Response to Joel: Tension and Resolution

October 4th, 2010

The following is a response that my friend, Joel, made to the new album, Purpose:

Caleb,

Acting contrary to your advice I listened to this CD twice in the same day (I think you said that one should not listen to a piece of music twice in the same waking period). I must say that some parts are beginning to grow on me, though I still think there is too much tension, without enough resolution. I am starting to see the intention in that tension though. Sin makes this world an unhappy place, and I think that your music communicates that very well. I also like that you ended with a recounting of God’s amazing grace. It really brings the whole thing together more than you realize when you first listen to it. I think I need to sleep on it.

Joel

Thanks for the thought provoking comment Joel.  It’s good to actually see some activity around here!  I’ve actually been having a lot of conversations on the issue of tension in my work, and I’d like to address it in length.  Thanks to Brad and pastor Tim in particular for challenging me to think about this.  It’s changing the way I compose, and I really mean that.

It’s fine to listen to a CD twice in one waking period so long as the amount of attentiveness you retain is comparable to your first listen.  Personally, I often begin to become apathetic if I listen to something twice in a row, but I’m sure it varies from person to person.  However, it’s a good general rule.  After all, I stole it from C.S. Lewis!

I’m really happy that you and others are hearing the last track in that way.  I was really worried that people wouldn’t get it, but once again you can’t predict and audience’s reaction.  Thank you for sharing that, it means a lot.

I’ve been reading a book the other Caleb gave me called “Theology, Music, and Time”, by Jeremy S. Begbie and I read a very interesting concept the other night at work.  Music is far more about the tension than the resolution, and when you’re writing about our life here on earth there is no resolution until death/resurrection/kingdom come.  There are small amounts of gratification throughout life, but for the most part we are in a state of perpetual transition until Christ completes his work (Always in Transition).  To make a CD about the Purpose of life implies no authentic resolution what-so-ever (pun fully intended to you theory nerds).  But because of the hope we have in Christ, there is a foreshadowing of the ultimate resolution that we can’t even imagine.  Therefore, he goes on to say that music in the church needs to be less gratifying and be written to convince believers to hope for real resolution rather than offer them some sort of transient emotional release; the same good feeling non-believers get from their “secular” concerts (Well, that’s not quite what he said but that’s what I got out of it).

Here are my own thoughts on the issue. Music consists of tension, but not all music consists of resolution.  You could almost think it similar to darkness being the absence of light, or evil being the absence of God. Resolution is the absence of tension.  Just as you do not need light to have darkness present and you do not need God to have evil present, so you do not need resolution to have tension in music.  Therefore, I would conclude that music is tension and not necessarily resolution.

Between reality never resolving and music being primarily tension, I believe that it is to the listener’s benefit emotionally and spiritually to listen to music that makes their heart ache so that they put their hope in Christ.  There is of course a profound place for music to make your heart sing, but it should be out of the hope and gratitude that starts from the heartache resulting from our condition.  Why else would the majority of scripture be about how desperate we are for salvation?  We don’t read the Bible because it makes us happy.  We read it because it gives us the deep joy that results from hope and gratitude in the authentic resolution of life.  There is no full resolution in life, but only a shadow of the glory that is to come.

Therefore, tension points to truth.  The small amounts of resolution you hear in my work is my own hope and joy leaking into the sound; I sincerely hope that these windows are real.

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