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Beats me!

musings on music

By Andrei Z.Published about a month ago Updated about a month ago 7 min read
Beats me!
Photo by Alexander Yemchenko on Unsplash


This essay has been lounging in my drafts for several months. At the very start, I had some idea regarding where I wanted to go with it; I probably wanted it to become an emotional rollercoaster backed by corresponding pieces of music—as entertaining as it'd be philosophically deep. But as time passed, my clear vision blurred. I lost interest, appetite, and track of my train of thought. At this point, I had two options: delete the draft or finish and publish it, making peace with the fact that this verbal opus might not contain the message I wanted to incorporate into it at the time I started writing it. Initially, I wanted this piece to be profound and centered on the main idea. Without branches in the storyline, and definitely with no sarcastic and ambiguous statements. Then, I realized it's not an easy task to accomplish. What I also thought was "What good a prosaic, matter-of-fact text would do?" Indeed.

So, I am publishing this.

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"I hate and fear music too much not to be under its spell. I call it a really terrible enchantment. We listen, and must believe in a second world, not this one—far richer and mightier, more splendid, full of flowing colours and the flashing of wings. I suppose it is heaven. Then it stops, and we are left empty. We have lavished our spirit on nothing, for the heights we flew to weren't the heights of reality, not one enduring thing have we brought to pass, but our spiritual will is exhausted. Music spoils us for the world; it is the worst preparation for it..."

David Lindsay, "The Witch"

It gives you goosebumps all over the body and rips your soul asunder. You laugh, you cry, lying curled up in bed, recalling the days bygone. You reach for the ceiling above the dance floor with your crazed head, the roar of the bass guitar penetrating through your bones. Hate and fear? No, it is far-stretched, but putting our relationships with music to its extreme, I understand the comparison: a really terrible enchantment.

Only, being me and tending not to approach extremes, I rarely let myself get enchanted, for better or worse. Also, I believe Lindsay resorted to this allegory not to condemn music for being otherworldly, but because it is the most suitable phenomenon to represent otherworldly experiences, be it a soothing glimpse of heaven or a chilling touch of hell. In general, I'm skeptical about all this metaphysics. But I like metaphors. Furthermore, I expand my skepticism also to my skepticism. For what if I am wrong in denying other worlds?

I randomly take a few chords one after another and realize that this combination sounds familiar. Somebody had used this succession before; I am no Columbus. But Columbus wasn't the real discoverer, too. For what it's worth, the taste of rediscovery is still sweet. A small personal victory. After all, sometimes, I also hit a unique sequence of notes. I believe I do.

Music is a language, and when you don't know the rules on which the language is based, you won't talk. As simple as that. If you learn basic rules, you'll be able to utter some sentences, maybe even connect them and come up with a story. But, stopping at this, how much will you achieve? How large an audience would be attracted by a story told in a primitive language, with no metaphors, no alliterations, too many repetitions, garbled grammar, and meager vocabulary? Be the story plot a million times brilliant, how can anyone recognize it when it's hidden behind linguistic illiteracy? Go explain yourself if you get confused by when to use indicative or imperative mood or if your conditional sentences lack conditions.

Another case. You perused all available books on grammar, imprisoned hundreds of thousands of words in your impressing memory, polished your punctuation down to every comma, unveiled every insignificant nuance of the language—in other words, became a formidable language guru. But you lack imagination and the real experience of the world surrounding you. Flawless and sterile, will you reach the summit? Or will you simply turn into a perfected mediocracy?

I say it's bullshit. Being able to forge one's skills to perfection but failing to use them properly would be too paradoxical, don't you think? Case closed.

But I wanted to talk about music. I called it a language. Yet, unlike any language we use to communicate with each other, music can speak to everyone, reaching beyond nationalities and language barriers. If someone addresses me in French, I won't understand, for I don't know French. I would utter, slightly ashamed, "Pardon, parlez-vous anglais?". But if somebody started singing to me in French, I would listen, I would feel and understand. Obviously, my understanding will be limited to emotion. Put it another way: I will understand only one side—or one language—of the song: the language of music. Maybe I even will be able also to feel the meaning of the lyrics. Probably, I will distort this meaning, passing it through the filter of my perception. But music will speak to me, and my mind and body will answer.

But first, let's discard lyrics and talk only about music in its pure form, no words, maybe only a bit of vocalizing in the background.

