Notes On Music Distillations


Hieronymus Brunschwig’s The Book of the Art of Distillation, circa 1500. (Source: Wikipedia)

The music speaks for itself, yet I still feel a need to respond to it.

One way to respond is to copy it–internalizing the parts of the music that resonate with me and use them in my own work somehow.

Another more public way to respond is to translate the music’s most salient attributes into language. The sense of sounds suggest words, and words can be organized into soundful sense.

So for a while now I’ve been writing short haiku-length pieces on music I’m listening to.

But I don’t want to create a play-by-play translation. Instead, I want a snapshot distillation–as if the music was paused and gathered up into a single moment.

Click: got it.

Distillation is an ancient process of purifying a liquid through evaporation and condensation, reducing it to its essence.

Can music be distilled through a few words? If it can, then the value of these words may be that they point listeners back to the music itself.

Music distillations are engagements with sound, a trace of an encounter between listener and music, and an advocacy: I liked this and maybe you will too.

Together, engagement, encounter, and advocacy form a kind of poetic criticism, launching the reader through words back into the flux of music.

For more on the goals of critical writing about music, see my blog post on the excellent thoughts of Wire writer Tony Herrington here.

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