Towards the end of last week's post, in considering pieces of music that are severely discordant in tone, I asked whether such songs are capable of portraying reality, of reflecting truth, of glorifying God. My answer thus far to this is a qualified affirmative - by which I mean, yes, but only to a point and always within a specific context.
Let us take, for an example, the song From the Air by Laurie Anderson. This happens to be both the first and the only discordant song I can remember hearing. Though I have listened to it only once, it made a deep impression on me, such that if I had heard another of a similar style I surely would have remembered it.
This song had to do with the mechanical failure of an airplane, its rapid fall to the ground, and the impending doom of the passengers. It was strangely interesting in that it had two totally separate melody lines going on at the same time. Though the notes would line up quite nicely in vertical columns on a page of sheet music, anything like tonal harmony between the two was nonexistent. The clash of sounds is not easily describable. When layered with the disconnected, imperturbable voice of the narrator/captain, the effect was tremendous. The repeated conflicting notes got inside my head, impossible to be shut out, which was extremely tension producing; the relentless yet deathly calm voice was chilling, unnerving, and tied my stomach in knots; the mood of the piece was complete meaninglessness and despair; the entire song was thoroughly unsettling.
The really odd thing was just how mesmerizing this piece was, in spite of being so mentally disturbing. Listening to it was like being in a bad dream and groggily having to choose between waking in the early morning or settling back into sleep. On one hand, I wished for it to go away, wanted it to get out of my head, was going to skip to another song - anything to get the horrible noise to stop. On the other hand, there was a degree of fascination mixed with the fear. I wished to see the nightmare through in order to see the conclusion, thinking "surely it must make a turn for the better somewhere." I couldn't stand the song, but felt powerless to do anything about it. Thankfully, Dad switched the Pandora station, and for the remainder of the drive we listened to classical music with greatly renewed appreciation. :)
It is worth noting that From the Air had this unsettling effect on me even with the otherwise entirely cheerful environment. I was riding along in the car, on a beautiful sunny day, with my family in the car - how could anything be disturbing in a setting like that? Besides which, it wasn't as though I was a wee little one hearing it - I was eighteen years old, yet I was still about to implode or fall to pieces with the stress of listening to the thing! It really leaves me wondering... how in the world did it do that? Exactly what combination of musical intervals do you have to use for such an entirely unsettling sound? I really must find the sheet music for this song in order to analyze it effectively... then again, maybe not. :}
Now we come to the question. Can such discord accurately portray reality, reflect God's truth, and bring glory to Him?
I think that discordant songs do indeed portray a certain aspect of reality. For example, in From the Air, the mood being conveyed to the listener is one of anxiety, stress, and feeling "on edge". The message of the lyrics is one of hopelessness, meaninglessness, dispassionate fatalistic emptiness. These moods and messages are indeed a part of reality - many people feel and believe them their whole lives. However, people who are living in a world of despair and emptiness are doing so only because they do not know the freedom of a renewed life in Christ.
The thing is that we, as humans created in the image of God, were simply not made to live in despair. All people will go through periods of darkness in their lives, but those who know God will be set free by His light. Anxiety, fear, death, and severe tragedy do indeed exist in our world; yet, in the end, there is life after death, joy after mourning, healing after brokenness, restoration after desolation, rebuilding of relationship after separation. To present only the fallen side of things is to forget that there is a God who is mighty to save. To cut God out of the picture is to cut out the fullness and completion of reality. It is not a portrayal of the truth.
I do think that discordant songs can be used to effectively demonstrate the contrast between the earthly and the heavenly perspectives - to illustrate the dire situation of fallen people in their desperate condition of emptiness, then to look again to the fulfillment of a joyous life in a restored relationship with God. However, to remain in a world of darkness is neither edifying to one's self nor glorifying to God. Don't linger in the low places, don't wallow in sin, don't become enslaved to despair - always end with a return to God, who is the ultimate source of meaning, hope, life, truth, and beauty.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
- Philippians 4:8
Final note: typically I would include the lyrics to a song at the end of its post. However, in this case I found them too distressing to include on my blog. Actually, there is nothing particularly wrong about the lyrics... it's not as though they contain profanity or inappropriate themes... it is just that I find them rather eerie, all things considered, and don't want to re-read them on my own page. A quick Google search should pull up the lyrics and song for you if you're interested.