Aside Archives

What is music? There’s no end to the parade of philosophers who have wondered about this, but most of us feel confident saying: ‘I know it when I hear it.’ Still, judgments of musicality are notoriously malleable. That new club tune, obnoxious at first, might become toe-tappingly likeable after a few hearings. Put the most music-apathetic individual in a household where someone is rehearsing for a contemporary music recital and they will leave whistling Ligeti. The simple act of repetition can serve as a quasi-magical agent of musicalisation. Instead of asking: ‘What is music?’ we might have an easier time asking: ‘What do we hear as music?’ And a remarkably large part of the answer appears to be: ‘I know it when I hear it again.’

Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis writes on why we love repetition in music and the neurological effects repeated songs have on us. Hat tip: Brian Groat.

One of my favorite essays of all time is by David Ramsey in Oxford American on Lil Wayne, called I Will Forever Remain Faithful. I’m used to movies, books, even songs making me tear up occasionally, but not essays, but this one does every time. It’s worth Googling the songs mentioned and quoted in the headings, it gives an interesting soundtrack to the writing and after listening the essay is worth re-reading. I miss that old Lil Wayne, too.

I don’t think I’ve said it publicly before, but Ramsey’s essay was actually the inspiration for my 1.0 Is the Loneliest Number which is one of the most popular pieces of writing I’ve published.