We don't need to speak Music to understand it. We don't need to know how to read Music to see the images it creates in our conscience. Although, there are levels and layers here. Laypersons will discern the outermost layer. Their perception will be limited to their ability to appreciate the harmony, the rhythm, the vague tints and hints. Their perception of music is limited by their moods, surroundings, finally, morals. And this is quite enough, for one does not have to be an artist to enjoy art. As a layperson, I imbibe the choreography of the sounds, their invisible patterns, and let them flow through my conscience, wave after wave. As a music dropout, I occasionally try to focus and understand more deeply what I hear and why I like it. Scale, time signature, chord resolution—all familiar terms, but there's no intimacy between us. Once, many years ago, I tricked my accordion teacher and myself into believing I had absolute pitch. She played me a bunch of notes, and I, with closed eyes, could name all of them correctly. Alas, this happened only once, and, very soon, I disappointed her (and myself). Ah, life is full of disappointments. I still wonder how I managed to shine that one time. Did I really have potential but simply failed to hone my skills, or did I accidentally guess the first note and then just do some math and figure out the rest of them?

To make it clear, I actually did finish my music school, so 'music dropout' is, technically, not the correct term. And I wasn't that bad, at least in practice. Music theory is another story, though. But then, we didn't have regular and consistent solfeggio lessons; our music theory teachers were coming and leaving, periodically forgetting and remembering about us or vice versa. Well, after all, it was an afterschool-evening-lessons kind of school. So no one cared much. These days, I feel kind of sad that I missed out on the opportunity to learn more, practice more, and become a better, more knowledgeable music enthusiast.

Have you watched Whiplash? This film comes to my mind when I think of passion. Passion for music. I am sure there are other great examples, but the scenes from Whiplash stand out the brightest in front of my inner eye now.

Oh, Passion! Passiflora edulis! You're one cunning fruit. As I keep searching for my place in this world, for the seeds that would sprout into wondrous vines, my passions come and go... and I am starting to get scared at the thought that I'm too absent-minded, too apathetic and, at the same time, overly enthusiastic to find one or few true passions and stick to them. That's not how my brain works. I sidetracked.

So, let us now add lyrics, that is, move on from pure music to songs. Here I must confess: most often, I completely ignore the lyrics. I either like how the voice complements the composition, or I don't. It comes down to whether vocalizing is overly nasal and thus annoying or it perfectly fits the guitar riffs, etc.

To search for the meaning behind the words? Well, it may lead to utter disappointment. You might find them either too primitive or simply stupid. Alternatively, the texts can be too complicated, full of symbolism, weird metaphors and allusions—something that represents the author's experiences, real-life or imaginary, veiled under convoluted turns of phrase. Those songs are the best, methinks. Pure emotion, no banal platitudes. Myriads of ways to interpret; with every iteration, you get closer or maybe further away from the original idea, the primary message. Or maybe there's no message at all?

Then, there's another type of songs—the songs that tell you a complete story. They contain exposition and conflict, climax and resolution. They carry a clear message that sometimes makes you stop and think.

So, I take my words back. Lyrics matter.

What attributes of music/songs attract you the most? Lyrics? Rhythm? Do you like them complex and multifaceted? Or simple and easily reproducible by humming while taking a shower? Upbeat and cheerful or causing you to soak with tears? I respect your choices no matter what they are.

Now, I feel like I'm not even close to what I wanted to discuss and convey here. But who cares?

### ### ###

Finally, I drop this here. An hour-long playlist for the curious. A modest offering to the Beat community so to speak. Not my favorite songs—I have no favorites—but they're pretty much representative of my music preferences. Some of these artists seemed like real gems to me when I first discovered them. Others are simply fun. Enjoy (or not)!


About the Creator

Andrei Z.

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Comments (3)

  • L.C. Schäfera day ago

    Coo coo cachoo 😁

  • Grz Colmabout a month ago

    I must come back to listen to some of these tracks Andrei! As I don’t know any of them, at least I don’t think so! A fun, music blog!! Did you say what you play? I wish I had more music lessons. I guess I like a combo of lyrics and beat…I love orchestration embedded into a pop or rock songs.. so no one thing really just the art coming together… some have a personal touch though like they were written just for us and I like that connection.

  • Hannah Mooreabout a month ago

    I believe who heartedly in expanding skepticism to skepticism. Love that. But I have to say, I have no idea what this means! Go explain yourself if you get confused by when to use indicative or imperative mood or if your conditional sentences lack conditions - but as blind as I am to what these mean, I now see there are layers to music I may well not even hear.

Andrei Z.Written by Andrei Z.

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