Morning thoughts: Multisensory Musicality


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Stables by Franz Marc.

*New fun writing exercise: morning pages go public! So this post may not be much of anything interesting for the reader; it might be more for me. It’s going to be a little rambly (but not entirely unedited) and I’m going to let it be. 

My head is foggy, freshly woken from strange dreams. I was at a concert, Shayne was there. Lots of people and I was kind of having fun, but kind of lost. I was supposed to be on stage (maybe, for a second) but was sort of roaming around in this gigantic and crowded forum.

I was supposed to be playing music. I AM!

There is no guitar here and I miss the feel of the strings under my fingertips. I never thought I’d crave that.

Playing music is a tactile thing too. On my way back from the kitchen this morning, I stopped and played the out of tune piano, smooth white keys. It feels good, but not familiar. Not that feeling that comes with 25 years of (casual) playing, as is the case with my acoustic guitar.

But it’s more than just about touch. The tactile feeling is accompanied by a knowing, a muscle memory, the way the mind and body just connects flows into this way that is unique to you only.  Then, listening.

So then when we play a song we get sight, sound, hearing, touch, mind-and-body-memory. Something so familiar, but still entirely unique.

When I play guitar (for myself), I’m in flow. Something about being so completely immersed and the way my fingers know…it reminds me of something, but makes me forget.

In my yoga class (connecting to yoga through creativity) we have been focussing on the way we interact through the senses. I never realized how much sight really is key for me right now, until I realized how the brightness of colour in the paintings in the art museum the other day changed something inside of me. The photo above is of a painting of my new favourite painter: Franz Marc.

A german expressionist whose primary subject was animals, he was drafted to WWI front lines and then was included on a list of artists that Germany deemed too important to lose in war. But he was killed before they got to him with this information.

Back to music: I never thought about how many of the senses are combined while playing music. One can be (or maybe, must be) completely immersed. So we forget about everything else because our brains need us to.

I’ve heard that musicians tend to have less age-related brain deterioration, likely because of the ways that the brain is used when playing music. I wonder if this has anything to do with the ways that the senses combine in new ways?

Speaking of multisensory, I heard this really interesting story which is a part of this Radiolab podcast-–it’s about a blind woman named Emily who (through a special device) learned to see with her tongue. Supposedly this is representative of the brain’s capacity to build new sensory pathways.

So the senses combine in unexpected ways all the time, especially (maybe) when one of them dies, and especially when we create. It’s important to ‘see’ the art, to listen to music (eg: as ‘input’), but what is really happening when we create, especially at a high level as a skilled musician or artist would?

And what about learning to feel sounds, or taste visions, like Emily? Is it really possible to see with your tongue, or hear with the sense of touch? Does someone lacking one of the senses also continually carve new neural pathways?

We have the observer, but what of the creator? Does that person’s brain use different pathways than another?

Are these two things related, in some way, in terms of showing the capacity that our brains have to interpret and process new senses? Is our brain’s action of carving new pathways an intrinsic part of the entire creative (input and output) process?

And is this why, while listening to music and seeing art is deeply satisfying, it’s not entirely it—at least, not in the way that making it is?

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