What Music Does

A view on the IJsselmeer lake from Hoorn

The spark that lighted my life came from music. Music has always been present around me. My parents both played instruments and during my childhood, classical music was always there. Nevertheless, the conscious experience of being swept away by music was a bit later. I must have been about 8 years old and my elder brother played Summertime of Brainbox, Meddle of Pink Floyd and Pictures at an Exhibition of Emerson, Lake & Palmer on the old Dual pickup of my parents. Music that exposes life in all its emotional depth and I was carried away by it greedily… 

This is the first episode in a series of blog posts about audio and music. I dedicate this series to the late Onno Scholtze, balance engineer of Philips Classics. I once gave the photo that heads this first posting as a present to him. It shows the IJsselmeer near the town of Hoorn in The Netherlands. Onno once owned an antique wooden fisherman’s ship (a ‘botter’) and he lived near the IJsselmeer. He was a very sensitive man and passionate about audio. In my opinion he has made recordings that are among the most beautiful ever made. After his retirement, I spent many hours with him, listening to music in the anechoic room of the HKU University of the Arts Utrecht where I teach. We listened to old and new recordings of Onno but also to tracks of Björk and Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’. The absence of reflections in the room offered an unusual precision of the sound image, with lots of details and a stereo image stability that was sheer unbelievable. No one would ever want to live in an anechoic room, but it sure gives a unique audiophile experience. One time I was a bit late and I found Onno in his chair, eyes closed, and folded-over with his nose almost touching his knees – completely wrapped up in a live registration of Bruckner’s 8th symphony, that he made with just two of his DPA4060 miniature microphones. 

A view on the IJsselmeer lake from Hoorn
A view on the IJsselmeer lake from Hoorn

Why is it that music has such a strong influence on people? In “top 10” lists that people draw when they’re asked for the most important things in life, music always ends in the top 3. Even Einstein said “I get most joy in life out of music”. Perhaps we should listen to what the great philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) said about art: “Life is a futile business in which we are all slaves to our ‘will’ and prisoners of our fundamental, insatiable appetite for sex, food and security. The arts are the only way to liberate us from that treadmill for a brief moment, because they offer transcendence, an intellectual escape and a short breath of air. The best art form to satisfy this craving for freedom is music, because it is abstract: sounds are heard and not seen, and thus free your imagination from the prison of will and reason.“

Eelco Grimm

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