Where's all this relentless experiencing coming from?

What's the deeeal with experience? In southern Sweden, one of the regional newspapers has done a brilliantly-conceived survey of all the members of parliament, asking them about their cultural preferences. I love that sort of thing - there's plenty of material to be analysed and indeed articles have done so already. I'm probably going to give it a go at some point myself.

Meanwhile, though, I have a huge gripe about the survey, or rather one of the questions asked. The parliamentarians are asked to provide their favourite movie and book, but when it comes to stage performance, art and (for the purposes of this blog most obviously) music, the question is modified to "what is your greatest experience of...?" But, I mean, who cares? The question tells nothing about the people involved but only of their past selves. Personally, my greatest musical experience is undoubtedly Neil Young at Roskilde in 2001. But I've heard and taken part of much better music since then, just not experienced it so unequivocally and intensely, and my tastes have changed almost entirely.

I don't much like the sort of vulgar phenomenalism that these questions entail either. Music as something to be "experienced" in and of itself smacks of 19th-century darkened concert halls and direct communication, while I've been enjoying music mainly in a functional setting for the past few years of my life, on the dancefloor on both sides of the deck or in a radio studio. Or just listening to it at home or watching videos or whatever. It's always been mixed up with other stuff (great dancing experiences, for instance), and it's not really active, reflective experiencing as such.

What do you think? Do you primarily like music because you experience it? What relationship does your favourite music have to your greatest musical experiences?

1 comment:

nick said...

In my experience (har har), talking about music as an "experience" is often a way to hide away musical experience in a kind of black box. After all, if music is a personal and ineffable experience, then what is there to pick apart, to analyze?

That said, I don't think this is always true about "experience"-based accounts of music. I've been to some musical events that were undoubtedly experiences, in the enveloping, continuous, thick sense. (Rhys Chatham with 200 guitars comes to mind.) But while these experiences did seem to owe a lot to vulgar phenomenalism, there is still plenty to discuss. My experience didn't have to be an impenetrable thing, immune to analysis, but I still think it was in some way fundamentally about experiencing.