Curating The Week: Silent How To Videos, Imagery From Sound, The Psychology of Time Perception

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An article about the Primitive Technology videos on YouTube.

“For all the virtuosic craftsmanship on display in these YouTube videos, the real draw may be the absorbing peace of watching a man go about his work…The videos are virtually silent, for one thing—no talking, no explaining—so the only sound is ambient: the rustle of leaves being gathered; the muffled sound of a sharp stone biting into green wood; the occasional clear piping of bird song.”

An article about creating imagery from sound vibrations.

“Every object has a characteristic frequency, or frequencies, at which it vibrates most, with the least input of energy. Those vibrations are associated with standing wave patterns called modes. When the Chladni plate, for instance, vibrates in one of its modes, a pattern appears in the sand on the plate.”

An article about the psychology of time perception. (Prelude to a forthcoming book.)

“Time seems to flow in discrete units—it seems somehow independent and self-contained—not because we perceive units of empty time but because each of our acts of perception (or, more likely, our memories of those perceptions) is discrete. ‘Now’ arises again and again only because we say ‘now’ again and again. The present moment, [William] James contended, is ‘a synthetic datum,’ not experienced as much as manufactured. The present isn’t something we stumble through; it’s something we create for ourselves over and over, moment by moment.”

Ventrilo-Dialogue: 
A Conversation Among Composers

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Johann Bach:

I think that the aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God 
and the refreshment of the soul.

John Cage:

I think that music is everywhere.

Arvo Pärt:

I have a need to concentrate on each sound, so that every blade of grass would be as important as a flower.

Steve Reich:

I’m interested in a compositional process and a sounding music that are one in the same thing.

Autechre:

I don’t think of a sound in my head and try and find it on the keyboard.
I just find the sound on the keyboard.

(Head nodding, awkward silence, stirring of drinks.)

Curating The Week: Questioning Mindfulness, Autechre, Tanya Tagaq

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An article questioning mindfulness.

“Despite many grand claims, the scientific evidence in favor of the Moment’s being the key to contentment is surprisingly weak. When the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality conducted an enormous meta-analysis of over 18,000 separate studies on meditation and mindfulness techniques, the results were underwhelming at best.”

An article on Autechre.

“Autechre have been demonstrating, for almost twenty-five years, that using paradigms modeled on the behavior of physically manipulated instruments is just unproductive. Any signal leaving a speaker is an analog, living thing, no matter how it is made.”

An article and video on Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.

“The sounds she cultivates from her disciplined practice are often described as wild and primal, sometimes frightening or ugly. These sometimes seem like euphemisms for something more overtly sexist or racist, like what critics really want to say is that Tagaq sounds ‘savage’ or ‘unladylike’ because she subverts expectations of how the female voice or just music in general should sound.”

Theory As Poetry: Italo Calvino’s “Six Memos for the Next Millennium” (2016)

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A meticulous effort
to match the written
to the not-written,
to the sum of the sayable
and the not-sayable.
These are two distinct drives
toward exactitude.

In trying to account
for the density and continuity
of the world around us,
language is exposed as lacunose,
fragmentary:
it always says something less
than the sum
of what can be experienced.

Words connect
the visible track
to the invisible thing,
the absent thing,
the thing that is desired
or feared,
like a fragile makeshift bridge
cast across the void.

For this reason
the proper use of language, to me,
is one that helps us approach things
(present or absent)
with discretion,
attention, and caution,
and with respect
for what these things
(present or absent)
can tell us without words.

-Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millenium (2016 [1988]), pp. 91, 94.

On Performance

 

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When I think about the word performance I often think about musicians, actors, dancers, even teachers putting on some kind of show. There’s a spectacle aspect to most performances though: they involve some degree of put on, some level of acting, some amount of fakeness. I say this even though I myself perform as a musician six days a week. But maybe performing isn’t the problem. Maybe the problem is focusing on its superficial aspects rather than the other, more substantial demands it makes our concentration, problem-solving, and attention?

Lately I’ve been thinking about some of the redeeming and compelling qualities of performance that have little to do with spectacle. One quality that interests me is how performance can bring out the best in us by urging us to surpass what we already know. In my experience, this quality often manifests itself through improvising in situations in which I have a rough idea of where I’m going but don’t know exactly how I’ll get there, or how I’ll get out of where I’ve gone. I compose this way, formulating a vague melodic game plan, along the lines of I’ll start here, then go higher, linger there for a while, then I’ll come back down. Flying without a net, basically, but just having this simple game plan is enormously helpful. I’ve used it enough to be convinced that its utility is due to it being simple enough to remember in real-time (I often play slowly and leave space, which helps), and also because it’s an open-ended constraint. I haven’t put any limits, for instance, on how long I’ll linger once I’ve moved to a higher register, or on how long it will take me to make my return descent. What does this have to do with performance? Performance is what brings the game plan to life and dares me to play with its constraints; I perform within the game plan by almost going beyond it.

I do something similar with writing. Here I don’t think in spatial terms exactly, but work along analogous lines. Let’s say I want to write about the idea of melodic game plans. Immediately I have three possible conceptual launch points: melody, games, and plans. How are melodies like games of planning? And off we go. It could be that a first paragraph will be all about melody, leaving aside games and plans for the moment. And maybe in the course of that paragraph the word moment stands out as a new connector. Maybe moment deserves its own paragraph to explain how melodies are moment connectors, architectonic plans in the form of pitched games? Once again, what does this have to do with performance? Two things. First, I’m trying find the performative potentials in my materials–which in this hypothetical example is a mere three words. Second, my playing around with my materials is both my performance and also a finding the direction in which my materials will ultimately take me. In other words, in improvising music and riffing on ideas my performing is a way of structuring, a way forward, a way of thinking through, a way of building outwards from a rough plan, one note or word at a time, to reveal some kind of path. Simply put, performance is at once a rising to an occasion and also its creation.

One final thing about performances is that they are deeply time bound. When a concert begins, the ensemble doesn’t make a false start and then say So Sorry! Ignore that. We’ll start over. The musicians just keep going despite how they began–no turning back now. The clock is ticking and the audience have come for an experience that can’t be turned back. These realities lend the proceedings a sense of urgency. Whether you’re performing, composing, or writing, the magical thing about a bona fide performance runs deeper than mere spectacle. A great performance feeds off of time in the most productive, imaginative way of which the performer is capable.