The greatest #7: "On the Nature of Daylight"
Tonight’s not a night for words. Words fail, words lie, words fall frustratingly short of their meanings. I’m sick of them. So I exile my books back to the closet shelf, toss my mail into a growing mound, shut off the cell phone, put my laptop to sleep. I uncork a bottle of red swill and flop dumbly across the couch. The first song is coming on, unspooling like a ribbon. It’s dense and cryptic, abstract and indecipherable. In accordance with my mood, it’s an instrumental. A somber violin is drifting out of the soundscape; it seems to operate at the very threshold of revelation.
Lately, feeling exhausted by language, I’ve been drawn more and more to (primarily) instrumental music. Groups like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Do Make Say Think, Stars of the Lid, and Explosions in the Sky, and artists like William Basinski, Brian Eno and Max Richter who manage to find the greatest fluency outside of speech. Fittingly, there isn’t any good word that encapsulates what these musicians are trying to accomplish, though they often find themselves tagged with terms such as "post-rock," "neoclassical," "avant-garde," and "ambient." The phrase I fall back on is “epiphany music,” because it’s difficult to listen to a work as gorgeous as Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” and not feel utterly transported.
“On the Nature of Daylight” may well be my favorite instrumental track ever. In a little over six minutes, it can tear me open and leave me raw. It can produce a euphoria more substantive than drugs or a low like a freefall. With its soaring turns, it approximates flight. With its elongated measures, it draws out every transcendental breath from its strings section. The vibrato is deeply affecting too, as if the instruments have spontaneously started trembling with emotion. In the dialogue between cello and viola, every exchange feels charged and heroic. Every note feels like an iamb from an epic poem.
Now the wine is setting into my system, and my legs are sliding off the cushions. I’m feeling loose and untethered, and the song seems to instantly adapt to my new state. It takes on new meanings, new gradations of beauty. The main source of “On the Nature of Daylight”’s power is its open-endedness, inspiring infinite possibilities and interpretations. It could be the soundtrack to a newborn’s first visions just as readily as a dying man’s last rites. While lyric-based songs are largely affixed to set circumstances, instrumental music is more welcoming to the ineffable and improbable. It not only crystallizes your experiences, but heightens and expands them.
I could easily waste ten thousand more words on this song's potency, but I know my explanations would perpetually fall short. I’d always be skirting around the its edges, flirting with its mysteries. “On the Nature of Daylight” is just too good to adequately encapsulate, surpassing any attempts to deconstruct it. It’s also just the inherent nature of the exercise. Music has a primacy that the written word lacks, an eloquence with which "On the Nature of Daylight" can render everything else speechless.
* MP3: "On the Nature of Daylight" - Max Richter from The Blue Notebooks [Buy it]