My experience of music

  • My experience of music

    Posted by Paul on June 23, 2023 at 8:17 pm

    My life seems to be organised around music. I have worked in music as a professional and a teacher. All of the most important moments in my life have been guided by, imbued with and centred around music in some way. Perhaps we can all say that, I don’t know.

    For me music is an enduring mystery but one I somehow ‘know’. I am deeply divided about the way music is treated in Western culture and horrified at how cultural commercialism wreaks havoc upon it, raising it status to high art, whilst failing to encourage its study in children; converting it to a ‘product’ with all the negative trappings that brings (reproducability, uniformity); treating musicians on the whole with utter disdain.

    I believe one of the strongest contenders for the worst thing this brings is the concept of ‘Ownership’. Yes, of course I think that musicians should be paid for the work they do and should be credited appropriately but there is a very dark side to this seemingly innocent and just institution. I observe that it corrupts the very nature of this wondrous and magical influence on all of our lives.

    Recently I wrote an email to a friend attempting to summarise my thoughts on this and I thought I would share this here. Please, I would be very interested to know how others think and feel about what I say here. (expletives edited) Thanks.

    I’m on a bit of a musical pilgrimage which puts flesh on the bone of my experience going back to my earliest years: nothing you play is you. It doesn’t represent you nor is it yours, except in the smallest possible way that you happen to be there as it is happening. The opposite is much truer I feel: that the job is to fully hear the music, to be absorbed and enchanted, carried away, seduced by it and from there to respond as it suggests. ‘You’ actually have to get the f*ck out of the way.

    When I think like this as I pick up the bass, the instrument teaches me, guides my hands, says, hey listen to this, isn’t this great? I’m like, yeah. Wow! But If I get all prideful, ‘practicey’ and up my own ar*e, I am alone, useless, clumsy, slow.

    But in the other space, music is alive. If I have to practice something, it is being in this state of mind.

    This is the only way I can explain how I can play music at all, because I don’t ‘write’ anything, you know? I actually ‘know’ next to nothing ‘about’ music. I know music though. Personally. My oldest, most trusted friend and deepest romantic relationship of my life.

    Anneloes Wolters replied 5 months ago 6 Members · 24 Replies
  • 24 Replies
  • Anneloes Wolters

    Member
    June 26, 2023 at 8:55 am

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m a composer and trying to find a new way of working through changing the philosophy to work from. That’s how I came across the books of Iain. Just out of curiosity: Are you reading and applying the books also?

    • Paul

      Organizer
      July 18, 2023 at 11:58 am

      Hi Anneloes,

      So sorry not to reply earlier. Life is a bit of a roller coaster at the moment everything seems a bit tangential but thanks for your reply. I really appreciate it.

      Yes, I am applying what Iain is proposing. But, I think like a lot of people, Iain’s work represents for me a distillation of many years of thought and consideration into which his ideas have ‘clicked’ like a key into a lock. There has been a longing in me to find something as coherent as this for much of my life. There is no word but ‘longing’. Nothing else comes close.

      I wonder, in your search for a new philosophy of music, how you are approaching this? I seems to me that the materialistic world has a way of migrating into everything over time, like sands into an ancient ruin. To mitigate against this I have been moving away from structured music into simple improvisation against a metronome or looped drum part.

      I’ll start anywhere on the fretboard (I’m currently playing electric bass) and pick out an arpeggio, then expand this to a few phrases, adding more looped phrases as they occur.

      It seems the experience of ‘getting out of the way’ is very much the aim. I incorporate everything as I expand what I’m doing to more phrases, accidents, mistakes, wild guesses… allowing the music to decide its own course. To navigate I only have my aesthetic sense to guide me, trying to find something beautiful by successive approximation rather than planning or thought.

      I am also applying this to life away from the instrument, considering all ‘things’ (-not-things) as continua… chairs, doorframes, everything… as connected processes happening now, unfolding now, everything in motion.

