Thursday, August 14, 2008

Is a motorcycle trip like music?

I pose the title as a question because I know very little about music and some of my readers know a lot about various aspects of playing, composing and analyzing it. However, there are some things about music that I have grasped over years of seeing it made and listening to it, and I decided some weeks ago, while crossing the mid-west, that a motorcycle trip and music had several parallel characteristics. Proof that riding across the mid-west will cause one to have delusions.

The first obvious parallel is a beginning and an end. On one level the beginning can be the first note of a performance, but it might really be the lift of the baton by the conductor, focusing the players, or the opening of the score or the seating of the concert-master. At any rate, this is the beginning of a performance, but not the beginning of music. At a more personal level, the beginning of music is closer to a child's forming sounds and motions that produce sounds. The first efforts of a child making music continues through the last gasp of breath on the person's death bed. So the end is defined by either the last encore or bow or that scratching sound as the last performer's chair slides upon the floor. But there is a point when it can be called done.

So the trip begins and the trip ends. The plan is to go from the first note to the last note, but there is a definite opening of the score, raising the baton and seating of the concert-master. There is even tuning. Left carb a bit rich at idle, don't you think? A little sharp?

Loading the bike, the sound and vibration as the gas valve is twisted open in preparation of starting the motor, the click of the starter and then the first real note, often stumbling, cold idle of the engine. The click into first gear marks the end of the first movement, the prelude, and the release of the clutch marks the beginning of the next. Motion. Movement of air. Acceleration. Press the bars to initiate lean into the first turn. Twist the throttle. Repeat. Again. Adjust the body position for turns, 'caress the brakes and giant magnets hold you back' braking, re-position to get more air in the face, to get less air in the face. Breath in. Enjoy. Be cold-hot-wet-dry. All in a day. The theme repeats, with change in texture. Smell great smells, or the other kind.

Stop for gas-food-bathroom: the intermission. Or the period when the person puts down the instrument for some years, then goes back to it to once again experience the joy of making music. or riding....

Back on the road, feeling that automatic activity that results in motion or music. Shift at just the right time, on the beat. Enter a turn a little late, forcing some creative phrasing. Drag a footpeg in a tight, off-camber turn resulting in a bit of discord. Act like a cat, denying that you made that error in judgment because no-one saw you do it (or did they?). Wave at another cyclist as if to acknowledge the solo they just played. Smile to acknowledge the solo you just played. Return to the theme, play it again, Sam. Brake hard for some unexpected thing - change of tempo, change of texture. Repeat and get it right this time. Downshift and accelerate hard, perfect sound reaching red-line and a shift has to happen. Smooth, good clutch timing, flutes coming in on time up up up and an up-shift that converts the engine to an oboe suddenly. Mournful pull from the belly of the bike. End of that movement. Audience stirs in their seats, anxious to hear the piece build. Anticipation. Wonder. Do I remember the road? Have I heard/rode this before? Will I want to return to it again? Why? Why not?

And the next movement celebrates the day ending, sun setting, temperature falling, a little too cold in the low spots and shadows, refreshing in the places the sun beats on the back and shoulders. Just like those cellos drawing simple emotions from blacks spots on paper, linear bow motion converted into lump-in-the-throat or shivers down the spine. The day ends. The conductor bows, the audience stands. The players pack up and prepare themselves for another trip home, knowing they will once again dog-ear that page of music and convert it from two dimensional monochromatic notation to four dimensional energy that excites and calms, elicits hormones to flow, feet to tap, and even tears to escape tightly bound reservoirs.

The promise of another performance is the promise of life. It allows one to close the case, grab the handle and walk out of the room nodding to the other players. That is the ride. Repeat again and again. Fuel, ignition, neutral, engine switch, clutch - start - click into first gear - release clutch and the music plays again inside the helmet. No MP3 player needed - making your own music. Score by Nature, arranged by Chaos. All is well in the world. Bravo! Bravo!

Dream about the ride all night. Encore ...


anilia said...

ah, encore indeed!

erica said...

Dude. Yes. One of the things I think about, since I'm working with rhythm a lot right now, is the fact that music is a temporal art. You can't go back to it like a painting, or stop and reread a sentence like you can in a book (unless you rewind your recording, which kind of ruins the flow of it), so your experience listening to a piece of live music in particular is a unique one that can never be completely recaptured, much like a road trip. Great composers purposely compose with this in mind, repeating certain phrases or rhythms that may have been quirky the first time but that make more sense the second time, or playing with listener expectations about what's coming up since so much of our listening expectation is based on what we've just heard. It can be hilarious when they set up one expectation and then pull the rug out from under a listener. There's probably some motorcycling metaphor in there... I just don't know what it is. =)

So to sum up: yes.

OldBikeRider said...

On of my early musical influences, Eric Dolphy, on a record that Peter had, said
"When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again." (see Eric's MySpace page)

I think what Dolphy describes is MUSIC. Not recorded stuff. For me, not written music as I am not notation literate.

This is why I enjoy (and think of) performance music as a unique medium. Of all recorded technology, the walkman cum iPod is to me the most notmusic as putting the earbuds in the ear remove all ambiance, well all subtle ambiance, in addition to sharing the musical 'shared experience.' To me music is 'out' in the Dolphy sense of the word. And so is the ride. I can take you back to ride on a favorite road, but my ride is unique and even if you are within 100 feet of me, it is your ride. If I had the physical ability, I think I'd enjoy bicycle rides even more. I really am energized by walking alone or with the dogs. With people there is too much temptation to use language to communicate.

Thanks for the comments!

OldBikeRider said...

I am thinking of recording the sounds of the ride and mix it into a podcast. Hold your ears!

The best converted into the worst.

Loud valves save lives
The wind
Long red light
Other traffic
Bug hits the shield (splat!)