warp and woof

It strikes me as rather odd, actually, that I hadn’t thought of this comparison before. Some writers often create such wonderful sentences that it’s difficult at times (for me) to follow narrative or plot; some musicians often create such wonderful textures that it’s difficult at times (for me) to follow melodic or chordal logic of the song. That is, I lose, to an extent, the thing that theoretically is most valued: plot, or catchiness.

And I’m quite prone toward noticing both: two writers that spring to mind because I’ve read their work recently—Don DeLillo and William Gibson—are well-known for their sentences, to the point that critics often do note that plotting, characterization, etc. might suffer in comparison. And the two main poles of my musical preferences (both traceable to the Beatles, by the way) are texture and melody…but there are definitely some bands that (depending on my mood) work far more in depth in the first field than in melody or overall structure.

Another way to consider this is that both “sentence” and “texture” are more vertical than horizontal: that is, they’re much less dependent upon the flow of time and far more upon the mood of the moment. The beautiful sentence resists forward momentum: instead, the reader is encouraged to dwell upon its rhythms, its textures, its divagating semantic fields. The same is true of musical texture: it’s less a matter of how those textures function in the narrative of narrative-like musical structure, but more about the interplay of those textures, which might well be a frozen eternal chord or, at minimal extension, an endlessly repeated short series of hocket-like interactions among individual textures.

Whereas plot, or character development, or structure—including the emotional investment arising from the development thereof—are essentially horizontal or time-based in character: they are arrows threading their way through whatever textures of character, situation, incident, evocation, tone, color, and so forth that the still-life moment of texture or word-painting creates.

A curious side-effect: particularly with music, I find that instances that appeal to me primarily on textural grounds both appeal more immediately but also take longer to really worm their way into my earholes: the surface appeal is powerful, but grasping hold of what’s actually going on is difficult and elusive. Similarly, with writers that work this way for me such as Gibson or DeLillo, I find myself entranced by sentences but slightly struggling with the more functional aspects of either writer’s plot, character, or situational development: I feel the pleasure of reading, but those arrows have far more and thick material to work their way through prior to making their vectors felt in my consciousness of plot, narrative, and situation.

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Filed under art, noiselike, thinky

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