The music all around

The following comes from my journal.

I was checking my music collection the other day to confirm that my backups are working. I noticed the folder for the artist “Atra Aeterna”, which brought back memories… This is abstract electronic music. Close to ten years ago, I used to listen to it for hours on end, exploring its otherworldly soundscapes while trying new things with the computer. I no longer listen to it, even though I think of it fondly. “Why?” I wondered and this prompted me to record these thoughts.

My music tastes have become less abstract over the years. I prefer songs that have lyrics and listen to Greek music—something I did not do in my teens and early adulthood, for example. The human element feels more proximate now. This coincides with my change of routines. I have consistent themes in my life, such as the coaching work I do, and the Emacs packages I maintain. My philosophy has also become more practical, at least the way I formulate and communicate my thoughts, even though it is still rooted in the highly abstract concepts I developed in the past. The language I use is simpler too. I will write the occasional long and complex sentence, sure! Though I largely am easy-to-follow (well, at least compared to my earlier works). Now my words are not impressive in themselves: they are ordinary and have nothing “intellectual” about them. Their quality is more subtle: it is the clarity of thought that runs through them.

Clear thinking is when we establish a connection between abstract themes and everyday phenomena. I can talk about something, like making bread, and still communicate lessons for life that have nothing to do with bread-making per se. It does not need to be pompous and professorial. The style does not shout “hey, this is philosophical palaver” and does not call attention to itself. No! It gets the point across like a bartender serving a glass of water to the drunks. I remember when I used to do that in the early morning hours to those who would ask for one last strong spirit before I would shut down shop. They did not need another round. Only water would save them from the inevitable collapse. “Save it for tomorrow mate; for there to be a tomorrow.” and I would give them the glass with the water. From the perspective of the customer, there is nothing fancy in a glass of water, certainly not compared to the exotic cocktails the bartender could have prepared. Even the name is bland when you compare it to the likes of “Sex on the Beach.” Yet water revitalises us, even if we do not always appreciate it in the heat of the moment.

Here, I did it again: what we need as opposed to what we want. Back to my point about clear thinking. The recipient of the message I convey eventually notices its profundity: the sentences are simple, not simplistic. At least such is my self-impression, from serving drinks, to communicating thoughts. What matters to me is that this is happening organically. I am not trying to force things to be a certain way. The greatest mistake is to find some “-ism” that finds currency among intellectuals and identify with it. I am not trying to be an “-ist”. Things just happen. I go with the flow and try to express myself in honesty. It is why I am writing this, after all: to reflect on the “why?” I stopped listening to Atra Aeterna. Let the academics figure out the “-isms” and let me do what I must.

The truth is that I have limited the total amount of time I spend with multimedia in general. I rarely watch videos (including my own) and listen to music only when I truly feel like it. Whereas I used to passively consume content from audio or video files. There would always be some noise in the background. “Noise” is the correct term, as the material was not at the centre of my attention. Perhaps I needed the stimulus as I was the product of city life. In the urban centres we are near constantly at the receiving end of intense sensory inputs. Think of the cars racing up and down the street. Everything is so fast. It feels unsettling when you compare it to how serene a natural scene is. The city lights and the boisterous streets, the multitude of mouthwatering (and addictive sugary/salty/greasy) tastes at every corner… We are used to the fast pace and high intensity. It happens every single day and is our normal level.

Passive stimuli, then, like the abstract music in the background, all those “daba duba” rhythms that we maintain in the periphery of our senses, are a reflection of our environmental conditioning. I must have needed something to be there as I was not used to the relative silence and perceived stasis. This is like how I used to feel when I cut back on salt and sugar decades ago: at first, even food with some salt would feel unsalted. Same idea with every stimulus. When we are used to the higher threshold, anything below it neither triggers nor fulfils us.

Having lived away from busy built-up areas for years, I notice how much I have changed physically. I am calmer as my body is less tense. The pace is slower. My tastes are more nuanced and I feel lighter. Life is almost effortless, despite considerable challenges (e.g. the hut’s leaking roof and walls, limited electricity, etc.). Whatever material constraints are still there, though I feel that I always start from my position of calmness. I am composed and do not feel disturbance. There is a mental or spiritual side to this, as I think things through with rigour and am highly disciplined, though I am now interested in the underlying physiology of my experience. If the city dweller is the product of their environment, then so are my mountains remaking me.

The move to the hut is the latest stage in this transformation of mine. I live close to a river and a stream. The area is full of birds of all kinds. From the small ones, to predators like owls and eagles. Black snakes, which are benign for humans, live in the perimeter of my house. They keep rodent populations in check, while they drive away the poisonous/lethal vipers. I consider these black snakes my guardians: their presence is reassuring. It does not stop there though. Frogs stay close to the waters. Lots of them! They keep producing their distinctive melodies. And I lost count of how many different types of plant are in my immediate vicinity. There is diversity from one end to the other. Life everlasting. I have learnt to pay more attention to the details. I am attuned to them. Like with the sound of cane leaves against the gentle breeze… It is barely noticeable but—oh my!—how beautiful it is. I believe previous versions of me would have missed this entirely or, at least, not appreciate it the way I do.

I no longer have music playing in the background. If I do listen to anything, I actually pay attention to it. As the days go by, I find myself doing this less frequently. The frogs, the birds, the trees… I am in their company now. Calm and easygoing, while I appreciate the inherent beauty of this world. Why renounce the world or try to escape from it, when we are born with the innate faculty of aesthetics? Why must I try to reason away this spontaneous sense of awe? And why consider reason the sole conduit to the truth? Rather, we can take a step back from the busy routines that limit our perspective. In the open vistas we do not just find breathtaking landscapes, but also the inspiration to imagine our self beyond the narrow confines of our preconceived notions.

I am changing to be more natural. Hidden in the open, as with all that is nuanced. Yet I retain my sociability and previous skills. There is no binary here. My conscience is expanding to cover more of the cosmic continuum. Perhaps I have developed another layer without undoing the previous ones. There is no media player running in the background. I am ready to appreciate the music that environs me.