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Incomplete Evidence

October 08, 2013

I spent most of high school writing, practicing, and performing music. I played guitar in two separate bands, and was the lead vocalist in one of those bands, and played trumpet in various wind ensembles and the jazz band at school. When I wasn’t a part of the creation process myself, there is a pretty good chance I was listening to music. Back then, it seemed trivial to find a new artist or album to obsess over.

Despite being steeped in music, I have always found it hard to write about. The truth is, I have limited ability to use words to explain just what makes a particular piece of music so wonderful. Oh sure, I could discuss structure, point out a particular hook in a particular section and how it sits in the mix. I could talk about the tone of the instrument or about quality of the performance or any number of other things. The problem with this language is it reduces what is great about this piece of music to a description that could easily fit some other piece of music. Verbalizing the experience of music projects a woefully flattened artifact of something breathtaking.

Now it might seem that recorded music has greatly diminished this challenge. After all, the experience of recorded music can scale– anyone can listen. Unfortunately, I found this to be completely untrue. When I play music for other people, it actually sounds different than when I experience it for myself. Little complexities that seem crucial to the mix seem to cower and hide rather than loom large in the presence of others. It is not really feasible to point out what makes the song so great while listening, because it disrupts the experience. Worst of all, no one else seems to experience what I experience when I listen.

Of course, all of this may seem obvious to someone who has read about aesthetics. I have not.