Any attempt to answer the question “Where Does Music Come From” would undoubtedly take exhaustive research, volumes and volumes of case studies, and it still wouldn’t really give a substantive answer… not to mention, it’d probably be utterly boring and staid. YES vocalist Jon Anderson however tries to answer it using a different, albeit easier, route. His new single and video incorporates eons and eons of musical inspirations from South Asia, indigenous America, Africa and elsewhere and merges it with prog rock and trance to create a danceable amalgamate that highlights the similarities in the disparate musical styles while individualizing each of its differences.
Anchored by layers upon layers of his unique and highly-recognizable alto tenor vocals, “Where Does Music Come From” (WDMCF) mines different global musical styles and unifies them into a cohesive track that meanders and revels in the different tonalities and worldly rhythms.
“WDMCF originates from me singing the first ideas that come to mind each morning. I start by creating vocal rhythmic sounds, very much like the Pygmies in Bambuti and Burundi in West Africa who go foraging and hunting and sing all the time,” Anderson explains. “They sing like the sounds around them…insects, birds, frogs, etc. It’s just a great way to create first thing in the morning, while asking myself, ‘where does it all come from?’.”
Like the World Music/Pop Music dance boom of the late 80s and early 90s that spawned such intermixes as Enigma, QKumba Zoo and numerous others, Anderson extracts the most recognizable segments of each ethnic rhythm from the thunderous tribal beats of Native American patterns to the Indian ragas and bhangras to the African Kwassa Kwassa and incorporating it into a modern pastoral electro-prog-rock hybrid.
Collaborating closely with GRAMMY®-nominated producer Michael T. Franklin (best known for his work with Brian Wilson and Roger McGuinn), Anderson started collecting thoughts and song patterns in preparation for the song’s construction. “I sent a couple of these ‘vocalizing’ ideas to Michael who was producing tracks I had created some 18 years earlier in Big Bear near Los Angeles,” he recalls.
Bringing together all these musical non-sequiturs and often-contrasting styles would have been maddening in the past, but with the mobile technology of a laptop, stitching them together was rather seamless and somewhat effortless. “Most of the sample work was done by [Franklin] on a flight to China,” he laughs. “He just loaded them on his computer to create the dance grooves of the song. It’s amazing what can happen on a plane.”
Complemented by a video that reads like a meditation on fashion and dance styles of the ages as visualized by National Geographic, “Where Does Music Come From” follows the evolution of music through a colorful pastiche of imagery and pairs it with Anderson’s naturally soaring vocal range. What Franklin and Anderson created is a hypnotic and mesmerizing aural slideshow that feels freeform, tethered only by a percolating trance dance beat. With quick cuts of African tribesmen, Indian Bharatanatyam dancing, Native American Sun dancing, and more modern images of Chuck Berry, The Beatles, raves and breakdancing, the video captures not only the fluidity of music but the dance styles that accompany it.
Bridging the palette of his pro-rock past with his current musically expansive repertoire, Anderson is excited where this exploration of musical styles will take him. “I just feel so energized, happily surrounded by this world of music,” he muses. “Last year, I toured with some wonderful highly evolved musicians. We had a blast performing this 1000 Hands album [from which WDMCF is taken], plus some YES classics redesigned for an eight-piece band. Just realizing that music is timeless if it’s created with an open musical heart and adventurous thinking… I always dream and think that my best work is yet to come, or there would be no point in creating at all.”
Photo credit: Deborah Anderson