Daily Archives: January 20, 2009 6:52 pm

Why music?

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Waiting in the check-out queue at Sainsburys the other day, I was mesmerized by the sight of a lardy teenage girl standing – or rather pulsating and jerking compulsively like an enormous chicken in the throes of food-poisoning – at the adjacent till. What was particularly engrossing was the fact that the cables of her headphones looked as if they’d been pushed into her ears like cannulae, and that they were delivering some toxic fluid direct into her body with enough force to make her head jerk back and forth while the fateful emetic did its job down below. Just when you thought she was going to throw up, she would emit lusty, mezzo voce microtonal grunts of an intensity quite unmatched to groceries, all right, babeeee, girrrl, uh-huh, yeaaah, her face unconsciously contorting into pop-video soft-porn pouts.  If I didn’t know what an MP3 player was, I’d think she was mad, ill, or taking part in some unethical medical experiment.

A colleague had just given me an article from a recent issue of the Economist called Why Music? which explores some of the attempts by scientists to find evolutionary arguments for why we have music at all. Why indeed, I thought.

The London Eye. A metaphor for music?

The London Eye. A metaphor for music?

Meanwhile, at my checkout, I was pondering something in Michael Spitzer’s Metaphor and Musical Thought to do with painting as a potential metaphor for music (as opposed to, or rather complementing the ‘literalization’ theory of Lydia Goehr). If I’d understood it, I’d be explaining it better here. However, the day before, I’d had an epiphany cycling up to  the awe-inspiring London Eye. I suddenly saw at least some of the point – a beautifully formed wheel like that could be a metaphor for a piece of music, couldn’t it? A Bach gigue in metal.

If she could have read my mind, the girl with the earphones would have thought I had a screw loose too. Which makes me wonder how much you can develop a theory about music, when ‘music’ has such enormous varieties of experience attached to it.