Certain songs have an indescribable something, an implacable dynamic that surpasses the sum of it's parts. The Pixies, for example, and Pavement, rarely rise above the barest musical simplicity... the bass hits keeps a single note, 8 beats in each measure, the drums vary only in the bass drum beats and fills, the guitars are usually lost somewhere in wailing avant-garde nowhere-land. what is it, then, that I like so much about these songs? Is it that the third, fourth, fifth time that I listen to them, every single note and chord change and every minuscule subtlety seems to be placed in exactly the perfect spot, that the idiosyncratic and usually off-key lead singers seem so finely tuned to the emotional potency of the music (whether or not their lyrics make sense), that the melody is of the sort that comes to inhabit a corner of your mind, set up a tent, and put it's two cents in at none but the most appropriate moments of your life (walking along an empty city street at sunrise, lying under the stars with old friends)? What is it in funk music that makes us want to dance, what is it in Marvin Gaye that makes us want Sexual Healing, what does Yngwie Malmsteem put into his guitar that makes him capable of slaying a dragon with the power of ROCK, what is the poignant sadness generously whisked into all the best love songs? Here's a bit of Rumi:
Listen to the story told by the reed,
of being separated.
"Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.
Anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what I say.
Anyone pulled from a source
longs to go back.
At any gathering I am there,
mingling in the laughing and grieving,
a friend to each, but few
will hear the secrets hidden
within the notes. No ears for that.
Body flowing out of spirit,
spirit up from body: no concealing
that mixing. But it's not given us
to see the soul. The reed flute
is fire, not wind. Be that empty."
As Coleman Barks, the translator, pointed out, the music of a reed flute is not in the breath of the musician. It is somewhere behind, it is borne of the consciousness of the musician, and it bubbles to the surface from a place beyond notes and chords and theory. Music is a carrefour to emotion- it directly and viscerally affects our hearts, tiptoeing around our rationality. Of course we all hear music differently- we all interpret books differently, witness events differently, experience love differently- but every person, I think, has a deep shared emotional consciousness that certain patterns in our senses (sight, hearing, etc.) trigger.