Surprised to find myself enjoying Ionesco’s seriously existentialist novel, Le Solitaire, (Viking 1973), in that it mirrors current thoughts of my imminently transitory existence. As if I am the 21st century’s incarnation of a 19th century Franco-Russian Jew, who, doing nothing particularly well, except, perhaps, putting down in words, the absurd context, for lack of a better explanation, we call, life. In Ionesco’s Hermit, I experience a recognizable emptiness I find familiar, which actually brings me peace, knowing that, as painful as it sometimes is, life is not to be missed.
I took it upon myself to create, with others, a hybrid web structure by means of which residents of any community can take responsibility for anything they complain about. An innovative feature allows any resident to bring an issue into a general forum and conduct a poll in accordance with civil guidelines and depending on the outcome of this poll, an elected council is required to address and resolve the issue.
Since some issues affect various areas in the community differently, we described eleven geographic districts, each with an elected representative. Voting for representatives can be done on a cell phone, online or on paper at a public library by showing evidence of residence. The website will be fully launched in the Spring of 2018, however, there is information at pointlomatowncouncil.org now that can answer many questions.
For this innovative marriage of emerging technology with democratic principles to work requires broad participation and the objective is to empower constituencies with the expectation that, with direct input into legislative processes, priorities of government will be better aligned with their needs.
If all goes as currently planned, the online functions will be fully paid for, ready and able to be used by anyone who wants to conduct a poll and get something done.
When enough people participate by electing town council members, we will have accomplished what we set out to do and I may spend more time composing which will make people I love happy.”
*with God’s grace.
Alcestis volunteers to die to save her husband, who was condemned by Artemis for failing to sacrifice to that Goddess after winning the heart of Alcestis. Apollo had helped her husband in this quest, pleads his case on Mt. Olympus and Hades returns Alcestis to life.
This song is “All Too Human”, for which I will now write lyrics. It’s a duet for two baritones, later reprised with two baritones and a soprano, and eventually a quartet adding a contralto.
(Photo; Arthur Schopenhauer 1854, public domain.)
Last May, we got the idea that since we have no easy way to make a difference about the lack of infrastructure and increasing density, we could create a new model for a town council, designed to make participation easy and even fun. We became a formation committee to incorporate Point Loma Town Council with a mandate to hold an election in the Fall of 2018, to elect members of a town council to represent residents. It’s like a conventional town council but integrated with an online app that will allow every resident with a smart phone or internet connection to inform and poll their community. Poll results can trigger consideration by the elected town council, empowered by our bylaws to take appropriate action. Kinds of action are common to town councils, running the gamut from education and communication to litigation.
Any member that is a resident of our Peninsula can launch a district-wide poll about anything they believe impacts their ability to flourish. The Peninsula is divided into districts of less than 5,000 households, c. 9000 voters, about the number of people in Del Mar. A priority of our app is relationship-building: it promotes civil discussion and is a source of trustworthy information and a forum for conflict resolution.
A possible outcome of this experiment in democracy is that it reduces dependence on mass media in election campaigns.
Yesterday, I heard an NPR interview with John Cox, a wealthy lawyer in Rancho Santa Fe, who previously unsuccessfully ran for president and congressional races in other places. He has been a Trump-flavored Republican and has now announced he would be governor of California, another venture capitalist out to “drain the swamp”. The interesting thing is that he’s mentioned a strategy for revamping representation based on dividing the entire state into 10,000 person districts. sounded similar to the design we came up with for PLTC, however the top-down plan that he suggests, though it works in theory is politically impossible, while it has great potential as a community-based project.
The difficulty, however, is in enrolling participation in the beginning. Unlike Mr. Cox’s suggestion, PointLomaTownCouncil.org doesn’t require changes to election law, and it’s independent of partisan, economic or cultural issues. Mr. Cox’s program requires us to rewrite parts of the State constitution. Perhaps, a good idea but for greed, economic interests, resistance from the California League of Cities and so on.
We all know that local representative government is skewed in favor of priorities of those who fund campaigns. As Mr. Cox has noticed, democracy works best in small, homogenous populations, where there’s more chance that constituents know each other and share values, whether or not they actually like each other. This means our democracy is based on 18th century populations and uses 19th century technology.
