Writing about music is hard, and I’m not sure many people go about it in the right way. I don’t think I do either, most of the time. Unless I’m in the (padded, soundless) anechoic chamber of analysis I’m rarely completely happy with how I’ve described musical events, processes or periods of time.
But I’ve come to two tentative conclusions, so far.
One: verbs. Music is temporal and active. When you hear a sound your eardrums vibrate, you are physically changed; with another sound they vibrate again, differently: music is happening to you. This physical enactment, in more-or-less discrete portions of time, is not common among the arts and, as the central conduit of expression and meaning, is unique to music. Adjectives, the preserve of most music writing, are almost useless in this respect.
Two: nouns. You don’t have to read much writing on the visual arts – a few sentences advertising the latest exhibition at the Tate will do it – to notice the presence of concrete nouns in such writing.
Using a variety of materials including rubber, glass and gold, Horn’s work has an immense beauty and sensuality to it.
The exhibition explores ideas that interest the artist about mutability and place. Her round, colourful cast-glass sculptures seem to have a liquid surface to them, and many of her photographs analyse the nature of water.
Those nouns, telling us what the art is made of, have tremendous power. We all know what glass, gold and rubber look like, feel like, smell like. Just reading those words we have an idea (it may be completely wrong, it doesn’t matter) of what those sculptures look like. Our imagination is fired: and that is the most valuable thing any writing about the arts can do, particularly if you are trying to sell the idea of a particular concert or exhibition to someone. If you can implant that idea of the work (again, it doesn’t need to be accurate, just delineated enough to concretise itself in the mind of the reader), then you’ve got the hook and you’ve sold the ticket: the reader now has a need to compare their imagining of the work with the real thing, a need that can only be met by attending in person.