Music Speech and Dreams
December 20, 2016
It struck me, whilst listening recently to an interesting piece of music that a root human psychological response to music is akin to the experience one has when one is dreaming.
That when one is following in one’s mind a thread of harmonic orchestrated melody; and one is responding constantly mentally to its changes of tone, key, mood, tempo, timbre etc; one is experiencing a sequence of responses of the same order and makeup as are our dreams.
This of course was in intuition of mine and its basis in scientific terms is perhaps too subjective to be proven so easily? Only by examining oneself as one is listening or else dreaming; which I guess some people can and some people can’t do – is one able to get a hold on an insight into dreaming and into listening to music.
(I might add here that sleeping and dreaming having left the radio on a music station is an interesting ride; and helps somewhat in understanding what I am getting at in this essay)
The same ‘being absorbed by’ and ‘being led by’ the events happening ‘before one’s mind’ is a feature of our dreams as well as of our experience of listening to music. The way that these shifts - and - as I have used the term before – these ways of ‘being pulled about’ by music emotionally - becomes masters of us for the duration of our listening or our dreaming; and this is a common experience to both activities.
Dreams tend to take you (unaccountably) to unexpected places in sequences which are also unexpected and surreal. I say unaccountably because there is that element in dreams about which one feels one ought to know that one is ‘in control’ in the sense that the dream is being generated internally in one’s own mind, and that this control ought to mean that one ought not to be surprised by anything generated thus; yet this is not our experience of dreaming at all
Our dreams constantly surprise us by whereabouts they go to and how they join things up together; how they make transitions and connections; almost as if there were some other force directing them other than our own minds and reflections? Even, in dreams, one is able to be shocked, or pulled up quickly to a halt in surprise; or to believe one did not know what the dream is putting forward as knowledge to you (which is a paradox and infeasible logically-speaking).
Yet at the same time our dreams are fluent and fluid; able to go forward continuously without pause and in a steady stream; oiled on the wheels of sleep. There’s absolutely no shortage of invention for them to mine and to draw out of one’s stock and so use in their flow. Even the least imaginative and the most literal and prosaic of us are able to stock our dreams with amazing and astounding numbers of phantasms, memories, half-life beliefs and even items we are not sure happened or whether they were dreamt by us. So that whatever is released, set-free in us when we give ourselves into the arms of sleep; whatever lid is taken off of our minds and consciousness; it is a lid which during daylight hours restrains, restricts, and a imposes an order on our apprehensions.
And this is our dream experience; that we are somehow made free; cut-loose, and set adrift on a sea of wonderful mythical creations in their strange and unfeasible hues and shapes. Thus we follow our dreams – like trawlers for fish are magnetically followed by gulls and by other birds, as being a sure source of food – and our awareness during sleep, at least at times when we have been able later to have woken and remembered our dreams; is of pursuing the narrative of our dreams wherever that narrative goes with all of its twist and turns. This means that although we have been set-free of those restraints of full consciousness we are set free only to be captive to our pursuit of the dream narratives.
Often we cannot direct our dreams; sometimes we are able to direct them; sometimes we get a feeling that the inevitable is about to happen in them; and often the inevitable - whatever it is - does happen – sometimes it does not.
And this following of the narrative occurs just as does The Wedding Guest’s following in Coleridge’s poem, who ‘cannot choose but hear’ the story of The Ancient Mariner.
It is the same experience as that had by us whenever we are involved in listening deeply to an absorbing piece of accomplished music in performance. The music leads us along; we are its tools and its fools; its objects on which its magic is brought to bear and captivates. Our line of response to such music is led along and is conditioned by and captive to the narrative of the music. Much of our response is emotional response; but there is more – there is a fully animated response which involves intellectual enjoyment, assent and surprise; and also a visceral response to tempo and its changes; as also to volume, to rhythm, to orchestration, and to chord changes and key changes. We are jogged around just like puppets on strings, just as we are in our dreamworlds; as we observe ourselves to be so.
