There is music that is transcendent. You know, music that transcends lyrics, instrument or voice or even the medium that delivers it. It transcends all attempts to rein it in, to classify it. It goes beyond the intent of the composer. It exists on a higher plane where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a thing of indescribable, undefinable, intangible, unbearable beauty. Its harmonics, intricate or simple, loud or soft, harmonious or discordant, they touch sympathetic strings within the listener, like the mystery of string theory, two particles moving in synchronicity with no apparent bridge between, no contact, no medium.
My string theory of perception ( I just made that up )
The quantum mechanics of the soul. (That one too).
That is as near to the mark as I can come.
This extravagantly pompous, overwrought, rococo tantrum (above) is an inadequate attempt to express something that I sense. I cannot know.
That is transcendent music. Great music exists as a thing apart, profoundly different from the cacophony that often passes for music. Advertising jingles are one of the most grievous abusers of taste and propriety.
Grade 9 high-school bands come in a close second.
The bottom of my somewhat arbitrary list goes to Rap.
And in a close tie for last place those angry, head-banging, heavy-metal screamers.
Now, what? What sets transcendent music apart?
It endures. And why?
Music has a prelude and a coda. So does the perception of that music. There’s no mystery in the technical aspect; waves generated by vibrations, carried by some medium, strike the eardrum, are passed from hammer to stirrup to anvil. Then on to the cochlea, semicircular canal, then into the auditory nerve and on to the brain.
That covers my rudimentary understanding of the mechanics of music. The “stringy” part exists between the synapses in my head and those in yours
So how does that become transcendent music?
How does it ascend from pop jingle to the dizzying heights of great music?
It stirs. It roils, it embraces, it uplifts. It is one step over the event horizon then forever down toward the singularity. It sets up vibrations that inexplicably cross the gap between point A and point B, with no carrier, no medium, imparting a synchronicity between them that (almost) defies understanding. It represents the difference between Menuhin playing a Strad and Tiny Tim applying unspeakable abuse to his uke.
That’s what sets it apart, that process put on endless repeat.
Sound waves, light waves, gravity waves.
That’s the medium. I’ve tried to explain the message. (apologies to Marshal McLuhan)
Sadly, there are those who don’t have the ear.
Is it heredity or environment that tunes the ear? Don’t know. Don’t care. Some got it, some don’t.
The qualities of transcendent music are there for all to experience.
Have I made myself clear?
Didn’t think so.