I was talking to an old friend last night. He had read my blog posts and his response was incredibly insightful and thought-provoking. First a little background, this friend is a professional musician and an author of several books about music. He is incredibly creative, intelligent, and one of the most insightful people I have had the pleasure of calling a friend.
His reply to my blog was about music, naturally, and how music provides for him a similar experience as the written word does for me. Then he said something that set me thinking… he said he spends his time “reading” music, that his “ears are always giving [him] information, and there is a whole universe of things in sound that cannot be put into language.” Fascinating. Now I love music in most of its forms, and consider myself a sophisticated listener, but I’d never quite thought of it that way. As much as I love reading, I have to admit that music can be incredibly powerful, even transcendent, with its own unique vocabulary that is open to such broader, and more personal interpretation.
That, in turn, got me thinking about a book that I read years ago, Umberto Eco’s Opera Aperta (The Open Work), one of his earlier works about the dance between text and reader (yes, Eco again, at least until I finally read Prague Cemetery). In this book, Eco argues that a text can be read an infinite number of ways, depending on the reader, the context, and myriad other factors. Eco himself also states that musical compositions are also “open works”, offering “fields of possibilities” of interpretation, by performers who interpret the scores, and of course, by the listener, who brings with her all manner of unique experiences and perspectives. This idea of such an intimately interactive relationship between reader and text, listener and music, viewer and art, is truly at the core of how we meaningfully experience the world around us… this constant dance of thought and change, affecting later interpretations and experiences, a process, that if we keep our minds open and alive enough, can last throughout our lives. As Eco so eloquently states at the end of the Spiegel article that I blogged about yesterday,
If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you’re an idiot.
At this point, I began reflecting on some of my more powerful moments of listening to music. At those moments the music is such an intensely personal experience. Like the author can provide structure but not explicit meaning, so too with music… the musician or composer can hint and nudge, but ultimately the meaning that we derive is truly and uniquely our own. And as such, we develop the same intimate relationships with the music that matters to us much in the same way that we develop such personal relationships with our books.