Notes on music.

Recently I was listening to music, music I had once enjoyed a great deal but had since neglected. At one point of my life I would have known all of the lyrics but now everything was vague. As I listened I knew that I knew the songs already, but couldn’t make them out ahead of time, so was always suspecting what was to come next, a sort of slow burning, exciting anxiety which is like flirting, or waking up from a good sleep.

I noticed a spider had taken up residence in the cone of one of the speakers and was moving in and out with the music, engaged in an unwitting duet. To the spider, the music that caused such a specific resonance within me mustn’t mean much as noise. What I hear as melody and rhythm and meaning must come across as a functional part of its landscape, more akin to weather than to meaning. To the spider, a bass riff may be like being buffeted by a strong wind. To the spider, a treble note may be like a breath on the shoulder.

There is this wonderful thing that happens sometimes with music when you are listening to what you think is a simple but elegant song where the singer is singing a note with a long sustain, and it is a pretty nice note, and then it seems like half of the voice changes and becomes something different, but what has happened is that what you were hearing was an instrument that you didn’t even really know was there play the same note as the singer and then in a moment one or the other drops away or ascends into a different note and creates a harmony and you realise that what you thought was one beautiful thing was actually two beautiful things and you were enjoying them both the whole time without realising it, and it is sort of like finding out you are in love with an old friend and then you are so happy and surprised that you want to go back instantly and relive the moment but then the new harmony is so good also that you cant stop for the pleasure it keeps bringing and you are caught in a sort of paradox where you want it to be over as soon as possible so you can begin again but also want it to last forever.

Between tracks the spider gains a small reprieve before again being waltzed into a landscape. I think perhaps that all the really good songs have finished but the next one is a song with this neat bit where the singer goes na-na-na-na, which sounds naff when you read it on a page but is really good when you hear it.

Outside the window a tree moves barely. To the tree, the music that reaches it must be similarly abstracted from meaning. To the tree, the things we hear as notes and beats and choruses must be barely perceptible fluctuations in a much larger and slower environment, like a skipped heartbeat to the Grand Canyon or an indrawn breath to a rocky mountain or an artwork to life. To the spider and the tree this music is environmental, but to us its something we can understand.

Essay by John Ward Knox to accompany the show 'things you didn't know you were already enjoying' at Window gallery.