Speech too has a modicum of the same characteristics. It is perhaps a halfway between our stringent conscious rigours of reasoning and discriminating – those things which are the sentries and guards which debar the dreamworld entering into waking consciousness – and that world by which we respond to music and also by which we respond to our dream narratives. Speech is a halfway place because speech is able to ‘run away with us’ sometimes. We often say more than we feel we ought to have said; and so we regret our looseness of tongue a good deal for having done so. And it was the great Karl Popper who said: “There is nothing I can say that may not be misunderstood’
Do we not find this happening on Twitter frequently? When a person is unguarded in their language and the Trolls pounce on an ambiguous or a loose phraseology so as to attempt to ‘bring down’ the errant Tweeter? The joy in destroying The Great and Good when they have mess up a little – indulging a vicarious envy and a self-deceptive self-righteousness? Or maybe sometimes just a form of blood sports not yet banned in law by the PC politicals?
However and whatever, speech, in the Bible, most famously perhaps in the Letter of James, is hauled across the coals again and again by the more Puritan of its compilers.
“The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.”
How many times has one said something which on later reflection was not at all like what one meant to say? Put one’s foot in it – especially when one is sleepy or off one’s guard in some way. It can be as if the dreamworld breaks through and peeps in just as one let one’s guard down and speaks ‘unadvisedly’. Thus often we find ourselves speaking other than what is discrete and instead speaking more like either a burlesque of what is ‘normal’; or else a surreal travesty of a response; or even nearer to the truth that we intended about how we actually feel on a topic.
As in vino veritas; so it is that in dreams and in unguarded speech; and in our honest responses to engaging music; lives the psychological truth about our own characters.
Stravinsky’s groundbreaking modernist musical classic The Rite of Spring; which cause riots at its premiers amongst its audiences; caused riots not because it was rubbish or bad; but because it elicited responses either suppressed by listeners because of their fears of ‘letting-go’ and indulging them; or else actually roused in them but causing them disgust and anger, which they directed unjustly at Stravinsky and at the musicians; a disgust and anger at and with their own responses – them thus denying to themselves, the ownership of themselves possessing those primitive elements of humanity which The Rite of Spring depicts and taps into.
This response of riot was a response almost as if a subversive dream had arisen into real life for Stravinsky’s first audiences; and so had had to be ‘put-down’ and ‘repressed’ because what it was saying was unacceptable in real life; as real life was considered to be at that time among that rank of person.
The conclusion seems to be that to be that we are conscious beings only in part; that a life of impulse and of instinct and of urges even in our most conscious moments peeps out and interferes with our secure and often proudly held rationality and self-control.
The upside to this inbuilt instability in our rational consciousnesses are the production by a few, and appreciation by the many, of the art masterpieces from down the ages to the present; of music and literature and so on; of poetry and drama; all of which enables us to engage with life on a plane beyond a strict rationality and controlled level for our ‘official’ lives and selves. We call it recreation and it divides into themes such as catharsis, therapy, light relief, uplifting, inspiring, thought-provoking etc etc
The truth is that when we are engaged with our deepest selves and thus we are talking ‘from the heart’ or else listening thus or else imagining thus; we are speaking listening imagining truth; provided of course that our deepest selves, our hearts, are themselves engaged with and in bedrock truth and the pursuit of that truth. There is thus a direct line with an express train running its length at speed from truth to speech and other human expression; but only whenever the fit is on us to delve to the source of those realms within us and seek the truth there.
In the gospels it is said by The Lord:
“When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak from Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He will show you things to come.” And so it is for myself; and I believe for us all; that this Spirit of Truth, which we are able to engage with at the level of our deepest communings within ourselves; is indeed that Holy Spirit which God places within us and which causes us to ‘groan’ along with His ‘Creation’ for that day when the time for purging, and for catharsis, for recreation and for uplifting and therapy is no longer necessary, because the time will have come which will have brought us to: “When ….. the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” At such a time, the time of the coming of Truth; ‘all shall be well; and all manner of thing shall be well”_ Amen. Amen.
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