Halloween draws to a close and I found myself wandering home off the bus listening to Red House Painter’s “Katy Song” on the moonlit path and thinking about words and music. I had just finished conducting a seminar on the “Sirens” episode of Ulysses. For those not familiar with the text I will explain it briefly: Joyce writes an entire chapter in a bar scene and structures it as a fugue. The language serves a tripled purpose—narrative, thematic, and sound qualities. Snippets of songs and of important lines in the book are refrained and build one on top of the other fuga per canonem. So I was churning over thoughts of language patterns, phonetics and word associations, when I began thinking about nachtmusik. There is no real reason to actually associate certain kinds of music to the night, just as there’s no real reason why Ulysses should be considered Joyce’s masterpiece of the day and Finnegans Wake his masterpiece of the night. These concepts are purely constructs of the mind, for whatever reason we do it; the Real, idleness, nostalgia, kernelization of sound.
Then it hit me: night music is night music for the same reason that language is the perpetual creative act. Because language is the highest echelon of creativity; we have our set rules (grammar) but beyond that there are infinite ways to construct a sentence (ask Kafka) and infinite ways to combine phonemes to create neologisms (ask Joyce). The same goes for music; these chords sound nice together, these chords are dissonant—but it’s about how these sounds are constructed that plant the seed for our mind to categorize. Night music is night music because therein lies a space that drifts between notes where the sound can hide thoughts just like the darkness can. And so can language, we can bend words and reshape them and hide infinite packets of meaning behind a tenuously strung together set of sounds. Within these sounds are placed meanings and within these meanings there lies a cavity to fill with the connotative.
So it’s ultimately that connotative which is what really drives us to think about music as belonging to the night. At the heart of the skeletal frame of every musical piece is the standard set of sounds that connect together into a tapestry—sounds like words that flow and are definite, but when they sparkle together like fireflies in molasses there’s just that warm feeling that whatever idleness in my mind, whatever idleness floats where the darkened leaves block the moonlight from the un-lined shadows, that idleness will find its way between the cracks of letters, through the hands of words, into each droning violin bow, plucked guitar line, cymbal tap, or trinkling piano line; forever and ever.
Come back to me