Of wishes and motivations

I always wanted to write this post, but I never had the courage. I don’t even have it now, but still… I’m going to tell the story anyway, no matter what.

Sometimes there exist only short answers to extremely difficult problems – and a person’s inner motivation is definitely one of those hard questions that can be answered either in a single sentence or in several volumes. Still, I’m going to stay somewhere in between these two extremities. While the answer to the question “why I write and play music at all?” is indeed quite simple, my explanation may consist of a somewhat lenghty description of all the elements of the concise answer.

So why…? Well, my answer in itself is really not that complicated – at least for the first look -: I just wanted to create something really meaningful that truly reflects the essence of everything I am. While I don’t think that my other creative activities lack any meaning – I work as a neuroscientist during the day and have great hobbies to spend my free time -, I always felt that something was “missing from the equation”: the results of my activities always felt somewhat incomplete. Science is basically an intellectual challenge, and I find it cool that I can take part in research activities that may lead to disease treatments. Also, I’m currently writing a book based on decades of research (I’m not exaggerating – I’m really that maniac lol…) summarizing the history of my family with lots of personal reflections and outlooks. But this is also something that basically utilizes the intellectual part of my mind, without substantially involving the emotional aspects of my soul. As I basically am an emotion-driven person, I find it equally important to perfectly express one single feeling as to summarize 400 years of the history of a small Austro-Hungarian family. The manuscript of my book is – of course – valuable to me (otherwise I wouldn’t have put so much effort in those endless research hours in various archives…), but it has always been crucial for me to find something that incorporates both the emotional as well as the cognitive/intellectual aspects of my brain.

And this is where art crawls into the picture. It’s probably not an accident that I’ve always been attracted to art and artists – especially to music and musicians. I have always been quite happy with the scientific papers and poems I wrote (and hopefully I will be proud of my genealogy-based book too, once it will be published…), but if you read my writings, you can get to know only my “rational” side. I, however, wanted to find something more holistic that summarizes both my feelings and my thoughts: something that fully represents everything I am. And this is what I can do through music.

It’s these words and music that keeps me living, keeps me breathing” – says one of the best Life of Agony songs, and although I don’t use lyrics for my music, even I intend to transmit messages not only through sounds, but also through visual and verbal clues using appropriate cover images, song and album titles. But the overall framework is music – a framework that contains pieces from the essence of my life: feelings, thoughts, emotions, affections, memories, beliefs… and in general: everything. The creative process of this “musical storytelling” keeps me living a wholesome life and breathing healty air – and if things go in the right way, you will hopefully better understand me through my music than words. You will understand not only the easily digestible superficial information, but also those things that I’m unable, afraid or simply ashamed to tell you in words. You will understand the “real me”. The question – of course – arises: what is this desperate urge of self-expression? In a world where identity gets a rightfully increasing attention, I identify myself a music maniac, who condenses and presents his inner self using this particular type of art. But if I try to identify the source of this drive to express and share myself, I often end up with Jack Kerouac’s immortal words: “I’m writing this book because we’re all going to die“. Well, I’m writing my book of music, because we’re all going to die – I’m going to die, too. But before I die, I feel the urge to create something that I think is “really me”. It’s not because I consider myself more talented or better trained than anyone else. It’s also not because I think that my thoughts are worthier to share than anyone else’s thoughts: I don’t feel the need to compete with anyone (only with myself). I just learned the hard way that all my efforts to create something proved to be (at least partially) dead ends – except this one.

Please, listen to me, and understand me. There is something immortal behind the surface of things, and I will do my best to find it, condense it and present to you.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

(Dylan Thomas)

Transmit feelings without words…?

I’m sorry if this post will be slightly longer than usual, but when I started this website, I decided to create something honest and genuine, without limitations and self-censure. Probably all of you guys are more than fed up with my favorite Oscar Wilde quote (“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”), but the truth still lies somewhere here: artists have a chance to create something meaningful only through genuineness and honesty – even if it results in long and exhausting blogposts, clearly kicking over the alleged “rules” of social media to write concise posts and bold statements.

To start with, let me tell you that recently I got extremely thought-provoking reviews on many of my songs. The feedback basically came from two major sources: (1) I showed a couple of tracks to curators of metal playlists and blogs for consideration to stream/publish on their respective platforms, and (2) being intended to represent the Roman Catholic mass in an expreimental way, my Missa Innominata was presented to a group of musicians involved in religious music. The outcome of these discussions were two-fold. First of all, while almost everyone affirmed that the songs are well-written, well-played and inventive (I was absolutely honored by this incredible feedback btw!), many of my reviewers and listeners claimed that they would perform better, if they contained lyrics and vocals. Besides, Missa Innominata triggered an interesting and inspiring discussion on the abilities of instrumental music to represent and express spirituality. Altogeter, both lines of feedback led in the same direction, raising questions about the legitimacy and viability of instrumental rock/metal music in our contemporary musical culture.

