Friday, January 9, 2015

Chatter

There's a voice continually narrating in my mind. At no point is it louder than when I'm still, attempting to meditate. Sometimes I have to turn that voice against itself by having it narrate the most mundane, un-narratable events. Such as, "I'm inhaling. I'm exhaling. I'm breathing, lying on the floor."

I've been meditating for years. What began as spontaneous therapy to counter social anxiety and existential dread is now as much a part of my life as running, writing, and yes, breathing. Mostly I still find myself resisting taking time to meditate. The ideological part of my brain insists on plowing through another project, reading one more article, writing one more paragraph. Even though I always know that this rest, pause, caesura benefits my reading, my writing, thinking. To be honest, I ended up "writing" this post in my head while I was meditating. It's not always so easy to take a break.

I've been listening to music lately while I meditate. Before–and for several years–I listened to guided meditations, mostly from the Meditation Podcast. But such guidance becomes another story, another voice, yet one more narrative. Today I listened to my Philip Glass playlist. It contains 142 tracks. I guess you can say I'm a fan. One of the reasons I like Glass's music is because it typically resists narrative. Nothing irritates my intellect more than a work of music trying to paint a picture. I detest naturalism in music.
By naturalism in music we mean quite simply the imitation of sounds that occur in nature. This imitation may also be thought of as representation…the direct imitation or representation in musical compositions of sounds that are easily recognized as occurring in nature. (from Norman Cazden's "Towards a Theory of Realism in Music," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 10, no. 2 (Dec., 1951), 135.)
This proclivity is perhaps one of the many reasons I'm drawn to the abstract, minimal, surreal, symbolic. It's as if my entire aesthetics is a response to the voice in my head constantly yammering away with ceaseless stories. Art becomes a distraction, a disruption of the narrative as such.

Sometimes during meditation I listen to John Cage's prepared piano pieces. Sometimes, it's Native American flute, shakuhachi, chant, ambient electronica, or some kind of asymmetrical world fusion. And yes, I am aware of the problematic resonances of "world" music.
In my experience, the use of the term world music is a way of dismissing artists or their music as irrelevant to one's own life. It's a way of relegating this "thing" into the realm of something exotic and therefore cute, weird but safe, because exotica is beautiful but irrelevant; they are, by definition, not like us. Maybe that's why I hate the term. It groups everything and anything that isn't "us" into "them." This grouping is a convenient way of not seeing a band or artist as a creative individual, albeit from a culture somewhat different from that seen on American television. It's a label for anything at all that is not sung in English or anything that doesn't fit into the Anglo-Western pop universe this year. … It's a none too subtle way of reasserting the hegemony of Western pop culture. It ghettoizes most of the world's music. A bold and audacious move, White Man! (from David Byrne's "I Hate World Music," The New York Times, October 3, 1999.)
I assure you, however, that I feel myself fully ensconced within this world and duly affected, inspired, transformed by such music. Music, in general, but especially my music has a direct impact on my being. At least that's the story I tell myself.

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