a butterfly flaps its wings and nothing happens

When I think about our brief relationship now, I hear it as ‘Peroration Six’ by Floating Points: it’s tense, fraught, and ends at its climax, suddenly and unexpectedly. Without him I probably wouldn’t have listened to ‘Peroration Six’ at all: I was only open to it because of Throwing Snow, and only open to that because I was open to him. The reverberations of our three months together will continue in my Youtube Recommends for the next month or two at least, and then, perhaps, as quickly as he arrived, he’ll be lost altogether. A butterfly flaps its wings and nothing happens.

I’m only just processing, assessing what potential we failed to live out. The main thing is this: he was the first person I’ve ever dated who could spend hours with me, unspeaking, listening to music. There was no embarrassment in it, driving motorways playing playlists from my Spotify or his iTunes, lying in silence in bed playing songs on portable speakers, introducing each other to artists. Our tastes overlapped, and because I was interested in him, I was curious about his particular appreciation of sound. His warmth melted my coldness to certain genres – especially post-dubstep and house, which I never knew I could enjoy; his arms formed around me a safe space in which to take risks. He was so knowledgeable – for every second song I played, he gave me another diamond recommendation. I’m ambivalent about those recommendations now.

___

I remember the first proper conversation we had about music. It was politics, not music, that had brought us together, but as we chatted in a little bar in Shoreditch, I asked him about his music taste and he told me that music used to be the most important thing in his life. He’d been a DJ; he’d made music throughout his teens; there was a time a few years ago when he thought it’s all he wanted to do. My eyes lit up at the revelation. A selection of embarrassingly bad tracks played loudly from the speakers above our heads – friends’ moms’ music; 80s wedding tracks. We shared appreciation and we shared disdain.

Back at mine I played him Abra and Nao through my portable speakers as I worked up the courage to kiss him. My nerves got the better of me for a long time, so the music played on: The Internet, Kelela, Sevdaliza. The extent of his knowledge became apparent as we listened as he mentioned various similar artists, laid-back but sure of himself. I wasn’t used to my musical knowledge being bested; he impressed me. The music hummed out from my little rechargeable speaker, the battery life flashing low.

___

Back when he was really into music, he’d make vast playlists of the year’s most interesting records and whittle them down over time through constant play. His favourite record labels couldn’t smuggle a release through without him tracking it down, downloading it, obsessively cataloguing everything he liked for future use. Except, some time in 2014, he’d given up: a late-twenties crisis, his life muddied with anxiety and depression. After that, freedom from music was a change for him, a sign of renewal.

When he told me that, I was incredulous. How can someone who – like me – sustains themselves on music like a baby on milk possibly just give it up and choose silence? I couldn’t believe he was okay without it, no matter how unhealthily he’d once consumed it – or how unhealthily it had once consumed him. His preference for quietness was eerie and discomforting. Throughout our time together, I wondered if maybe I would have preferred him before the change.

Still, he seemed okay with my keenness to share music with him. I had two years of new sounds to introduce him to! He smiled at my energy and passion, but I still don’t know whether he truly appreciated my eagerness, or actually resented my attempts to draw him back into a world he associated with crisis. He was enigmatic to the end.

___

Throwing Snow night was the first time in three years I’ve felt truly hopeful about a relationship. The unbelievable perfectness of the night from beginning to end reminds me of a Cribs lyric: “your smile so loud, it still rings in my ears”. Throwing Snow mixed into ‘Lumen’ twice, so generous it took my breath away – I danced in disbelief, shocked that a set could be so perfect. At moments of lull, I leaned into my new dance partner’s chest, enjoyed his scent and the feel of his clothes against my skin.

Nevertheless, the moment that would stick with me was in his van before the gig. We went to pick some stuff up and sat for a while, listening to Spotify through his van’s soundsystem. We discussed the songs as they came on, including one by Warpaint, who I described as one of life’s disappointments. He argued in their favour, though only for one early album: Exquisite Corpse. We put it on, ‘Beetles’ first, and I heard it afresh through his filter of appreciation. For the week following that night, I’d listen to the album through every night and think about us, what we might be starting. I especially loved ‘Krimson’, its lo-fi aesthetic, its frenetic bass, the way it picks up pace and most of all the crack in the singer’s voice at 1:54 and the little ripple of energy that it sends through me when I sing along. I still love it.

“Honey, I want you more than anyone ever wanted anyone before.”

___

We weren’t together long but we accreted so many of these experiences. The most intense of them was in his van, driving for hours across the UK on a weekend away. We drove with music on for hours on that holiday, bathed in contentment; we played his last DJ playlist, and then little bits of my music when we drove into pools of mobile data signal. At one point, weaving amongst the trees in Somerset, I put on Douglas Dare and we gazed out over jaw-dropping countryside, vast hillsides lit by pale winter sun, sublime like a Romantic painting. ‘Doublethink’ was still playing in my head as we climbed out and walked a forest path to a peak where the scenery opened out beneath us. The scene hangs in my memory like a dream.

After the walk, we drove north and parked up on the Welsh/English border in the Wye Valley to have some dinner. I played his guitar in the back of the van with the intensity that being completely alone in the woods together incites. I partially restrung it, then let my muscle memory play out riffs and chords, sang softly over the top, and he just sat and smiled. Occasionally we paused to talk.

When my arms were tired, we lay down listening to one of his playlists. He’d knocked the speaker under the mattress, so we left it there, the van pulsating gently with the bass, him occasionally narrating where he’d found the track, how he’d been planning to mix it into something else if he hadn’t given up DJing. When we finally turned it off and kissed, I had his music pulsing through my mind.

___

I made a playlist for him just days before he left me. It was lovingly crafted: I was, indeed, beginning to fall in love. I’ve deleted it now, and I can’t really remember what I put on it. However, I know I spent hours on it, repeatedly reordering it and adding new songs then copying out the titles into a Notepad file to put on the memory stick with the music. It was themed by mood and genre, an ecology of its own, punctuated by Jack Garratt’s ‘Synesthesia’ trilogy. I only used tracks from the last 2 years – the 2 years he’d given up music – and I was hoping it would draw him back in so we could share more experiences with sound. The last time I had a successful relationship, we made playlists for each other several times, and it was always one of my favourite parts of falling in love: aural narrativising, the musical structuring of time.

I wouldn’t have bothered putting such energy into it if I’d known he’d probably never listen to it. The next time we met was the final time we saw each other.

___

It’s our musical connection which makes me resent how it ended: I was entering a new world and he shut me out of it, so early, with so little to take away. He had his reasons. I’m angry with him, but it’s not his fault. In the moments following his late-night break-up email, all I could listen to was Babes in Toyland, but their riot grrrl version of ‘All By Myself’ was a little bit too fitting for comfort. So I turned it off and mourned in silence.

The next day, I started a new Spotify playlist: ‘New Finds Winter/Spring 2017’. Winter going into spring, as opposed to autumn going into winter; cold, but a new start; ‘Lumen’ and ‘Beetles’ and ‘Doublethink’ are yesterday’s listening, not today’s.

I suppose I did learn something: that the intense relationship I have with music can be shared. Music and I can be polyamorous. I’m excited to find someone else with whom I can have a more long-lasting ménage à trois.

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