what to keep, what to leave out

I’ve been a Bon Iver fan for over ten years now. Justin Vernon’s work as a musician and artist is unparalleled, from the emotive experience of For Emma, Forever Ago to his collaborations with Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

One of my favorite things I’ve seen Vernon do is perform an acapella version of his song, “Heavenly Father,” from Zach Braff’s film Wish I Was Here.

The original song features synthesizers and tracking, but what Vernon and his bandmates do in this performance is a return to basics, a stripping down to the song’s core elements. This version is wildly different compared to the original song, and in my opinion, so much more soulful.

I suppose the thing that interests me most about this live version is how Vernon arrived at arranging it. What sorts of ideas were dismissed in the process? Why not use a piano or an acoustic guitar? Why choose a track that relies so heavily on technology and and run the complete opposite direction, using just the human voice?

I used to argue with a musician friend of mine about what constitutes “authenticity” in music. I was young and dumb and quick to dismiss anything with synthesizers as artificial. He would come back with the point that an artists tools are irrelevant. What matters is the way in which they’re used. (He was right, of course.)

As Austin Kleon would say, the art lies in knowing what to leave out and what to keep.