Beyond eye contact

arnolfini portrait Being diagnosed with Autism later in life is a very strange experience. Because it hasn’t just influenced my behavior. Apparently, it has also informed my likes and dislikes, my taste in food, my preferences in dressing, and much more. I’ve had a very special relationship with music since a very early age; later in life I also became intensely fascinated by early Flemish and German painters (like Jan Van Eyck, who painted The Arnolfini Portrait in 1434, left).

I like many styles of music. I understand most of it, and I happen to know quite a lot of different types of music. But the music I really love, the soundtrack of my life, is repetitive music: very early one-note Blues and Worksongs, a certain kind of Reggae, Ravel’s Bolero, Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air, Mbira music from Sub-Saharian Africa, Hip hop instrumentals, some House and Techno. Different music, that shares a very special quality: it goes nowhere, it has no narrative, no melodic development. It’s more like architecture, that defines a (hopefully pleasant) space, through rhythm and repetition, and lets you spend time there.

(Update: I managed to make my Asperger playlist.)

Early Flemish and German paintings are technical wonders (it’s the Oil paint revolution, that allowed for new techniques and greater detail), executed like miniatures but often rather large pieces. For me, walking towards one is often an overwhelming experience, as more and more dazzling details come into focus. In order to see the trick, the paint brushes that reveal the technique, you need to be really close. Also the composition, the color distribution of the paintings is often intricate but symmetric, order seems to pervade things (unless it really doesn’t, like in Bosch or Bruegel). This art is way beyond photography, straight into metaphysics, philosophy, etc.

Well, from what I understand, it seems that both repetitive music and minutely detailed, exact images, are favored by persons with ASD. Now: I don’t think Asperger makes you like Dürer or Steve Reich more than Kandinsky or Beethoven (whom I both really like, in a more intellectual way). But it might have pointed me towards arts with certain qualities. I need to find out more about this.


18 thoughts on “Beyond eye contact

  1. Hi there – thank you for a fascinating piece in which I see many aspects of myself.
    I, too, am a fan of repetitive music: Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Brian Eno’s early ambient work, Jan Jelinek, Hauschka (specifically ‘Salon Des Amateurs’). I’m just starting to explore Techno via a few compilations, & following your mentions I will definitely investigate Terry Riley & Mbira music.
    I also love reggae & hip hop, & would really appreciate it if you could direct me to some of the specific artists or recordings that you are referring to.
    Many thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t even know about Asperger until a fellow aspie told me about it in one of the many jobs I’ve had. I’m pretty ticked off I didn’t know about it as a child. Being diagnosed at a very young age would’ve been great.

    I love music. I can’t understand how people think or feel, but music brings emotions, a way to communicate how people feel in a way I can understand. Sadness, longing, happiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love music too, as you can see from this blog 🙂 There’s a line in a song: “If it wasn’t for the music, I don’t know what I’d do”. That’s been my motto for years 🙂 I’m not so sure how I feel about being diagnosed early. I can see the advantages, but in my case this information would have probably been crippling as well. I found out at such a late age that for me AS is more of an intellectual perspective than a concern.


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