Does inner peace destroy musicianship?

Lately I’ve gotten very interested in the rather subtle sensations that can be experienced by paying close attention to the interior of the body. This would be sensations of the viscera (which I generally understand to be the guts) and other parts – the muscles, heart, lungs etc. For instance, a couple nights ago I was lying half asleep and heard a clicking sound of the sort that houses often make — the wood of the frame settling a bit or something. My mind said, “Oh, an annoying sound… whatever,” but my body had a noticeable reaction. I felt that feeling of “tinglies” traveling from my neck down to my body. I presume these “tinglies” to be adrenaline released to the body from the brain and I presume the individual “pricks of tingliness” to be this adrenaline stimulating the synapses of various muscle nerves.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this body reaction makes sense. 50,000 years ago, when you were asleep and heard a sound it just might be a saber-tooth tiger so you better wake the fuck up! Hence a jolt of adrenaline.

I also noticed a similar sensation when composing my latest musical masterpiece, “Chamber of Severed Heads.” At one point in the song I added a kind of strange, groaning background sound. I panned it so that it sounded like an ever shifting cloud of evil coming up behind the listener. When I first played the tune with headphones on I got a definite creepy sensation at that point of the song. It’s hard to describe this sensation; it wasn’t “tinglies,” but a certain antsiness.

In a sense, I think creating these reactions in people’s nervous systems is what good music writing is. A composer/performer is creating moments of visceral and interior physical sensations by taking advantage of the “rules” our bodies use when reacting to sounds. The specifics of these rules are vague but they probably evolved in the same way the “ohmigodwhat’sthatsoundgivemeadrenaline” rule described above evolved. These brain/body rules are why the sudden onslaught of a full symphony — after a moment of quiet — gives us a rush, or a guitar lick climbing higher and higher gives us a thrill. I’ve heard the violinist Joshua Bell say he goes to a great deal of planning to create these moments in his performances.

So, a good composer should really be in touch with his body and visceral/interior reactions. But this opens up an interesting question for me. I’m ultimately trying to calm these reactions – to not have shots of adrenaline flying through me whenever I hear a random sound. Heavy meditators like monks (as well as people on tranquilizers) seem to achieve this kind of calm. But would muting your nervous system in such a way make one a worse musician? Would you lose touch with the body sensations that symbolize a thrilling musical moment? Maybe. Certainly I’m aware that many great musicians and composers tend to be flighty, nervous wrecks (which presumably means they are very aware of their nervous system activity). Additionally, the kind of music played during massage and calming therapy is pretty lame or at least unexciting. Does inner peace require an artistic sacrifice?

2 Responses to “Does inner peace destroy musicianship?”


  1. The cats of Jemaa el-Fnaa at My So-Called Penis

    [...] I think over recent times become fairly aware of what all this feels like. I mentioned how I recently heard some noise in the night and even though I intellectually understood it to be [...]

  2. Cortisol: friend or enemy?!! at My So-Called Penis

    [...] while back I mentioned an event that occurred when I was trying to go to sleep one night. Why don’t I let me describe it? [...]