In studying The Jazz, one will often come across discussions of a musician’s “conception.”
What does this mean?
Many a critical theorist has deployed the term, and Eric Nisenson, for example, in his studies of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins, has even attempted on numerous occasions to define/codify/quantify a definition, but in the end, it is an elusive idea.
There is, of course, the infamous Supreme Court quote on pornography, which can be roughly paraphrased as “I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.”
A musician’s conception is not unlike this; hard to define, yet somehow clear to the observer nonetheless.
Personally, I think of it as a sort of musical terroir.
Terroir is, of course, another elusive term, to put it mildly.
To some, it is tangible; the taste of the soil in the wine. To others, pure concept: the spiritual essence of a place, reflected in the glass. To still others: mumbo jumbo, or worse, marketing.
To me, terroir is a little bit of everything, from the soil in the ground, to the people who walk above. Degree days and their accumulation, to yeast strains and theirs. Vine age, winery age, people age.
In short, terroir is essentially the sum total of all that is brought to bear on a place that renders the place unique.
I was asked once to define terroir in a single sentence for my good friend the esteemed wine writer/blogger/podcaster Jameson Fink; I wrote a haiku in response:
A musician’s conception is essentially everything brought to bear on their sound; the person, their history, their thinking, their fingers, the records they grew up listening to, the people they’ve met along the way, the city they live in, the clubs they play in, the weather, the times, the season. What they think, why they think it, how it comes out in their playing. Their diet, their sleep habits, their love lives; their practice regimens, favorite scales, and sense of rhythm. Their religion, their politics, their relationship to their parents. Their mojo.
It’s a limitless list, a sort of personal six-degrees-of-separation ad infinitum; an endlessly and exponentially expanding list of impacting factors whose only unifying connection is some sort of tie to the musician themselves.
This is all the same for a winemaker’s conception.
Why does a wine taste as it does? The winemaker’s conception; every single everything, brought to bear on a taste; a terroir of the mind, of the land; a terroir of machines and methods; a terroir of history and his story/her story; a terroir of time. A terroir of thinking and tasting, planting and pruning, digging and dining, pumping and bottling, reading and writing, smelling and seeding, thinking and thanking, moving and leaving, maintaining and replacing, listening and speaking, pulling and pushing, raining and drying, watering and waiting. It is the zen of terroir; being becoming of itself; the endless beginning anew of that which never was and always is.
A terroir of time.
A winemaker’s conception.