Interestingly, no such questions are posed to – for example – instrumental jazz, which is generally considered a legitime way to express feelings and thoughts. The answer may lay in the alleged (or rather hypothesized) nature of metal music, a genre that has long been marginalized due to its undoubtedly nonconformist character held by many as a rebellious and unpeaceful way of opposing traditional values and lifestyle. Metal, is usually considered to be able to express only negative feelings like rage, hatred or sadness – however, the truth is that it’s not even a single entity, but rather an umbrella term for a variety of different characteristically distinct subgenres. Without the urge to defend something that actually doesn’t need to be defended, let me emphasize that this diversity renders metal music capable to express feelings and emotions on an extremely wide spectrum. Although the “faces” of instrumental rock/metal – guitar virtuosos like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Buckethead or Tony Macalpine – put an enormous emphasis on technical perfection, many metal bands incorporating instrumental tracks in their albums concentrated on inventive songwriting and harmony progression rather than personal shredding abilities (two of my favorites are A Day at Guyana from Agent Steel and It’s a Secret from Metal Church). Instrumental metal, therefore – like every other musical genres – has unlimited (however, still unexploited) abilities in this regard.

This clearly constitutes an unmet need – a niche that must be filled sooner or later. While I’m well aware that most people can “get into a song” primarily through lyrics, I look at instrumental metal music as an endless possibility to be exploited and utilized. I am convinced that music in general may substantially profit from the textualization of thoughts and feelings: lyrics can create an added value that might lead the listener into the deepest layers of the composer’s soul. Still, certain types of music doesn’t need lyrics to transmit these feelings and emotions – it depends on the character of the music. The absence of lyrics may provide an enormous opportunity for the listener to interpret the harmonies and melodies in a completely free way. I must admit that I myself experimented quite a lot with lyrics – still, my current creative process is based on playing the guitar. I, therefore, found my own lyrics artificial and inappropriate.

So, what now? Nothing, I suppose. I will continue making instrumental music until I feel that the presence of words become crucial for me to express something specific in my songs. While I don’t exclude the possibility to write music with lyrics and vocals in the future, my present ideas for my two or three new tracks are centered around my comfort zone by playing the guitar and composing instrumental music. I’m well aware that there’s are faster guitarists, better songwriters and definitely more good-looking guys out there than I am or will ever be – still, those two albums in the Releases section of this website are me: and in this sense of the word they are faithful reflections of their creator’s character. I hope you’ll find the third one an organic continuation of the previous two.

On how (not) to write music

Well, I was just reading an interesting article on Thomann’s Facebook page (Musikhaus Thomann is one of the world’s largest musical instrument warehouse located in Germany) about how to write good songs. This was an enlightening writing – I still don’t have a clear vision on how to create quality music, but now at least I know that everything I’ve done so far was nothing but an endless series of errors and mistakes (at least from the perspective of how to write songs with the intention of being popular – or more accurately, commercially successful). Although I personally know dozens of music snobs who consider self-trained musicians like me incapable of forming a decent opinion on such questions, I still think that there’s no need to have degrees and certificates in music education to shape a consistent view on what art (in general) and music (in particular) are for.

All joking aside, the paper I’ve read was an excellent summary on how human psychology works, and as a musician, how to take advantage of it. The author stated that catchy songs shouldn’t last longer than 3-3.5 minutes, should have a simple and easily followable structure with an interesting bridge after the second (!) chorus (I usually don’t even have chorus-like musical building blocks in my songs LOL…) and must put a special emphasis on the first, middle and final parts. I may be wrong (and here I must emphasize again that being a self-trained guitarist I don’t claim to have the knowledge on how to write music in the technical/theoretical – or rather, academical – sense of the word), but according to this checklist of song characteristics, art is (at least, according to the author) not an entitiy that flows freely without limitations, but rather constitutes a well-designed and regulated “something” that can (and should) catch the attention of the listeners by fulfilling their general expectations and needs. In this context, a successful artist is a well-trained person who research, analyze and understand these expectations and serve them out well. An artist, therefore, is nothing else but a mere answering machine. With all due respect, I have a characteristically different view on art – and consequently tend to agree with one of the comments below the original writing: this is not the way of creating quality stuff, but rather the way to become hopelessly mediocre and calculable. Let me explain, why I think so.