It is said (by Tip O’Neill when he was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, “All politics is local”. With our mobile population, rapid urban growth and diversity that was unimaginable in 19th century America and most of the 20th century, constituents are powerless about governmental decisions that create conditions that impact enjoyment of life. Since local media makes this powerlessness clear in the way it discusses every issue, and those who are new to San Diego, get the impression this is a place where lip service is paid to problems like climate change and growing congestion and it’s not cool and extremely hard for people to engage in political action.
We realize that land use and economic decisions in Houston, Puerto Rico, Fukushima, Santa Rosa, Las Vegas made these places vulnerable, not to mention the ease with which Russia influenced the voting of hundreds of millions of Americans in the last election.
At times, I felt humiliated by moments that neuroscientists are now attributing to owning a brain that is in some respects typical of those who’ve been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, Autism and Dyslexia. Sometimes, when attractive women flattered me, thinking perhaps that I might be useful to their agenda, or even mistaking me because I look “important”. It was helpful to understand their behavior as unrelated to me personally. And, in that sense, I understand the opportunity of those men that actually have some status. Given the number and range of character of men I’ve seen caught in this trap, I feel the community might take a closer look, with more useful purpose than denouncement of one particular man or another.
One day in 1970, when we were playing chess at his home in The Palisades, Dizzy Gillespie offered to introduce me to the Weinsteins about an idea I had for a documentary. He said Weinstein loves jazz. I’m not sure which of the two brothers he meant. Later, I went on a tour with Dizzy and his colleagues in Sweden.
I’m amazed by the musical minds of Monk, Coltrane, Debussy and Mingus, I lose interest with a lot of popular jazz and most popular music but I listen to works of Dolphy, Debussy, Monk, Messiaen, Bach, Barber, Berg, Stravinsky, etc., over and over. I absorb Dolphy and Ellington.
So I didn’t call Weinstein as Diz suggested. I left the opportunity to make a documentary about music of the West African diaspora to some other genius, since at the time, I could only cover this in the context of the nature of all music for my knowledge of music wasn’t prepared for the task then.
But for this lack of confidence, I would probably have come to know Harvey and either spun into the same web of narcissistic behaviors or maybe advised him that women may sometimes like to pretend coercion, but even then, it’s risky. So many men and women apparently owe their careers to his support yet did not support him. It’s likely I talked to him at some time but usually that kind of man feels threatened by someone with an unpredictable brain like mine that speaks its mind intuitively, calls a spade, a spaid.
In view of complicit complacent compliance, not wanting to lose a job by rocking the boat, though knowing that Harvey was doing this kind of thing, I hope he will be ok. Money talks and he has plenty of that.
It interests me that the damage from his behavior wasn’t the product of his desire, but he had no respect for the vulnerability of others, not uncommon among those born with brain differences that we call, Autism and ADD. After eight lawsuits, I’m surprised someone didn’t advise him to get evaluated for a pathological brain difference, it would help.
Flute & Clarinet, Sonata Form, (v5l-Score) October 16, 2017 ©
In Point Loma, the incomes of many households are falling behind the rising price of rental and for-sale homes. In some cases, households are priced out of neighborhoods in which their families have lived for generations. We call this a crisis in housing affordability.
Builders and real estate investors are saying the solution to this crisis is to build more housing but prices of newly developed housing are less affordable? Housing affordability isn’t the builders’ or bankers’ concern; it’s the community’s problem.
For the real estate industry, the solution to housing affordability is for households that can’t afford increasing rents and home prices to move elsewhere. The problem with the building industry’s solution is that a community like Point Loma is its population, not its buildings. So, when households are priced out of Point Loma, the unique expression of community moves away and is replaced by a population who lack a background of common relation to the history, traditional culture and values of this unique place. For Point Loma, a community of strangers is the crisis we are calling, “housing affordability”.
In Point Loma, the affordability crisis is exacerbated by real estate investors, who are now taking advantage of a decades-old zoning ordinance to acquire and build affordable multifamily apartments and converting them to expensive condominiums. Stability in housing cost certainly requires attention, a policy to prevent conversions of multifamily apartments to condominium ownership would preserve existing apartments and, with other measures help maintain affordability in Point Loma.
Climate Change v2h (Arranged for Piano, Hammond B3, Flute, Clarinet, Horn in F, Trumpet in C, Guitar & Bass Viol 10/13/2017
People who don’t practice a creative art, unlike those who do, may not correctly understand how art expresses and excites feelings.
