This time the tasting will be of a very special kind of music (or “music”), namely voices speaking.
Speech is usually not considered music, unless we mean choral speech, but then it is usually rhythmically notated.
The voices I present for your tasting are not making music. However, they can still be tasted. Let us think of them as wine or perfume, something to be savored.
First, the voice of a musician talking about music. Here there’s also some background music, plus the different voice of the radio presenter.
Then an author reading from her book.
Then two samples from audiobooks. Please try to ignore what is being said; just listen and note the voice, what it does to the words, to the meaning, to you. Try to listen to you while listening to the voice…
As usual the aim is not to rate, like or dislike, but just to taste. Unavoidably we like certain voices better than others, but here that is only a side effect. Liking is not important; experiencing is.
This time we will taste two musical pieces, but we will also make things a bit more complex by tasting with two senses.
That is not unusual; I think we almost always taste things with several senses: food with mouth and nose (olfactory sense), music with ears and eyes, people with all senses.
What is more unusual is to separate the senses, the “tastes”, and to know which is which. We will make a small experiment with this today.
As usual I suggest that you disconnect as much as possible from the digital world. Of course you cannot do it totally since you are going to watch music videos on YouTube. On the other hand, you can download them through keepvid.com, for example, and then go totally offline digitally and totally online musically .-)
Please remember that music tasting is no contest, we are not giving grades or likes. We are experiencing music. I mention this because the tendency to grade is so ingrained in our culture, where entertainment often equals contest, that it can take some effort to put it aside.
On today’s menu we have two pieces. This time they are videos, not just sound. Please watch them first before we continue this sensory experiment together.
Since this is YouTube I also need to say: don’t read the comments. Keep it clean, don’t add other people’s experiences and thoughts to YOUR experience.
Here is the first video.
And the second.
Did you watch both? If you closed your eyes, please listen again and this time open your eyes.
And if you did watch both videos, run them again but close your eyes. Only listen this time.
Done? If so, you have had two experiences, one only with sound and one with sound + image. There are a number of questions you could ask yourself now.
Video 1: How did the music taste with and without the images?
Video 2: How did the music taste with and without the images?
For both videos: How would you say the IMAGES tasted? (We don’t commonly use the word “tasting” about pictures, but it isn’t that strange. Our eyes are tasting the world constantly, looking away and “spitting out” some things and people, devouring other things and people.)
There is another experiment you could do: Watch both videos again without sound. Just taste the images. And remember not to grade or judge, that is not the aim. Then we will fall into the bottomless and overcrowded well of Popularity Contests. Music tasting is about something else: flying high in clear air.
That’s it for today. I wish all of us awakened senses!
PS: One can of course go further still. If you read some of the YouTube commentaries (I knew you would…) than you also tasted thoughts, which adds one more element to the experience. Thoughts are very often present as an aspect of classical music listening, but here, as I said before, the aim is isolation and concentration. It can be good to know whether we fell for the actual playing/singing, OR the very expensive accompanying video. (Need I say Eurovision Song Contest?)
What I mean by music tasting is not so easy to explain. It is a complex, composite idea. But suddenly I come across a sentence that brilliantly captures it!
Awareness means the capacity to see a coffeepot and hear the birds sing in one’s own way, and not the way one was taught. (Eric Berne)
To hear the birds sing in one’s own way, in this case to hear the music in our own way, yes, that’s it.
Not the way we were taught to listen to music, especially classical music. Not with the constant self-doubt and the constant excuses:
I like music but don’t understand it
I am not musical, but that was a lovely piece…
I am certified tone-deaf!
Sorry, I don´t believe you until I see that certificate. Of course you don’t have one, and it is likely that you are NOT tone-deaf; this is just a very accepted rash conclusion that we draw about ourselves in life.
Strangely enough those who know better (in large part we musicians) don’t protest when laymen belittle themselves in this way. We don’t try to convince them that they should be more fair to themselves, that a person who really enjoys music cannot be unmusical or tone-deaf, that Yin is also to be counted with, also important.
So many people, it seems, have at an early age created a self-image of themselves as “not musical” — while listening to a lot of music, enjoying music a lot. How can that not count in musicality?
