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On music

  • Published at 05:15 pm March 21st, 2018
On music

Music can be communicated with other individuals, but it cannot be experienced simultaneously

Once in a while I’ll come across a piece of music so potent for a given moment that the entirety of my life before that point in time seems to have cascaded forward and smashed together.

This is a beautiful feeling, but this is not a good feeling. For one, this is not a feeling that I can repeat with the same piece of music; in fact, I cannot plan and make this feeling reoccur. That is the heartbreaking beauty of it, that there is no science to this feeling. Or if there is one, it is not one that I am yet privy to.

For another, and this is the most important lesson that music has perhaps taught me, is that there is no way I can share this feeling with another individual. I cannot send this piece of music to a friend, a relative, a lover, and expect them to understand how I feel, to understand why that piece of music has been so successful in moving mountains within.

Even if the person is right next to me, his or her expectations are not the same as mine. Maybe similar, but never exact. The very difference in our vantage points warrants an experience of the piece in question in vastly different ways. 

This is why these moments are so tragic, and music with it. Of course, it is not that there are not entire swaths of people, entire communities built around favorite artists and genres. It is not that there are no best friends created out of the shared experience of a single concert. It is not that no two people have ever connected over what is essentially a string of notes strung together most exquisitely. 

But these are longer, earned experiences, spanning hours, days, months, years, lifetimes. These are common interests which have blossomed into meaningful relationships. 

This is my example: One night, after a rather brusque conversation with a significant other, I had reached a state in my mind where I could feel the distance that sometimes erupts between two people more potently than usual. (Is it not such an impossible distance to fathom?) 

After hanging up the phone, I went on YouTube to stumble across a string quartet version of an Adele song. I do not like Adele, but I played it nonetheless, my love for strings having won over my indifference towards the artist.

In that situation, in the middle of a re-revelation of sorts (for we all know this anyway, don’t we?), in that state of mind, one which was so susceptible to influence, especially that of music, especially to a lover of the violin, especially to a song with a title that epitomized communication, especially to someone who knew someone, once, ever so long ago, who used to love the artist, how else could that someone possibly react? 

And I felt voluptuously; I ate up my delicious emotions gluttonously. 

In that moment, which other individual could boast the exact set of circumstances required for such a reaction? Who else could access the same memories I had, even if I were to communicate to another, verbatim, with the best use of audio-visual-textual evidence what my experiences were, the experiences which had, like before, cascaded forward and smashed together to create this very instance?

No one. Music has taught me many things: I have learnt of the enormous talent and skill required to create even simple sounds. I have learnt to feel empathy and sympathy for people I wouldn’t have were it not for the presence of a certain kind of music which catered to that person’s suffering or pleasure or joy or misery. 

And the most important lesson it has taught me is that, the distance between two people, not only can it be not fathomed but it cannot even be begun to be crossed. How special an artist is, how important a genre, how crucial to your very character, only you will understand this fully. 

Music is special in this way. Almost everyone feels something in its presence. Almost no one feels the same. 

Music, like every other experience, we experience alone. It can be communicated through mediocre channels with other individuals, but it cannot be experienced simultaneously. Occasionally, there is magic in the form of an experience shared so almost-perfectly that a moment, which almost always creates a bubble, encompasses two people, instead of one. 

But for most of us, even for me, these dual bubbles remain myths, fantasies, fairy tales. How many more musical journeys will I take alone, into the ether, before I stumble across a piece of music so ubiquitous in its strength, that I find myself looking around me to a whole crowd of listeners, ears pricked in wonder?

SN Rasul is a fiction writer. He works with the editorial team of Dhaka Tribune.