Current thinking in the field of cognition views our emotions as a non-rational form of cognition. Feelings are cognitive assessments of things we encounter or imagine before we comprehend them rationally. We act based on feelings in many situations in which hesitation could be fatal. The rational assessment that follows may be a justification of action in response to our feelings. We cannot rationally decide to fall in love or to be afraid or to feel compassionate. Such cognitive assessments are informed by everything we feel in the moment and how we each may feel about anything is uniquely informed by our dna and all past experience.
When engaged in an activity that compels constant and alert attention; as, when I’m driving in traffic at high speeds, my action is guided by intuition that includes rapid integration of rational principles, constant recalculations as vectors of inertia change, and also incorporating knowledge of current performance characteristics of my body, mind and vehicle, and not only about the state of observable moving and stationary objects around me, but also, probabilities regarding a myriad objects and possibilities that are not observable by eyes or ears and also physical pressure sensed in relation to gravity, and all in a context in which inattention has a potential for catastrophic consequences. And often there are others riding in my car.
Writing and composing music is far less demanding than accommodating the un-anticipatable qualities of personalities getting into and out of my car: some with social or anti-social agendi, some who are young and curious, some arrogant and presumptuous, some with deep unfilled emotional needs, some frightened in an unfamiliar environment, some intoxicated, stoned or otherwise medicated–they all bring their unique emotional state to the milieu, and then are gone.
Sonata Form Duet for Flute & Clarinet (v5i) October 13, 2017
Inertia is addressed in solving every problem.
Strategies for over-coming inertia often have nothing to do with circumstances of the problem.
Congested vehicular traffic on freeways is a problem for drivers today but it’s a predictable result of a design yesterday, which had in mind moving the cost of the transportation infrastructure into the future.
Inertia now keeps this traffic congestion problem in place.
You can’t “fix” a system when it’s actually producing the result it was designed to produce. To get different results, you must replace the system with a system that produces results that you want.
Trio – Bass Viol, Digitally-enhanced Concert Guitar, Piano
Quartet – Hammond B3, Piano, Bass Viol, Guitar
Arranged for Piano, Hammond B3, Guitar, Chamber Orchestral Quartet
In the morning after I’d heard a performance of the Barber Violin Concerto performed by San Diego Youth Symphony, I began to create In Consideration of Samuel Barber’s Opus 14; It’s a condensed concerto in sonata form featuring a solo violin, a piano and an orchestral chamber quartet. These links show the progression of the piece.
Version 1a is the first sketch of In Consideration:
Version 2A moves in the opposite direction from 1a, into an arrangement that views the symphony as an “orchestral instrument” in the manner of Wagner, Ives and Messiaen, incorporating a Brahmsish lyricism, but maintaining a metallic independence from conventional harmony…like a Rodin miniature…enjoyably complex.
Version 2C returns to the chamber concerto.
Version 3A adds a vamp to the introduction:
Version 3B is the culminating work for scoring.
Marriage of sound and visual imagery in cinema intends to add something that is not verisimilitude and music’s often a bullshit flag, as if in apology for a gap in the viewer’s following, during which the dream we call, reality, flickers behind a transparent screen. An enchanting musical narrative is another matter. The literal story suspends as music transfixes experience beneath rational cognition, as, when approaching a Turner painting, you feel awakened, aware:
I know no greater bliss than following a good story. Immersion in a story feels as good to me as swimming laps. I like reading stories. Music is a narrative language; the following link is to a composition I composed for a ballet based on the story by Irish novelist, James Joyce.
I had a dog–a German Shepherd named, Gunther, after Gunther Grass, who wrote Dog Years , The Tin Drum and Flounder and other things I’ve liked.
We were tight, Gunther and I, and he was tight with anyone I trusted, which was cool, since we only hang out with people we trust and strangers of all species are sometimes astonishing examples of living energy. Anne, Larry and I moved to Canada during the Nixon years, into a very old country home in an idyllic country village called, Whitevale, a place like I imagine, Turgenev living, in the country near Petersburg, with a human culture like Lowick, a venue like Elliott’s Middlemarch.
Gunther and I walked everyday in an unkempt old oak forest surrounding,the tiny village of farm houses clustered around a mill race produced by a little concrete dam on a small creek. While I snapped pictures for imagined tales, Gunther hunted birds and rodents. We’d learned to do this first on Venice Beach, before we left to make the first film in Puerto Rico, then in woods on the Hudson near Peekskill, then by Lake Simcoe in Barrie, Ontario, where Anne conceived our daughter, Liberty. We moved about the forest in sync, using that sense humans communicate with other species (and sometimes humans, too, if we’re listening).
