Recently I’ve begun treating the music I listen to less as expression with content and more as environment, part of the place I’m inhabiting. My history friends tell me that the concept of art as individualistic expression is an artifact of the Renaissance, when people were, in an important sense, understood as individuals for the first time. So I guess my newfound apathy toward the Meaning of the music I listen to is both closer and farther from the pre-Renaissance, pre-individualist understanding of music which was the norm through most of human history: music as collective, semi-divine expression. On the one hand, I too have (partly) jettisoned the notion of music coming from an I, but I also don’t hear music as God or Us. For me, it’s an It. Music has become, properly speaking, no longer expression of any kind; it’s an inanimate, naturally-occurring quantum.
I experience music as an It because of what Marx called alienation. (Sorry to suddenly get all technical, but that’s the clearest schema for thinking about this subject.) I experience music as piping out of speakers in elevators, cars, rooms, cafes. Music lives in the larval form of battery juice in my MP3 player; music is the tool my phone uses to alert me of a call, and the weapon that advertisers use to trick me into buying. I almost never experience music as a constructed object, flowing from the hands and mouth of a creator in real-time, nor do I experience it as medieval Europeans did, as part of the aura of kings and churches. In my life, music is a sort of plastic pollen, in the same way that a smartphone or computer is a plastic animal. It’s just in the air: some of it irritates my eyes, some of it is just normal and unremarkable, and some of it smells really, really good. Music is nothing other than a part of the environment I live in, a natural object from which I can benefit or suffer.
P.S. Thanks for your patience, regular readers. I’ve been preoccupied by production of the school magazine, which will be posted here next week.