By the window

A question

By the window, I look out blankly to a perched bird as I listen to the music, and a question returns to me: What do you think it is in music that moves you? A pianist posed the question to me recently, and it has returned to me more than once. Or rather, what leads these returns is an inaccuracy I’ve recognized in the response I gave; still, the question itself follows along too.

I said that words usually played a secondary role in my experience of music. (The pianist did not contend.) But what I meant to relegate as secondary, I repeat to myself, was conventional meaning of words. There is also a purely musical facet of language to consider, in song and in general, a facet I have felt more attuned to as of late, feel to be essential. It is alongside these feelings that the question has been returning.


I am slipping between these reflections and the music when a loud beeping enters through the window. I understand the source to be a vehicle in the parking lot just outside, though none of this is visible to me. The beeping grates through the music, out of tune. It recurs approximately once per second and has rotted my mood. Each pause is just long enough that the previous shriek seems final, yet it persists, gluing my thoughts into a seething mass interpolating a prelinguistic internal scowl and a more linguistic disbelief that any vehicular operation in this lot could take so long to execute.

These thoughts disintegrate as a sensation pulses through me: the last beep unsettled me in a different way, I notice, evoked a different grimace; its ugly violence seemed flecked with musical potency. Possibly. The impression is indistinct, and while it may be the case that I am gradually making sense of the dissonance, momentary hallucination feels equally tenable. Unconsciously, I lean towards the window and bow my head a little, heightening my attention. The next beep is unenlightening, leaves me suspended, but I expect one more will do.

It does not arrive. The vehicle has relented; the music continues unbroken; the nature of their interference will not be resolved.

Further questions

I rejoin my previous train of thought: I hypothesize that I am more sensitive to musicality in languages I do not understand, where semantics have no chance to intervene. An analogy presents itself, between the character of a musical key or mode and distinctive demeanors that seem to surface in certain languages. I wonder about the language my parents grew up with, which I cannot speak and of which I understand only a fragment. I wonder whether, with less meaning in the way, something else filters in more easily, whether this might contribute, for example, to the funniness I experience in the language, which always feels irreducible and never translates.

My attention shifts back to the music. It is becoming more fragile, unwinding, softening, living, dying.