The other day I did something I have done many times, but I thought about it more than I normally have, likely because I write this blog and occasionally do some music-related scholarly work nowadays. This leads me to regularly reflect on musical patterns I encounter even more than I normally would in case I realize something potentially useful to other scholars, researchers, or writers. It is a practice that has always comforted me, but not one I have ever really thought about all that much.
Simply put, someone will send me music – a mixtape, an album for some reason (they have given many over the years), and / or more recently links to songs online) – and I will respond in kind without necessarily commenting at all. I will send back music – generally in the same form, so a mixtape for a mixtape or a link for a link, for example. Especially if there is no original comment from them or me or however the exchange begins, I generally do not comment on what I send back or on what they send unless they ask explicitly or start commenting themselves. I don’t know, probably due to the lack of commentary in most cases, what they are actually doing or intending in such exchanges. I’ve never really concerned myself about this question, and didn’t really even notice it until I started thinking about the exchange process the other day. In my case, however, I know what I am doing (or at least whatever I am doing consciously that I have access to in my own thinking). I am sending something that reminds me of the them, me, and aspects of both if I start the exchange. If they start the exchange, I am sending back whatever their musical offering reminded me of in relation to them, me, and aspects of both.
For me, this is a fun conversation that takes place between the sounds of the given musical entities exchanged. Especially as someone who rarely understands hints, assumptions, or other forms of implicit communication without a lot of help or effort, it is likely the main form of implicit communication I have ever engaged in within my own life. There is no way to know for sure what they are saying, and there is no way to know for sure what I am saying to them from their perspective or viewpoint. This is, as conversational scholars have long noted, not uncommon in mainstream interaction rituals in modern society, but it is uncommon for someone like me because generally I only catch what someone says directly and only reply in a direct fashion unless I stop myself and think about it for a specific reason (i.e., a boss, a request explicitly made by someone, etc.).
It hit me the other day that no matter what this type of conversation might be, mean, or feel like to others, for me, it is one of the closest ways I get to experiencing the type of “information game” Goffman and others note in the vast majority of interactions between people. The songs give information and give off impressions, but there is no concrete, explicit, discussion. This is the way most discussions in the world take place (i.e., people try to read, guess, or hypothesize what is meant behind the words), but this is the opposite of what I generally experience (i.e., there is nothing behind my words generally and I don’t think to look further into what might be behind the words of others without considerable effort – and years of practice – doing so). Even more so, however, it hits me that sharing music – and the potential meanings between the sounds – could be an interesting metaphor for looking at broader forms of interpersonal interaction and communication between people in varied settings and contexts. This, I would say, might be a fascinating way to explore social interaction via centralization of music, meaning, impression, and interpretation.
J. Sumerau is an interactionist scholar and novelist, for more information on their novels and research, visit http://www.jsumerau.com.