Music is All Memory and Anticipation

There is no now--it's always just over with or breathlessly awaited. A rhythm is only a rhythm if one beat fits with the one that went before and then a third fits in too, and then just when we get the hang of it something changes. Notes fit together like eggs in a box except that you can only see the eggs and never the box or all of them together. There is no now. Music does not linger on the tongue like a sip of wine or stay with you like a bee sting. It's there and it's not there.

Some kind of magic trick in our brain allows us to interpret sound as speech, to remember enough of a sentence to where when we hear the end of it we can put it together with the beginning and middle and create a whole concept. And then the next sentence builds off that one and the next and the next but in reality all we hear is minute fragments of sound that scarcely make any lasting impression. But we remember them long enough and await the next sound that will and indeed must fit in like music, make a pattern, have a rhythm, follow a certain logic to be intelligible speech.

Music is speech made abstract. Music conveys emotion without even needing words that you can understand. Edith Piaf mourns her lost lover, and you don't need to know French to know the pain of her loss and longing. Beethoven thunders in the silence of his deafness, Robert Johnson courts the Devil, Bessie Smith invites you to a rip-snorting good time rent party.

Music is speech. Speech is music, and it's all in your mind.

(October 7, 2004)


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