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Larry Kart

Musings on how music means

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Like all of of us here, I get a great deal of pleasure from music, and normally I don’t ask myself what the nature of that pleasure is. Instead, I normally ask myself the not unrelated question of what it is that performer X or composer Z is doing that delights and intrigues me and how what they do differs from what performer Q and composer M do that I also respond to with delight, and what those performers and composers do that differs from the music of other performers and composers that doesn’t interest me or that I even find annoying.

Now as I ask myself those “what it is that delights or doesn’t delight me?” questions, I am, at the same time, necessarily trying to divine the nature of the language that these musicians and composers are speaking  — an act that is more or less inseparable from my more or less spontaneous sense of how well or ill they are speaking it.

At this point I should add that when it comes to music, the words “language” and “speaking” are metaphorical — at least in relation to verbal or written language or speech. The language, the patterns of meaning, of any intelligible piece of music is a beast of a different order, I think, than any intelligible piece of verbal discourse. Not that the former can’t be quite simple and familiar and the latter quite complex and esoteric. But this side of sheer nonsense (intentional or not), written or spoken acts can always be decoded/paraphrased/put into other words — because they are made up of words that have fairly definite meanings in themselves. Yes, the fairly definite meanings of particular words can be horsed around with to a fare-the-well by those so inclined, but horse around though they will, they can’t turn a horse into a picket fence or vice versa.

But though the materials of music — its notes, tones, rhythms, etc. — are quantifiable/measurable to a great degree, they are not quantifiable/measurable in terms of their meanings in the way that  the words of verbal discourse are; and the larger musical acts made up of those materials are even less quantifiable. Which is not to say that the materials of music —  and the larger musical acts made up of them —  are less intelligible than the materials of verbal discourse (i.e. words)  are; rather they are intelligible along other more fluid, less definite lines. In particular — and it pains me as a onetime would-be music critic to say this — we all probably can agree that even the most elegant verbal account of a particular piece of music cannot stand in for that actual shaped sonic experience in the way that a careful paraphrase can reasonably convey the sense of just about any verbal act.

As I’ve said,  an inseparable part of the pleasure of music for me — in addition to just letting it wash over me — is the attempt I can’t help but make to reach out toward its “language-ness,” to try to detect its modes of meaning. Johnny Hodges’ vibrato, for instance. Why and how does it do its work, and why and how (a somewhat different question) does it affect me? Likewise, Benny Carter’s no less striking vibrato, and Lee Konitz’s relative lack of same. And what of this reaching out in itself? Is this just a quirk or habit that a few of us engage in for better or for worse, or is there some underlying principle at work here?

 

 I think there is. And  in an attempt to kick the can down the road, I’m first going to kick it sideways and then backwards —  away from those who listen to music and try to apprehend its principles of language and toward those who actually make music, the performers and composers. It is my firm belief that even those performers and composers who are most inclined to codify things do not know before they they place their hands on their instruments or put pen to paper exactly what the meaning of their next act of musical “speech” is going to be — not only its meaning to their listeners but also, and perhaps as important, to themselves. Why? Because even the sort of hyper-aware performer or composer I’ve just described is dealing with materials whose components of meaning are, again, necessarily more indefinite than than the components of verbal language are. (And here I want to raise the possibility that the relative indefiniteness or fluidity of the materials of music may well play a crucial role in what many of us find to be music’s tremendous power.)

 

In any case, what do such musicians and composers do? Like every less hyper-aware maker of music does, they reach out into the personal realm of musical material that is available to them and they make choices — try to feel their way toward whatever destination they think or hope might be out there for them. And  as they reach out they inevitably react to/reflect upon the choices and connections they’ve made on the basis of what those choices and connections mean to them; they are, at least momentarily, their own audience. One can see this process at work in all the drafts and sketches that Beethoven, perhaps the ultimate self-questioning/self-reflective composer, left behind. Indeed, in some of his later works, that self-questioning/self-reflective process eventually gets built into the language of the work itself.