One day, Larry, said he wanted a cat. I was dubious. When he was a puppy, Gunther had been attacked by a cat. Larry said cats, like people, are individuals. Anne voted for the cat. The next day, a kitten arrived (music cue). Gunther’s eyebrows standing like soldiers.
On my knees on the forgivingly deep, dark green carpeting in our living room in Whitevale: rich dark cherry paneled walls and ceiling joined with moldings in the fashion of Victorian Europe, we formed a little triangle before a nearly lifesize photographic print of a giraffe on the South African Velt that covered the North wall, Gunther, the kitten, reluctantly trusting my judgment and I we having a straight conversation. Looking into Gunther’s alert, darkly attentive eyes, I said, “this is our cat, Gunther. He lives here, don’t mess with him. Got it? He’s our brother.” Gunther looked once at the cat, then at me and I distinctly heard, “Got it. Our cat. Trust me.” Gunther and the cat walked out the front door to dominate the village and got into trouble with some stupid ducks our neighbor kept.￼
Composing is a persistent mistress. Anything by Debussy will work with media, if the media is worth the time to watch. Media follows the narrative of the music, as the editor adjusts continuity in complimentary and conflicting tempi and timbre. Visual editing is analogous to composing. There are only 16mm film versions of some of my films that I need to digitize to post here.
Gunther was single-minded in his desire. We spent a winter in a small house in the Tudor style in the village of Crompond, which had been designed in the early 1900s as an intentional community near Peekskill, in Westchester County, New York, which is located about an hour north of NYC by car along the Taconic Parkway.
In accordance with the philosophy of the Crompond founders, fences are not permitted since this division of property isn’t consistent with the philosophy of shared public space. The visual impact is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. However, Gunther fell in love with a neighbor’s champion Collie. Twice each day, when the neighbor and the collie walked between our houses, Gunther stood by the window over-looking the snow blanketed commons, and sang a cappella, his full-throated desire.
Anne, Larry and I went into the city (NY) for a concert on evening, leaving Gunther at home and when we returned a few hours later, we found Gunther outside the house. HIs right wrist was injured. Inside, the house was freezing. We found one of the windows in a bedroom on the second story had been open. When we learned the next day from our neighbor that Gunther had mounted their collie, we realized that Gunther has opened the window and leaped out while the neighbor was walking that evening. Our offer of paternal responsibility was unimportant to the neighbor, who was deeply offended, not by the outrage but as if the coupling was a stain on her thoroughbred status, like Zeus discovering Poseidon’s rape of Aphrodite.
Other than this sexual impetuosity, Gunther was by every other standard, perfect. When we lived in Venice and Barrie, children came by to “borrow” him for games of ball and tug of war. When he died, I dug a hole for Gunther’s earthly remains in Auge Tau Andersen’s backyard (pronounced, oh-wuh). It was a symbolic ritual since Auge told me he planned a pond where I dug the grave. I couldn’t explain. Auge handed me a shovel and from time to time, came out with a glass of iced tea, while the pit and I descended, deeper and deeper, until, at last, peering down into the hole, he said, “don’t you think this is deep enough, Michael?”
Many years passed before I was willing to expose myself to this kind of vulnerability. I was living in a little house near the beach in Del Mar and I acquired a Pomeranian that grew and grew and grew and grew some more to be all of twenty-five strapping pounds, a bundle of reddish fur with a blond mane. When I had a similar conversation with Bear about another cat I admired, Bear rolled his upper lip above his nose, glared at me and snarled, “not on my watch, dude.” So we worked it out Bear’s way. I learned humility from Bear.
Pandephonium is music for a dance based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice; a ballet that incorporates Chinese and Western musical forms and instruments. The protagonist, Arnold, is a photo journalist from Cincinnati. He and Weixia, a dancer from Shanghai, China, meet at Carnival in Bahia. Arnold follows Weixia to Beijing to negotiate marriage with her father, who lets her leave with Arnold on condition that Arnold may not utter a single word in English before he leaves China.
