Category Archives: PhD

Who Am I? [Part I: Relating To Music – and the Rest of Reality Too]

Who am I, musically speaking? It’s a tough question to answer as living beings change and grow (and stagnate and wither too…) and where we are at any one time is something that can be quite difficult to pin down, and where we are going long term can be even more difficult to see. Really, adding an extra dimension to our perception of reality would make things a lot easier, although hopefully it would be less disturbing than it was for Donny Darko. As part of my PhD, my supervisor, Robert Davidson, has been encouraging me to look at myself, study myself, and understand myself and how that all fits together to make my music.

So let’s start with a smidge of self-analysis and explore first my relationship with music, and then expand outwards from there.

Relating To Music – and the Rest of Reality Too

I am already quite an introspective person by nature, and my focus in everyday life is definitely more inwards. Events happen but it is the internal consequence of those events that I tend to be orientated towards. This is true with listening to music and also with writing it. My primary way of relating to a piece of music or art etc is:

  1. The music is heard
  2. I have a response to the music in some form
  3. I observe that internal response
  4. If that response is unusual or special then my conscious mind starts to analyse, deconstruct and catalogue the event so as to understand both my response and what caused that response.

For example, I was recently listening to a work by Unsuk Chin for orchestra, and was particularly struck by one of the Timbral combinations which just had a very magical and alluring quality. Part of my brain then catalogued an impression of this timbre and the instrumentation. However, the magic didn’t last for me musically. The sonority was just one in a string of aurally distinct/unrelated sonorities. It was like finding a diamond in a bucket of polished stones, only to have it sink out of reach as other stones were ever added.

This was how it felt to me, and my conscious mind then analysed that experience and came to the follow conclusion:

This is one of the things that I dislike about this style of music, there are so often very striking and beautiful sonorities or moments, that are ultimately seem to be treated more as happy accidents than receiving the attention I feel they deserve.

What is important about this is reflection is that it shows how I relate to music. The importance of music to me is as a means of self-discovery, of internal astronomy, or perhaps archaeology. A way of uncovering what is already there, but unknown or unseen or unexpressed. It is not about subverting aesthetic conventions or trying to start a 3rd Viennese school, or experimenting. For me, this is what art is – a mirror held up to our minds and consciousness so that we can see what they look like. However, because we can’t ever see the entirety or it, or see it with the clarity a mirror lends us for examining the physical reflection, we have to explore this internal world through an ongoing process of exposure to a variety of ‘mirrors’ to see what remains true despite the change. As such, art – well, all of life does this really – provides an opportunity to apply perceptual differentiation to our consciousness as a means of discovering ‘deeper truths’.

However, what is interesting about this observation is that it very closely mirrors my Myers-Briggs personality type (INFP). While I wont go into a lot of detail about this, there are a few choice pieces of information about INFPs which relate directly to my relationship with music. The following, in fact, is the first sentence from the top Myers-Briggs site on google:

As an INFP, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit into your personal value system. Your secondary mode is external, where you take things in primarily via your intuition.

From <>

Both of these elements are clearly at work in my music listening process (outlined above), and it doesn’t surprise me that what is true broadly would be true in this central aspect of my life. While Myers-Briggs typing has never been properly scientifically validated, it does present a format for considering our thinking about and comprehension of reality, and I do feel some of the descriptions can be useful ways of discussing our perception and relationship with reality.

While I likewise think that,¬†even if valid,¬†human’s are more complex than the 16 Myers-Briggs categories can truly account for, there is nonetheless one strong message which has always stuck with me; People are different. Not better, not worse, just different. And so as strange as it is for me to think that some peoples’ relationship with music may be one largely of exploring the sonic frontiers or achieving the realisation of some philosophical ideal through sound, for me at least, such holds little interest ultimately… And that’s fine. And if you’re different, that’s fine too.

Ultimately, my music-making fills the following needs:

  1. Self-exploration, which also feels very similar to what Maslow termed self-actualization.
  2. Connection and Communication. For me, talking with people (with some few exceptions) is not really a comfortable way for me to express the deep undercurrents of thoughts and feelings that go on. Music fills this need – or at least, it can – and allows me to feel connected where my inwards focus can be very isolating. The need to communicate is still very strong, it’s simply that language often seems to lack the subtly required, especially in the spoken form.
  3. Something to do & something to hope for. There is a quote, whose origin seems uncertain, that we humans really need three things to be happy: Something to do, something to hope for, and someone to love. Composing does fill the first two of those needs. It provides a satisfying and rewarding work and countless things to hope for, even if there is plenty of soul-crushing rejection and indifference too.