This is something I wrote circa 1993 – link. I believe it was published in Musician Magazin around that time.
Instrumental Music is to vocal song what a book is to the movie. Reading is active. When you read the book your imagination fleshes out the story. You imagine the scenery, you imagine the persons talking, imagine how they look and move. Movies are passive. When you go to a movie, you sit and watch. A better movie will move your mind, will challenge your perception, but your mind is not as active as it would be while reading a book.
In a song a hero or heroine will tell their story. They will tell U how they feel. They R the center of attention. The lyrics, the singing rule the listener. The listener is passive. Instrumental music works differently. The listener becomes the center of attention, rather than the singer. Instrumental music works on our intuitive mind whereas vocals/lyrics seem to push us into the intellectual mind. Instrumental music can be ignored easier than vocal music. In order to get the picture from instrumental music, the listener has to invest something, has to let the music resonate within him, has to flesh out the mood the music portrays, just as a reader has to fill the words with life. W/o that imagination a book is just words and the music is just notes.
Some of you will point out that a book has words too. Yeah, so it’s not a perfect analogy. However I am trying to compare the active process of reading with the passive process of watching. Secondly I admit there are lyricists who are more abstract and less literal than others, but even the most abstract lyrics pull us out of the music. Techno is mostly instrumental because lyrics get in the way of trance. The mere sound of language changes the way we listen.
Instrumental music works on several different levels: as background music to work by, to think by – or as foreground music when the listener tries to relive the artist’s emotions or intentions. There is an attention that songs demand, that makes them coarse. By that I mean that vocals always catch our attention. The voice of another human being happy or in distress. It doesn’t work very subtly – just as in a movie a lot of the subtleties of the book are lost. If the mind is a pool of water, instrumental music will sink + vocal music will float. Instrumental music will rain on the brain, can fall through the cracks. Non-verbal communication. It reaches the listener directly. Sub-consciousness to sub-consciousness. Like the Zen painter who creates his work in seconds on very thin paper – so thin that it might break under the weight of the brush if he hesitates or thinks for a moment. Ideally music works the same way, and every musician would probably agree with me that for us the biggest high is when a group of musos spontaneously performs something they have never played before. The mystical experience. My soul is my antenna, I am the instrument + the guitar is my amplifier.