Music as a universal language

We often hear people say that language is a universal language, and we like to uncritically accept such assessment. I thought today of polishing up that metaphor a little. Why don’t we consider music as a language family, like the Niger-Congo, Austranesian, Sino-Tibetan, Afro-Asiatic or Indo-European language families.

Communication between speakers of different languages of such families can be difficult and will resort to other than linguistic means, such as gestures and facial expressions. Consider for example that Russian, Punjabi and French are all Indo-European languages, but if a Russian, Frenchman and Punjabi walk in a bar, they aren’t likely to celebrate their newfound camaraderie with an intellectual conversation. Yet, they might get along well. The way they understand each other shows the universality of human language. It is apparent in the ease with which we intuitively understand the intention of a tender lullaby or a fierce insult, a cheerful invitation to drink or a disapproving grin.

I compare this to different genres in music. So what is a better place to test the thesis that music is a universal language than musical cross-overs, collaborations between musicians with completely different backgrounds (like jazz and baroque) or interpretations of music from the ears of another genre?

I have compiled a list of a few of these musical collaborations and would love to know your thoughts and additions!

Music as a universal language was originally published on Meandering home


I am sitting in a convenient store
my coffee is getting cold
the word triumvirate pops up
it’s a word that doesn’t belong here
yet, it snaps into its place:
what is real is what is the case

suddenly, I wanna be crazy old
the laughing belly of our truth


I wanna be profoundly young,

like music

Music was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Verwandlung by Georg Trakl

Today I read a poem by my famous German expressionist, Georg Trakl (1887-1914). I couldn’t find a translation of die Verwandlung online, so I created one myself. There is a website where you can contribute poetry translations, and I added this one. This is what the great German, who died at 27 (sounds familiar) from an overdose of cocaine, looks like through my lense:

Along the gardens, scorched with the crimson colors of the fall:
We see the life of a diligent man.
Who carries the brown grapes in his hands,
While in his look the sullen pain descends.

In the evening: Steps sound on the dark ground
Appearing in the silence of a red beech.
A blue beast wants to bow before death
And an empty garb decays in horror.

In front of a tavern music softly plays,
A drunken face lies buried in the grass.
elderberries, soft flutes and the feminine,
around which the scent of sweet reseda sways.

I quote the German original:

Entlang an Gärten, herbstlich, rotversengt:
Hier zeigt im Stillen sich ein tüchtig Leben.
Des Menschen Hände tragen braune Reben,
Indes der sanfte Schmerz im Blick sich senkt.

Am Abend: Schritte gehn durch schwarzes Land
Erscheinender in roter Buchen Schweigen.
Ein blaues Tier will sich vorm Tod verneigen
Und grauenvoll verfällt ein leer Gewand.

Geruhiges vor einer Schenke spielt,
Ein Antlitz ist berauscht ins Gras gesunken.
Holunderfrüchte, Flöten weich und trunken,
Resedenduft, der Weibliches umspült.

So, what do we have? Autumn gardens with beautiful reddish colors and a diligent (‘tüchtig’) man who picks the newtestamentical ‘brown grapes’. The habit makes this bearable, the human condition is one of soft pain. In the evening, a blue animal (this is a recurring theme in Trakl, and I can’t help thinking of the Blue Man group and Avatar) comes to die. His soul is separated from his body, since what stays behind is an empty robe/garb (leer Gewand). Christian one might say, however: grauenvoll is the decay.

But the people don’t notice: The music that is played in front of the tavern (the autumn is not too cold) is ‘geruhig’. Someone smashed face down in the grass, and even the flutes are inebriated. This is clearly Dionysian and probably influenced by Nietzsche. The smell of reseda/mignonette is something Trakl remembers from Salzburg. The transformation is quite obviously the change from the ‘sanfte Schmerz’ of the habitual, tough life to the bacchanal that is held in denial of death.

I couldn’t get the rhyme to work in English. Perhaps you have a suggestion? Meanwhile, if you like Trakl, I found some other Trakl poems in English translation here.


Reading: Verwandlung by Georg Trakl was originally published on Meandering home


“Wild Classic” – Poster for Berlin Philharmonics

My Savior is the Absurd

That changes faster
Than my prejudice

I hold my heads up
To brush the world’s light
With my eyelashes

My Savior knows
What it means to be finite
Everything becomes high

A trumpet grows out of my nose,
Or a clarinet
A tuba perhaps
You really can’t tell

Other extremities follow suit
A cello emerges from my thighs
Ears turn quickly into violins

My belly is a grand piano
Perhaps I have flutes for arms
And bottocks that are drums

Your silence is the music
My instruments don’t play

Prayer was originally published on Meandering home