It is as inevitable as the closed system of nature we reside in. The Neanderthal, with the first musical instrument, whittling away and experimenting with the breaths and timbre of the unusual sounds. Several others stood around him, watching and reacting, fascinated by the unexpected and utterly alien extension to their language; emotions being stirred, resentments being set alight. But the Progenitor must have carried on, wondering what strange gift this piece of bone was from the Skies.
And then, someone steps up to the first musician, and with a few grunts and lilting stares, gives the Neanderthal equivalent of: You’re doing it wrong.
Thus, the Music Critic was born.
A bitter chuckle escapes your lips. “There’s always conflict, isn’t there?” you ask.
I would respond, but you already know the answer. What would history be without conflict? It would hardly be worth studying if each lesson began and ended with, “And then they got along famously.”
Outside of music, history was probably the second earliest form of entertainment.
Like any artist, criticism is taken as a double-edged sword. First off, who likes to be told that your work is at best inadequate and at worst, shit? Second, considering that more than likely the person telling you that your skills are lacking is also utterly bereft of the very skill they are criticizing you for, it makes the very nature of critics a dubious one in even the kindest of lights. Unless you were someone like Plato, who was able to convince all kinds of people that he knew what he was talking about, and even fit music into his canon of laws.
But discussion of Plato is for another time.
Where were we? Oh yes, the first Music Critic. That poor bastard.
Like a mother with her young, the Progenitor of the first musical notes from the Divje Babe flute (although that’s not what they called it. Had the language survived into later years in some tangible form and been deciphered by linguists, the closest translation would have been “false wind bringer”) was horrified at the musical rebuke. After a brief tussle, in which the Music Critic receives a bloodied nose and knee scrapes for their effort, the Progenitor stiffly hands over the flute. Cautiously, the critic places the bone-crafted instrument to their lips; a tentative breath escapes. The resulting note is awkward.
No one likes it more than when a critic is brought low.
Infuriated, the Critic throws down the flute, and it strikes against stone. The oddest reverberation catches the Critic’s ear; an unusual note, something never heard before. The Critic lowers himself quickly, picking up the flute and what it had struck against: a large, flat rock.
A thought comes to the Critic. Inspiration.
Bone against rock.
A similar, hollow note, faint with echo.
Bang bang bang.
A stutter-step rhythm, the resulting echo and hard rhythm of the rock appeals to the Critic.
The second instrument is born.
Which, once you have two competing instruments in place, the second of which garnering more than just a little interest from those who enjoyed the whimsical sounds of the bone flute, was bound to lead the third musical innovation in such an extraordinary amount of time: the Musical Showdown.
It’s important that we observe this Event; otherwise, we would waste the opportunity for harnessing the echo of this Light. A question forms in your mind, but I’ll ignore it for now. It is not the most pressing of questions that you could ask right at this moment, and to be frank, I’m a little surprised that you haven’t asked the most obvious one.
There. The echo…
The tribe had gathered around the two opposing musicians. Without preamble, the thready notes of the flute unfurled into the clear night, and the severe beats of bone against flat stone rushed to meet it in an ungraceful confluence. The rest of the tribe stared on in disbelief, and for a moment no one could remember what made these two sound generators worthy of contest. The air began to bleed irritation.
And then, a strange thing happened: the clamoring of sound began to mutate, fusing into something vaguely rhythmical. In some primal redirection, the flute and drumming sounds melded, and grew to compliment each other. The tribe welcomed the change, and slowly nodded their heads in enjoyment. The musicians, noticing the crowd’s appreciation, turned aside their pride and competitive desires and allowed their music to fully come together, varying and steering to and fro based on the musicians’ whims.
This went on for 10 minutes. And thus was born the Improv Band.
And when it was over, the tired musicians built to a crescendo and stopped, and the tribe grunted and nodded their enjoyment. The musicians were pleased. Any former rivalry had been forgotten. Then, one of the tribesman asked for them to play it again. The musicians looked at each other, stunned.
How could they remember all of the notes they just played?
The first encore would have to wait…