 

So it is more or less inevitable — I want to say natural — that we apprehend  the presence of choice among alternatives in a piece of music we're listening to. Likewise we are, or can become, aware of the performer or composer’s  pre-choice process of reaching out into the realm of potential musical materials — materials whose eventual meanings (when they’ve been shaped, reshuffled, combined, etc.) are not yet fully known to the would-be music maker.  And  it is my belief or intuition that this reaching out to or among inherently somewhat indefinite musical materials in order to create shapes of more definite satisfying meaning is, in itself, an act or source of meaning, for both the maker and the listener.

 

I said a while ago that in order to kick this can down the road, I needed to go sideways and backwards — sideways from the listener to the makers of music, and backwards to the kitchen in which, at age nine or so, I sat watching and listening while my mother listened to classical music on the radio. You’ll have to take my word for it that she was at once intensely yet gently responsive to what she heard — like a leaf in the wind is the image that comes mind. And what I cannot in any way prove, though I believe it to be true, is that as she listened to a Schubert song or a piece of Mozart (both among her favorites), she not only understood the meaning of those realized sounds and their story-telling emotional significations, but she also grasped how and why their makers had to reach out into a realm of relative evanescence in order to tell the stories they wanted to tell.

Her mother, who had a lovely contralto voice, used to sing to herself in her own kitchen, a favorite of hers being Robert Burns’ 

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,

My heart's in the Highlands,  a-chasing the deer; 

Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, 

My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go. 

The emphasis of this act of self-performance on the part of my grandmother was always placed on the phrase “my heart is not here.” And though she was a first-generation immigrant to America — from Russia, not from Scotland — the “here” where her heart was not was, I would say, not literal but metaphorical. And even more so, I believe, was this the case for my mother as she listened to and grasped the music on the radio and, in effect, or so it seemed clear to me. let her heart travel to the places where those long-dead music-makers had gone in order to make their music.

 

That is what I thought I had witnessed. And without my being at all conscious of this at the time, I was learning in effect that there were such “not here” places, that some music-makers needed go there, and that those who only listened to the musical results could go there too and even try to understand and  speak of the pleasures and meanings of reaching out to this “not here-ness.”

I said above that I wanted to raise the possibility that the relative indefiniteness of the materials of music may well play a crucial role in what many of us find to be music’s tremendous power. Now I want to try to be more precise. 

If the materials of music are inherently less definite than the materials of verbal discourse, I think that for some of the actual makers of music there is yet another realm of potential musical material, that realm of the “not here,” that those music makers reach into when their current level of knowledge does not give them the answers they require. What they then find and come back with may crystallize  for them right off and be felt as sheer gifts of the “ear” (one suspects that this often was the case for Mozart or Lester Young); or they may be mulled over in multiple drafts, as was the case with Beethoven or perhaps, in his own way, Monk, and then be incorporated into the final work in the form of expressively reified doubts or meaningfully preserved hesitations. Or what they find in that realm, as was the case with Charlie Parker on many occasions, may be grasped, examined, and displayed inside-out, right-side up, and upside-down in a veritable eye blink, with the sheer visceral compression of these acts being felt as a key part of their meanings.

 

In any case, some listeners as they experience the music itself not only sense the presence of its makers' paths of choice but also feel impelled to trace those paths back to where they sense they came from — to the realm of material that was “not here” and that had to be reached out into by the music makers in a beyond the rational manner. And when one is impelled to trace  or try to trace those paths, a particular pleasure can be felt.  First, one becomes a kind of shadow participant in the act of creation, not just a recipient of creation’s gifts. Second, one gets to brush up against some of the “not here” oneself.

The belief that one has done so may be a chimera; that is a possibility one has to admit. Nor is there any method that comes to mind that would prove things one way or the other — or for that matter prove or disprove that the “not here,” in the sense I’ve been talking about it, is at all present in the world of music. And yet if, say, Lester Young were not in touch with some form of the “not here” that he then brought down to the world of the here and now,  then I really don’t know anything, do I?

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It's late at night, so maybe I'm missing something.  Are you saying that improvisers have "a path" they follow as they create - an emotional or intellectual path above/beyond chord changes, meter, tempo, sound?  Maybe some do.  But for a comparison, do you know how you feel about a piece of music before you write your review?  (I usually know only vaguely.)  For me, listening to all those alternate takes of "I Have a Good One for You" on the "All Music" CD is a very good demonstration of how a solo arises, evolves, becomes an fulfilling work in an artist.  There's a path.

