Derek Webb – Feedback

In recent years Derek Webb has carved out a nice niche for himself as Christian music’s provocative and controversial “voice in the wilderness.” Never one to mince words, he has taken on such issues with his music as Christian consumerism, our unhealthy ties to politics and the church’s attitude about homosexuality. At times his words have seemed almost prophetic in their ability to cut to the heart of what’s lacking in the Christian experience for many believers.

Odd then that he would somehow manage to speak more truth and beauty with Feedback, his latest instrumental record, than he has in any of his prior efforts.

Feedback is, as Webb describes it, “an instrumental electronic album based on the Lord’s prayer.” His first “worship” album.

The album is presented in three movements. Each track takes a particular phrase from Jesus’ prayer with his disciples and interprets it into a musical passage using rich layers of sounds, instruments and electronic effects. The result is a beautiful piece of music that rises and swells with layers of complexity that are best enjoyed as a whole piece rather than in individual tracks. (Not to mention with a big ‘ol pair of high quality headphones.)

While the album is billed as an “electronic” instrumental, it actually finds its strength in the way Webb manages to blend the earthly tones from traditional instruments (guitar, piano,voice, etc.) with some the more abstract and ethereal electronic elements. The two work together as a whole to bring about the sense of Heaven and Earth coming into one, which as the crux of “The Lord’s Prayer” seems entirely appropriate.

Feedback is unlike any “worship” album ever produced. But at this point we’ve come to expect nothing less from Derek Webb. He is an artist who is constantly pushing himself into new and uncharted territory, and we’re all the better for it.

Worship is a complicated idea.  Arguably, it’s what we all do, 24 hours a day (regardless of what we’re worshipping).  And I’m aware of a lot of “worship product” in the marketplace I sometimes occupy.  So I was cautious when I first started receiving the coordinates that would lead me to make ‘Feedback’.  It was immediately conceptual and ambitious, so much so that I genuinely wasn’t sure I could do it.  But this seemed to be the perfect posture in which to create something worthy of being called a “worshipful” piece of art.  So I studied, meditated, struggled and prayed my way through this creative process, and it’s easily the most challenging thing I’ve done in my career. But I believe it’s been worth it, even just for the ways it’s stretched both my creative process and my faith as a follower of the Way. – Derek Webb, Musician

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread – Derek Webb

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18 thoughts on “Derek Webb – Feedback

  1. I’m intrigued, but not sure what my thoughts are overall… From what I’ve heard of it, seen of the side art projects, and read about this album, I think it has immediate application as a great companion to and aide in leading someone into a worship “experience”. I can see it as a prayer soundtrack of sorts, great background music for many things including video projects, etc… but it may be a little to abstract for me to find it worshipful in and of itself, or to recognize it’s inspiration from the Lord’s prayer. Very similar to the art accompaniment – it is intriguing and different, but I don’t directly see the concept of worship or the inspiration claimed.

  2. … but it may be a little to abstract for me to find it worshipful in and of itself, or to recognize it’s inspiration from the Lord’s prayer.

    Of course, this brings up an interesting question.

    Can art, in and of itself, be “worshipful?”

    Thinking of all the great classical music from guys like George Friedrich Handel that were composed as an act of worship and/or inspired by Scripture.

    1. My immediate response as I read your question was “sure… for them”. Handel’s worship was an act of worship on his part so it would be considered “worship music” in that sense. That doesn’t mean it lends itself easily to corporate or private worship settings well for others to also find worship through it’s reproduction. Same with works of art through paintings, etc… the actual act of the artist may well have been an act focused on God, and therefore, a form of worship, but that does not make the art worshipful to others, necessarily.

      1. Does “worship music” as typically defined fit with what you’re saying? That it “lends itself easily to corporate or private worship.”

        And then my question is, what’s the difference really? Words?

        (Methinks this conversation may be part of why Mr. Webb produced “Feedback.” 😉 )

  3. i don’t think that worship can measured in a weight, the number of units moved in a sales quart, the weight of talents, the ounces of blood to cover our sins in the temple or size of the temples that could be built
    that’s why i think that ‘true and pure worship’ is for our bodies to be ‘living sacrifices’

    because only things made up of molecules can be rendered on caesar, our souls, our lives our perspectives can’t be measured in molecules, they belong to God

    just thinking out loud

  4. I think part of being made in the image of a creator God is possessing the impulse, ability, and (for some) the calling to create beautiful things, even if they have no explicit message. Acting on this impulse and creating beauty is an act of worship.

    A perhaps more controversial statement is this: enjoying it passively can also also an act of worship.

    Staring down the Cliffs of Moher, I was in awe of a God who creates such unsurpassable beauty for no apparent reason other than to give human beings enjoyment. Observing beautiful art—visual art, music, etc.—is, in my opinion, partaking in a small sliver of that same divine indulgence. The imago Dei is fractured and incomplete in these demonstrations of creativity, just as it is in everything else we do. But it is there, and the glimpse of it is inspiring.

    1. Observing beautiful art—visual art, music, etc.—is, in my opinion, partaking in a small sliver of that same divine indulgence.

      I listened to Derek’s new album on repeat at work all day yesterday. It served as terrific white noise to help take the edge off an otherwise insanely busy day.

      At the gym it was different. I put it on my headphones, turned the music up and turned off the TV screen that normally displays sports highlights on mute. I had nothing but the music. It took me places. I thought about Creation, my kids, my friends, my dreams, my presence … every bit of it from a position of gratitude and thankfulness toward God.