      Pets are amazing if you interact with them in this way. I try to feel them as continuous with me, non-separate but co-located in experience. Our dog then helps me to learn this state all the better… becomes my teacher, directs me to the sensory and away from the mental and synthetic.

      This goes beyond dissociation of language into something quite profound for me fairly quickly, where things seem to present with more meaning… they stop being ‘things’ and become forms or shapes; there’s an experience of connection.

      In music similarly… I’m not thinking of scales, chords or theory except in passing. I ignore it and go back to the experience finding something playful in the intersection of time and sound: something fundamental rather than developed, something unfolding rather than fixed.

  • Lucy Fleetwood

    Member
    June 26, 2023 at 10:20 am

    Hi Anneloes,

    This makes sense to me, I think it is the same for all the arts. When I write, I write well and it touches people’s hearts but only when ‘I’m’ not writing, if that makes sense. The words and ideas write themselves. It’s as if there is something to be written and I’m lucky enough for that to happen through me. When the writing isn’t happening in this way, it is never really enjoyable, it is a chore.

    And I think this can be applied to the whole of life. The place we speak from can also come from our neural habits and patterns, or speaking can happen through us.

    I once sat by a lake, and I disappeared into my surroundings, and then a thought came, what’s looking out of my eyes. Sometimes the habits of my personality are looking out of my eyes, attending and responding, and at other, more spacious times, looking, is looking out of my eyes. I just ask myself the question, what is looking out of my eyes, and I immediately feel different, spacious, there is never an answer, just a change of view.

    • Anneloes Wolters

      Member
      June 26, 2023 at 11:39 am

      Hi Lucy,

      That sounds familiar, I always say that the music is already there, you only have to listen. It will come to you, you don’t have to ‘chase it’. But I’m often surrounded by ‘bookkeepers’ instead of ‘mathematicians’, that’s how I put it. Avant garde music and serial music are often a rational construction, a left hemisphere construction of sound that’s void of any human connection. I started composing because I could not find any that music. So I started to write music that sounded ‘like me’.

    • Paul

      Organizer
      July 18, 2023 at 12:05 pm

      Lucy:

      “When the writing isn’t happening in this way, it is never really enjoyable, it is a chore.”

      So true!

      It’s the process of writing (creating, playing), not the objective of ‘having written’. I don’t think this feeling can be bettered honestly. It’s a wonderful experience.

      • Lucy Fleetwood

        Member
        July 21, 2023 at 4:35 pm

        HI Paul, I completely agree.

  • Don Salmon

    Member
    July 1, 2023 at 1:54 pm

    Hi folks,

    Wonderful discussion, sorry I hadn’t found it earlier.

    I started “making up music” (hardly call it “composing”) one evening when I was 11. I had been playing the accordion since I was 4 (hey, it was the 1950s, United States…). My parents had gone out to a movie, I was alone in the house (older siblings off to college by then) and I “made up” a boogie woogie piece pretty much standard for, oh, the 1940s (still remember it – might put it up on YouTube soon!). I was hooked,

    kept making up pieces on my own. Learned all the Beatles songs when I was 13 and just kept making up different pieces using their chord progressions, which I then changed to my own.

    The first encounter I had with the conflict between LH and RH was when I took off a year from high school to study full time. My teacher (a composition teacher at Juilliard) liked one of the pieces I had basically improvised and wrote down – it was sort of influenced by Prokofiev and Bartok.

    He wanted me to take it and ‘develop” the theme, which meant rationally analyzing intervallic relationships, developing appropriate harmonies, etc.

    I was totally stuck. I didn’t know how to use my analytic mind to “figure out” music. After about 4 months of not composing and doing theory exercises, I sat down at the piano one day and I have no idea how, but suddenly perfectly logical, well connected and well developed phrases came pouring out of me and I filled up about 12 measures of highly complex music that actually flowed – it sounded good AND made perfect logical sense. It was a miracle to me.

    I ended up struggling with this conflict through 2 years of music school, and then decided to switch to piano major, turn off my left hemisphere altogether for a few years, and just have fun.

