Reverb is a physical phenomenon present in all spaces. When a sound is emitted, like when somebody claps in a large empty room, the sound of the clap travels all around the space, bouncing off of the walls, ceiling and floor, until its energy dissipates. When you hear that clap, you are receiving the sound waves once directly from the colliding hands, a second time from sound waves that bounce from one surface of the room and then to your ear, a third time bouncing from surface to other surface to ear, and so on. This is why a large room carries a longer reverberation of the voice than a small room. The sound waves take longer to travel from surface to surface to ear drum. Physiologically, this is one way the human body is led by the ear. We enter a space, and by hearing any sound inside it, we comprehend the nature of the space, its size, material, even how crowded it is. Poetically, it is powerful to understand how the environment we inhabit literally takes part in amplifying and silencing certain voices.
The spiritual aspect of music has always been central to my personal experience as a listener and musician. Spirituality is a nebulous term that can mean different things for different people. The balance involved between emotion, intellect, symbolism, and physical sensation is one that has challenged and transformed me throughout my 21 years of life.
Why has music endured? Certainly, humanity’s enjoyment of music is clear. But amidst rising social, political, and natural conflict, the significance and influence of music seems small. What does it really do in our broken world? In my contemporary ensemble seminar, Professor Claire Chase began class by asking about our thoughts and feelings towards current events concerning the NFL, Donald Trump, and the state of our nation’s race relations. Honestly, my reflections made me discouraged, as practicing musical performance seemed to be an inconsequential response compared to activities like attending protests or calling my state representative. However, I could not let go of music entirely. Does music’s capacity to resonate deep within us truly yield negligible results in the greater narrative of life? I remember composer Jason Eckardt noting that if music was truly unnecessary for humanity to survive and flourish, then it makes no sense that music has not been evolutionarily phased out of our species millennia ago. Somehow, along the way of life, we must have forgotten the role music plays in constructing our world.
What of sonic space, then? Just as the dimensions, furniture, and flow of a room draw us to its original purpose, sound is a type of space, one with timbre, rhythm, and time organizing the listener’s experience. Some sounds draw us towards focus: white noise machines, gentle piano-solo music, cocktail jazz. Some sounds draw us to exercise: driving beats from hip hop or EDM. What, however, are we being drawn to when an artist takes their music in a dramatically different direction? When Bruno Mars drops “Uptown Funk,” when Taylor Swift releases “Look What You Made Me Do,” or when Bon Iver imagines “22, A Million”?