It’s difficult to tell signal from noise sometimes. Specialists in such things tell us that it’s easy to mistake noise for signal. An exception to this seems to be music. I don’t often write about music for a couple of reasons: one, it’s very personal, and two, I have little formal understanding of it. Unlike my wife, who can sing well and who can play more instruments than I could ever dream of, I always struggled in music class. The teachers I had seemed impatient when I couldn’t quite understand what pitch was, or when I had difficulty keeping a beat. (Part of the problem is that I overthink such things. I wondered about things like whether a beat represented the beginning, middle, or end of the sound. Or how, since your voice sounds different in your head than it does on tape, could you tell if you were replicating the pitch of a note.) I told you it was personal.
None of this detracts from my enjoyment of music. In fact, it means quite a lot to me. Growing up I tended to consider it in the form of individual songs I liked. Since we didn’t have much money I didn’t buy a lot of music, but the radio was free. My choice of which albums to buy—starting in college, really—was based on whether I liked enough songs on them to justify the expenditure on an entire LP. I already knew that the quality of 45s was inferior and that many albums were united by a theme. Something I didn’t do was get to know a band by its “sound.” That only started for me recently.
I still don’t have a lot of money. I also object to paying money for MP3s that seem to disappear when you change devices and you have to buy them all over again. Still, I’ve begun to discover some bands by their sound without being able to point to a specific song. MCR (My Chemical Romance) was one. The Pixies was another. And recently Radiohead. The voices of the lead singers speaks to me of youth and all its angst. Although these bands all have quite different sounds, I find them mesmerizing if the mood is right. I tend to discover bands once they’re beyond their peak popularity, but I’m personally pleased that I’m learning, in my own way, to separate signal from noise. It reaps rich rewards.