Thursday, April 15, 2010
I've been ruminating about the difficulty of describing something I hear while listening to music into langauge that makes sense to a reader. The problem as I see it is that sound exists as a physical reality, but my experience of it when listening to music engages me in a way that I can only describe for the most part metaphorically. Let's rule out a reviwer of stereo equipment merely listening to test tones and reporting back to the listener, let's be brave and think about using actual music to describe equipment performance. According to some linguists, our conceptual structure is metaphoric (I'm thinking of Lakoff and Johnson here, Metaphors We Live By, and Women, Fire and Dangerous Things, neither of which I have re-read in the last 10 years or so, so please forgive any accidental misrepresentations). Depending on the way a piece of music, or a phrase or bar within that piece is interpreted (heard?) by the listener, the conceptual structure and descriptive metaphor that they would use to describe it will be different. Variations in how individuals interpret and use metaphor (because of cultural or experiential differences in their conceptual structures) make matters even more complicated. Professional audio equipment reviewers use words such as: "detailed," "rich," "warm," or "liquid" to describe elctronic performance. It seems to me that by using those terms that I would be adopting a particular conceptual structure that is not native to my experience, but is instead learned through frequent exposure to it in the context of magazine and online reviews. So where does one go from here? In what manner can we establish the source of our metaphors clearly? Would it ever be possible to completely forego them? Should we just have two categories of stereo equipment review: "Sounds great" and, "It sucks?" Perhaps trained musicians have an entriely different vocabulary (although I believe a number of professional stereo reviewers are both classically trained musicians and recording engineers). Let me track down and bug some smart people who actually know something about music to set me straight.