Thursday, August 17, 2006

Music on the Move

Since my retirement, I’ve been indulging my twin passions, music and walking. The former has been a huge part of my life since the halcyon days of Radio Luxembourg; the latter is a recent activity, prompted by (a) my wife’s hints that maybe I wasn’t the golden Adonis she fell for thirty years ago (b) the simple, selfish fact that if I didn’t get some exercise, the heart might also start complaining (c) the acquisition of a dog, a Yorkshire terrier named Ziggy (no, he doesn’t play guitar) who demands a daily romp in the countryside.

I was never a walker; in fact, the only exercise I got was strolling around the classroom. And all my interests were sedentary as well. But it’s amazing how quickly things can change and now I’m as surprised by my new love of walking as I am by how quickly I seem to have forgotten all the years I spent teaching. The MP3 player, of course, allows me to combine my passions and this has led to some interesting discoveries.

I often think about how the environment affects my response to the music I’m listening to; also, the influence of music on how I perceive my surroundings. It goes without saying, I suppose, that there is a huge difference between how the same piece of music sounds in urban and rural environments. Furthermore, it’s amazing how the same music can sound brilliant on a dull day but ordinary enough in the sunshine and vice versa. If there’s a logic to all of this, so far it has eluded me. And I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love music so much; my favourite pieces have a protean quality that, depending on mood, time and space, can mean a hundred different things, transport me to a hundred different places (“Music is another planet”, according to the French writer, Alphonse Daudet) while, at the same time – and here’s the paradox – they exude a familiarity, a comfort that I respond to. And whether we like to admit it or not, we all – from the most doctrinaire avant-gardener to those of us who warble in the shower – need and love to be comforted.

Music on the move also creates a symbiotic audio/visual experience which has confounded some notions I’d more or less taken for granted. Contrary to all my expectations, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony sounded redundant in the meadows of Togher, while the ominous drums and blaring brass of Shostakovich were brilliant in the wide-open spaces of Cúil na Móna bog. Other memorable if unlikely combinations were Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo and a snowy morning in Emo Wood; the sun splitting the trees along the Watery Lane, Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall apocalyptic in my ears. Vic Chesnutt’s Is the Actor Happy? and anything by Howlin’ Wolf or Johnny Moynihan sounded great everywhere, but I still haven’t found anywhere that makes the latest albums by The Streets or The Futureheads sound anything other than the shuffle of tired minds over the same old ground.


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