Mornings after and music

Caution: some of this essay may stick in your head.

As I write this on the first morning of the year, it’s a time when many of us are still feeling the after-effects of our celebrations, and may feel literally different than how we felt yesterday morning, let alone late last night.

Water is the cradle of life.  Whenever we drink we’re restored, a process that is inherently transformative, especially if you’re drained & tired.  But the same process –drinking—that heals can also take us on a very different sort of journey.

One can imagine two mutually exclusive goals.  As I expose myself to the world some of it stays with me, and some of it doesn’t.  The cleanest substances & experiences leave no residue, allowing safe consumption.  While we take such things for granted nowadays, eating and drinking was at one time very risky.  Survival was not guaranteed.

And the other extreme?  I suppose it’s a question of just how much transformation one can imagine, whether we’re speaking of Alice in Wonderland or Timothy Leary.  Again, survival is not guaranteed, particularly when one is no longer staying close to our ancestral home (water).

No wonder we read tales of magical drinks.  For example, I’m wondering: was Wagner a drinker?  I didn’t read anything that might suggest he was a drinker, yet he used this plot device at least three times (the love potions in Tristan und Isolde and Gotterdammerung, plus a very different kind of drink with the grail in Parsifal).

Before we had science we had alchemy, the research of old.  Alchemy is not entirely about science, but incorporates spiritual—interpretive aspects, in the same way that the ancient study of the sky didn’t separate astronomy from astrology.  Alchemists sought several ideals:

  • transforming substances into gold (the noblest element)
  • the universal solvent
  • immortality

I am reminded of Ariadne auf Naxos, Strauss’s opera.  In the mythology of this tale, we hear of Circe, who was able to transform sailors into swine –appealing to our true animal nature—with her magic.  The god Bacchus comes ashore expecting to encounter Circe, but is not transformed, resisting her magic.  On New Year’s Eve Bacchus rules anyone who drinks and then struggles the next morning against their transformations, (porcine or otherwise).

I’m thinking of the ways that music can transform us or not transform us.  We may seek to listen to music that is safe and leaves us unchanged.  Would such music be interesting?    If my mind is engaged, chances are it would be memorable, and as memories accrue, I am changed.

Puccini, Strauss, and yes, Barry Manilow: composers who knew how to get into your head

Imagine writing music that stays.  If you’re no longer working from the ecological paradigm –writing non-invasively—but now seek to infect the ear?  A good jingle –an “ear worm” –refuses to leave your head.  I will not offer any examples, as this may tend to leave you humming the example.  While a jingle hardly invokes Bacchus or Circe, we are still addressing transformation at least as an objective.

Are there sorts of music that won’t stay in your head?  When our mind replicates the melody as text we’ll suffer from the recurrent melodies in our heads (see previous paragraph), so I would think that if there is no recognizable tune we would not be forced to retain the tune.  It helps, too, if we’re in an unintelligible foreign language, and if there’s enough going on that our mind simply surrenders to the energies of the music as a flowing process.   Does this stay in your head?

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