week52 pt.3: what’d we learn?
if, by accident, anything interesting should be said in this journal, it would mostly likely be on account of how little pedigree, cultivation, education i have on the topic of western musical theory, even at most fundamental level—and i nevertheless continue to throw in my hee-haw. to teach a subject i was never a student of. but such are the graces granted by the musical experience—even the harvard expert is little more than the best student, in league with the adolescent picking up her first 5-string. not to mention how much one would be held in bad conscience with the times if one consistently withheld one’s hee-haw, if one withheld one’s bad ideas from the good one—
“they’ll meet each other in your stomach” was my mother’s solution to the problem of serving one part of a meal before the other was ready—i’m afraid that is the same sense for timing that characterizes our time’s creative output: what matters that your ideas are half-baked?—for peace sake, get them out the door! how strange the bygone prerequisite of a long gestation period prior to creative output would seem to us now.
—it takes an especially rare recipe for foolishness to have no intention of being one with the times. as such, this journal is my list of half-baked ideas. if ever i should ever be the author of good, twice-baked, thrice-baked ideas (biscuits and triscuits of the mind ..)—then i should like to point to this small heap as proof of my timeliness. but my bet is placed on the more rewarding prospect of these doughy thought-crumbs—yes, crumbs—being synthesized, after a great deal of rumination, in the stomach of some other person. it would have to be a stronger stomach, the kind with all that pedigree, and aforementioned edu-culti-vation. well then, in the meantime: arbeit! arbeit! arbeit! (wird es uns Frieden bringen?)
so. by way of the quickest glance at these last 5 months of thought crumbs, one should ask: what’d we learn?——indubitably the most interesting consideration has come by way of a question: what i call the question of seriousness. it is a very recent and unintended consequence of my endless perusing through biographies of composers. always impressed by, always in awe of their possession of their art from an early age—it is an equally baffling thing that so many of them had inexplicable features in their psyche: religious devotion, anti-semitism, rampant misogyny. oh yes, and racism. surely surely these are symptom of the times. nevertheless it is baffling that the height and intimacy which their art achieved could have been cultivated amidst such inarable prejudices.
on my part, the most explanation i’m willing to grant such prejudices is that they are all the proof needed that the mind in which they dwell lacks seriousness at the most fundamental level. yes one lacks seriousness about the intricacies of the human condition and the art that expresses it if half the human population (women) is relegated to subordinacy, or racial inferiority, or religious superstition.
at any rate, one better be very sure of what one means by seriousness if one is to accuse some of the history’s greatest musicians of lacking it.
(the question of seriousness—a riddle)———one of the qualifying features of a timeless work of art is how often it reveals to the general audience a new dimension in which the artform can be expressed—one is thereby sure that the artwork doesn’t rely on the industry of its artform. one such example is wim wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) which has been for me the lacquered apse in the wide dome of my film experience. all by itself it redefined for me how intimately the imagery of poetry can be wedded to the poetry of cinema. two angels—played by a clean-shaven pre-Downfall bruno ganz, and a leather-faced otto sander—roam the streets of berlin to suffer a near constant audio track of the spiritual thoughts of its pedestrian population. that’s at least one way of describing the film, another is by way of milan kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is itself a contemplation on beethoven’s Es Muss Sein (It Must Be): a lamentation over weightlessness, baselessness, and the intangibility of being. some, more than others, are in need of the most decisive justification for life, and even more for living; and should intellectual honesty prevent them from settling on any one justification, their gradually psyche evaporates into a groundless state, absent of the more obvious confinements needed for living—without weight. it is this lack of weight, which in Wings of Desire is expressed in angelic terms, that is framed as a contradictory question in the film’s climactic monologue. in Marion’s monologue—she’s a tightrope act in a circus, played by the mesmerizing solveig dommartin—the question of serious is reoriented away from truth-justice axiom and towards the herd instinct and its desire to be one with the times:
I’ve never played with anyone, and yet I’ve never opened my eyes and thought: Now it’s serious. At last it’s becoming serious. [...] Was I the only one who wasn’t serious? Is it our times that are not serious. “” Marion, Wings of Desire
the abstract above does so little justice to the unbearable lightness and eternal gaze with which those words were delivered. i’ll need at least two lifetimes of appreciate this film.
Was I the only one who wasn’t serious?—has a better question ever been asked?
for the human animal—and i believe this strongly—there’s is nothing of more paramount importance than our relation to one another: truth, reality, justice and so on are afterthoughts of our profound herd instinct. nevertheless. nevertheless, nevertheless: this same animal has an equally important inclination: truth, reality, justice and so on.
consequently, consequently; consequently: that question of seriousness is a riddle. for if seriousness is a matter of one’s honesty in relation to truth and reality, then surely one is already at odds with the overwhelming majority of the human population. on the other hand, how can one claim to be serious if one is at odds with this majority, in light of how much we are indebted to, in need of, one another?
