Cigars have scotch. Peanut butter has chocolate. Pizza has beer. Connoisseurs everywhere recognize that by cleverly pairing pleasurable experiences both can be enhanced and blended into something exponentially greater.
While listening to music yesterday as I biked around DC, I realized that these same enhancing dynamics might apply to pairings between particular pieces of music and a particular ideas. Of course, this is done all the time in movies and musicals where songs are composed for a specific moment in a story. But these moments are highly structured. They do not free the imagination because they impose a specific bounded vision. They also tend to mold the music to fit the story, instead of the story to fit the music. This is fine, but something is lost. Something pure and abstract in the music is ignored.
I propose a fun activity to do with a small group of friends. Each person is responsible to pair a chosen concept with a chosen song and articulate the concept to the group. Then together the group quietly listens to the song and talks afterward about the experience. This is a chance to get your artistic hats on. Of course, the more creative pairings (that still work), the better. And note, lyrics are not relevant. This is about the mood and abstract meaning that the music offers and the relationship it develops with the concept in the cinema of your imagination. The key: focus only on this activity (dimming lights is good, multi-tasking is bad) and let your imagination run free.
I call this activity concept listening as it is analogous to the popular concept album, an album that crafts its songs to contribute to a theme or overall story. In concept listening however, the listener picks the concept, which is more explicitly stated, and picks a single song.
Last night, Alicia and I tried concept listening. We did the idea/song pairing below and enjoyed an amazing shared experience. Though we have heard this song many times, the concept made the song seem completely fresh to us. I hope you enjoy it.
Yes it is coming.
The captain orders the crew into action. A grizzled, bearded man and a younger friend pull an oar on a tireme, an Athenian warship, as it struggles to outrun one of the Aegean’s dreaded winter storms. They row mightily, land comes into sight, but the wind picks up, chaotically whistling through the sails, and they realize they are too late. Though the crew is already weary, the captain turns the prow back out to sea. Their only hope now is to wether the storm.
As two hundred crewmen row in unison, for all they are worth, against mammoth cresting waves, likely death brings a strangely vital and shared energy. Waves pound. Salt spray soaks their beards. And they face the thrill of death together.
song (moulin rouge tango de Roxanne)
Let know what you think! If you have pairing ideas please share.