Me, Myself, and I: The detriments of ditching the group mentality

by Beacon Staff • October 27, 2011

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strongNina Corcoran, Music Columnist/strong

One of the great things about hearing a band’s music is the illustrious moment of connection it delivers. I’m talking about that instant when every band member comes together for an explosion of spirit and unity.

No matter if it’s when their wide eyes meet, everyone slams their foot down, or smiles spread across their faces, everyone in the crowd gets to hear that moment when a band comes together. It flaunts the rawness of music that can’t be created casually. In fact, it can rarely ever be created by one single person.Yet this is what we’re seeing.

There has been a rising trend of musicians who choose to take the stage solo, expanding the singer/songwriter genre. Normally that would bring to mind guys dressed in flannel with guitars hanging from their shoulders, but this is different. Think of Imogen Heap, Andrew Bird, KT Tunstall, tUnE-yArDs, and Owen Pallett; they all loop their music.

Looping music is playing a section of the composition and having it repeat, gradually building the song upon itself, looped layer by layer. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of focus and patience.

So why turn away from band members simply to do all of their work by yourself? For some of these solo musicians, it’s a matter of having all the sheet music in their heads and not having time to explain it. Owen Pallett, for instance, is so well-known for this that he has been asked to compose orchestral arrangements for Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Pet Shop Boys, and Duran Duran.

Other musicians have taken on this task as a challenge to learn countless instruments. tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus explained in an interview with Village Voice that performing solo is important to see “how much I can do by myself, or how much any human being can do on their own.”

There’s the elimination of human error, too. By looping music, the artist gets to redo certain measures until satisfied. Normal flaws no longer need to exist.

Looping music creates a personalized sound that varies in every live recording. The challenge quickly garners applause and respect. There’s a silent element of surprise hanging in the air as the listener waits for the next loop. Everything about this solo career is, for the most part, good.

That is, until you’re left without that perfect moment of harmony.

With only one body on stage, there’s no fun interaction between band members. Picture a DJ like Girl Talk on stage. He’s so focused on mixing layers that all the entertainment can stem from is dancing fans or tacky balloons. There are no inside jokes to include the audience in on, no one note hit by every member, and no smile passed around on stage.

While it may be hard for an artist to express the musical composition idling in his or her brain, it’s well worth it. There are beautiful additions inside the other band members’ heads, too.

While it may be challenging for the person to learn numerous instruments and loop them, it unfairly denies the part the attention it deserves. Being mediocre at multiple things rarely beats being phenomenal at one. After all, there’s a reason it took John Entwistle, Yo-Yo Ma, and Neil Peart decades to properly master an instrument.

And while it may be nice to nix human error, it also strips the remaining human qualities. Spontaneity is sacrificed when absolute perfection becomes the main goal.

All in all, the initial excitement and thrill of seeing a one-man-act-does-all fades and leaves the audience hungry for the magical moment of synergy only available through a band. The buildup of loops never quite equates to the sound of each band member coming in at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong. It takes courage to stand on stage alone, braving the world of vocals, percussion, strings, and funky instruments. Solo musicians with a pallet of pedals and plugs should be respected. They could even invite guest musicians onstage to perform with them at times.

But like all trends, it should gain a place of admiration and attention without replacing the original. We need to fight for those moments of connection to stay present; they’re too important to let fade.

emCorcoran is a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major. She can be reached at nina_corcoran@emerson.edu./em