Today I heard a knockout Lester Young "Lady Be Good," broadcast with Basie ca. 1938, that was totally unlike the 1936 classic.  Totally improvised out of the aether?  Or a different path that night?

As to how how intervals, harmony, rhythm affects listeners, the way sound waves land in our ears and the way our nervous systems respond seem to answer your question.  

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Very interesting.

For me, meaning in music is a social meaning. Over breakfast I've been listening to Little Milton's 'Grits ain't groceries live'. Music is one of the ways societies express themselves; words are another. Different languages express different societies and the way they think.

In English, we count in tens with two separate words, related to one and two, for eleven and twelve but clearly different from thirteen to nineteen.

In French, they count in tens with six separate words, related to one to six for eleven to sixteen, which are different from seventeen to nineteen.

In Mandinke (Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal), they count in tens. Eleven is the linguistic equivalent of one-teen. The Bambara, also in Mali, whose language is related to Mandinke, do too.

But in Senegal, the Wolof... The Wolof THINK differently. They count in fives, with six to nine being the linguistic equivalent of one-five-teen.

Frivolously, I wonder what the ancient Wolof were doing with their OTHER hand.

But it ain't really frivolous; counting and the formulation of words that mean numbers is a completely basic part of the experience of every society in the world. But it's not necessarily a universal experience; if counting developed after the formation of separate societies (which is clear) then it must have done so as a matter of separate decisions by members of those societies, so it's theoretically possible for some societies to have decided not to go for this new-fangled avant-garde concept. And maybe some did. We don't know about them because they either died out or were taken over by another society that understood the world a bit better.

But different languages do indicate different societies. English English and American English are very similar languages but not the same. So are the varieties of American English spoken in black and white areas. But it's hard for me, as an English person, to truly understand quite a lot of what a black singer means, or even to make out what the words are. Our languages are farther apart. Our audiences react differently to singers and musicians. And as for Jamaican singers...

I can get the music they're making, however, at the same level as I can get that of Gene Ammons, Big Jay McNeely or Booker Ervin.

The message is in the actual way those men play their tenor sexes. The first impact - with me - is in the SOUND they make this instrument make. The second is in the intensity of their playing, which is, to me, a way of saying their conviction, their seriousness. Third is the way they emphasise different elements of a phrase, which makes what they do truly become something like speech. Fourth the way these emphases make rhythm.

Sorry, but I don't give a toss about the actual notes they play or their harmonies. That's counting and seems too basic a thing to express anything real that is a social fact.

MG

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11 hours ago, johnblitweiler said:

It's late at night, so maybe I'm missing something.  Are you saying that improvisers have "a path" they follow as they create - an emotional or intellectual path above/beyond chord changes, meter, tempo, sound?  Maybe some do.  But for a comparison, do you know how you feel about a piece of music before you write your review?  (I usually know only vaguely.)  For me, listening to all those alternate takes of "I Have a Good One for You" on the "All Music" CD is a very good demonstration of how a solo arises, evolves, becomes an fulfilling work in an artist.  There's a path.

Today I heard a knockout Lester Young "Lady Be Good," broadcast with Basie ca. 1938, that was totally unlike the 1936 classic.  Totally improvised out of the aether?  Or a different path that night?

As to how how intervals, harmony, rhythm affects listeners, the way sound waves land in our ears and the way our nervous systems respond seem to answer your question.  

I think that some improvisers  and composers do have  or take a "path" or "paths" to a "not here" place or places that is/are not "above/beyond chord changes, meter, tempo, sound" per se (i.e. the  materials there are not of a wholly different order that the one you mentioned) but that is/are "not here" in that those materials in each person's case are beyond what they know at some point of their creative need and that they then reach out into that "not here" place and find that what they need has now become available to them. Again, there's a lot of possible variety here -- from my examples of the pondering over multiple drafts Beethoven and the, I assume, near instantaneous Charlie Parker. Mozart, I would guess,  was not unlike Parker in that respect. Though what Mozart came up with did not always emerge under such pressure (though he was by all accounts one heck of an improviser) I think it tended to be reached out to and grasped by him in a similar in-the-moment manner -- as a "gift of the ear" is the way I think Wolfgang Amadeus might have put it. 

