The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
Words, visual art, and music, all have the inherent potential to transport their audience to other places and times. Music is a little different from the other two because it is channeled through hearing which feels like a more “physical” sense than plain sight. If we had a hierarchy of the senses, then perhaps the faculties of taste, touch, and smell would come first in their ability to convey a direct, tactile input from the surroundings. Sight, at the other end of this structure, would be the foundation of a vast part of all relatable experience and so the primary fuel that drives the engine of thought. But sight does not share the same, intimate relationship with its environment that taste, touch, and smell do. If we consider all input into the human sensory apparatus as waves emanating from the source object, then the way sight is processed by the brain feels like it has the least to do with any immanent property of the source object.
All of this is scientifically null and void, of course, and modern science even postulates the existence of more than just the five senses described by tradition, but just to take this train of thought a little further, hearing, then, would form the middle tier in this hierarchy of senses, curiously caught between competing spheres of influence. On the one hand, there is something definitely tangible about hearing music as an assault on the senses, registering on a physical level because of the very real changes in the organization of particles about the subject. However, once it gets past the initial check-points, sound assumes an abstract aspect capable of being interpreted in multiple ways in a manner not dissimilar from the agency of sight. Hearing, just like sight, then turns out to be the higher sense; while taste, smell, and touch can act as launching pads for reminiscence, there is little in their nature to spur the wheels of cognitive human thought.
Through the jungle by the river Styx
I’ve journed long and far this day
Lurking shadows in the parapets
Will never make me turn away
Darkened city veiled in crimson mist
Entombed in time without decay
Never thought it would be like this
It feels like I’m living inside a dream
But my mind tells me I’m
Lost in Necropolis
Music also has the peculiar ability of invoking images of places that one may never have had visited. Not through the blatant use of ethnic instruments and techniques that a lot of world music dabbles in, but a certain mix of words and internal lyricism that brings before the listener a foreign world in vivid detail. With just the right balance between music and words, the mind can leapfrog physical constraints and draw on all sorts of interesting correlations to entrench itself in a different space, complete with its own fully-flourishing eco system.
The following three songs, wildly varying in style, illustrate this unique phenomenon. Toto‘s pop classic ‘Africa‘ from the early 80s uses looped drums, exquisite lyrical passages and a simple yet timeless melody to realize the dark continent with its savage ululations, crying hyenas, and open savannas. Manilla Road‘s banner song is straightforward, driving heavy metal that still conjures Robert E. Howard’s fantastical campy landscapes with zero self-referential deprecation. Ildjarn-Nidhogg’s ‘Northern Winds‘ is the purest and most musically literate of the three, with its gentle, snow-peaked ambience and faint, oriental leanings giving rise to a rich conflict of emotions in the listener.