Have you ever thought about what you really mean when you say "I like that"? I've often used the word 'mystery' when talking about this issue. When some music has particular resonance, there's certainly a feeling of elation — that the sounds are 'right.' But what exactly does that mean? I've been thinking about this for several days, mostly because of a show I went to last Saturday night. I'll get to that in a bit but first let's get at this 'right' thing.
There seems to be several flavors of 'right,' some explained more easily than others. Let's take the idea of a guilty pleasure as our first example. I know people who absolutely hate hip-hop, but will be powerless to quell the urge to bust a move when they hear "Baby Got Back." Yes, the Sir Mix-a-Lot classic is pretty silly. It's also a load of fun. Why is it 'right'? It's still mostly a mystery but hey, what's wrong with just giving in to a goofy song. It's like being a kid again. Sort of. Another angle on 'right' is the thrill of the adrenaline rush. The new Mastodon or Green Day record comes out and sum of the tunes light up the endorphin channels. This music is fast and tumbling with kinetic energy. It makes you want to bust stuff. It's a good thing. A third way we get to 'right' is via the warm wash of emotions that move in when we hear a song that brings back a good memory. Yes, nostalgia can be powerful stuff.
What should seem pretty obvious is that every single person out there owns their own definition of 'right.' Are some of them close to universal? Probably, though it'd be hard to make the language intersections work.
All of which brings me to last Saturday. The headliner of the show was Providence-based indie folk band The Low Anthem. They seemed relatively young and so it was quite interesting to see all of the instruments being hauled onstage during setup: beside the 'normal' drumkit, acoustic guitar and electric guitar/amplifier combo, there was an old pump organ, standup bass, cello, clarinet, Eb horn (I've only seen one use of that horn before and that was at a Bill Bruford/Earthworks concert. Django Bates played one, though he called it the "peck horn."), and a set of crotales (which ended up being bowed, not struck). Hmmm, now I'm really interested…
To say that the music resonated with me does even begin to describe my reaction. The combination of the loping, almost old-timey music with the incredible harmonies sung by the trio sent me into a completely blissful state. In the middle of "Cage The Songbird," I had this thought about the music: that somehow it had been around forever and that I'd always known it…and that every listener in the room felt the same way.
Universal resonance, maybe? I don't know. I do know that I felt changed by the experience. Is there a hard definition for the meaning of "I like that"? After Saturday night, I no longer cared.