In a time when humans are causing countless other species to go extinct every day, when by our own actions we are destroying ourselves and the biosphere with which our being is intertwined, what is the function of art, and specifically music?
Are we just ‘fiddling while Rome burns’?
Singing funeral laments for ourselves and the rest of life, the loss of beauty and wonder?
Trying to make money, because for the time being corporations still rule the world, money doesn’t grow on trees, and we still crave it, as with it we can buy not just food and the means to survive, but prestige, affirmation, and some degree of temporal power?
Are we trying to assert our own individuality in the face of mass existential crisis…or conversely, strengthen collectivity, create tribes and social movements – together we are strong?
Probably..some of all the above.
Which is curious, because most other animals on this planet have been creating their own music for millions of years for no other reason than the fact that they exist and have the means to do so, whether they be songbirds passing a similar repertoire from one generation to another, crickets whose music has been an indicator of temperature and weather down the ages, dolphins and whales whose songs, scientists now know, express emotion as well as being part of complex and meaningful conversation…and so on..
Unlike humans, other species are not always seeking to innovate, even though they change their habits over time and space – the song of a blackbird in London, for example, is not the same as one in the Welsh borders, even though both are recognisably blackbird.
Maybe that’s the answer then – we make music because we have to, because without it life would be poorer, and because through music, we can connect to something bigger than ourselves, make connections, acknowledge the vastness of this universe through which we travel, and the magic of any of us being here, human, plant, animal…
And if we can de-link that process from making profits, and the notion that this planet is ours just to exploit no matter what we destroy in the process, maybe we will able to re-balance our relationship to life, stop the destruction, live in the present and take care of the future.
I don’t believe music can save the world, or humans, or the environments on which we depend..but I do believe it can be part of the process, and bring, in its myriad forms and practices, some degree of joy, thoughtfulness, and understanding.