I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about music and exploring some new stuff this week. That in turn got me off thinking about how we relate to music. (Yeah, it being Saturday Night Safety Dance night helps.)
I’ve mentioned that I have pretty eclectic tastes in music. For my generation, rock, of course, but I’ll also listen to a lot of punk, new wave, country & western, classical, motion picture scores, big band, Broadway musicals, swing, and electronic music (a la Jean Michel Jarre).
Earlier this week I got bored listening to my usual Sirius-XM channels and bounced between “favorite” channels for a couple hours before finally settling on my usual alternative music (Channel 33, “First Wave”). I still was restless when they came on with a promo for a live event on another channel. I know that The Younger Daughter is a big fan, so I switched over.
EDR (“Electronic Dance Music”) is most certainly not for everyone in my age group, but I found that I liked it a lot. I can hear a lot of influences from punk and alternative, as well as electronic music from the 1970’s and 1980’s (Jarre) and early part of this century (Paul Oakenfold). Yes, it’s loud and might sound repetitious to a certain degree at first, but then, sometimes so do Bach and Ravel. After listening for a while it really does grow on you.
With all of that running through my head as the background soundtrack for a pretty hectic month, I got to thinking about how central music is to our lives. Granted, I’m not an expert on other cultures, but I have traveled a bit and I’ve always heard music. Asia, Europe, North America, there’s always music not too far away. It might be blaring from a passing radio, or whispering from a hundred different earbuds on a crowded subway, but it’s there. Television soundtracks, movies, and commercials are saturated with it, even when you don’t understand a word of the language. It’s so pervasive that you don’t even notice it.
Other creatures sometimes respond to our music, particularly birds. That shouldn’t be too surprising since their primary means of communication is very similar. We also refer to the languages of the whales as “whale songs,” but I’m not completely sure if it’s because they are songs or if we just hear them that way ourselves.
But music is a part of every culture going back hundreds of thousands of years. Cave paintings show drums and flutes, and song is mentioned back to the earliest records of civilization.
It may be that all humans make music, but it may also be that music helps to make us “human.”
Given that, I wonder what will happen when we inevitably make contact with non-human intelligent species.
Will music be a part of their culture and civilization as well? It would be different of course, but could it be a valuable trade item, a way for the children of different suns to learn about each other? We’ll swap an hour of Mozart, Beethoven, and the Beatles for some of Xn’ghtrxp’s and Pneiiifwxqa’s finest compositions? It might even help us to not instantly see them as a threat to be eliminated. Better yet, it might help them do the same regarding us.
Or will they listen to our music and just be totally baffled by it? Could it be that our finest symphonies and rock operas are nothing but random noise to them, beyond incomprehensible? (My dad always referred to rock music that way, but he probably meant something different.) Maybe they’ll get together after meeting us and wonder how any species that worships variations in atmospheric oscillations could ever be considered sane!
In turn, could their greatest art, their defining act of beauty, be just as meaningless to us? Maybe they stand perfectly still and emit odors of precise strengths, compositions, and ability to linger. An olfactory performance of Xn’ghtrxp’s finest might bring them to tears of joy, while we wonder how a skunk rolled in rotting Limburger and roses came to be their crowning achievement.
Something to ponder.
(And no, I haven’t been smoking, toking, drinking, or snorting anything at all. I’m this weird every day.)