"But for a comparison, do you know how you feel about a piece of music before you write your review?"

Good question. Typically, especially if it's one of those deadline reviews, I know how I feel in a "kernel" sense, and then as I write I uncover/discover further thoughts and feelings. These are seldom if ever in contradiction to what I felt right off the bat, but fairly often those further thoughts and reflections are enlightening and fun too. Also, as those further thoughts and feelings crystallize into the relative concreteness of words, those words typically interact with what I'm thinking and feeling.
 

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Language means language. It’s not a metaphor.

Music is a language that is at best only partially translate-able to the printable.

That’s my experience, anyway.

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7 hours ago, The Magnificent Goldberg said:

Sorry, but I don't give a toss about the actual notes they play or their harmonies. That's counting and seems too basic a thing to express anything real that is a social fact.

So, do you approach all languages phonetically, content to hear the sounds of the words and remain totally clueless about their meaning?

To a degree, I get that. But between Salsa and opera, I’ve found that contentment to lead to an unsatisfactory, and at times totally illusional, sense of “understanding”. Too often, what it sounds like without actually knowing the language and what it actually is saying are totally different.

Notes and harmonies are words and grammar , at least to the extent that the language of music parallels that of verbal language. But music is closer to speech than it is written language, so if all you care to comprehend about language is the phonetics, think about how easy it would be to hear “ I want to slit your throat” as “oh, what a cute puppy” and vice-versa.

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48 minutes ago, JSngry said:

So, do you approach all languages phonetically, content to hear the sounds of the words and remain totally clueless about their meaning?

To a degree, I get that. But between Salsa and opera, I’ve found that contentment to lead to an unsatisfactory, and at times totally illusional, sense of “understanding”. Too often, what it sounds like without actually knowing the language and what it actually is saying are totally different.

Notes and harmonies are words and grammar , at least to the extent that the language of music parallels that of verbal language. But music is closer to speech than it is written language, so if all you care to comprehend about language is the phonetics, think about how easy it would be to hear “ I want to slit your throat” as “oh, what a cute puppy” and vice-versa.

I dare say you're correct. You're a musician and you're SUPPOSED to get it. But I don't get it. What I get are relationships between musicians and audiences and some of the reasons why ordinary people who know no more than me about music go out to see/buy records to hear those musicians.

To me, the art of great musicians is to be able to get a message out to the great majority of people in their communities who know next to nothing about what they're doing with the music (and probably don't really care about that either) but who know and like how it feels. Because it feels like they feel. And like they think. Now there's got to be a sense in which you can't join them, because you're educated to do something different. Or maybe sometimes you can and sometimes you can't. I don't know you from the inside any more than I know Gene Ammons from the inside. I only know me that way.

MG

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When I was a student, one of he courses I had was Physiology. The way information is conveyed through the nerves in the body, via electrical signals that modulate in frequency, has some parallel to the basic language of music - notes are sounds of different frequencies. Because music is so immensely powerful, yet made up of these rather basic elements at source, I thought "Well, that is why music is so powerful. It's basically speaking the language of the brain [The brain being just nerves]". Just because it was a simple solution - that's why it appealed to me.

I had the idea that the brain somehow encodes emotion in a form akin to music. Years ago I did find a paper where one Professor seemed to imply something parallel, but nothing else.

Anyway, that's always stuck with me - but, by language of the brain, I mean emotional language of the brain - because that is  basically what music is for me, a massively effective way of articulating, conveying and evoking emotions - feelings (the role of film music - where music is used instrumentally to this effect).  We think in words, that is the conscious language of the brain - while visual symbols and mental pictures also have their effect.

So...a totally non-aesthetic way of looking at it.

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2 hours ago, JSngry said:

Language means language. It’s not a metaphor.

Music is a language that is at best only partially translate-able to the printable.

That’s my experience, anyway.

