Friday, July 30, 2010

The Sound of Music

I've always been intrigued by music; there's something almost incomprehensible about its appeal, which, nevertheless, you desperately want to comprehend. At least I do. And the best I can do is sort of nibble 'round the edges.

For one thing, it's a temporal art form. Mostly you experience it over time, however long it takes to hear a performance (or a recording thereof). And if you feel its impact, be it sadness, suspense, gladness, or even a kind of horror, that too is felt over the duration of the music. It never happens that a piece of music saves up all of its emotional impact for a single whap in the face, like a painting or a sculpture might. Yes, I'm aware that those art forms have nuances that can take extended or repeated viewings to appreciate. But for those forms, it is possible for the entire gestalt to strike you at a single moment, followed by a sustained decay of gradual discovery.

To be sure, trained musicians can look at a musical score and apprehend it. But even then—unless they are familiar with the music, and sometimes even then—they hear the music in their head, once again over time.

And the emotions you feel—oh! Music seems to speak to us in a language that is uniquely suited, not for communication, but only for emotional transference. A strain of music can connote hope or despair, struggle or triumph, seemingly no matter your roots or background. You almost think that if only somehow that universality could be harnessed, you could solve the world's problems in a single swoop—but then, that sounds like a travesty to be visited on music. At times I feel as though it should be protected from that kind of directed use.

Music stays in us. We have a tune stuck in our head. As much as we may appreciate the Mona Lisa or the David, how often do we complain that one of those (or their modern counterparts) are stuck in the same way? Maybe music gets a leg up from being a primarily auditory art form. We get so much of our information about the world from our eyes; our ears are generally accompanists, not the featured performer. As a result, though, it works its magic subliminally, providing a soundtrack for us. Seeing a visual art form may put us in an ecstatic trance of exploration, but rarely does it pull something directly out of us, something we recognize. Whereas surely all of us have songs that invariably draw forth some sharp memory. Music makes us aware that we have a story.

None of which brings me much closer to being able to comprehend its appeal in any meaningful way.

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