Monday, June 27, 2005

What do you see when you listen to music in the dark?

“You know what I see when I listen to music in the dark?” she asked, finishing her water. “I think of a glass-bottom boat sailing through the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I don't like it. But when I'm tired, it doesn't scare me as much. But imagine, Charlie, the glass cracking. Not a good way to die. But that is not what scares me. The dark, the dark that passes underneath. How it can just as easily be nothing. Do you know about that? Why do you think I have such a fear?”

“Sounds like you take yourself too seriously.”

“Who else will?”

“Good point.” I said, getting back into the bed and pulling the covers over me.

“What do you see when you listen to music in the dark?”

“Depends on the song.”

- From "A Chapter From a Novel," an undergraduate creative writing selection by Andrew Condouris, at Farleigh-Dickinson.

What do you see when you listen to music in the dark, or with your eyes closed? Do you see the band or orchestra from afar, or are you close enough to see the instrument-forged fingers of each player? Do you see a dance floor, beads of sweat on a partner's brow? Do you see strobing lights? Maybe you see the band playing right in front of you, in your living room. Or maybe you see yourself playing an instrument, singing to an adoring audience. Do abstract waves and color patterns pass through your conscious brain with some instant doppler effect? I imagine some see images of lovers or friends, or scenes from unmade movies. Others may see nothing at all, able to isolate the music as travels from the ear into the nervous system to create a purely auditory experience.

Most of the time, I see the performers, their guitar strings vibrating, the labored look on the violinist's face, the death grip on the microphone. Sometimes it's me playing. I'm almost always on stage, whether performing or just watching. If I'm listening to a song that triggers the memory of a significant emotional event, I'm transported there instantly.

Whatever it is that you see when you close your eyes and listen to music, I'm interested. Please tell me.


RC666 said...

It depends on the song and my mood. Some songs are triggered to memories either because the song was played at that time or it reminds me of a certain time. Like TLC "Dear lie" the ex and I danced for the first time to it in the rain in the middle of the night. Then if I am in a pissed off mood I listen to screamo such as Senses Fail "You're Cute When You Scream" and imagine those things happening to people by my hands. I think I cover the entire spectrum.

ryan said...

I see dead people.

Sorry, that was too glaringly obvious not to go for.

But seriously, it's probably been nigh on 10 years or so since I've had occasion to just sort of kick back with the headphones on and just listen to the music. Music to me now is more sort of like a constant companion. I mean, I'm listening to it most of the day most every day, but I'm also doing other things concurrently. John Lennon said that "life is what happens to you while you're making other plans", and, well, in a similar way, music is what happens to me while I'm living my life. And it's not that I'm not able to give the music the attention it deserves either; I guess I've just learned to multitask things in my own way.

So, I suppose I'm just gonna go ahead and fully embrace the cliche here and say that for me, music really is, literally, the soundtrack to my life, and unfortunately (in regard of the question you've asked), in this movie, there is no "fade to black".

Unless I'm listening to Metallica's "Ride The Lightning", in which case there *is* a "Fade To Black", and it's Track 4.

christopher said...

I'm definitely lurking around Chesapeake Bay. It's late at night and misty and i'm feeling a little uneasy because i'm not sure where home is, but it's discontent in that good way that makes you feel like everything's alright -- i've got a girl by my side and we smile but i don't know what she's thinking -- even though there is clearly nothing alright about this moment of wandering at all. It is not a heartache of regret. Still, although i have no idea what is about to happen to me, right now, my world is perfect, everything i need or want is right here: a girl who wants to be here even though i don't know why and she's fiery but has cool water to put her at ease. John Darnielle is popping up in random places, singing to us on his guitar, like a singer in a cheesy musical of some sort, but he somehow pulls it off and i think it's actually happening. Because he's sitting on a mailbox right now and yet i still know that he's being brutally honest. And although i'm so happy here i can't live in anything but fear because i'm so scared that everything's going to evaporate away with the rising mist; that the lights will turn off and i'll be left in the dark; that the world will dry up and we'll be left on the moon. And cars pass by like they don't have anything to do with me. And the girl looks at me and smiles, somehow.

