When Necessary Use Words: Explosions in the Sky

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Is music to be understood or experienced?

The difficult part of writing on, or discussing, a meaningful experience is that we run the risk of diminishing what was more amazing for us than we can attempt to match with the words at our disposal. “Awesome” is overused. “Crazy” sounds too frantic. “Righteous” rings a bit too much of the eighties. Though I don’t doubt your lexicon reaches beyond these clichés, a movie, a book, a poem, a concert that moves us (higher) incites some innate, beneficent desire to share, to want others to know the tingle, the warmth, the “a ha!”, the inside joke, the connection, the lift. This business of communication is an important one, indeed, and we constantly, consciously or otherwise, probe the limits of language when sharing what happens in our lives with others. Seeing Explosions in the Sky is an experience beyond words, causing one to wish that there were some beauty-language (i.e. Sigur Ros’ Hopelandic) that would successfully express to another a taste of what this band is about, what they create onstage, weaving wonders of aural alchemy that turn to some kind of gold when spread about enraptured audiences. The Texas-based instrumental band visited Congress Theater in Chicago on July 2nd. The day marked their ten year anniversary as a band which, with the difficulties that artists working together often face, quietly impresses. Standing at the lone vocal-microphone at stage right, Munaf Rayani, one of the three guitarists (there isn’t any obvious spotlighting of a frontman) softly spoke his traditional and ever-perfect introduction for the band: “My name is Munaf, and we’re Explosions in the Sky from Texas, USA,” walking toward the band to the rumble of an audience already roaring with anticipation. For the next hour and a half, they soared, climbed, ventured into the sky, giving off radiant explosions of harmony the whole way. Not a word was spoken during the set – the band is entirely instrumental – yet their performance was evidence enough that meaning is deeper than words. Craig Detweiler, co-author of A Matrix of Meanings, says of ambient music, Sigur Rós in particular, “Without learning a new tongue, listeners get involved in the moods created by the music. Interpretations begin from feeling, not thinking, engaging “sentences of harmony.” The word “sentence,” after all, comes from the Latin verb “sentire,” meaning “to feel.” For music void of lyrics, the possibilities for connection with the listener are as infinite and intricate as the tiny refractions in his personality and disposition, as intimate as the impact of words spoken and glances exchanged throughout her day. This approach makes the recipient the sole interpreter of the material, and each listener brings a different interpretation to each song. While it makes discussion difficult, this difficulty reminds us that music is about music, about a shared experience, not about our ability to dissect or describe or translate. Language is not an absolute, nor is it static; it combines infinitely subjective and particular definitions, which is both its mystery and beauty. As I continue in life, I find that words are continually redefined and shaped: beauty, trust, faith, love, friendship. Language finds itself at a curious crux: we have “objective” definitions, what one might find in a dictionary, that give us some point of reference. However, the word “family” in your mind may be radically different from the concept I have in my mind, based on our diverse experiences, which outlines the importance of intentional communication, and the peril of assumption. We have to constantly learn one another’s language. As Carl Sandburg wrote, “When will we all speak the same language?” The music of Explosions in the Sky leads to a necessarily idiosyncratic experience, one that all I was with at the time agreed was “Awesome.” Sometimes “Awesome” simply has to suffice for something so, well, explosive.