Internal versus external art

You know what I think part of the difference for me regarding math/languages versus music has been? Math and languages are things where most of the work is done completely internally, especially math. A huge part of the understanding is totally silent. You sit there, stare into space, or scribble a few things … and just cogitate on things until they start to make sense to you. Maybe you ask a few questions of your teacher, but for the most part the absorption process is silent and private. You can chat about it with friends if you like, which often helps, but the working-out of things is silent and in your head.

With music, it’s not. It’s quite public. You start something out … and immediately there’s someone over your shoulder going, “Try that again. No that’s wrong. No that’s wrong, too. Play that differently. No play it the same.”

Holy crap. You can barely even touch the damn thing without any surrounding peanut gallery chiming in — teachers, peers, friends, enemies, even neighbors. For me, it’s taken me a long time to shut off the chatter from the world as a peanut gallery. Yes yes yes, I “shouldn’t be like that” and I “shouldn’t let it bother me.”

Yeah well, this is what I’m like. We’re all like something, and I’m like this. I classify myself as an unfortunately easily overstimulated extrovert turned introvert. I have to shut the world out to get anything done, and when I write or ruminate on math, I can do that almost without effort since so much of the digestion process takes place silently and privately. No peanut gallery demanding justification for every little twitch or trying to rip the wheel out of my hands.

I’d like to see the world’s great novelists work on their oeuvres … while their word processor screen is projected onto the side of a building and everyone gets to go, “No change that word, that’s wrong, do this do that I like that well, I don’t like it blah blah blah … ” How fewer great novels do you think we’d write, and how many novelists would find the need to sequester themselves even more than they already do?

I wonder if that wasn’t partly why Beethoven ended up being so good. He could work undistracted by the yammering, and hence his work ended up being an undiluted distillation of nothing but himself, like in the Douglas Adams quote:

Mozart’s music tells you what it’s like to be human, Beethoven’s music tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven, and Bach’s music tells you what it’s like to be the universe.

Beethoven had little other than what was inside of himself to work with; his deafness cut him off from everyone else. It was painful for him, but made for some amazingly unalloyed music that tread no path but its own.

I think a lot of my previous stagnation with music and my current flowering of it may have to do with the fact that, simply put, I have headphones now. The sharing is not automatic nor indiscriminate.

I’ve found a Rodgers Alexandria for significantly less money than the previous leviathan. I’m keeping an eye on it. I hope it uses headphones.

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