One of the things that makes writing about music so difficult for me is that I genuinely do not understand why people listen to music. Or rather, I do not understand what people (who are not musicians) hear when they listen to music.
In a way, being a trained musician forever wrecked my perception of music as music. It’s like knowing how the magician’s tricks are done. I can appreciate the artistry and virtuosity of the act, but I cannot ever again be fooled by the illusion. I can never again experience music as simply a listener.
That is one of the reasons why I have always been drawn to extreme forms of music – atonality, free-jazz, punk-rock, noise – music where the boundaries of “common practice” are radically extended (or overthrown), where the "tricks" are not so easy to detect and that vertiginous rush of unfamiliarity can still be felt.
My appreciation of music is inextricably tied up with my knowledge of how it’s put together, while at the same time, I know all too well that a description of music’s constituent parts is not a description of the whole. Such a description is not the thing itself - just as the score is not the thing itself - and it seems to me that the closer you focus on music’s construction, the further you get from its essence. For example, to say that the chord sequence I7-IV7-V7 explains how the “blues trick” is done is not even remotely useful in explaining how the blues touches your soul. It tells the aspiring musician a little bit about how to go about playing the music, but it doesn’t even begin to explain why he or she might want to do so. To say that Schoenberg used all twelve notes of the octave explains the modernist “trick” also obscures the music's beauty and expression.
For the non-musician, all of this verbiage is just useless jargon and for the musician whose understanding is limited to the notes on a page, the music will be badly played and poorly understood. And what does the non-musician get out of any of this? And what can be said about any of this that doesn’t sound reductionist and stupid?
What is it that people want out of music? Why is it so important – so necessary - yet so hard to talk about? Its ineffable quality is no doubt a big part of its attraction to the human spirit since music is pure abstraction - nothing but the movement of air in the passage of time. There is something about music that is pre-verbal, innate.
Then another thing that makes writing about music difficult for me is that the act of writing is not pleasurable for me. I struggle with every word, every phrase, every sentence. Everything I write seems utterly banal once it’s there on the page (or screen): Nothing but a labored exposition on the obvious and unremarkable. And, if you hadn’t noticed by now, I have a tendency to kind of, um, overstate things, which probably undermines whatever point it is I think I'm trying to make.
Why am I doing this? Why do I care so much about music that I actually want to write about it? And why would anyone care about music enough to read what I have to write about it? It’s a mystery to me.