Tuesday, May 10, 2016

New music versus new fiction

Listening to a new album is a different experience to reading a new novel. I think this hints at some of the differences between the media.

When I listen to music for the first time, I go through a process of discovery, second by second, as the music unfolds and gradually forms into a sequence of sounds that makes sense over time. When it is music that I love, I get shivers down my spine and a tingly feeling all over, and I know that I will listen again, often. At the same time, I sometimes feel impatient to become familiar with the music, so that it becomes part of me that I can anticipate, rather than something unknown I am discovering.

Reading fiction for the first time is also a journey of discovery, and also involves connecting the memory of what has gone before with the new words acquired one at a time. As the story unfolds, I feel engaged and enveloped by it. I want to carry on reading to find out what happens next, but at the same time, if the story is good, I feel reluctant to get to the end of it and have to leave the fictional world. But I don't have the sense that being familiar with the story and anticipating how it develops could be better than the first reading, as I sometimes do with music.

Music is intended to be experienced repeatedly. When you love a piece, you can listen to it hundreds of times, often more than once a day, and still love it. Sometimes you become too familiar and grow tired of it, but later return to it and enjoy it with a fresh perspective. Some favourite pieces accompany us throughout our lives, or are rediscovered at later stages, when we are different people and have a different reaction to our old loves.

I'm not sure if novels are deliberately written with the thought of being read more than once. In fact, we say we "reread" a novel after the first experience, but never say we "relisten" to a song. This choice of words reflects a perceived difference in the experiences. While most of us have "reread" our favourite fictional works, there are also books we read once and enjoy, but never think to open again. I estimate that I have read the novels I love most perhaps 10 or 20 times over many years, which is significantly less than the times I listen to music I love.

Music can accompany us while we are doing other things. I listen to music while working, while driving (long journeys only), and when I'm on public transport. Reading is its own activity and requires one's full attention. But I don't think this is the only reason for the difference in frequency. I think the familiarity with music increases our enjoyment of it more than our familiarity with fiction.

A good day involves both listening to music I love and reading good fiction, with my preference being for familiar music and new fiction!

1 comment:

Ariadne said...

I totally agree with what you say about reading books. I don't listen to music much, usually in the car or at some tavern. I guess the fact that music is shorter (as songs tend to be less than 3 minutes) is easier to listen to again and again whereas a book is more difficult to read and reread. I rarely reread books. AriadnefromGreece!