The score incorporates traditional Batucada and Chinese dance and musical forms, reflecting emerging global culture; honoring western and eastern sensibilities with an orchestra of western instruments as well as Guzheng, Xiao, Djembe, Tabla and a samba bateria. There are Samba and Chinese classical dance costumes and choreographic elements. There’s a choir of actors, who can be heard shouting, singing and applauding in the recording at the above Soundcloud.com link
The 25-minute piece posted on Soundcloud is both an overture and summary of the full score; outlining scenarios in which a company of dancers elaborate on Batucada and Chinese dance rhythms; at times with spectators in scenes, where audience members join in musical celebrations, singing verses and dancing. 25 minutes of music in the posted recording contains elements for solo, pas de dieux and ensemble dances and several transitional orchestral elements.
Quotations in the opening section reference traditional western classical and popular motifs, with flavors of Ives, Copeland, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Debussy along with rhythms of the West African diaspora (samba). Traditional Chinese melodies and harmonic rhythm underly the whole.
For more information about performances, please, you may contact me at Michael@michaelwinn.org
nous causåmes longtemps; elle était simple et bonne
ne sachant pas le mal elle faisait le bien;
de richesses du coeur elle me fit l’aumône
et tout en écoutant comme le coeur se donne
sans oser y penser, je lui donnai le mien;
elle emporta ma view, et n’en sui jamais rien
Alfred de Musset
[We talked for a long time; she was simple and kind.
Knowing no evil, she did only good; she gave me alms from the riches of her heart,
listening intently as she poured out her heart,
Scarcely daring to think, I gave her mine;
Thus she carried off my life and never even knew it.]
For antecedents, read Marcel Proust (gender free), George Elliot (feminine sensibility), James Joyce (mainstream), Charles Bukowski (lion rampant)…
Feeling with the mind of a child with the soul of an old man, emergent and subsiding recollections of similar things
in deja vu of moments, as if knowing then, what couldn’t be imagined.
Celebrating souls from worlds past; evaporated selves, possibilities left unfolded in their time, fleeting dreams of a person, caricatured in photographic transcriptions of a person I’d thought was me. If I could heal the past and see through the sensibility of another kind of me, would I relieve myself from unbidden upheavals of thought? (These judgments and counter-judgments, denials and defense?) Will there be a part that wouldn’t cease to be as I am now?
This human child, with whose body I feel the world, in addition to past experience, views the world through the experience of genetic forbearers, parents, grand and great grand parents, a brass band of expectations, great and small. 長老祖先 zhǎnglǎo zǔxiān
To know the person that I sometimes try to explain by imagining who I am, I inquire into this genetic inheritance; and observe its workings in others; and read in every discipline of ancient and modern art and science and philosophy and narratives of every form and culture; trying to understand the principles underlying my own subjectivity. And what shows up is simply that my dominant cognition is an emotional response to things felt by my ancestors for whom I’m expected by my peers to take unearned acclaim and blame.
Thus the Chinese expression: 長老祖先 zhǎnglǎo zǔxiān
Life is a bridge between two worlds.
So here am I, the visible moment of an unseen complex historical pattern, a beacon at the apex of an infinitely expanding ripple in spacetime, somewhat jaded from years of taking credit for things and unfamiliar with their exact origin; just a feeling about it, grateful and sometimes less than thrilled with observations of past times.
(Successive iterations of Pandephonium are posted with the latest version, first:)
Pandephonium – Dance #3, entitled, “Prayer”, a meditation for Choir, Flute, Brass and Orchestral Quartet: light emerging as the horizon falls below a rising sun.
Pandephonium Oriental – 2nd Dance (Chi)
Pandephonium – 1st Dance (Batucada)
Kitsch is often wonderful to behold: Gaudi’s Parc Güell, the Paris Métropole are beautiful but his Iglesia de La Sagrada Familia is fine art. Our downtown skyline in San Diego at night is kitsch as are a Strauss waltz or performances by Elvis Presley, Englebert Humperdinck, Michael Bublé and G.F. Handel; all lovely kitsch expressions, which, though they fascinate, like Seaworld’s fireworks, they aren’t fine art simply because they lack the compelling emotional assessment that defines the political, where something is at stake.
If the nature of art is compelling political assessment (a reasonable proposition), to the extent a community excludes political commentary either with direct censorship or simply lacking a press that promulgates alternate views, art is also excluded–art that is more than beautiful because it incites feelings about moral, spiritual and ethical ideas and concerns.
