Music has, since the dawn of time, been a societal barometer. Indeed – were I to flaunt my credentials as a History Class Attendee, and even as an Open Wikipedia Tab Haver (5 Days Running) – I’d argue it may be the single most consistently effective tool we have for understanding the ideals and cultural priorities of civilizations long since lost to us. Now you might be thinking “who asked?” and “why do these sentences have so many words but so far only one recognizable joke?” And to respond, I’d argue that knowing what it was that people were writing and singing about can provide a deeply revealing look at the fragility of what we’d like to think is our shared human experience. Our perspectives and our fundamental approach to life have become so drastically different from those of centuries ago that were we to be Jamie Lee Curtis-ed into the body of a medieval and plague-ridden Lindsay Lohan, we’d find the structure of her thoughts so completely alien to us we’d scarcely recognize ourselves as the same species. Much like I imagine being Freaky Friday-ed into the actual Lindsay Lohan would be. Anyway, you’re the one who clicked on this article, presumably after having read the title and everything, so whose fault is this really?
Now, to narrow our scope to the subject at hand: during the Middle Ages and Renaissance the most common musical theme was the idea of capturing the mind of God as we saw it reflected in the night sky. As astronomy became the kind of sexy profession wenches totally swooned over, people started to realize that the patterns those stars up there were making might give some hints as to our own position in the universe. And composers – never ones to turn down the chance to contract medieval herpes – began to incorporate this idea into their music, in a style called “Polyphony” wherein multiple lines of independent melody danced around each other in much the same way the planets supposedly moved around the earth. It was only later, when those papal jocks gave Galileo an ecclesiastical swirlie and astronomers once more became unfuckable nerds, that they bothered to nail down what the sun was actually for. By that point, however, composers had moved on to write what we now call “Opera”, which focused instead on the wicked torment of human emotion, and how funny it would be if two mothers-in-law were trying to ruin a marriage at the same time. In the centuries following, empires would rise and fall with the frequency of Madonna at a live concert, but those two ideas would instead adapt and evolve to reach the 1990s intact – manifesting as “Creep” by Radiohead, and “Every Single Sitcom” by NBC, respectively.
And thus we arrive at our question, posed by the intellectuals over at 4chan (and possibly answered there as well, though I’ll never know because I refuse to visit that website):
“Are there any medieval musicians that sound like Weezer? Like, something that sounds like weezer but it’s really from 1440 or something?”
Well, are there? After all the ideological and cultural change of the centuries is there a common thread of humanity that links the discipline of music as a whole? If our ancestors can see us, are we anything more than an almost unrecognizable disappointment, churning out testaments to our own simplicity and self-centeredness? More importantly, what would a Weezer song sound like if it was sung by ancient monks, and would it be funnier than the sound of a sacred hymn sung by a full choir of whiny-voiced Rivers Cuomi? The unknowability of these questions is a tragedy of operatic proportions, truly, and I will instead direct us to safer pastures where there are answers to be had. So, are there any medieval musicians that sound like Weezer?
I’ve done some interpreting of the question here, first and foremost in its definition of “medieval musicians”. There very well may have been a traveling bard or two whose diseased vocal chords produced sounds of a similar effect, but unfortunately there’s really no knowing. The only way we could find that out is if I invented a time machine – and if I invented a time machine I’d use it to go back to my afternoon self and tell him not to spend a whole Tuesday night writing an article that would take him so deep into a Middle Ages Wikipedia wormhole he’d jump the next time he encountered a person and didn’t see a faded engraving with Freshman-Year-at-CalArts proportions staring back…. So we’re at an impasse. Rather than dwell on that, we’ll focus our answer on specific surviving pieces by composers of the era that are still performed in modern times. I’ve also extended the time period to include the Renaissance, as “1440 or something” would be smack dab in the middle of that transitional period, and they had some good stuff.
(I’d also like to make the disclaimer that I don’t actually dislike Rivers Cuomo’s voice, it’s just that imagining that very specific sound echoing around a church and ringing through a silence wherein no one would dare clap is… VERY funny.)
1. Pérotin’s “Sederunt Principes”
Ooo-ee-oo it sounds just like Buddy Holly! Or at least it does for the first 40 seconds, and the rest of the piece just goes off so they’ve got that in common as well… Actually, that specific comparison is the whole reason I’m writing this. I had the realization, and then dumped hours of fevered fact-checking into the concept without so much as a second bullet point in mind. One second, I’m going to get a cork board and some red string from Joanne’s Fabrics, and then I’ll be back with some more.
2. Dufay’s “Flos Florum”
Ok, I haven’t felt the touch of another person in three days… Or what I believe to be three days… It’s still 2018 isn’t it? Anyway, I’ve come back with results, because if you squint your ears I believe you’ll find that this piece sounds a bit like my personal favorite Weezer cantata “Island in the Sun”. Maybe it’s just the structured choral backing with a higher soloist carefully dancing around the presented melody, but actually the pieces are elementally similar, now that I think about it. Dufay came from a tradition of rigid and pious religious music, while Weezer came from the similarly dreary world of Alt Rock, yet in both these examples the obligatory expounding on the torture of existence is instead set aside to elaborate on lighter things. Good will, second chances, and innocence in one case, and playing ’n having fun on an island in the sun in the other… So either they’re extremely similar, or the basement I’ve locked myself in doesn’t get enough sunlight.
3. Cristobal de Morales’ “Kyrie”
Morales is perhaps one of my favorite composers of the era, and his Kyrie features the kind of tight vocal layering you can also expect from your standard Weezer song…. Is a sentence I just wrote………… Anyway, their “Beverly Hills” in particular, while not a good example of vocal diversity, is one of their more medieval pieces in terms of attitude. “Where I come from isn’t all that great/My automobile is a piece of crap/ My fashion sense is a little whack/And my friends are just as screwy as me” could easily be translated for the time period to instead be “Whither Ich come ys yn the mudde/Mine ass ys a pyece of crappe/ Mine fashione fenfe ys a lyttle whacke/And mine cater-cousins art as fcrewy as thee”… or more simply just “Lord, have mercy/Christ, have mercy” as the Kyrie more succinctly puts it.
Where am I?
4. Lobo’s “Versa est in Luctum”
Lobo, though not one of the most well-known composers of the Renaissance, was a master at combining a seemingly effortless contrapuntal technique with the darker and more intense tone that resonated with audiences of the period. Similarly, Weezer’s “Zombie Bastards” is dlskfnskdfnsfsdfndfndsf sdkjfjk sdfjkfdjskfkj Rhubarb Rhubarb sdmfnsjkfnskfnsd djksfn jk sdjknf C R O A T O A N jkdnsfnskfds My harp is turned to mourning and my organ into the voice of those that weep. Spare me, O Lord, for my days are nothing.
5. ERROR: Signal lost
Source not responding.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.