Music and wine

Heraclitus was right. You can’t step in the same stream twice. The stream is ever changing and you are changed by your experience of the stream.

It’s like that with wine and music.

You can’t listen to the same piece of music twice. I remember as a teenager that sense of anticipation as I put a new (actually, usually second-hand, from Scorpion Records in High Wycombe) album on the turntable and listened for the first time.

It was the start of a relationship with those tracks. I knew that the initial listen would be different from the second, fourth, or 20th. As I listened, the music became part of me. And each subsequent hearing would involve an internal playing of the song as I listened to it. To try to assess music on the first listen (as I imagine many music critics or A&R people have to do) is a different sort of experience than that of the person who has purchased the music and will listen to it repeatedly. [Having said this, broad brush decisions about quality and likeability can be made quickly, especially by experienced professionals.]

Sometimes music that appeals of first listening grows boring quickly. And as my teenage musical taste showed me, you can grow to love quirky or mediocre music if you listen to it a lot, have positive associations with it, or you decide you’d like to like it.

What about wine? The brain processes taste and smell rather differently to auditory stimuli, but there are some parallels. The main one is that our relationship with a particular wine, or styles of wine, or specific flavour components of wine (such as sweet blackcurrant fruit, or vanilla oak, or the gamey flavours of brett) with repeated experience. We are very much part of the equation when it comes to assessing wine.

All the time, as we drink more wine, our experience is augmented. And we then bring this experience to the next glass of wine. It adds to the complexity of wine, for sure, but also the fun. But I reckon we have to be careful not to stretch this analogy too far. Music, I reckon, is much more personal than wine. I think that if I got a group of 20 buddies together, we’d share a taste in wine much more than we’d be able to agree on music to play.

Where the analogy does work quite well is with popular taste. Listen to music radio and you are presented with the same rather boring, inoffensive, mainstream tastes as you might find on supermarket wine aisles. A shared popular culture of music or wine or films or literature is going, by definition, to be restricted to safe, somewhat bland, easily appreciated choices. To experience real pleasure, in most walks of life, you have to leave the mainstream behind.

6 comments to Music and wine

  • keith prothero

    your last sentence I love and is the main reason I emigrated from the UK to the then Rhodesia many years ago. Away from the boredom and blandness of my UK life and hello to adventure in a beautiful country which led to a very interesting life thereafter.

  • I am not sure that mainstream or the popular cannot bring real pleasure to people.
    Take the example of the “one directioners” who seem to take an extreme level of pleasure from something I find quite inexplicable.

    Going further I am not sure how my conscious pleasure is impacted by the number of other people either agreeing or disagreeing with me. I can derive great pleasure from a simple well made Roast chicken, staring at the Bernini’s statue of Apollo & Daphne or watching “The inbetweeners” on TV all of which are popular and mainstream.

    Perhaps on a sub-conscious level it might be argued I may be influenced by ideas such as “being a unique snowflake” or “part of the herd” , but as the pleasure is real it only of interested from theoretical point of view.

  • Yes, humans are pretty strange in general, I’ve found!

  • Heraclitus was known as the obscure because he purposely wrote for the five percent with the education and ability to understand him. The 95% did not understand him. Likewise, the Mona Lisa is probably a disappointment to millions who see her on the wall; they were probably expecting more. Yet, the five percent can quickly tell you why it is one of the most important works of art in the museum.

    In all art, our appreciation increases with education, study, and time. Same in wine, where five percent of us progress from simple, fruity and fizzy concoctions to more complexity with time. It is always the five percent who are passionate.

    The money in wine is in the 95 percent. Fortunately for us, there are still people who make wine for the five percent. And we should thank God for that.

  • Great article on wine and music, totally agree… usually the learn to love music retains a residue of unease at some level, for me, whereas the music I instantly connect with becomes an all too rare go-to album or track. As someone who rarely turns the tv on, I find music incredibly important but sometimes I enjoy wine in silence – with a good book. Great read – thanks – and also love and totally relate to your last line; it holds me in good stead in my choices in literature, wine, music and all round…

  • I have to say that I love good music and I have to agree with you that there is something similar between wine and music. Good wine and good music together can built cheerful mood almost for everyone. Good old music is like good old wine!

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