First of all, let’s subtract the need for commercial success from the equation. Having a full-time job as a neuroscientist it’s really an extraordinary luxury for me that I can create anything without being threatened by losing my income if my musical creations don’t fulfill the expectations of my listeners. Not that I’m not interested in the general reception of my music: independent artists usually develop an even bigger desire to be heard, accepted and valued by their listeners than their “professional” counterparts, because they (we) have only a very thin chance to break through the glass ceiling and emerge from the overall noise. Still, I value the advantages of being an independent musician: it’s a great privilege and a responsibility at the same time. On one hand I’m completely aware of the fact that it’s hard to find an audience who’s open to lenghty instrumental prog/thrash tracks, but I’m also fully aware that there are still people out there who look exactly for this type of music: your presence here is the best proof of this statement.

Music (and art in general) is not a tool to become popular or to earn a thick revenue. I – of course – don’t say that music should be a free-of-charge service, but the focus should always remain on creating something original and to find the right audience for that. Art is not a race to win: we don’t have to be better, faster, clearer sounding or more unique than anyone else in the course of music history. Art, consequently, should never degrade itself to a mere reflection of the current common taste, but should keep its own intrinsic values, regardless that they attract anyone or not. I consider art to be the purest and most effective way of human communication – and in this sense it doesn’t necessarily have to be virtuosic or “well-trained” (not even in the sense that the cited article intended to suggest!), but only honest and genuine. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – wrote Oscar Wilde once, and I don’t see any other chance to achieve artistic quality, but by being absolutely genuine and honest. I’m really sorry, but I can’t (and consequently, won’t) limit myself to 3-minute musical quantums to attract random people on Spotify who were unlucky enough to click on one of my albums. Similarly, I can’t (and consequently, won’t) build up songs on the basis of the traditional “intro – verse – verse – chorus – verse – chorus – solo – chorus – outro” scheme: not because I envision myself as someone who will revolutionize music theory by inventing novel song structures, but simply because it’s not the way music jumps out of my thoughts. It would be a sick approach if I composed, played and recorded music with the primary motivation to “raise the numbers” of random listeners and followers: my primary motivation is to find those who can relate to what I try to express in my musical creations. And that’s why I always tell you, how grateful I am for you to be here with me: your presence strengthens the feeling that there is a way for any kind of music (even thrash metal, LOL…) to connect people.

Someone once said that if you can’t achieve great things, then achieve small things in a great way. I’d reformulate this sentence as follows: art is a great thing in itself, and you don’t even have to be “great” (I mean, famous or popular), because you already have your share in the greatness of music, when you write a song or play a couple of notes on your guitar. You just have to give the maximum of yourself, and there always will be people out there who will value your efforts. Catching the attention of crowds without this kind of genuineness and honesty will always result in sterile musical artefacts – they may pay well, but they will never fulfill the primary aim of art: to connect people and transmit messages in a very emotional, intense and intimate way. If my music cannot achieve this – regardless the general reception of the result – then I’d better shut down my amp and stand back my guitar into the rack.

But I do hope it’s not the case…

Of song lyrics and instrumental music

Why I ended up playing instrumental music? This is another good question that I used to get quite often from my friends – and at the same time this is a tricky one that’s pretty hard to answer. The music I make is just a snapshot of a quite long “evolutionary process” – so I think it’s better to go into details, if I want to formulate a reasonable response.

In the beginning – similarly to most of the musicians in the rock/metal scene – I wanted to write and play traditional songs with vocals. However, I’ve never been sure about the exact nature of the vocals that I wanted to incorporate. At the beginning I felt like slightly harsh but still melodic (let’s say, “Nevermore-style”) vocals would fit well to my music. Then I started to experiment with classical harmonies and fell in love with polyphonic choirs and female vocals. Still, somehow I always felt that writing melodies for vocals is not my business: it never went so smoothly than working with guitars. I think this kind of hesitation was the first momentum that suggested me to express my thoughts with sounds rather than with words.

I wrote numerous song lyrics, nonetheless. However, neither the rhytmicity nor the topics of my texts fitted well to the medium/fast tempo and the impetus of my thrash metal-based musical creations: they resembled more to poems than to song lyrics and fitted better to the textual world of gothic or doom metal songs. Therefore, as time passed by, I became increasingly uneasy with the idea of incoprorating my texts into songs. It also felt somewhat unnatural for me to synchronize the tight and fast thrash tempos with the unique accentuation of the Hungarian language. When it comes to songwriting, I basically think in guitar harmonics and melodies, rather than the characteristic sound of the human voice – therefore I felt like I can express myself better via the possibilities of instrumental music than through some enforced marriage of poem-like, gloomy Hungarian texts with my thrash metal-based rhytmical constructions.

This is basically the reason, why I ended up writing and playing instrumental music.