For those of you who have yet to study abroad, I’ll refrain from forcing a sermon down your throats; the experience so uniquely affects each person that I’d be doing it a disservice to attempt anything more than to highly recommend it. However, I can speak to one aspect that I’ve found particularly intriguing: While in New Zealand, I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with my Kiwi mates, much in the same way I would with my friends back in Claremont. We share hilarious videos, play sports, party, (occasionally) study, and listen to music, among other things. Though I could just as easily talk about the subtle, but noteworthy, cultural differences that I’ve picked up on, I’m particularly drawn to something that I noticed on the musical front. I noticed a worldwide connection that I failed to account for until I got halfway around the world and saw it firsthand.
Think for a second about the last time you asked someone what kind of music they listen to. I know my sample size may be a little short of what an academic study would demand, but I’ve seen a pattern in some of the responses I’ve heard recently (from Kiwis as well as other international students). Though each is slightly different from the next, they’re all basically to the tune of: “lots of stuff.” I didn’t take that for much at first glance, but the collision of two recent experiences listening to two absurdly different types of music has made me give it another thought.
The first encounter was during my Jazz History tutorial, as we were dissecting a handful of Miles Davis records, comparing and contrasting them to some Jimi Hendrix classics. I’m not sure why this particular moment made me aware of my situation, but suddenly I found myself quietly wondering how in the world I had ended up here, listening to jazz records and taking an entire course in the genre’s history. (Though maybe the better question would have been, why had this handful of Kiwis taken a liking to jazz?) How had I come to listen to and study this genre of all genres? This was a music that emerged largely in the late 1920s in New Orleans, hit full swing during the 1930s through 1960s, and then slowly faded (at least as a commercially mainstream genre) into the background. This was a genre that even my parents narrowly missed, favoring instead the riled up sounds of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. How could I have possibly stumbled across Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, or Thelonious Monk?
The second event that piqued my interest happened about a week ago, when a perfectly impromptu triad of music swapping began between my two friends and I over Facebook. In an abrupt switch of gears from the swinging acoustic sounds of bebop and big band jazz, we focused our attention in a completely different direction down the musical spectrum, finding ourselves somewhere within the realms of trap and dance hall reggae (don’t quote me on that, I don’t know if its possible to draw tangible boundaries around this music anymore). Specifically, we found ourselves entranced with the sheer majestic power of the aural experience that is Diplo. This LA-based producer’s ability to weave seemingly unrelated sounds together surpasses anything I’ve ever heard before. But equally as impressive as Diplo’s musical breadth was the spontaneity of the conversation.
In preparation for a Flume concert we were going to that weekend (another artist I highly recommend), my Kiwi friend had sent me a YouTube link for a remix of Diplo’s track “Revolution.” After I avidly replied with my favorite Spotify recipes for leaving ears pulsing, hearts thumping, and spines shivering from unhealthy levels of bass, I got another message. This one, however, was from a friend on my study abroad program, who came to New Zealand from New York. Before I could fire off further replies to either one, they had both independently converged on trap-centric artists for the next several replies. I was perplexed; how could someone from New Zealand, New York, and Oregon, all listening to different streaming sources, unwittingly arrive at such a narrow scope of musical interest?
Well, in short, we listen to a lot of stuff. We listen to a LOT of stuff. I realize this may not be the case for everyone, but maybe a slight rephrasing will shed some light on why I found this idea so fascinating: We have the ability to listen to a lot of stuff. Being abroad helped emphasize another aspect of that: “We” is not a small, privileged group, but rather anyone with a decent Internet connection and desire to listen.
Off of the top of my head, at least a dozen free music services come to mind. “Free” music, a concept no more than 15 years old, emerging with Napster in 1999. The following decade experienced an explosion in both free and paid music sharing and downloading services like Kazaa, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Soundcloud, Last.fm, 8tracks, Songza and Grooveshark, all making significant contributions to the music market (though that only scratches the surface of notable names). While each service has had its own unique approach to providing content to its users — I will leave ethics out of this conversation — they have all exponentially increased our ability to discover and access music that we otherwise would never have known existed.
In the not-so-distant past, people’s musical tastes were often limited to what their geographical and sociodemographic contexts predisposed them to. They might have listened to records that their parents had, or discovered local artists who were consistently playing nearby. Now, with the advent of the Internet, and subsequently, P2P file sharing, streaming, and other related technologies, we are able to explore and share such a plethora of music that it’s overwhelming. Now, I can be halfway around the world, listening to an L.A.-based producer, and my Kiwi mates already know what’s up with his music. If nothing else, it’s gone a long way in helping bridge the awkward pop culture reference gaps that eke their way into conversations now and then.
Sure, I may still hold out on some extremities of country, metal, and classical (and most pop), but these innovations have, without a doubt, broadened my musical horizons. Going abroad is not a prerequisite for appreciating this revolution in the way we discover and consume music, but seeing it in action while displaced from home really puts it in perspective. Some might argue that we still only actually love a small section of the music at our fingertips, and have just acquired a taste for the concept of variety, but I beg to differ. And yes, I know electronic music (of all forms) has seen a recent surge of popularity, but it makes me wonder, when future generations look back at ours, what music will they say we listened to, when everyone can listen to everything?