“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between” – Mozart
Music is not just the notes and sounds that you hear. It’s also the silent pauses between the notes and sounds. Without the silence, songs would be an unrelenting succession of notes that nearly no one would care to listen to.
Good design needs “white space”. Good writing needs punctuation. Good music needs moments of silence. These help give form to the ideas being presented.
So then here’s the equation:
Music = Notes + Silence.
Except no. Not if you’re “Sweet Caroline”.
If you’ve ever heard the song “Sweet Caroline” in a karaoke bar or other crowded place, you know when Neil Diamond sings “Sweet Caroline….” people belt out “Ba! Ba! Bah!”, then Diamond continues with “… good times never felt so good” and then the crowd yells “so good! so good! so good!”.
“So good! So good! So good!” are not lyrics in the song. WHen the audience says them, they’re not even mirroring any of the instrument melodies happening at the time. “So good! So good! So good!” is neither notes or silence. What is it?
The listener of the song, it appears to me, has a part in this song too. The song elicits a response from the audience and that response makes the song a more enjoyable experience for the participant. Sometimes this is done by design. Often, I think, it just happens.
You don’t even have to sing out loud to be an active co-creator of the song. Sometimes it’s not even words or vocalizations that come to mind. It can be a singular snare hit or a few notes you add (in your head) on top of the lead guitarist’s amazing solo.
So the silence is not just something that focuses attention on the notes in a specific way. The silence can also be the prompt for where the audience plays their part.
I think this is the correct equation:
Music = Notes + Silence + Audience Part
Stepping On The Audience’s Toes
A favorite band of mine once added another player to their band. I knew their songs by heart and was curious to see what he would add since he was such a good player. But when I saw them live something just seemed off, almost irritating. I just kept thinking “He’s playing my parts! Stop playing my parts!”
It was almost like having someone constantly talking over you. Clearly he was hearing the same “so good! so good! so good!”-type thing in his head that we all were but those notes were notes best left for the audience to play.
Miles Davis said, “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” and “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”
Maybe the “what’s there” is the audience part.
How This Relates to IRL XD
Maybe in the case of good music (or all good art?) the creator and the audience share the same muse. It calls to the musician to do their part when the song is being written and then it calls to the audience to do their part when the song is being played.
When I think “I’m going to write a song” I’ve almost certainly doomed myself to write a mediocre song because the focus is comparing my work to what is considered a “song”: it needs verses, a chorus, instruments across a range of tones, etc.
But if I ask “what do I want to elicit in the listener” then I’m driven by the emotion and spirit I want the listener to feel. And I create something that allows them to play the notes they need to play.
With the Eureka Room and other projects I try to consider these moments where the visitor gets to play their notes. Sometimes it’s a pause for them to laugh. Or to have an “a ha!” moment. Or to connect with someone else in the room.
It’s not just “we have to give them something to do” or “we have to give them something to interact with that’s related”, as we go off and do our thing.
It’s “what part of this song that is being created will be played by the visitor?” and “How do we set up moments that strongly invite these responses but make them seem natural?”.
Or, “How do we get them to do something that is fun but make them think it was their idea and not engineered by us?”
I think this approach results in a more cohesive creation and a more connected experience for the visitor. (And it feels “So good!”).