If you’re like me – and I figure most people in 2017 are – you listen to music while walking, running, ride sharing, or driving through the landscape. Music has the power to express complex emotional and spiritual concepts, teleporting the mind to a certain time and place, or even bring about an altered state.
Beyond its role in audio-visual bias in spatial perception, your earbuds and track 13 on Anderson .Paak’s Malibu album can heavily influence experience and emotions, or even spiritually connect to your surroundings.
This augmented experience becomes landscape around you.
When I think of the tie between music and landscape, or music and nature, I think of a few examples of music augmenting the landscape. An artist can teleport you to a certain setting. An artist can reify a natural landscape’s unpredictability or ominous scale. Music can explain concepts within nature that are too broad for our consumption. Music can mimic nature. An artist can capture and isolate parts of nature.
That is a lot to think about!
Before we get into it let’s get some definitions out of the way:
- Landscape n. – in a broad sense, the features of an area of land and its landforms; how these features interact with the broader nature and man-made features. This includes features both physical and cultural, natural and anthropological. Landscape can also be described as setting, a geographical location at a moment of time.
- Music n. – sounds combined to produce a beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.
- Nature n. – the physical world and its organisms; features and products of the earth as opposed to humans and human creations.
When I think about a song that can teleport the listener to a discreet place and time, I think of Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”. The song vividly describes a series of scenes as Ice Cube through the urban landscape of South Central Los Angeles. The scenes and experiences he describes have direct references to the city, teleporting listeners to South Central on the alleged date of January 20, 1992.
The song also teleports me to that warm August night in 1996 when my sister first played the song for me. I remember listening to it at a low volume, so my mother didn’t hear us listening to “grown-up” music.
Bjork is one of the greatest examples of an artist who seeks and finds inspiration in nature, one who utilizes landscape as a sonic experience.
I’m specifically thinking about Bjork’s album, Biophillia. Inspired by the hypothesis linking humans with nature, Bjork explores the nexus where nature, technology and human experience all intersect. She used nature as an inspiration for musical structure, theme, and metaphor for human experience. Bjork taps into our intrinsic and primal connection to what is beyond human invention.
In the song Crystalline, Bjork uses the growth and facet structure of a crystal in designing her changing time signature and concept for the song. This creates an uneasy beauty that only feels complete because of its tie to nature.
More Connections to Nature
Many songs sample nature, including Blackbird and the Storm, who use samples of bird songs and calls to add to the theme of the bird wing metaphor, while adding to its serene atmosphere.
In 1970, Beaver and Krause released an album abstracting nature themes into a hybrid of sample, tape loop, and synthesizer electronic music. This album samples the broader landscape, things both natural and man-made.
Using Nature as metaphor
Ok, so this is a stretch. Not because it isn’t accurate, but because the music isn’t a metaphor using nature. Rather the following is a sonic adaptation or literary metaphor using nature/ animals. (I’m really including this because it is one of my favorite concept albums).
Based loosely on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Pink Floyd’s Animals album describes the capitalist conservatism in the 1970’s England.
This is a very brief exploration of concepts and songs. Think about songs you like. How do they make you feel? Is there a connection between any of your favorite songs and the nearby landscape?