    I eventually switched after 20 years working as a professional composer-pianist to clinical psychology. I’ve never had to “analyze” or “figure out” composition since, but I use music I’ve improvised/composed all the time for mindfulness workshops, online courses, live pain management seminars, etc.

    Such an amazing and fascinating revelation of many layers of our psyche.

    • Don Salmon

      Member
      July 1, 2023 at 1:58 pm

      I thought I’d share two different kinds of music I have online.

      So this is improvised throughout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsllKlFubHw&feature=youtu.be It’s also meant to be viewed in a highly meditative way. Using earbuds or headphones if possible (to give the experience of being completely immersed in the music) you don’t really “Look” at the images but let the gaze rest in the center and feel as if the slowly moving images are flowing in synch with your breath, ultimately feeling the music and imagery pervading your body, and if you stay with it, you may “feel’ as if the energy is flowing through your entire experiential reality, to the point even your thoughts feel as if they are made of the same “energy” (apologies for the New Age sounding term; I don’t know a better one to get the feel of it) as the environment, the body, the music, the images, etc.

      • Don Salmon

        Member
        July 1, 2023 at 1:59 pm

        This on the other hand, is a thoroughly “composed” piece – almost like a nursery rhyme. The repeating guitar theme is the basis for the sense of “peace,” and the flowing arpeggios on the piano give a kind of 19th century Methodist hymnal quality to my ears, very much folk American rather than British sounding, I think.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIosF-q_pfc (Jan, my wife, put together the evocative images and also is reading Wendell Berry’s poem)

      • Anneloes Wolters

        Member
        July 1, 2023 at 9:51 pm

        Hi Don,

        Thank you very much for sharing your music, I will be back with a full reply, I have to think about it more thoroughly.

        What you describe is somehow at the roots of the ‘problem’ of learning how to write music, starting from analysed fragments of other works and learning systems. I found that good ‘systems’ will sound automatically when you know them so well you can use them unconsciously, but can’t be used to write something ‘new’, nor invent a new creation.

        Because music theory is a summary of all the music that has sounded until now. It doesn’t help finding your own ‘Gestalt’ to write. It doesn’t help envision your own idea of music nor your personal musical identity. In that sense, music theory is more like a Craft, not an Art. But you might need the Craft to write the Art, depending on what Gestalt you See.

        I have the habit of seeing the music first, before writing, especially forms, so I use a lot of analogies with vision. I like that about the books Iain wrote, the importance of words. Words matter, especially when thinking about Music.

        But I will have to really listen to your music better, to understand the difference in your music and stort better.

        I’ll be back soon,

        Kind regards,

        Anneloes

    • Paul

      Organizer
      July 18, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Fascinating Don.

      I’ll have to set some time aside today to listen. Thanks for this 😍

  • Andrei Micu

    Member
    July 2, 2023 at 7:12 pm

    I have pretty much the same view on today’s music, Paul. I’m glad you made this group, because I think there’s a lot to talk about music and how it’s interwoven in our life.

    I’d like to open a more specific topic, but not this evening. I want to honor it with enough time and energy, and a separate post.

    Here I want to say that I see the butchering of the concept of music as well, and all the “musical” invasions that the commercial world makes on people’s minds. Not only the music composition suffers, but also the way it gets into people’s minds nowadays. You don’t hear music when you want anymore, you hear “music” on passing cars, neighbors, public transportation, people with phones in restaurants. Its another way of brainwashing.

    What you, Anneloes and Don do is priceless in our times. The fact that I can walk on the streets with earbuds listening to music like yours, instead of mind-degrading repetitive streams of sound, is something I am deeply grateful for.

    • Paul

      Organizer
      July 18, 2023 at 12:13 pm

      You are more than welcome Andrei, thanks for replying.

      Feel free to start a subsection in this sub-forum if you like, or not as you prefer. It may just keep the conversation going- I hope the settings allow it.

