Music and Words

When you hear, on a recording, the sound of a guitarist’s fingers scrape the strings, you’re hearing a sound unpurified to an extent that all of the reality of the musician’s engagement with the instrument remains. The connection between musician and guitar hasn’t been bleached out of the sound. At least that’s my opinion, as a person who’s never successfully played a guitar or any other musical instrument. This thought came to me after I listened to Terry Gross interview Nicholas Brittel, a composer who scored several recent films. I’ve always felt that sense of reality when I hear the “musician’s noise” that accompanies real music, but I’ve never really thought much about it until I heard the Brittel interview. He spoke of asking a violinist to play very lightly, but with enough energy to have “confidence.” And then he spoke of hearing the sounds of the instruments and the sound of air in the room. That’s what triggered my sense of liking the sound of a guitarist’s fingers as they scrape the strings. And that’s the sort of thing that translates well into scenes in writing. Little aspects of an experience that help paint a picture that, without those elements, would be bland or lacking in some fundamental way. It’s not just true of writing, though. It’s true of life. I think we enjoy life far more when we pay close attention to its smallest intrusions on our consciousness, like the scrape of a guitarist’s fingers on the strings. Or, more commonly perhaps, the sound of one’s spouse’s rhythmic breathing or the background noise of a clock ticking (though few do that anymore) or one’s own heartbeat. I hear my own heartbeat, pounding in my ear, especially early in the morning.

For months, I thought I was hearing some odd “house noise” like a furnace clicking as its heat dissipated. But finally, I realized it was my own heart. It’s probably not a good sign to hear my heartbeat so distinctly in my ear, but I really have no idea how to explain the noise to my doctor. He certainly cannot hear it; only I can. He might think I’m mad if I complain about a noise no one but I can hear. And maybe I am.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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