      While I huffed and puffed my way through a 3.1 mile run I was – for a solid 36 minutes – with God in a new and dynamic way.

      It was exciting. Breathtaking. (Or maybe that was the run …)

  5. bono once said (don’t discount it b/c of those 1st three words, this one is good, haha) he knew God existed when he heard miles davis. most likely no connection to God in miles own mind, but his genius was a reflection of inspiration, or, in having been given a gift from a benevolent being to blow people’s minds with 🙂

  6. Tim (aka taicligh):

    1) You know Bono is a beloved soul in this here neck of the web. Why the worry?

    2) Scott just referenced the Cliffs of Moher and you said nothing?? Very surprised. Veeeeeeery surprised.

    Back to the topic at hand. Taicligh’s last comment, via paraphrased Bono, brought to mind a chapter of a book that I think is worth everyone’s time. It’s from “The Call” by Os Guinness. Chapter 6 is titled “Do What You Are.” It’s been one of my “go to” chapters for years. It tells a story about John Coltrane that speaks to the idea of God’s calling in an artist’s life. I think it very much so ties into our discussion on worship.

    If I think of it tomorrow I’ll PDF it and post it for your edification.

  7. I was able to find the chapter online. You can read it here, but this is the excerpt I was referencing.

    John Coltrane, the saxophonist who played for Dizzie Gillespie and Miles Davis, said something very similar. In the early 1950’s “Trane” nearly died of a drug overdose in San Francisco, and when he recovered he quit drugs and drinking and came to put his faith in God. Some of his best jazz came after that, including “A Love Supreme,” an ardent thirty- two minute outpouring to thank God for his blessing and offer him Coltrane’s very soul.

    After one utterly extraordinary rendition of “A Love Supreme,” Coltrane stepped off the stage, put down his saxophone, and said simply, “Nunc dimittis.” (These are the opening Latin words for the ancient prayer of Simeon, sung traditionally at evening prayer: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”) Coltrane felt he could never play the piece more perfectly. If his whole life had been lived for that passionate thirty-two minute jazz prayer, it would have been worth it. He was ready to go.

    Now, tying in with some of what Matt was saying, “A Love Supreme” is pretty darn abstract. Jazz is by its very nature. I picked it up after reading that passage with the hopes of being brought to a similar place of worship. But I’ve never connected with it. Not at all among my favorites from Coltrane.

  8. I read an interesting review of this album from the perspective of a non-believer (formerly christian, who has now claimed atheism…) and his take was that it was a wonderful piece of music and composure that leads him into the worship of what he considers the divine – music itself. One of my struggles, for better or worse, is in the postmodern perspective of abstract worship in which it’s often unclear who or what is being worshiped, or if it is even mentioned at all. I have no doubt that the individual artist may be worshiping at the time of performance or composure or painting, but does that really make it a worship art in a way that can lead others to worship God?

    Sure, just like nature and general revelation, there are many abstract things of beauty and wonder that lead us to a place of worshiping God as an amazing creator. I’m just not sure I connect to human abstract creation in a way that immediately makes me point to God.

    1. I’m having trouble with the term “abstract.” It seems subject to taste.

      In the case of Feedback, I don’t find the music to be particularly abstract. The songs have melodies, harmony, build to a crescendo, etc. Pretty fundamental things with respect to songwriting.

      I know I used the term in my review to describe certain elements. Mostly because I couldn’t guess how some of those sounds are made. But they add to the basic structure of the music in a way that feels quite organic. Which is kind of ironic to be said of electronic elements.

      Would you say then – and this might just be a matter of how you are wired – that you don’t generally connect (or “worship”) through instrumental music? Do you need the words to give the songs significance?

      1. My working idea of “abstract” is something that is highly subjective in nature, leaving significant room for interpretation, application, and meaning. Hence, strictly instrumental music, deemed as worship music leaves a great deal of subjective interpretation.

        What about instrumental music not composed by a believer? It doesn’t increase or decrease my ability to focus my mind on God when listening to it based on the heart of the composer if there is nothing tangibly and directly influence me to God. Some people will hear it and praise God for his amazing creativity in creation, some will praise the composer, some will praise the music itself, and some will simply not think beyond the fact that they’re listening to a song at all.

        What is done in a worshipful heart by the originator of a piece of art or work of music doesn’t necessarily lead others into worship unless there is some objective element (lyrics, subject matter, etc…) which points to God. It may be worshipful for them, but not necessarily for me. Maybe that’s the “modernist” in me, but I still want something tangible.

        My perspective, at least…

        1. I don’t disagree that there is some level of subjectivity involved. To me, that speaks clearly to the need for the worshiper to be intentional in seeking to worship. This is no less true with instrumental music than it is with the Cliffs of Moher.

          And actually, I think it’s also true with lyrics. They may be more obvious or intentional, but they’re not objective. What if I prefer “Lord I Lift Your Name on High,” and you prefer “Be Thou My Vision”? Whichever one is being used in worship, one of us will have to work a little harder than the other.

          So your point that “it may be worshipful for them, but not necessarily for me” is probably always true. And I actually think it’s very postmodern of you to say it. 🙂

  9. I think this is good conversation…

    So, it seems to me anyway, that here’s where we are with things currently. There are apparently a few things at work when considering whether something is “worship.”

    1) The heart of the composer, artist, performer, etc.
    2) How the hearer, seer, etc. interprets and interacts with the art.
    3) The corporate experience of those two parts coming together in unified purpose.

    Sounds kind of triumvirate. Hmmmm. 🙂

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