First off, hat tip to Musette for her fabulous post on Bill Evans last week – she introduced me to Bill just a few weeks ago and he’s been the soundtrack around here ever since. Second, it’s snowing.
I’m guessing many (most?) of the folks reading this are frissoniers – people for whom a particular sound, a set of notes, a vista, and of course a scent (or a combination thereof) experience delightful goosebumps and a feeling of rapture, or something similar. I’d assumed everyone did, and I feel a bit sad for those who don’t (a fair percentage of the population, apparently, which makes me wonder if it’s been properly studied.)
Frisson, also known as aesthetic chills or musical chills, is a psychophysiological response to rewarding auditory and/or visual stimuli that often induces a pleasurable or otherwise positively-valenced affective state and transient paresthesia, sometimes along with piloerection and mydriasis. (Wikipedia)
Music is, I’m guessing, the gateway drug for frisson. Sometimes it’s a simple, quiet set of notes, sometimes it’s the building up, like watching snow fall and build into something fantastic. I’ve been knocked sideways in concert halls and in my car. One of the masters at this crescendo and release is probably Ralph Vaughan Williams (The Lark Ascending came on the radio earlier) although I go easy with him, it’s like eating a whole pie if I do it too often and it loses its thrill. At the other end of the bombast spectrum is, of course, Bill Evans, who can be just as heartbreaking.
I mentioned that right now it’s snowing. We don’t get a ton of snow here in the mid-Atlantic, but when it happens it’s absolutely lovely. That … pause, that quiet, the way it smells beforehand, the faint hiss against the windows and the blur around the street lamp outside my window in the dark. (I’m laughing, I gave myself chills just typing that.) Then there’s a certain kind of soft rain on a day in April, gentle droplets on the tulips in the yard, the first day I can go outside in it and not feel cold. Gets me every time. In summer, we tend to get our biggest thunderstorms in the late afternoon and evening, after they’ve built over the course of a miserably hot and humid day. I’d be at work downtown, and we’d all be checking the weather, deciding if we needed to make a break for home early so as not to get caught in it. I love a close call, coming out of the subway, still ten minutes’ walk from home, with the thunder ominous and threatening just to the west, and the wind whipping around wildly, and the faint smell of petrichor. It’s a delightful feeling to just make it home, change my clothes, and then slip out onto the front porch to watch the show – rain coming down in sheets, flashes of lightning, thunderclaps so loud they almost hurt. A moment of frisson I believe I share with my mother; I grew up without air conditioning in this hot climate, and my mother loved thunderstorms in summer, she’d throw open all the doors and windows and welcome it like a beloved (if badly behaved) guest dropping by for a surprise visit.
The most sustained sense of frisson for me is travel in another country, which I cannot wait to do again. I still don’t know exactly why my trigger gets tripped, which is part of the allure – it’s a combination of the senses, the sight and the sound and the smell and the feel of a place. Off the top of my head: trips to Edinburgh and the Cinque Terre left me in a constant state of sensory mania (much of Italy, actually, although curiously enough not Venice, which is ridiculously beautiful but somehow never really grabbed me in the feels.) Bits of London and Paris, of course. The best I can parse it is that, for me (sample of one) it’s … an urban thing? The countryside could be stocked with gorgeous cows and amazing wine and cheese and populated by angels and it just doesn’t do it for me, whatever “it” is, not like I feel rounding a corner in a random city like Florence and finding myself at a dead stop, standing on the cobblestones and staring while my brain thrums and my skin is alive and tingling.
So, what sets you all a-tingle?