On my walk home tonight, Fripp and Eno’s “Lyra” from “The Equatorial Stars” came up. An interesting series of events occurred: my first reaction was to consider this album perfectly useless. I found there was a profound lack of interest in it, a lack of gems to mine. Actually, the piece before it was “Altair” from the same album, and I would have to say that my opinion on that one holds.
However, shortly after hearing the word “useless” in my mind, a guitar line from Fripp shifted my feeling – amidst the rather static bounce of the background, Fripp plays an incredibly warm phrase. Warm as in humanly warm, affectionate, sensual. For an instant, I found myself anthropomorphizing the sense of what it would mean to be a star, in particular a “female” one. My mind suddenly cast back to reading “Whipping Star” and “The Dosadi Experiment” by Frank Herbert, where stars were given quite distinct personalities and voices (hello Fanny Mae).
Then, a more rational voice kicked in saying this was ridiculous: stars don’t have human attributes. If, and it’s a big if, they have anything approaching a consciousness it would certainly be vastly beyond what a human being is capable of even beginning to imagine.
And then, a third voice: in this thought experiment, there was a quantizing that happened through the music and my feeling. I might use a word like “blueberry” to describe a flavour in a wine whose flavour is highly complex and ultimately quite unspeakable. And yet, the “blueberry” description performs a service from the point of view of allowing the surface analytical self to create a handle on the experience.
On one hand, this is counter-productive – I’ve spoken before about the quantizing of real experience by language. Certain schools of contemplation heavily discourage the naming of experiences.
On the other hand, this music was also quantizing the imaginary consciousness of a star, a consciousness I couldn’t possibly contain in any real sense, and yet the music allowed me to wordlessly explore the inner experience. More importantly, it allowed me to do so in a way that words could not: directly affectionately, warmly, sensually.
This, for me, is the great value in music. It is also the great value of so-called “ambient” music. Whereas much music allows the listener to explore the emotional spaces involved in the human experience, ambient music invites a broader range of experience: what would it be like to be a star, to be wind, to be a scientific concept, to be just a vibration in space. It is an invitation that I have always welcomed, if sometimes with lazy resistance and judgement, and always come out the richer for.