clipboard01Music is a form of art, and although there are many ways to define art, one definition is “intentional specialness”. We live in a universe ruled by randomness and chaos, and things that aren’t chaotic (meaning they have elements of planning, intention, predictability, uniqueness, etc underpinning them) register in our minds as interesting.

Put another way: the universe is a random series of numbers (1, 4, 2, 7, 9, 3, 6, 4, 1, 2) while art is a non-random series (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4).

Art is a man-made island of reason in an ocean of stochastic chaos. Even works of art that seem chaotic (like a Jackson Pollock painting) have “intentionality” behind them. Pollock wants his paintings to look that way. It’s not an accident.

Listen to the sounds around you. Bird chirps. The humming of an air conditioner. A passing car. All of it’s just a boring canvas of random noise. But then, consider music: a series of frequencies carefully arranged in time by a composer. A steady beat. A steady rhythm. An E superimposed over a C# to create a sad minor third. A submediant (VI) resolving back to the tonic (I). All of it planned, all of it deliberate.

The power of music isn’t that it sounds pleasant (noise rock, death metal, etc). It’s that it’s special!

So why does music sound empty to you?

Assuming your brain is neurologically undamaged, my guess is that you’ve listened to so much of it that the “specialness” has gone away. That it’s been a part of your life for so long that your brain has totally habituated to it and you no longer perceive it as distinct or different to the rest of the background noise in the world.

William S Burroughs said that the new addicts shoot smack to feel good, while old addicts shoot smack to feel normal. And eventually you stop feeling anything at all.

We rely on specialness to give our lives meaning, but it’s short lived and easily destroyed. The first act of sexual intercourse on a movie screen was a transgressive, outrageous statement. The 2,436,734th act of sexual intercourse was just lazy button-pushing.

But people still keep trying. Much of our lives are spent shuffling around in the dark, trying to recapture the ghost of specialness that was exorcised long ago.

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