I find it funny what posts provoke replies. That’s been true in all my blog lives. Things I don’t intend acquire lives of their own – catch someone’s interest, prompt conversations, turn out to be productive. But when I actually start out looking for responses, I don’t tend to get any.
[Yes, I know from experience that some 'controversial' topics generate feedback. But I'm really uninterested in controversy except when it is inextricable from truth.]
My earlier post on music falls into that category of things said to dead air. That usually means one of four things: a. the notion was abstract and irrelevant enough that people were uninterested; b. I expressed it awkwardly enough that what I meant to say didn’t come through; c. it was off the wall; or d. it was facile and obvious.
I’m not sure which, if any of these applies.
But I was taken with the notion that music isn’t really at all a function of sound. It is about its organization and about something that exists around, behind, within, and through the sound. We think of it as absolutely about the sound, but that perception is off. I am reminded that during the latter part of his composing career, Beethoven was deaf. According to some accounts, his last words were, “In heaven I shall hear.” We enjoy the pathos of such a tale, but it has a meaning that is lost on us. How does a person compose a symphony in silence? And how does music composed in that way turn out to be profound. It is the ultimate act of meaning and faith.
It’s similar to color. We associate colors with things. But when we see an object of a certain color, the color we perceive is precisely that piece of light that has been spit out by the object. The color is the very thing that does not touch the object at any point. It’s just a matter of perception. We look at the same things every day, but are they really what we see?
So… I’m still wondering what people think is truly happening in music.
I’m also still wondering what features people find compelling.
Some music draws us. Some music has force.
Some people respond to lyrics. (As a kind of writer, I can respect that.) But powerful lyrics put to bad music usually fail. Equally, some music is appealing, but the song is ruined by appallingly bad lyrics. A fairly large amount of successful songs have strong music and mediocre lyrics – or strong lyrics and mediocre music. Then there are those happy few – where lyrics and music match. Some tunes actually are what they are talking about. This is fairly rare, but happens often enough that we notice it. It is like a new and different language – or maybe like an old language we’ve lost when words were what they described.
Most of the time, music that compels is music that matches my mood. Either what I am feeling, or a state I find I like. It ‘resonates’ with me.
But there are specific features that draw me in. For example, music that contains its own undoing – that threatens to unravel, but miraculously doesn’t – is very appealing to me. I’ve encountered this in classical music, in what I used to call punk, in bluegrass, in blues. Specifically, when things are done to rhythm or key that create internal tension.
There are ways in which music is structured so that certain beats always get the accent or certain notes are always grouped together almost universally. Composers and musicians accent the wrong beats or change the grouping intentionally to defy the expectation. Most interesting are the cases where two conflicting themes run at the same time. It breaks apart the hearer’s expectation and provokes a response.
Similarly, there is a line between major and minor keys that some musicians manage to blow up. It shows you how arbitrary the distinctions are – and how arbitrary the moods those distinctions correspond to are. The effect is bittersweet. It is both and neither – something other, something new.
I’ve also been fascinated by music performed in major keys that manages to be as dreary or melancholy as any minor thought. By contrast, music in minor keys seems like a bad exaggeration.
So what draws you in?