A Recording of a Lawnmower

I have this recurring conversation with a friend of mine.

We argue about whether or not a particular musician is “good.” And often it becomes a battle of who has the strongest opinion, or the most confident tone, or the highest credentials.

The conversation starts to unravel the way of a ball of yarn does; slowly but surely transforming a surface area sweater into a relentless puffy string.

It becomes about the notes, about the technical aspects of the playing, about the cred. The magic of the music becomes reduced to a simple explanation involving harmony, or key changes, or some je ne sais quoi that is both important and unimportant.

“The only way I can judge music,” I say as slowly as one can say something while an idea is still forming, “is by how it makes me feel. In the same way that I evaluate the morning commute: I don’t know shit about traffic patterns and complexity; I just know I’m traumatized for a good 30 seconds after arrival.”

I pause. I say this next part with the highest degree of sincerity I can muster for 11pm on a Tuesday.

“You could play me a recording of a lawnmower and if it moves me to tears, I will replay it.”

“A lawnmower?”

Yes. Too often, I find myself judging sound against what I’m used to, rather than appreciating the inherently unique quality of the thing. I smile at my friend.

“I’ve heard some lawnmowers that were more dramatic than opera.”