The surprise element in music and poetry

“… As a song unfolds, the brain is on the lookout for patterns, anticipating when the next beat will come. It takes pleasure in matching a mental beat with a real world one. But a good musician, like Hitchcock, keeps you on your toes, challenging your expectations and violating patterns in surprising yet stimulating ways.

Storytellers and musicians – artists in general – are in the same business: expectation-management. Good stories and songs tease expectations and build suspense, getting the audience to come back for more even though the ending is spoiled. “
An interesting point is made here how an artist first raises an expectation and then surprises the audience by a break in the patterns that naturally emerge from the artist’s performance.It is the surprise element that keeps the audience captivated.It is almost as if the artist is deliberately manipulating the audience’s conscious towards a break violating its sense of “natural” rhythm. A similar thing happens to me when I listen to the Western classical music that some times goes against my “natural” rhythm and takes unexpected turns, sometimes dealing nasty blows to my musical awareness brought up on a .musical appreciation of a different cultural ethos.Similar thing may be happening to a Western listener when he hears one of our raga-based compositions.

In a poem a similar thing happens when everyone expects the poem should say something that is consistent and will lead up to something beautifully said at the end. The reader is used to fitting it to a pattern .If the poem ends up according to the pattern the reader’s consciousness turns smug as nothing of him is violated. A contemporary poem is not used to patterns and the more patterns are violated the greater is the euphoric pleasure it creates as the poem proceeds and then the end-lines simply leave the reader in a state of surprise.

But a trained reader can always work out a pattern in the apparent patternlessness of the poem. There is a method in every madness and no matter how much you wish to surprise, the reader can always spot a pattern -a kind of euphoric movement of the poet’s brain as it unwinds in the lines.The pattern may not correspond to the reader’s own rhythm that comes to him naturally but with training he can get into the poet’s mind to share the euphoria of his. moment.

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