I have a weird form of synesthesia; where most people see colors, I see/feel shapes when I hear music. It’s hard to describe, and doesn’t really make sense to anyone when I try to explain it, and so I won’t here. Bottom line: certain music that doesn’t “fit together well” in my brain causes me a lot of stress. Conversely, the music that does “fit” brings me peace.
It’s been interesting – over the years – to note which types of music cause me stress/peace. It’s not “logical” in the sense that “peaceful” music doesn’t necessarily manifest as such in my head, while what some would call dissonance is – increasingly – very soothing to me.
A good example begins at around 1:19 below:
Sonic Youth aside, the music that allows the shapes to line up in my head more than any other is that created by Thelonious Monk.
My love affair with Monk’s music began early and indirectly. Back when CD players were emerging, I was able to afford exactly two CDs. I bought: Fables of the Reconstruction and The Miles Davis Quartets’ ‘Round About Midnight.
These were good choices, and still stand up all these years later. In fact, I wrote about ‘Round About Midnight in this space not long ago.
I didn’t know it when I bought it, but, over time, I realized that the song that opens ‘Round About Midnight – “Round Midnight” – was composed by Monk. As this song really makes the shapes come together for me, I wanted to learn more, and found a used cassette of The Unique Thelonious Monk, which stayed in my car’s cassette player for years.
While I do largely think Monk’s music adheres to my definition of art – rewarding, but not demanding scrutiny – it’s a closer call than most. That is, I don’t know that Monk’s work flows as easily into most people’s aural spectrum as the work of others, but I do know for sure that the work rewards scrutiny like nothing else — for me at least.
What I’ve come to believe regarding Monk’s music – now after decades of listening – is that it provides a pure line of sight into something very few other artists offer.
While, for instance, Miles Davis and John Coltrane (I love their music so much that I had each played at the birth of of my children) are unquestionably artistic giants, the line of sight these artists provide is different than that which Monk presents.
Miles Davis knew, for instance, the vast cultural heft his music carried, and this results in a more complex relationship between the art and the listener. Much of Coltrane’s work – particularly, A Love Supreme, and the records that followed – were to a large degree a window into an artist’s spiritual quest.
Monk’s work, on the other hand, provides direct access into something else. To me, it’s the sound and shape of his soul.