Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Odd Music Writing

I'm convinced that some of the oddest writing ever written has been written about music. I think this is because music is so different from language that the temptation is to try and make writing about music musical in itself somehow.

I just ran across an example of writing about music that rates high on the perplexity scale and, as has happened before, it is on the site NewMusicBox, a site devoted to talking about new music. The piece is titled "Tracing Influence" by Jeff Arnal. Here is the first paragraph:
My mind is blank, but down one inch deep I have, we have, access. Access to what happened before—the universe is embedded in all of us. Is that too dreamy? What we heard, what was seen, what was felt…all that was picked up along the way. As moments click by, we find ourselves moving through time and space picking up fragments of experience. Our senses are tuned to what we want to hear and what we want to block. Some sounds stick—context, emotion, and openness allow for the sound faucet to be turned on. We ponder, work through, process, and invent. Invention is a tricky proposition. Are any sounds or structures unheard?
Now if you didn't know that was about music, or leading up to something about music, what would you have thought? Sometimes I find it very helpful to simply erase the first paragraph of something I have written, music or prose, just because it tends to be where I figure out what I am doing. Erasing it gets us to where I do know what I am doing! Perhaps Jeff should have done the same. This kind of writing--stream of consciousness--looks like it might mean something, but as soon as you engage that part of your mind that explores and evaluates meaning, you realize there ain't nuthin there! When you read stuff like this it is with the hope that the next sentence will explain what the last sentence was about. Alas, here each sentence is like someone waving at you to get your attention and then failing to say anything. Do we have access to what happened before? Only if we actually remember it. Do moments "click by"? Not that I have noticed.  Are our senses tuned to what we want to block? I would say the opposite. How would "openness allow for the sound faucet to be turned on"? What does that even mean? And the last sentence "Are any sounds or structures unheard?" must take some sort of prize for sublime meaninglessness. Yes, at this moment, pretty much all the sounds and structures are unheard because I'm not listening to them, instead I am reading, or trying to, this astoundingly useless prose. This is the stringing together of words, but it is far from being writing.

Do things get better? Here is the next paragraph:
Consider the path of water. An object in the water can be followed, but the water itself?  Does it matter? We live in a culture of mix-up. This line of thought circles towards the question: What are artists thinking about? What informs their decisions?
Nope. This is what happens when you read too much of the Tao Te Ching without understanding any of it. And when no-one has ever mentioned to you that mixed metaphors are bad. The next paragraph finally almost manages to articulate a thought:
In the digital age, we are tethered to each other more than at any other time in history. We are surrounded by thousands of unfiltered sounds. The way that we experience art and culture has been retooled and re-imagined—for better or worse, this is the “now” in the 21st century.
Does having many potential channels of communication mean we are "tethered"? No, thank goodness. There are certainly many sounds out there, but we do tend to filter them by avoiding the ones we don't want to hear. I want to ask where is the agency? Who is tethering us? Who is surrounding us with thousands of sounds? Who is retooling and reimagining the way that we experience art and culture? The problem with this kind of writing is that, even when it gets around to saying something, the causality is buried under a bleary hangover of babble.

The article goes on and on and on wandering aimlessly over a landscape emptied of logic and reason. Read it if you like, but I doubt you will find much of value therein.

I saw a clip the other day about The Great Unlearning (a reference to a work by Confucius) that our culture seems to be going through. After decades of nuanced critiques and vicious smears of the heritage of Western civilization, we seem to have reached a point where even supposedly educated people are largely incapable of rational thought--or writing! This is rather unfortunate, isn't it? Can we attribute it to "bad luck" or did someone actually do this?

Yes, that was a bit sardonic! Sorry I'm not putting up a more musical post, but if I can reassure you that the next time you run into writing about music that resembles this sort of thing, that you are perfectly within your rights to completely ignore it, then I count this as a public service.

Now let's listen to some music. Here is a piece by Joaquin Rodrigo that is not played a lot, but a very fine piece nonetheless. The performer is Sedona Farber, age fourteen and she does a fine job.

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