"Language" = use of words in an agreed way as a means of human communication. (My emphasis)

The language of music is analogous to the language of verbal discourse but lacks the "agreed"-meanings element of words. OTOH, using its non-verbal means, music can present us with meanings that are very intense and more or less inescapable in their power to affect us, even though they are less definite, more amorphous than the paraphrasable meanings of verbal discourse.

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37 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

"Language" = use of words in an agreed way as a means of human communication. (My emphasis)

The language of music is analogous to the language of verbal discourse but lacks the "agreed"-meanings element of words. OTOH, using its non-verbal means, music can present us with meanings that are very intense and more or less inescapable in their power to affect us, even though they are less definite, more amorphous than the paraphrasable meanings of verbal discourse.

Ok, i've evolved my definition of "language" to include any means of communication. Body language, color language, sign language, flag language, whatever. In all these cases, the initial language is then "translated" "word language". But something is lost along the way, word language is a reduction of the initial expression, not an expansion.

Music is no different, and is perhaps even more so that way. It is all about the creation, transmission, and reception of vibration patterns, That's essentially what any language is because everything is vibration, any sensory experience can be traced to a vibrationary action.

"We" like to think of "words" as the ultimate expression, because they give a sense of measure, and with measure comes the ability to control (in ways both benevolent and malevolent). But we kid ourselves if we begin to believe that "beyond words" is the same as "beyond meaning". That's just a denial of just how much is involved in the depth of actions and reactions that come with communication, and perhaps, in some cases, an abdication of the responsibility to confront that and instead just dumb everything down by capping the ceiling of possibilities to a point where control can be maintained/sustained.

I don't think it's any secret that any number of "jazz musicians" (or musicians of any kind, really) think in terms of their music as "saying something", not just as a slangy jive-talk slogan, but as a real thing, and well they should. If what they have to say could be adequately expressed in just words, there is nothing else needing to be added.

Words are not the ultimate expression or communication, not really.

 

1 hour ago, The Magnificent Goldberg said:

I dare say you're correct. You're a musician and you're SUPPOSED to get it. But I don't get it. What I get are relationships between musicians and audiences and some of the reasons why ordinary people who know no more than me about music go out to see/buy records to hear those musicians.

Well, I get that a lot of people love chocolate, but I'll be damned if I'd be so arrogant as to claim that I don't care about the difference between a Snickers bar and Godiva, much less assume that the Snickers bar is better because more people eat it. No, I don't "need" to know the difference, and that doesn't mean that I feel obligated to study the sciences behind each. But if I boast about my ignorance and then claim either that I taste no difference, or even worse, brag about it not mattering to me how either of them tastes, then...

 

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8 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Ok, i've evolved my definition of "language" to include any means of communication. Body language, color language, sign language, flag language, whatever. In all these cases, the initial language is then "translated" "word language". But something is lost along the way, word language is a reduction of the initial expression, not an expansion.

Music is no different, and is perhaps even moreso that way. It is all about the creation, transmission, and reception of vibration patterns, That's essentially what any language is because everything is vibration, any sensory experience can be traced to a vibrationary action.

"We" like to think of "words" as the ultimate expression, because they give a sense of measure, and with measure comes the ability to control (in ways both benevolent and malevolent". But we kid ourselves if we begin to believe that "beyond words" is the same as "beyond meaning". That's just a denial of just how much is involved in the depth of acions and reactions that come with communication, perhaps, in some cases, and abdication of the responsibility to confront that and instead just dumb everything down by capping the ceiling of possibilities to a point where control can be maintained/sustained.

I don't think it's any secret that any number of "jazz musicians" (or musicians of any kind, really) think in terms of their music as "saying something", not just as a slangy jive-talk slogan, but as a real thing, and well they should. If what they have to say could be adequately expressed in just words, there is nothing else needing to be added.

I pretty well agree with that, except for this:

""We" like to think of "words" as the ultimate expression, because they give a sense of measure,"

I think it's not because it gives a sense of measure but because we think IN words. Thinking in words probably isn't compulsory, because there was a time when words were still being developed by people who lived together in whatever groups and could already think, but we've been doing it for so long it's become habitual. And some of us can think in music, others can think in shapes etc and do it when they want or need to. But most of us can only think in words, I reckon.

MG

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Oh, I reckon not!

