You know the one; as if a hundred thousand tiny pins are undulating under your skin, from the tips to the base of your spine?
The power of a work of art to move us into what are essentially extra-terrestrial planes defies explanation by even the most staunchly rational scientific mind.
Well, that’s only partly true.
Everyone knows (why, of course, don’t you?) that sensations of happiness are merely by-products of a chemical process. An essentially deterministic outcome of the experiential chemistry of heightened aural or visual stimulus. It could even be worse: your brain may well be releasing endorphins purely on the basis of an re-evocation of an irrational attachment you may have had (or continue to have) with the work of art that has arisen purely on the basis of proximity!
What I am, in essence, saying is that you might well have despicable taste in art, yet your mind, forever a slave to the past— see, yet another millisecond elapses before you finish this sentence—has deigned to associate this relationship with that painting, this casual remark with that overture and so on, merely because they happened—o serendipitous coincidence!—to take place in vaguely similar temporal contexts.
Have you ever heard the Concerto for Orchestra?
Have you ever been swept away by the impossible tempo of the ecstatic final movement? Have you ever heard the horns blast out across the hall and seen the harmonic series flash before your very aural eyes until the frenetic gestures of a score of violinists saw away at a fiery pace, ever-increasing, layer upon layer of perpetual motion, with cross-rhythms cross-colliding against the metrically ambiguous behemoth of the orchestra?
Now, that’s living, that’s seeing things in full colour. You can take your Technicolor, your Todd-AO, your IMAX and you can can it. Consign it to the wastepaper-basket of technological irreverence. All those increases in fidelity are passing fads, artefacts of the technological trend. Distracting, even compelling, yes— but life-affirming? Hardly. 48 frames per second is nothing to 137 beats per minute.
The reason I can only take the rational-scientific explanation of my emotional, physical response so far is the apparent truth of the following fact: the worlds leading neurophysiologist has felt/is feeling/will feel this way. He or she will (may?) retreat into the same headspace afforded to us less-rigorous scienticians by wonderful art— and be totally at odds to truly explain the experience. Scientific enquiry is a modality; one that reveals much, much more about the world than any other epistemological framework to date.
Modal or probabilistic propositions sit ill at ease with the perceived certainty of my entrancement. I am definitely possessed by this work. So too is the ideal neuro-nerd (for otherwise, would he/she be ideal?). My experience confirms it, if not to anyone else, to me.
Tension mounts, yet a technical feint appears: inversion. The head motive is subverted. Eerily familiar; markedly different. And then, the hyper-intellectual: a fugue.
Can’t you feel the lines vying for your aural attention, crying out— listen to me! The opening voice, you might think, is the dominant one but it is in truth a primus inter pares. Fugue communicates an essential—if unsettling to believe—human truth: you, like the voices of a fugue are no more worthy than the next. We are all equal. As are they. And they crowd upon each other, liquefying into a sonic wallpaper that crawls away at chromatic fingerwork. Stillness descends. For the moment.
I am committed to listening to this over and over and over again. Not every day. Can’t be having that. Every musician knows you’ll exorcise whatever you found within the piece in the first listening somewhere around the hundredth time you’ve repeated it. But from day to day, from week to week, I’ll find that canonic recording of that essential work and retread the path once again from grimy opening to cathartic finale, because this music speaks to me.
In all its imperfections and its defiance of neuroscience and semiotics it still— to me, a mere human, with an essentially handicapped aural-dyamic range (your mains is emitting a 50Hz whine; your phone transformer probably something over 40kHz) is still paralysed at times by the impressions, auditory and otherwise that arise from this landmark in music and in life.
The music climbs to an unbearable level of intensity; the brass erupts. Augmented beyond belief, the motive— that which moves forward—is heard in pressed-out ‘longs’. A sign of defiance? This music hardly defies anything, certainly not anything in real terms.
Understanding my response to this work can hardly defy your faculties, either.
I was taken away. And nothing can change that.
Not even the silence of the moments in which I forget.