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An Invasive Art
by Joel Caris
I listen to music in many different places. One of my favorites is in the car, which is perhaps where I can best concentrate on the music. It's a great place to listen to a new album and form an opinion on it. I'll listen to music when on the internet or writing, as well, but it tends to slip more into the background as my mind focuses on whatever task is at hand. I also listen to music when falling asleep, which is a habit I picked up during childhood. Yet, unless I'm drunk, the music I go to sleep to is really more background noise than something I'm actively listening to.
There is one exception to that, though, which is when I listen to loud music while napping or resting. Now, sleep is a bit of an odd thing for me. If I'm going to go to sleep for the night, I need to go through a routine to comfortably pass out. I need to brush my teeth, take off my clothes, have darkness. These are all necessary things. If I instead pass out in my clothes, lights on, then I'm going to sleep shallow and wake up intermittently until I finally drag my ass out of bed and go do all the sleep prerequisites. Similarly, if I lay down on the couch and pass out, I'm going to keep waking up from my light sleep until I finally give up the ghost, stumble upstairs and collapse, broken and weary, into my quite comfortable bed.
There are, however, times when I simply want to nap without falling too deep into sleep. It's during these times when music becomes a new experience, crucial and transcendent, able to create a specific state of mind. What happens is that I put on some music I really enjoy—usually something a little loud and with a decent beat, but sometimes an acoustic-type artist I love—and I turn it up loud. This can work both in my room, with me laying on the bed, as well as in my living room while laying on the couch. Then I simply close my eyes. I generally leave a light on (if it's not the middle of the day) so that my body doesn't think I'm really going to sleep for the night. Then, with the loud music enveloping me, I start to drift off to sleep.
The crucial aspect of this scenario, though, is that I don't really fall to sleep. Instead, I slip into that half-sleep state, drifting off with dream fragments invading my mind, yet still with a vague sense of the surrounding world and my life, my day, whatever is important to me at the moment. Everything becomes odd and distorted—a magnified and twisted reality in which typically one thought or concern comes to dominate. Meanwhile, it's all being interwoven with loud, sometimes pounding music that overwhelms and engulfs me, completely flooding my mind and mingling with whatever random thoughts have managed to dominate within this half-awake, half-asleep realm.
It really can be an incredible sensation. The music turns into a deep and satisfying experience. At times it can turn borderline tactile, the music twisting and morphing in my mind until it becomes something solid and concrete, rather than just noise. During these moments, the music somehow integrates into my life and thoughts and begins to invade the mundane realities of my day, taking simple events and turning them into strange and altered versions of themselves.
Other times, the music comes to dominate everything. Rather than integrating into my thoughts, it pushes out my mind's preoccupations and I'm left in something that is little more than a trance, slipping halfway into sleep mode and blocking out the physical world, living only within the music. This is a strange sensation and one that, frankly, I can't put well into words. It's as if the music becomes the world and I exist within it, but without building a world out of the music. The music is taken at face value and even though there is no physical reality to it—or a mental representation of a physical reality—it somehow contains my mind, my thoughts, essentially who I am. When that happens, the music takes on an almost spiritual quality, as though it is life itself, or the universe, or the underlying force behind everything. Of course, it's actually just an MP3, an iPod, and a mind teetering between the physical realities of the conscious world and the mental expansion of the unconscious world, but brought together and merged, these aspects entwine themselves and become something much more transcendent.
This is simply one more great aspect of music. Unlike a book or—to a large degree—a movie, music can invade the mind even when its unconscious. While a book or movie can influence dreams or the thought process during sleep, you can't experience them in real time while sleeping. You can't read a book. You can't watch a movie. Sure, you could be listening to a movie, but that's not the same as actually being struck by the visual representation of it while simultaneously asleep. Music is pervasive and deliverable even on an unconscious level. In a way, it's an essential art, capable of becoming as integrated into your reality as the oxygen you breathe. Even when not conscious, it can still affect you, which is a pretty incredible concept.
While the art form I most love is the written word, music is unique and exciting, offering up some amazing capabilities and flexibilities to work with. It's one of the reasons I love it so much and am so fascinated and compelled by strong, absorbing songs. They have a unique power that neither words nor visuals can quite match and the ability to influence your emotions and thought processes that other art forms aren't quite able to duplicate. There's an intimacy to music that exists in a slightly different realm than words or visuals and perhaps the way that music can invade even a person's sleep is one of the best examples of that.
And hell, if nothing else, it makes for a pretty cool nap.
Joel once slept through the entire Iron Maiden collection