Is it our time that is not serious? that is an impossible question. the ‘times’ is always serious, that has always been the case without exception—regardless of whatever new madness has caught the masses. this is what i meant by the rare recipe for foolishness needed to have no intention of being one with the times’. yet again, without the possibility of alignment with truth and reality, how could one bear to live? perhaps one is best served to live foolishly for the sake of seriousness?—come to think of it, a tightrope walker in a circus is a profound profession.
it’s the year 2018, and i’m attempting a journal about dead white men whose albums dropped 200 years ago—surely i’m not serious. that is no way to go about getting with the times. but here again one is grateful for the many graces granted by the musical experience. it leaps over such nasty little riddles like the one above—(here i have in mind a scene from Nietzsche’s prologue for Zarathustra; wherein a trickster figure chases a tightrope walker and leaps over him)—it is at one with both kinds of seriousness. it is a bridge between now and eternity. it is the opiate of the masses and the stimulating narcotic to arouse those few exceptions who feel that unbearable lightness of being. those in need of a justification for living.
not only music, but anything that reminds us of our inseparable material union with the rest of the universe. a good meal, for example. music just happens to do so whilst also intimating an eternity which this material existence is separated from and haunted by, and which it relieves itself of by the fabulations of superstitions and mysticism. music is a bridge for those on their long way from mysticism to truth (whatever that may be). music answers the riddle of seriousness: if you’ve got an instrument nearby, just one note and you’ll hear for yourself, the reverberations of eternity. so what does it matter that we are still on our way? what does it matter that we are still at odds the masses? what’s the rush? if you’re listening, if you’re seriously listening—then you’re already there…
(some highlights from the last little while)-------
week38: music as a parachute
what our celebrity atheists (and i mean dawkins, harris, dennett, hitchens and the like) consistently deny as relevant is the degree to which we are in need of belief systems for the operation of even the most menial economic functions. nevertheless, no one can say, of whose who find themselves diametrically opposed, that they’ve not relied at some point on this self-denial. in fact i’d say that the majority of our minority required the overestimation of rationality, as an element of survival. however, a year, five years, a decade of this stiff clean air and one’s nostrils become singed with the cold indifference of an overestimation of reason as a vector for social intercourse. yes indeed, one is need of a balm. of some sort of midway estate between the incalculable depths of an organic spiritualism and the tangible, scientific, communicable intellectual dialect known impudently as reason. because the born-again atheist (that is, those who realized atheism as an instinct) is so far from the church, she needs music more than ever. she needs it as a salt-lick, as a humidifier, a parachute for every leap of faith out of faith.
the higher the altitudes of a philosophical idea the more it is need of some kind of a parlor. that is, the clicking of the mundane, the music of time passing by, windows that the reveal vistas of just how big the world is. that is, to be surrounded by those (and the artistic products of those) who have gotten used to living. those who can fit the same melodie to the most mundane happenstance as to the awe-some spectacle. those to whom every grand idea, every new and furnished preposition must exist within the larger, stronger, older context of a cultural aesthetic.
Week40: in a landscape
i think rhythm makes us lazy, heavy footed. that one knows a musical experience by it’s rhythm is to explore a flat landscape with something of an auditory map: ‘turn here’ ‘watch out for that drop’... there are hardly any secret places, hidden avenues and so on…. music that relies on the same rhythm all throughout, and is unable to deviate from its own pattern, is music primarily for the conscious experience. to see the inherent problem in that, imagine a film wherein only the main characters exist, and the background is a complete blank. one becomes too conscious of the rhythm, too expectant of the singular musical idea. we are always reacting to much more than we are conscious of—cued by images as by sounds—as such, the more there is to react to in a musical experience, that we are not necessarily conscious of, the more we are in a landscape.
week42: intimations of eternity
gratitude should pour forth continuously that there still exist musicians today that can drum up such monumental entrances into weightlessness from the piano. the last time i heard kevin kern’s ‘we should waltz’ i was busy at my cooking, frantic as usual. it stopped me, and with an about-face i headed for the nearest wooden chair. i think it might have the smell of something burning that yanked me back from that endless slouch…….
week43: a gymnastics of attention
for those of us newly weaned to musical experience as the supreme secular cult of aesthetics—those of us just starting to believe that what we believed in all along was not the divine in the music, but the musicality of the divine—being young billy goats, kids through and through, and in need of directional cues and paved trails in the wilderness of options: an artist like mozart—his first two violin concertos for example—are blessings of an inexhaustible kind….there cannot be too conscious an effort towards whatever kind of music improves one’s performance in the gymnastics of attention.
week46: metaphor vs analogy
a metaphor is always a better tool than an analogy in the description of a musical idea—this on account of the use of a metaphor to make comparisons that are not explicitly apparent, thereby needing to pull upon the lasso of the imagination in order to capture of the sentiment communicated by two otherwise distinct images. conversely, an analogy merely elaborates what—had better attention been paid on the subject—could have been identified by one’s own senses. by that distinction, the best metaphors merely brings one closer to the subject, encourages a leaning in into the realm wherein analogies are possible but—at least in the musical sense—not needed.
week50: music in october
good authors have the talent of perhaps telling you something new; great ones have a consistent skill of saying something you already wordlessly know, but in that new new unprecedented way—i need not have to say which category our dear Nietzsche belongs to. for example, i’ve since felt that the release of bon iver’s 22 A Million at the very end of september 2016, thereby dominating the month of october, is yet another proof of how completely justin vernon’s musicality is saturated by a singular autumnal aesthetic, the image of which is the formation or final thaw of hoarfrost on a windshield, on either side of winter. october is simply the best month for music. at the moment i’ve scheduled four compositions by sibelius for that month—and if i’m lucky some other such cherished artist might as well drop another impromptu gem for the fall season. thereafter, the air is colder, crisper and one suffers less humidity for the same amount exertion—it’ll be november and i might give this tenth symphony another go.