Unless i'm listening to mclusky or Minus The Bear in which case i don't see anything at all but go on emotion-rollercoasters in dim flashes where i am utterly paralyzed and yet still unable to refrain from shivering and my arms wind up flailing uncontrollably.

Arethusa said...

Interestingly enough, the images that go through my mind are not affected by the time of day, and like RC it does depend on the song.

Quite a few are ones I've already performed or seen performed (the classical, mostly) so I'll see myself or friends, or eminent professionals performing the number in a choir robe or a school uniform. There are also some pieces that I wish I had gotten a chance to play so I imagine myself doing it too. Sometimes, if it's a favourite composer, I'll imagine them playing at some grand country Chateau.

This goes for the ballet music as well, or any piece of music (Loreena McKennitt's in particular) that I feel is suitable for the sort of dancing I love. Often I will choreograph whole dances in my mind, with my own imaginary dance troupe, and the moves I settle on are the ones that are reprised in my mind's eye whenever I hear that particular track.

Sometimes I actually see paintings or actual rural landscapes that certain songs evoke. Hem and Van Morrison music are usually what cause this. Tom Waits always takes me to the seedy parts of town, and sometimes he pops up performing at some run-down bar.

And still others make me wholly introspective. No images appear behind my eyelids, it's just black, while I am completely absorbed with my emotional reactions to the music.

That was a frickin' awesome question. I may (will) steal it for a blog post.

largehearted boy said...

Like Ryan, I rarely have the opportunity to drop everything and just listen to music. Music is always a part of my busy days, from the moment I wake up to when I hit the bed at night.

When I do kick back for a minute or two at work or home and just close my eyes for a minute, I am more likely to be trying to clear my head. Even the music I am listening just fades to the background when I try to refresh my mind.

Canowine said...

I received a few responses via e-mail.

Owen Pallett (of Final Fantasy, The Arcade Fire, Hidden Cameras, and Les Mouches):

"usually i'm just thinking about fingerings and trying not to sweat too much

but that's cool"

Yes, it is, Owen. And so are you.

Sean, from the Said the Gramophone, which is always required reading, said:

"I've been meaning to test this
out by actually LISTENING IN THE DARK but haven't had the chance yet. I know what I -think- I see, but I'm not sure what I actually do see. (To be honest, I usually fall asleep. Sitting + darkness + music = snoozing for me.) I'll try to do the experiment soon, though, and write back."

I was curious before, but now I'm really curious. Will Sean's awareness of his exercise influence what he sees?

Also, send him your best wishes, as he received a Cease and Desist yesterday evening. If he has to C&D, that would be a personal tragedy for me. Sean introduced me and many others to the Arcade Fire on his blog. I wouldn't have Funeral, the EP, or the Power Out import single if it weren't for STG.

Thanks to everyone else for your responses. I'm still getting some in, so I'll comment as they come into my in box.

Ryan, of the cutting edge catbirdseat:

I wish you had more time to sit down and tune out. Life, it seems, will fade away, drifting further every day. (and THAT, folks, is the first and last time I will quote Metallica here, but I don't promise...) But as it fades, I like to punctuate it with a little musical nightcap every night before bed, whether it's one song or four. It's an erasing, renewing process, like face washing.

largehearted boy, who seems to take in everything and buys half of it:

If you didn't spend so much time being a celebrated blogger and reading your 52 books a year, you'd have more time to listen to music. But please, keep blogging and reading, for our sakes.

Christopher: Thanks man, that was beautiful.

rc666: Don't ever play the Senses Fail when you're around me. Come to think of it, don't ever play the TLC either. If you even try it, I'm putting on the Debbie Gibson, and that's not just an empty threat.

arethusa: Next time imagine me in your dance troupe. I won't even hint about how scary that might turn out. And steal away. My house is yours.

darth said...

yikes..thats a tough one.

some groups, i.e. the clash, ramones, bruce, i saw live so often, that its hard not to see them on stage whenever a song comes on, esp. because regardless of how good their studio stuff was, they truly shined live...

and some people i never saw live, like warren zevon for example, i still imagine seeing perform; esp. on his slower, sadder songs-i can see him at the piano on a dark stage.

and music that i've shared with friends, and music that friends have shared with me..i just see us sitting around the living room, vinyl LPs strewn around the place, reading the inserts and liner notes, and quietly listening to the music together.