Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

Symphony as landscape

It has become a common sight in the last few years to see people walking around with ear-pieces / headphones listening to music. I usually only do this if I’m in a train or coach for several hours, but the other day I decided to try headphones during the 45 minute walk into the city centre. For playback I took a Sansaclip device. This is a portable music player only a little bigger than a matchbox. What’s great about it is that it will hold and play FLAC files – much better quality than mp3. There’s about 50-60 hours of classical music on this device. I left the house and started playing Moeran’s [1st] Symphony in G, a very attractive English work from the late 1930s with a strong Sibelius influence in parts. I was intrigued and surprised to find that I found the experience disconcerting, as though there was a cognitive dissonance between the music and the external world I was seeing on the walk. I thought about it afterward and decided that for me the experience of a symphony is like an inner landscape and I can only satisfactorily respond to one landscape / journey at a time. Physically moving through another at the same time is too much. Perhaps it would be a less dissonant experience with songs only.




4 responses

  1. Jan Chiaretto

    I have had a different experience. Having the music in my head is like being in a movie with a soundtrack all my own. I found it made everything more beautiful, infusing meaning into the most mundane sights and situations. I suppose it may also depend on the type and mood of the music itself. I would like to conduct the same experiment, same route and venue, listening to say, Heavy Metal or Cage. Now that would be telling!!

    November 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    • Hello Jan, thanks for your comment (quickest ever to my blog!). Your comment connects with a strand of thought I have had for several years and which I ought to write about more – so thanks for reminding me.
      I think I recognise this feeling you describe, but for me it (or the first bit) is undesirable. The references to movie / soundtrack strike me as a raising of the level of self-consciousness, instead of lowering it. A soundtrack is after all subservient to the thing it is attached to. It is as if in this view the music encourages a spectatoring of one’s experience and presence in the world (‘like being in a movie’) – you are in the movie but you are also watching yourself being in the movie with the music as a soundtrack.
      For me, the music is not a soundtrack to something else; it is its own reality and it makes a first claim on me. Put very roughly, as I listen I surrender my attention to it; I am less important than the music and my attention is on it and not on anything else. I am aware of its contours and features; my feelings about them are secondary, not primary.

      I must blog about this and develop these thoughts, though they would have a place in my book on the symphony.
      Thanks again for the stimulating comment.

      November 28, 2012 at 3:03 pm

  2. Hello Rikky,

    I enjoyed this entry when you first posted it, and again upon re-reading it. Especially noteworthy were the lines about responding to one landscape at a time. In the above comments, you have hit upon another reason that your experiment might have been disappointing. Music *is* its own entity, not a background to the rest of life. Music, like art, is transcendent. It can make us better than we were. Our own feelings about something beautiful are indeed, not primary, but secondary, as you so aptly stated. I would love to read more of your thoughts in this vein sometime.

    January 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    • Thanks for your comment on this. Yes, I agree. It seems to be a minority view at present. How often one hears the notion that ‘music is the soundtrack to our lives’. Which in one sense it is. But if our appreciation and response stops there we are really only using it to trigger our feelings and memories – especially feelings from the past, since that’s what often comes up when this cliche is used. It is so liberating when one can engage with music on its own terms – because then it takes you beyond the boundary of your current self / awareness. There is a gain of consciousness. Whereas if all music does is mostly remind you of a past feeling or situation or person it has only mirrored what is already in you. If I strive to get to grips with a 30 or 40 minute symphony, and finally get a feel for its themes and landscape – I have gained a landscape that was not mine in the first place. I have gained ‘head-space’ and perhaps a new set of feelings unrelated to any other experience.

      Yes I would like to write more about this.

      January 8, 2013 at 7:20 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.