• John Diamond-Nigh

Why is #happiness so hard?

Last night, as it rained, I stood outside, under a metal canopy, just to listen. Had already listened to #Arvo Pärt, to #Brian Eno, both perfect for these inner days (which I have loved), but the snare-drum rustle of the rain suited me best.

The promethean musician and artist, Brian Eno, makes #ambient music. Not completely new. Think of Debussy, Monet. Of #Impressionism itself, with its moody watercolor indistinctions that predate Eno’s synthesized ambience by a hundred and fifty years.

Eno in fact, stumbled on ambience. Lying in a hospital, after a car accident, a friend had put on some music which turned out to be, after his friend’s departure, much too low. One of the speakers stopped working, subtracting the original songs to an illegible, but solacing drizzle of noise. Unable to get up and turn it off, the sound became an #atmosphere, as intriguing to Eno as it was new.

In just the same accidental way, the Russian painter #Kandinsky stumbled on #abstract art by seeing a reproduction of Monet’s painting of a haystack upside down, leading him to read it not as an upside-down haystack, but as a purely abstract concatenation of colors and shapes. From that small, accidental inversion, modern abstraction was born!

Buried in those accidents, was there something actually #delphic? A luminous rip in the textile of our habitual constraints. #William James called most people walking bundles of habit who go a little nuts when those #habits are disrupted.

Could it really be––#contentment as the apple-cart-upsetter of habit?

I have written a lot about #space. I am far less interested in a work of art (or poetry) per se, or indeed in its lavish orbits of ego and theory, than in the compound space of which it is only a part––an #atmosphere of art, food, music, ghosts, conversation and light, where enough (exquisite) monotony prevails that those cuttings, junctures and obtrusions that we usually ignore are in fact heard and welcomed.

Eno put it simply. I wanted to make #musak actually worth listening to––wallpaper music, perhaps, but wallpaper as sublime as Canaletto or Matisse.

Svetlana #Alexievich, the Nobel-winning Belarusian writer, has asked why happiness is so hard? Why, in the arts in particular, are we glued to our spiky modes of contamination, disruption, critique and discontent? Could our next aesthetic eon be that of ambience, a vigilant attentiveness to the lessons of #surprise? An #anti-habit? A curative contentment?

Just rain?

Eno is avidly, outspokenly political––as urgent about the hazards of power, wealth and neo-liberalism as his pal Roger Waters. So yes, a vivid conscience can produce neutral beauty. We could, Alexievich believes, be no less profound for wanting to be happy.

#Neutrality, monotony, even happiness. Wrong words? Too anodyne for our money-heroined world? (Then again, I’ve always loved #wrong words.) My plea for ambience and its corollary in design––#‘space’, is actually a plea for deeper, darker color, a floating world untrammeled by habit where the usual cues are absent, incompatibles blend and provocation comes by way of surprise.

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