The very first amendment in our “Bill of Rights” guarantees freedom of expression for another reason:
When we limit political expression in the significant media and newspapers of a community, we promote a community unable to create consensus around political issues that wouldn’t be issues, were they not controversial. And when you suppress discussion, conflicts arise in the form of destructive relationships–usually seen as people acting without consideration for their effects on others.
But also, since art is distinguished from kitsch by its political expression, when we prohibit political speech, we deny authenticity, soul, moral conscience and ethical principle and what we are left with is fluff or worse, like the advertising papers the Union Tribune sometimes throws unbidden into our driveways and the stuff that candidates for political office put into our mail boxes in October like spam.
The life of any community is mirrored in its freedom of expression. The meaning of the word, community, is political. When we constrain expression of political ideas, do we think them no longer thought and felt?
Some things we build, like a cable tram that connects communities over difficult terrain, change our future’s history as we engage with the environment. In faux development, for example Disneyland, engagement is real but we are pretending the environment is real and though everything about it may even seem real, we know it’s a facade, the lack of depth is in it’s purpose–the use, much like an authentically accurate, anatomically correct doll–it looks like the real thing but doesn’t relate to us as a loving, feeling, caring person, though we may pretend that it does, we are not with another person and we are alone with our imagination.
Viewing the results of urban planning here, in the city, where I now live, without judging it good or bad, we can only say that function follows form–that what you see is what you get by building to accommodate people who aren’t here yet in contrast to building to accommodate communities.
We’re rapidly using up space and resources but we might still pull this out of the swamp we’re heading for if we focus on human connection.
For the first time in the history of man and/or music, after many millennia, we can learn how music works harmonically, including a myriad cultural conventions of notation and theory, without running scales on an acoustic instrument–we have an app for that.
Running scales can be charming and beneficial when artfully invented and performed: Bach, Mozart, Ravi Shankar, etc. But many of us, who learned by playing scales as children stopped playing because we were either not gifted in this way or were bored stiff with soul-less instruments. Many were forced by parents or teachers or peer competition to do something we didn’t enjoy with instruments that would challenge the sanity of a virtuous performer. Some early scale-runners applied their limited knowledge and experience in garage bands; some became rock stars and/or stars of jazz. So few have composed a single masterpiece that we must admit the conventional approach, though effective for a few, may actually foreclose possibilities for a much larger number of those who love music and could do well, if they could learn some other way.
Today, using off the shelf music technology and their own musical sensibility, anyone can learn to distinguish nuances of musical relationship with finer resolution and better technical understanding than they could by running scales. With a little guidance from midi interpretations of scores by Mahler, Bartok, Beethoven, etc., they can understand music as well as former scale-runners who became music teachers. Unfortunately, midi performances using the best samples can’t now come close to acoustic performance by a gifted musician. I doubt that will ever change. I don’t expect it will and I feel that when it does, it will be only because our ability to hear music will have become less acute.
Shortly after I started working with digital composition and production, I wrote a scene for a sort of feel-good movie, to be called, “The Schoenberg” and I realized it wasn’t a movie I had written but a future I unknowingly predicted and that particular future may now be emerging.
Playing with their ideas, I’ve learned to follow musical narratives of the amazing Russian, Italian, French, Hungarian, Czech, German, Austrian, English, Spanish composers of the last millennium and those who came to America: Copeland, Ives, Berg, Schoenberg, Adorno, Korngold and Goldsmith.
Composing, for me, is self-rewarding, while my satisfaction from writing occurs when the work is read. Narratives of any kind satisfy our need for connection and its ironic that media us a surrogate for real connection. And since commercial media narratives aims to please an “average” human being–an abstract notion; imaginary, the value of media is limited.
Our actions and inactions are responses to our feelings and as we’ve seen in cinema, music can alter perception without logical reason. Logical explanations follow our actions–interpretations of prior performance. Wisdom is emotional: we feel what we feel.
We can’t question the economic value of music: the music industry rakes in hundreds of billions. In view of this, that public education in the United States abandoned music (to be fair, with the rest of the arts) in the 1980s and now our university classes are led by musicians who are unable to support a lifestyle plying their craft. Most of us teach for a living, not artistic commitment. We gave up artistic ambitions to become carpenters, real estate brokers, educational administrators, and so on, and now we pay begrudging respect to those who achieve commercial success and we tend to focus on recording and production technologies rather than artful expression. Educators haven’t yet seen the possibilities of emerging music technology.
