Issues Index

UP08 Sensuality: Essence and Nonsense

The idea that music is a rich source of sensual pleasure, both for creator and listener, is rooted deep in most cultures. Yet in contemporary music it has become a burning issue, a subject of heated debate, as a glance at our opinionated poster will show.

While one composer laments that the creative music world has no time for the ‘unpleasant’ sounds that currently interest him, another supposes his music is too ‘tuneful’ for the like of UP. Beyond such polarities lies our desire for sensual richness, which can be met by gorgeous timbres, visceral rhythms, or the way players simply breathe life into music through the physical act of performance. When musicians talk about ‘feel’ they refer to parameters of rhythm and dynamics rarely expressed in the most complex of scores. These subtle aspects of music are not necessarily beyond analysis, but they engage the senses directly, through the ear and through the body’s response.

Yet if ‘intelligence is sexy’, as one person claims, the intellectual content we assume necessary for creative music must also be part of its sensual charge. To listen repeatedly to great pieces, whether to appreciate better the form and structure, to discover and delight in details or to indulge in complete aural immersion (like a warm bath, as someone else put it) is an intense, personal pleasure that, for the present, only recordings can provide. © 1996 JLW