I know how. That’s because we are too Yang-oriented. There is an unbalance in our view of music. Yang stands for activities like singing, playing, composing, etc, while Yin stands for reception, perception, listening.
Of course we listen to music, that is how we enjoy it, but we are blind to the fact that listening, and listening well, is also a talent and skill. There are virtuoso listeners, but it doesn’t show.
Here is the longer quote from Berne, touching on the question of awareness, which is in a way à la ode (via mindfulness).
“Awareness requires living in the here and now, and not in the elsewhere, the past or the future. A good illustration of possibilities is driving to work in the morning in a hurry. The decisive question is: “Where is the mind when the body is here?”
The man whose chief preoccupation is being on time is the one who is furthest out. With his body at the wheel of his car, his mind is at the door of his office.
The aware person is alive because he knows how he feels, where he is and when it is. He knows that after he dies the trees will still be there, but he will not be there to look at them again, so he wants to see them now with as much poignancy as possible.”
This is wholly optional, but after having experimented a lot with music tasting, have developed a specific format for it, I would say that it helps to take notes. These are my suggestions:
Listen to the piece more than once.
After the first listen you can involve your mind as well. Not to make this a cerebral exercise (enough of that) but to broaden and open up the experience.
In music tasting we avoid the usual musical questions, such as “Who do you think wrote this?”, “What style is it?”, “When do you think it was written?” etc. Even though it may be hard and unaccustomed I suggest that you put aside all such guessing, such “trying to figure it out”.
This is blind tasting or blind listening, the kind of“blind” that opens up new vistas. Close your eyes, open up everything else.
But other questions, totally different, can help.
I will soon post my full music tasting chart, but let´s begin with a few simple questions, a bit similar to questions on a wine tasting chart.
What color/ colors does this music evoke in you?
Any moving images?
A taste in your mouth?
And remember, this is not a question of like or not like. Tasting goes beyond black and white, binary choices.
It is not enough to innovate music, playing, and interpreting. We also need to LISTEN in a new way.
It is always tricky to explain something new with old terms. Let me start with a short definition and then go into some detail.
— Short definition: Music tasting is a unique combination of Epicureanism and mindfulness, an exploration of the act of tasting, but just as much self- and music-exploration.
That was short, but probably not very understandable. (Also, too many drool-words.)
— Somewhat longer definition: Music tasting tries to combine two disparate areas of life, the sphere of tasting (wine, chocolate, whiskey, cheese, etc) and the sphere of classical music listening. With mindfulness we get three spheres — but for me real tasting always involves en element of mindfulness, whether we are talking about perfume…
The usual mental baggage we always get with classical music is put aside and we approach music as a wine taster would approach blind tasting.
Closing our eyes can make us “see” better with other senses
Wikipedia on blind wine tasting. “A taster’s judgment can be prejudiced by knowing details of a wine, such as geographic origin, price, reputation, color, or other considerations.”
In the same way a listener’s judgment is often prejudiced by information about composers, musical titles and pure speculation. There is however an important difference between music tasting and wine tasting. I quote from an article about blind tasting.
“You have seen the masters do it and it seems incredible. They stick their nose in a glass of wine. They give it a couple of sniffs, a couple of swirls and a couple of sips. Then without so much as a glance at the label they tell you what it is.”
“They tell you what it is…”. This brings us to the usual musical-logistical questions: Who wrote the piece? Is this from Beethoven´s early, middle or late period? Who plays it best?
Once again we end up in the classical semantic swamp. And once again we are doing a contest, in a world already drowning in contests, from Eurovision Song Contest and American Idol to Kontrapunkt.
Understand that there are no right or wrong answers in music tasting. This is not an opportunity or vehicle for showing off, demonstrating our knowledge, learning or cultural level.
Actually, it is much more than that: a chance to learn something new — about music, perception and ourselves.
Enough information. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So let´s have a morsel. This is a recording of me trying out a piano piece. No, I won´t tell you what it is. Just blind taste it.
WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?
I am going to post a series of articles, videos and podcasts here, containing music to taste, plus reflections about listening, “Sauternes” and the Universe.
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