres: anything can happen, and it’s usually worth tuning in.
Order is important, and some music theorists would argue essential, to the concept of music, and there was a time when that was certainly true — you must start from somewhere. There are many others who see music as a much more unstructured art form and practice — early 20th century musical modernism and an overall artistic embrace of post-modernist aesthetic tastes truly tested the boundaries of what could be considered music, the same way Duchamp challenged our conceptions of what could be said to be “art.”
A really tight example of Order in the musical world also involves DJ’ing, an occupation which I had a lot of fun doing professionally over the past 8 years. If you follow the rules of harmonic mixing, which dictate the best keys to mix a new song into, this allows for a very stable and non-Chaotic mix. The tempos aren’t clashing, and neither are the key centers. You can mix a song from the key of G into a song in the keys of E minor, D major, and even C major depending on the harmonic complexity of the tune. DJ’s constantly need to worry about how the perceived Chaos or Order of their music will affect their audience — will this new track I’m mixing in cause a disruption in the tempo, key or mood of my audience? (“Do I want it to?” is also an important question in this circumstance, and sometimes you do!)
Tension is probably the musical equivalent of Chaos that everyone has the most experience with. Tension could be that lovely moment when the band returns to the root note at the end of a 12-bar blues progression, leading to that “relief” you feel once you’re back at the tonic, or back in key after straying into another modality. You can’t feel musical relief without tension, and tension can’t go on forever. Besides, an endlessly-tense piece of music probably won’t be very enjoyable, and who wants to listen to that, even if you can philosophically argue that it fits into the category of “music?”
Learning how to properly integrate both Order & Chaos into my life seems to be crucial for my own personal happiness, music creation and career goals. Creating a piece of music with a proper relationship between the tension and release, or the ratio of Order to Chaos, is crucial. Building a life for yourself, with one foot in Order and another in Chaos, is also important. You can’t always control what happens around you, but how you react to the Chaos in your life determines the kind of Order that you can impose on yourself.
This is a really long way of saying that music is awesome, and everyone should go to therapy more.