  • Charles Rykken

    Member
    July 7, 2023 at 10:40 pm

    I listen to music at least four to five hours every day. I recently acquired a pair of Phillips hearing aids(my high pitch hearing ain’t what it used to be and the audiologist suggested Philips as they were the choice of musicians because they could be more finely tuned in the sense of equalizers). Anyway, getting to the point… One of my favorite forms of music is jazz and Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans are my Jazz Gods. There is a YouTube video about Keith Jarrett that speaks directly to hemispheric influence in the production of music. There is no mention of hemispheres but what Keith Jarrett has to say about his relationship to the process of making music is one of the most beautiful descriptions that I have ever heard. Paul Simon says something similar during an interview about his new album “Seven Psalms” Here is the link to Keith Jarrett

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDbOKHOuy9M

    and Paul Simon’s interview is at

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bi6NFPhsGyM&t=3s

    • Paul

      Organizer
      July 18, 2023 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks Charles.

      Amongst the first songs I learned for guitar and voice were from Paul Simon’s Songbook and Still Crazy. Such an influence on me in my early teens.

      Incidentally, I got to know Kathy (Kath) from Kathy’s song in my twenties. A profoundly lovely human being.

    • Anneloes Wolters

      Member
      August 22, 2023 at 10:42 am

      Thanks for your great contribution, I’ve been thinking about this topic ever since I’ve been writing music. Because the educational system just doesn’t work the way teachers want it to, have always felt a bit off. I think you can learn the Craft, the tools that might come in handy to fix certain points in a score, you have to know about the instruments etc.

      But by that doesn’t make you an Artist, because it doesn’t teach you to Listen.

      When people ask me how I do it? “I sit at the piano and let the music come to me. It’s not that the music isn’t there, it’s just that you have to be able to Listen in that Moment.” I think that you can train to listen better, that it can help to have internalised what others sounded like, but actively using a theory blocks the music coming to you.

      Indeed, then you start ‘working’ the music.

  • Paul

    Organizer
    August 22, 2023 at 8:36 pm

    I absolutely think you’re on to something there Anneloes.

    I’ve been thinking deeply every day about what Iain has brought to my comprehension of being human. My gut feelings and thoughts go something like this:

    Language is the problem. Not so much Language itself but the mindset it invokes: Unless we work against it, the default mode of language is always ‘of the past’, i.e. a ‘reproduction’ of something, not a representation of something unfolding anew.

    And I think the same applies to music.

    As Iain is at pains to point out, both hemispheres are involved in everything, including Language BUT with Language (unlike almost any other function) there is a strict lateralisation to the left hemisphere in terms of reception and production. When it comes to poetry for example he suggests that good poetry subverts language.

    My understanding of how this works is that a good poem takes you to the edge of meaning, assembling the allusions such that you unfold the meaning for yourself. This is like being given the formula to solve a maths problem rather than simply being given the answer. Likewise with music: great music alludes to themes and echoes and the listener fills in the spaces, joining the music unfolding just as it did for the composer.

    So, it might be that the skill of composition is allowing something to unfold anew and that following rules in order to make this happen spoils the process- because rues take you necessarily to something that has already happened.

    And I think such a process, as you rightly point out, is more akin to listening than to speaking: it becomes something that is happening to you rather than something you are making happen.

    The skill with the Language and Theory of music would then come to bear upon the writing down of the unfolding, the editing, tidying and structuring of the music overall. At this point there is another unfolding, is there not? In the direction and dynamic of the piece, its development and denouement. Gifted writers of music allow the previous stages of development to resonate within the piece, echoing forward and back, referencing what has gone before.

    And again with lyrics.

    Throughout there is an oscillation between the dominance of selves, taking turns to bring the piece together, the overarching meaning and direction coming from the RH with the grinding and polishing provided by the LH.

    I honestly think this is why music is so beautiful. And I think you are 100% correct: you listen to, and receive what is happening to you, capturing and recapturing those moments of reception.

