While jogging last week, I perceived a new quality to the album Absolution by the band Muse. It matched my movements to such a perfect degree so much of the time, that I wondered if the music was deliberately created to for exercise junkies. At times, I felt pushed by the music, and at times I felt great happiness as my participation with it.
This got me thinking. I do not argue against the value of deep listening, as advanced by On an Overgrown Path. I have had deep meditative experiences in concert halls and in other settings where mindful listening was required. Music such as Jonathan Harvey’s Bhakti or John Adam’s The Dharma at Big Sur does seem to loosen the unconscious and connect us with a sense of unity, but even less experimental music (by modern standards) as Beethoven symphonies can do this to me under the right conditions.
When I picture this kind of deep listening, I think of concentrated silence and restraint of movement. I wouldn’t immediately think about music-inspired movement as “deep listening”. I associate the idea of deep listening and meditation, which lines up with what – I would guess – many people perceive meditation to be: mindfulness while sitting still and being quiet.
However, there are meditations on movement, and perhaps we can say the same about deep listening. I’ve found much music benefits from simultaneous movement. No, I can’t listen to Tosca while exercising (though I, regrettably, tried once), but some music opens like wine that’s been allowed some time to breathe when the listener moves in reaction to it. The music accents and compliments the movement, and a virtuous cycle emerges of co-creation of the moment.
Most powerfully, this happens in live settings where the “musicians” and the “listeners” engage in an energetic back and forth of giving. I’ve experienced this both as musician and audience, in commercial settings and spiritual settings.
But even recordings can do this when paired well. Last night while riding my bike in an empty street, I listened to some plainchant, and the ride was transformed from transportation to a kind of dancing flight. The music changed my perception1. I’ve had many similar experiences, and I’m sure many other people have.
When music connects like this, the line between listener and musician becomes ever more blended, and together they creatively alter experience itself. Yes, the musician creates the music, but they together make the moment. The dancer does this. The jogger does this. The driver. The dishwasher. The walker. The person sitting with their eyes closed. It’s hardly glamorous, but it is relevant to them and to anyone who wants to find new musical and life experiences and deepen their love of music.
I don’t, naturally, recommend listening to headphones while biking where there’s much traffic of any kind. Just thought I’d throw that disclaimer out there. ↩