Sunday, May 22, 2005

Some idle Sunday thoughts on music.

My daughter, who is soon to be 23 years old, likes to listen to music while reading her email, or reading, or studying, or hanging out with friends. She may occasionally listen to music just to be listening to music, but she is a busy young person, and prefers multitasking.

I can't do that. I can't listen to music and, say, write a blog entry, any more than I could carry on a conversation with someone and at the same time write a blog entry. Carrying on a conversation uses up too much of my limited brain horsepower. Ditto, WRT listening to music. I am not sure whether it's a generational thing, or what. I don't think it is.

The most likely explanation is simply that my mental abilities are, um, a bit limited. This is not true of everyone. I find that I can't really _hear_ the music if I am immersed in thinking, or writing, or if I am talking to someone, or if I am reading a book. And I find a condition of partially hearing the music, distracting, and unpleasantly so. If I can make it into 100 percent background noise, it becomes unnoticed but probably pleasant (if not, I would turn it off), like a movie soundtrack you don't really hear but which informs the mood of the film without you being conscious of it.

But I am not sure that qualifies as listening to music, and I am pretty certain that is not what my daughter does when her computer is playing songs as she carries on an instant message conversation with someone. (I would ask her, to be absolutely sure, but she is away on a trip right now.)

Some music is actually difficult for me to _not_ concentrate on. The more I like the music, the more distracting--and distressing-- it is for me, if I am trying to pay attention to something else. But if the music belongs in the huge grey zone of sounds neither distressing nor pleasing, I can make it recede in consciousness so that other higher brain functions can go on. I can eat without spilling my soup.

Likewise, I don't take music along when I go birdwatching or walking. Of course birdwatchers listen to bird sounds, so it is obvious enough that real birdwatchers won't carry ipods, but when I walk, I like to walk. When I listen to music, I like to be at home and turn up the sound real loud. (Not to the hearing-damage level of the clubs, though.) And just be here with the music.

I tend to do this alone, even though my daughter seems to like the music I do. But you never know. When my wife was alive, if she was at home she would come along and change the music to something we could dance to. Which was OK. Bit still...

Anyway, I don't know if subject this will elicit any feedback--but it's gotta be a huge area of human brain differences. (Or maybe cultural differences--I have never worried much about cultural vs. biological causes for stuff.) I'd be interested in anyone's comments, in any case.

Plus, finally, a thing that occurred to me last night. I was listening to Morley and Susato, both 16th century composers, and I was thinking that this is the music of a people whose genius lay in the perfection of field artillery. So...European. The music is very beautiful, but something about the mind-set behind it boded ill for the world.

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