  • Anneloes Wolters

    Member
    August 23, 2023 at 11:45 am

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, I really needed those to start thinking afresh and comparing my experiences with the ideas of others. Thank you for listening, I put my thoughts next to “<i style=”background-color: var(–bb-content-background-color); font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit; color: var(–bb-body-text-color);”>yours”:

    “Language is …… …… not a representation of something unfolding anew. <i style=”background-color: var(–bb-content-background-color); font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit; color: var(–bb-body-text-color);”>And I think the same applies to music. <i style=”background-color: var(–bb-content-background-color); font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit; color: var(–bb-body-text-color);”>When it comes to poetry for example he suggests that good poetry subverts language.”

    I have been corresponding for years with composer Stephen Melillo (who is also a Kung Fu master). A kind of poetry in a musical form evolved during those years. Intuitively we avoided the language problem doing that. We discussed mostly philosophical questions, because we hear the philosophical background of a composer in the essentials: contrasts and silences.

    This teacher doesn’t teach Craft, (you can read a book if you must) he thinks it’s better to “Sit at the piano and press the keys you like best” He believes it’s best SEE the music first and unravel that point in time, that Moment. Still, the score, which is a development over Time, is that point, that moment, again.

    Now, I know seeing the Gestalt is a RH process, without the drawbacks of the LH intervening at this stage of creativity. For me this works great, but everybody works differently.

    “This is like being given the formula to solve a maths problem rather than simply being given the answer.”

    I call the composers who write from music theory ‘bookkeepers’, and though it sounds well crafted, it is entertaining, the music is never GREAT. I think this is because Time stays segmented, the many moments never become one. In like, that one moment is the one that all the music brings tears to your eyes.

    There is no deep emotion in Craft, there is in Art. In Art you get an interplay between Space and Time, because Time is not thought of as a linear line. The end of the piece is the beginning. The composers who manage that, I call ‘mathematicians’, because there is the same Beauty in a simple (not easy) elegant mathematical solution.

    Being able to See the Music first, helps you understand the form of your composition and know when the composition is finished. (I started composing using this workflow: https://anneloeswolters.com/2020/10/11/how-i-work/) But it is not needed to create Beauty.

    “Likewise with music: great music alludes to themes and echoes and the listener fills in the spaces, joining the music unfolding just as it did for the composer.”

    I think that ‘the coincidence of opposites’ sounds much better than an easy black/white contrast. Though there is effective dynamic-based music, I believe that you have to color the contrasts to make them meaningfull. You can only hear ‘negative’ music in the Silences, when you color the contrasts (with orchestration, dynamics, articulations, metre, rhythm etc.). The listeners will fill in their own ‘negative music’ in those Silences as they join the music unfolding (nice word choice!).

    “So, it might be that the skill of composition …… rules take you necessarily to something that has already happened.”

    Busoni: ‘A new esthetic for music’ (1907): Music may scarcely be allowed to leap when it were its joy to follow the line of the rainbow, and to break sunbeams with the clouds.

    As opposed to

    The Cambridge history of western music theory, part 1: Disciplining music theory.

    “And I think such a process, as you rightly point out, is more akin to listening than to speaking”

    Talented and well trained composers are mostly good listeners, more than loud speakers. That also goes for musicians, now I think about it. A good musci teacher teaches how to listen, rather than how to play. It’s the only way a pupil can play better than the teacher and musical skills develop over generations.

    “it becomes something that is happening to you rather than something you are making happen.”

    Life can even make you becoming a composer at my age, ha, as long as you dare listen to your own music, you can be becoming a composer. I do think Music happens to you, rather than that you choose music, but that’s my own personal experience.

    “The skill with the Language and Theory of music would then come to bear upon the writing down of the unfolding, the editing, tidying and structuring of the music overall.”

    Yes, this is where the LH is a friend. I also like to structure the music in a mathematical architecture from the start, then the music can grow like a rosegarden on a frame and attract butterflies and birds and dew and …

    “At this point there is another unfolding, is there not? In the direction and dynamic of the piece, its development and denouement.”

