On Sunday I went to see Muse, possibly my favourite band of all time, to watch them play the entirety of one of their earlier albums (Origins of Symmetry), followed by a collection of all their ‘hits’. To put it simply, they were astonishing, and there were many remarkable things about the performance as a whole, needless to say their incredible playing, improvisations and energetic engagements of the song were crowd-pleasing, but what really stood out to me was the fact that they hardly spoke. In fact Mathew Bellamy, the lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter/pianist and genius, addressed the audience twice in the entirety of the 2 and a half hour show.
Did this mean he was not comfortable speaking publicly? Did this mean he did not want to engage with the audience? Of course not. In fact, afterwards, everyone I spoke to praised that he, nor the others, had not spoken, or volunteered any personal information or indeed referenced any of the previous performances of the day. I wondered why it had been so effective, with their wordless transitions from one masterpiece to another inspiring a kind of awe; then my girlfriend said: “They knew that their songs could speak to us in more ways than words ever could…” – Eureka! She was right!
The Bard once said: “If music be the food of love / Play on, give me excess of it…” – I doubt there is anyone reading this that has not heard this famous quotation which encapsulates the idea that music can feed our emotional states; in this particular case love. But I think music is even more universal than that, it is a medium which can cross language, station and tap in a more direct way than even poetry or art can, into the very core of human feeling. Perhaps this is why the Buddhists believe that it was the musical note of the ‘Om’ that created the universe and that still resonates throughout the universe today. In addition we see that the very greatest poetry often utilises rhythm (such as iambic pentameter in the Shakespeare quotation above) so that the words we are hearing evolve in a kind of musical way.
Take another very famous quotation by the Bard:
“Thus with a kiss I die.”
At first glance this sentence seems extraordinarily simple, especially considering the works of the man who penned it. But in terms of its rhythm it is immensely complex! There is a ‘stress’ on the word “Thus” giving a heavy blow to the first word, then another stress on the word “with”: separating it from the “Thus” so naturally the there comes a slight pause between the two heavier sounds: “Thus (pause) with” then “a” is an un-stress and so it flows quickly but then the “kiss” has another stress which halts the rhythm again. “Thus (pause) with a kiss (pause)” The final stresses fall on “I” and “die” in addition to them being an internal rhyme which puts huge emphasis on them and underlines them to the audience. And so, the sentence is naturally broken up in a way that communicates its own musical timing when we read it. Of course an actor might choose to break the convention of the rhythm of the language, but this would probably make the line sound rushed or out of place. When due weight is given to the stresses of the line then it suddenly takes shape and becomes more powerful. “Thus (pause) with a kiss (pause) I die”
We see that sound and music can actually influence us in profound ways. In fact musical patterns are easier to remember than simple prose. Why is it that every student with exams complains that they can’t remember any details for an exam, and yet they are able to easily recite every-single-word to every-single-song from an artist they enjoy? And so it was with Muse that their songs influenced us in a way that no words can, if they had told thousands of people to all crowd into one space and jump up and down in a frenzy no doubt they would have been laughed at, but the power of their music, the way the rifts and melodies gripped hold of your very consciousness and made your flesh tingle, caused us to do as they bid.
So what is the object of this article? To show that music is essential in our lives, and also can be used to help us experience catharsis, i.e. to cleanse our bodies of negative emotions by experiencing them (such as deep sorrow with a song we find moving). It can also help us to recall, it can lift our spirits, and it can inspire other works of art around them. Unfortunately I have forgotten who it was that penned this line, but I despite this in my belief the truth of its metaphor stands: “All life is simply frozen music”
Thank you for reading.