For most of history, children who had excellent support and musical ambition, might become virtuosic performers and composers by applying knowledge of traditions by rote. American jazz musicians had family and peer support in their cultural tradition. Musical development of many popular performers: Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin was only informed by rudiments of the canon but they were typically supported by traditionally trained musicians and song writers. Popular music composition doesn’t rely heavily on the canon but it does rely on common practice conventions of 17th century notation and harmony and most of the $100s of billions is for recordings of popular music.
In the 21st century, we can make complex, articulate and emotionally powerful compositions without ever learning to play an instrument. Moreover, we may better understand, compose and produce music of any tradition and complexity. As a young man, I learned to play classical guitar when I stumbled into buying a concert quality instrument from my flamenco teacher. It was a 1962 concert model made by José Ramirez. In 1970, I traded it for a bass viol made in Czec by another famous instrument maker. I sold it not knowing that great bass viols are even more rare than great guitars. At the time, though I spent countless hours practicing, I hadn’t a clue about harmony. In Canada, for a while, I lived in a small rural village. I had five pianos in my home and played them all by ear. Today, I have a Yamaha Motif 8 professional electronic piano, which interfaces with my digital audio workstation and it was using this technology that I was able to study and understand the finest distinctions of music theory, art and practice.
The term, “Digital Audio Workstation” means, a computer program (software) that processess digital representations of sounds. I use an app called, Logic, sold by Apple, installed on a Macbook. I’ve purchased a library of instrument voices from Vienna Symphonic Instruments, an Austrian company that makes high quality samples by recording instrument sounds performed by competent artists in a nearly completely dry environment. (Dry means without reverberations (reflected sounds reflecting from surfaces or the room). I also use several software synthesizers and digital signal processors that can emulate analog, digital and acoustic instruments and add reverberation and other effects.
A sample is a compressed digital recording of a sound made by an instrument or group of instruments playing a single note. When performers play notes on acoustic (real) instruments, their technique shapes the sound of each note. The DAW can sound that note and the DAW musician can adjust its sound in real time by programming nuances of timing, attack, sustain, pitch, volume, timber, decay, release, reverb, for each note. We program automated changes in the sound of each sampled note, following a pattern using the software’s intuitive graphic user interface. Algorithms can modify sounds to create a humanizing effect. Those who use sound and music technology make use of the same fuzzy distinctions that characterize acoustic music, even though the CPU rounds down computations and is highly precise.
Music technology is probably a lot more important to the future of humanity than we typically understand. We think music is unnecessary but if it is necessary, the reason why this is so is a defining characteristic of human being. You could organize your life to not include the function of depth perception and do away with an eye. You could live without color and remove that part of your brain’s function. You could live without intimate human contact. But when you evaluate things we give our time to for the sake of quality of life, we see that music has a humanizing effect and for the listener, this is without effort. Would we still be human without the ability to enjoy music?
Now, since music technology makes it possible for anyone to learn, regardless of previous experience, without practicing scales on mediocre instruments, the possibility of engagement with music is, for the first time in history, available to everyone. There’s a learning curve that requires commitment but its difficulty is in proportion to the complexity of music you would like to hear.
Last week, I met an educator whose company promotes the use of graphic digital processing as a way to help develop creativity in students who have had difficulty mastering verbal languages. She uses Adobe collection of Creative Suite apps. Comic books often include images to evoke anger, frustration and desire though not as effectively as music, which can contextualize any object within it’s emotional envelope. Music, however, can also be triumphant, fearful, ecstatic, dangerous, remorseful, fraternal, etc. I explained this to the educator I met last week; the idea that sound, unlike graphic technologies, doesn’t even require that viewers pay attention, much less, make rational sense of what they are present to, to get the feeling: reading images or language, we discern and then assess the meaning of prominent features and process our optical perceptions though a grid of that which we recognize and so view the world evoked by the graphic as a recreation of what we already know. In contrast, music directly stimulates emotional assessments and even digitally produced music allow us to directly express emotions without using language or symbols.
Of what use are emotional assessments evoked in music? In films, they tell us how to feel about what we’re seeing. A song, piece or sequence of pieces is also a narrative, imagined by listeners, often unrelated to a visual or verbal image because we understand sound emotionally, independent of rational ideas about source or subject. Music creates an emotional context in which we behold the emotional world, analogous to physical space within which we perceive the physical world and, when composers describe their musical stories with titles like, “Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun*, its unrecognizable.