    Depends on how you work: If you work from a Gestalt, the whole form, including dynamical structure is there from the beginning. (I often draw an curves before writing) If you work from left to right and let the music flow, you might have to go back and forth to structure the work. The upside is that you can work orchestrated from the beginning in great detail. This helps work faster when you hear an orchestra in your head, but not everybody hears that. (I do, but some teachers I had don’t)

    Both can lead to beautiful results. I use both techniques now, I find it nice to experience what each way of working can do for my music.

    “Gifted writers of music allow the previous stages of development to resonate within the piece, echoing forward and back, referencing what has done before.”

    Yes, they do, but this can also be a Craft that you can learn. If you learn this so well it gets unconscious, it will become part of your compositions when you like working in a flow from left to right. Designing an architecture before starting (like the rosegarden) to write also helps getting this result. Afterwards adding the latest developed motivs at the beginning also helps.

    “Throughout there is an oscillation between the dominance of selves, taking turns to bring the piece together, the overarching meaning and direction coming from the RH with the grinding and polishing provided by the LH.”

    Yes, I think so too. This is what makes a work GREAT, you need a clear execution: a precisely articulated score that exactly describes what you need to hear. (It also saves a lot of rehearsal time 😉 )

    “I honestly think this is why music is so beautiful. And I think you are 100% correct: you listen to, and receive what is happening to you, capturing and recapturing those moments of reception.”

    Yes, this way you can let something new develop, grow. Because you can go back and bring that music to a new level. I cal this the helix instead of the circle. I find it useful to go back to earlier work and re-hearing it. Your own music can teach you, what step to take next. I was never allowed to call that ‘improvement’, because there is no ‘right’ or wrong’ in music. So I came up with: Then the music can get so unique that it is universal again. And that is a much better way to work indeed, because you avoid thinking in a linear way about accomplishments and goals. It elliminates the ego and that, now I know, enhances the RH to SEE a Gestalt.

    And we are back at the Beginning.

  • Paul

    Organizer
    August 24, 2023 at 11:00 pm

    Well, that’s absolutely outstanding Anneloes, thank you. Lovely to hear someone with such commitment to music reflecting on my thoughts in this way.

    I must admit my musicianship is fairly primitive… much more so than my internal experience of it. I think this is how it goes: this internal resonance leads you to beauty, whether or not you can execute it as you ‘hear’ it.

    • Anneloes Wolters

      Member
      August 25, 2023 at 10:21 am

      Happy to reflect together in this topic and happy you like that too.

      The musicianship, the Craft, the How to write, is not so hard when you know What to write and Why you write that. I think you are of on a good start, because you already hear the Music, you only need the craftmenship to write it down.

      If you want to work on your musicianship: I’m in a little ‘composers fooling around’ Whatsapp group with composer Keiron Anderson taking the lead. His Craft is magnificent and he likes to teach. He sends little video’s with excercises you can do, or not. Up to you. If you’re interested let me know, I’ll ask him.

      I have posted a question about how to study music for the Q&A with Iain, I hope that will help us on the way to an even better understanding.

      Have a nice day and enjoy your Music,

      Anneloes

  • Paul

    Organizer
    September 27, 2023 at 7:21 pm

    Hi Annaloes

    Sorry but I have been absent again. First busy with work and basic survival, then taking time to do some serious writing and then this week catching covid, which has been unpleasant but thankfully only that.

    Right now I am up to my neck in projects and I’m not keeping up with the basics. As much as I’d love to think I’d contribute to such a group it will probably be a source of regret. But I thank you very much for asking. I really do appreciate it.

    One of the things that has come out of conversations like the one I’ve had with you here and with others is that I must somehow begin to collate my thinking and intuitions in some way and so I have begun to do this. At last.

  • Anneloes Wolters

    Member
    September 28, 2023 at 10:05 am

    Hi Paul,

    Life! Ha! Yes, it’s busy over here too. It was great we had this conversation and changed thoughts on the subject. Nice to hear you’re finding your path, I wish you good luck and all the best with that,

    Anneloes

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