Sunday, August 30, 2009

Music and Silence

Music and silence are both supposed to be golden, but most are terrified of their Midas* touch. That is why both are hedged with ritual, or else trivialized – music to Musak, silence to 'peace and quiet', meaning a comfortable background hum. Otherwise they may gild everything, big and little, and that we don't want. We want to keep sex dirty, friendship efficient, work detached or crooked. We don't want to be noble. Music or silence, either one heard clearly, would ennoble every thing or else explode it. By playing background music we kill both birds with one stone.
Yet the use of background music finds a noble justification in Plato. Plato counted musicians among craftsmen by whose grace 'our young men, dwelling as it were in a salubrious region, may receive benefit from all things about them, whence the influence that emanates from works of beauty may waft itself to eye or ear like a breeze that brings from wholesome places health, and so from earliest childhood insensibly guide them to likeness, to friendship, to harmony with beautiful reasons'. Music is aligned not with drama but with inferior design, with vases and kraters and the ancient equivalents to wallpaper. It is part of the environment and can benefit us without our noticing it.
The Recording Angel, page 168

(*"Midas asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold.")

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