How do we decide what to wear, what colors to put together, what to emphasize, how to accessorize?

I could go on, but...

Words are the trailing indicators of our thoughts, not the leading ones. I dare say that for most people, they're a summation of our thoughts after we have them, and seldom do they communicate the fullness of all that has occurred in the thought.

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4 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Oh, I reckon not!

How do we decide what to wear, what colors to put together, what to emphasize, how to accessorize?

I could go on, but...

Words are the trailing indicators of our thoughts, not the leading ones.

I dunno 'bout you, but I pick out the front t-shirt from the wardrobe and, after the washing's dry, those go in the back, so I rotate through them accidentally. I always wear the same colour socks, shoes, trousers and knickers. I never accessorise; wouldn't know an accessor if it bit me on the bum.

How to live a life without trivial problems :D

MG

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No problems, eh?

I suspicious of a no-friction lifestyle...friction is what keeps any of us/this here. Friction is pretty much what enables life as we know it. Friction more or less is consciousness.

And believe me, I have pursued supraconsuciouness in many ways, having never fully achieved it, I now realize what a blessing it is that I didn't!

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Just now, JSngry said:

No problems, eh?

I suspicious of a no-friction lifestyle...friction is what keeps any of us/this here. Friction is pretty much what enables life as we know it. Friction more or less is consciousness.

And believe me, I have pursued supraconsuciouness in many ways, having never fully achieved it, I now realize what a blessing it is that I didn't!

No TRIVIAL problems. Plenty of real ones without giving myself ones I don't need.

MG

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1 hour ago, JSngry said:

Ok, i've evolved my definition of "language" to include any means of communication. Body language, color language, sign language, flag language, whatever. In all these cases, the initial language is then "translated" "word language". But something is lost along the way, word language is a reduction of the initial expression, not an expansion.

Music is no different, and is perhaps even more so that way. It is all about the creation, transmission, and reception of vibration patterns, That's essentially what any language is because everything is vibration, any sensory experience can be traced to a vibrationary action.

"We" like to think of "words" as the ultimate expression, because they give a sense of measure, and with measure comes the ability to control (in ways both benevolent and malevolent). But we kid ourselves if we begin to believe that "beyond words" is the same as "beyond meaning". That's just a denial of just how much is involved in the depth of actions and reactions that come with communication, and perhaps, in some cases, an abdication of the responsibility to confront that and instead just dumb everything down by capping the ceiling of possibilities to a point where control can be maintained/sustained.

I don't think it's any secret that any number of "jazz musicians" (or musicians of any kind, really) think in terms of their music as "saying something", not just as a slangy jive-talk slogan, but as a real thing, and well they should. If what they have to say could be adequately expressed in just words, there is nothing else needing to be added.

Words are not the ultimate expression or communication, not really.

 

Well, I get that a lot of people love chocolate, but I'll be damned if I'd be so arrogant as to claim that I don't care about the difference between a Snickers bar and Godiva, much less assume that the Snickers bar is better because more people eat it. No, I don't "need" to know the difference, and that doesn't mean that I feel obligated to study the sciences behind each. But if I boast about my ignorance and then claim either that I taste no difference, or even worse, brag about it not mattering to me how either of them tastes, then...

 

Words are not the ultimate expression of communication, but they are the most definite. And if vibration patterns are essentially what every language is, tell me how the vibration patterns of two different words that have two different meanings -- like "rank" as in "foul-smelling" and "rank" as in "front rank" -- serve to differentiate them.

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Just now, Larry Kart said:

Words are not the ultimate expression of communication, but they are the most definite. And if vibration patterns are essentially what every language is, tell me how the vibration patterns of two different words that have two different meanings -- like "rank" as in "foul-smelling" and "rank" as in "front rank" -- serve to differentiate them.

That's easy - by the macro-vibration of context.

And before you scoff at that, tell me this, then - where are we, ever, where there are no vibrational patterns going on?

I mean, c'mon, do you really need words to be able to tell you if you're standing in front of a general or if you've just stumbled across a dead rat with your lawn mower?

And do you need words when somebody who has it in themselves to give you "that look" gives it too you? Survival instinct is that you process the information first, figure out the words later.

