Music to Nobody‘s Ears

I winced as we sat in the audience of an experimental music concert played by a string quartet. Calling it music was being generous. It was more like the sound of a subway car screeching on the tracks, mixed with nails on a chalkboard, and choruses of crying babies on an airplane.

“I don't get it,” I whispered to my husband as the quartet tweaked their instruments so violently that strings began to break loose and fly up in the players' faces.

“Experimental music is about seeing how far the players can push their instruments to get new sounds,” he explained.

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“If the instruments ignite and explode, does that mean they succeeded?” I asked.

My husband had brought me to this concert in an effort to expand my cultural horizons. Apparently, though, my horizons were not that willing to be expanded. The music was so profoundly unlistenable that had I done some research beforehand, I might have chosen to do something less painful, like stab myself in the eye with my mascara.

The first composition was based on the distinct warblings of an Inuit throat singer. While I'm sure there are people who appreciate this kind of music, for me it was about as pleasing to the ear as a stadium of vuvuzelas blasting at the World Cup.

“It's actually supposed to be dissonant,” my husband said when I complained.

“If dissonant is a synonym for torturous, then they’re right on track,” I replied.

In his defense, my husband is a musician and a composer, so he tends to be much more open to new musical experiences than me. As his wife, I try to be open to experiencing them with him. Unfortunately, I have a limited tolerance for these kinds of things. Call me crazy, but if a musical piece sounds like a power tool drilling metal crossed with a terrified cat, I have a hard time appreciating it as an art form.

“Why did we come here again?” I asked my husband.

“The tickets were gifted to us.”

“Did the person who gifted you the tickets have a grudge against you and want you dead?” I wondered.

The next piece of music was accompanied by a performer. As she started to warble, I was struck by the extremes a human voice could achieve, but not in a good way. Her voice got higher and higher until it was almost at a pitch that only dogs could here. I turned in terror to the windows expecting them to shatter from the frequency. The sounds were so alien that at any moment, I expected Godzilla to come through the side of the building to take down Mothra.

I looked over at my husband and realized that he was the only one in the audience who did not have a pained expression on his face.

“How are you not horrified by this?” I asked incredulously.

“I’m used to it,” he whispered.

“From your studio?” I wondered.

“No,” he said. “From your mother.”

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