How I See Music / Music as a Vessel


Oftentimes, I try to convince myself that there is more to the world than music. I know it’s true. The songs I consume are only a small sliver of what’s out there. Yet, despite the attempt to convince myself, I still have trouble seeing the world in a non-music lens. Everything, to me, is music-related. 

I think a lot about music. What it means, its role (if it has one), why I like it so much, etc. The third topic is what I want to focus on. I feel as though something that permeates my life in so many ways deserves examination. And the examination would be valuable for myself and other music lovers, and maybe even for people who interact with the world through a music lens like I do. 

Why I like music goes hand in hand with how I see music. The two topics are closely tangled together. 

I see music as a container. Each song, album, artist, genre, era, playlist, sound is a vessel. The vessels are not completely empty nor are they completely full. The space that is already filled is the meaning inherent to the music. A song, for instance, has ascribed meaning put there by the artist. The meaning can be found anywhere in the music, such as the lyrics, the instrumental, the tone, the sounds, the subtext of the words, etc. 

What I love most about music is not the meanings put into the music by the artist, rather it is the meanings we as listeners put into the music ourselves. We usually do this individually on our own, or sometimes in groups. Our personal meanings fill up the empty space in the vessel.

For me, my personal meanings of music are generally saved through memories. Memories are associated with specific songs. Hearing these special songs brings a rush of past experiences that make up who I am. The songs capture that time and place and put them into a contained recording that I can access at any time. I like that songs can capture these experiences and wrap them up so beautifully. 

Music as memories (and memories as music) bring about two benefits that add to why I love music so much. First off, music memories serve as documentation for the past. Songs become archives that record past events and experiences. Playlists full of these special songs become history books. The music records your personal history. I think this is both cool and useful in saving past experiences and telling stories. 

Secondly, music memories are great in taking you to different places. I see music as the Great Relocator. Music is capable of moving its listeners. I’m not talking about physically moving people, although it can inspire dance and movement. Rather, I mean music lifting listeners up from where they’re at and bringing them far distances away. In my life, for example, I am sitting here writing this down. But the moment I press play on Turnstile’s “Mystery,” I am no longer here. The surroundings here aren’t what I experience. I am standing on top of my favorite hill back home in San Francisco overlooking the city on a crisp, clear morning (a beautiful memory). Or if I decide to listen to the Neil Young song “Cowgirl In The Sand” (the live at Massey Hall 1971 version), I am driving on a rainy, dark highway in Central California with my friend Marcus coming home from a wonderful visit of old friends (another beautiful memory). This is what I mean. Music can transport us to different times and places. When I’m listening to one of those special-to-me songs, my body may be here where you see it, but am I really here? You know? Music takes me off into a different world.

I put on a song and close my eyes. There are a few questions that I ask myself. Where does this song take me? What do I see/sense around me? I love asking these questions with other people as we listen to music as a group. It’s exciting to hear the places and times that they are taken to. The answers to the questions bring up the associations, both to memories and to unknown possibilities, that we hold with certain music. 

These associations are the personal meanings that fill up the rest of the space in the vessel that I see as music. Thinking of music as memory-filled vessels is definitely not the only way to see it. But it’s a perspective that I’ve held onto and one that has enhanced my listening and lived experiences. It has also challenged me to examine my notions surrounding music, this intangible unexplainable medium that I love so deeply. 

Like in life, there is never just one way to see something. Music is the same. I offered my vision but it is not the only or best way. Just keep listening. -OK

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