And besides, if words alone were the most definite medium for conveying an idea, where's the traction for lying, deadpannng, punning, ironyizing, or any of that saying one thing and meaning another stuff?

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9 minutes ago, JSngry said:

That's easy - by the macro-vibration of context.

And before you scoff at that, tell me this, then - where are we, ever, where there are no vibrational patterns going on?

OK, what about two different words that sound the same in a language you DON'T speak?

MG

11 minutes ago, JSngry said:

That's easy - by the macro-vibration of context.

And before you scoff at that, tell me this, then - where are we, ever, where there are no vibrational patterns going on?

I mean, c'mon, do you really need words to be able to tell you if you're standing in front of a general or if you've just stumbled across a dead rat with your lawn mower?

And do you need words when somebody who has it in themselves to give you "that look" gives it too you? Survival instinct is that you process the information first, figure out the words later.

And besides, if words alone were the most definite medium for conveying an idea, where's the traction for lying, deadpannng, punning, ironyizing, or any of that saying one thing and meaning another stuff?

Oh, I like your second thoughts a LOT better than your first.

An even better example is of a cafe or bar owner who can tell, just by observing body language, that someone just walking in is a troublemaker and can turf them out well before any trouble starts. That's why those people have an absolute legal right to refuse service. So even politicians know this.

MG

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Let's ask a better question - if you have no context for those sounds (i.e. - speaking the language to any degree of comprehension), how can you be sure that the DO sound the same?

Believe me, I confronted this when learning "Latin music" and then hanging around in different environments where I didn't speak the language, not past the very most obvious common words, "extra-verbal" communication came into play any number of times, sometimes critically so.

Let's not even talk about listening to "foreign language" radio...good lord, tone and inflection can only matter so much if you have zero context as for how they are generally used. I once listened to a Vietnamese station for 30 minutes and had zero idea of what was being said. Zero. they could have been saying the same paragraph over and over, maybe it was a meditation exercise. Or he could have been giving our recipes. Didn't have even have half a clue.

So once again, "words" are the trailing end of our thought, not the leading end.

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16 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Let's ask a better question - if you have no context for those sounds (i.e. - speaking the language to any degree of comprehension), how can you be sure that the DO sound the same?

Believe me, I confronted this when learning "Latin music" and then hanging around in different environments where I didn't speak the language, not past the very most obvious common words, "extra-verbal" communication came into play any number of times, sometimes critically so.

Let's not even talk about listening to "foreign language" radio...good lord, tone and inflection can only matter so much if you have zero context as for how they are generally used. I once listened to a Vietnamese station for 30 minutes and had zero idea of what was being said. Zero. they could have been saying the same paragraph over and over, maybe it was a meditation exercise. Or he could have been giving our recipes. Didn't have even have half a clue.

So once again, "words" are the trailing end of our thought, not the leading end.

Well, that's actually what I was saying at the beginning. Words were invented by societies already in the process of formation. So there must have been communication before words.

MG

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and there still is.

It's not that I'm "anti-word" or anything, I just don't believe they're the end all and be all. And I do think that people run the risk of dumbing themselves down when they don't consider the full scope of communication as part of a whole, rather than as an end unto itself.

Let's talk about singers (and then think about instrumentalists), how you give 100 worth-a-damn singers the same song, you're going to get 100 different communications of that song. Same words, but the "intangibles" of timbre, rhythm, accent, enunciation, percussive attacks, rolling textures on held vowels, all that come with being a worth-a-damn singer.

So, are they coloring this strictly in response to the words, or are they coming from someplace else and then making the words serve that?

Probably both, and it's more than a little intellectual masturbatory to go looking for the answer for too long. But, there's still then the question of what would the singer bring to either the same song to be sung without words or else a song that has no words?

And that's where instrumentalists come in, especially with music that veers further and further away from an immediate socioeconomic imperative. Feeling doesn't just disappear because there's no song or no words. Sometimes, actually, it increases, because the feeling and the imperative are at odds. This can be at an individual level or a broader one, a good example being how bebop didn't care if you danced to it or not, if you could, great, but what they had to say was not primarily motivated by a need to get you out there on the floor.

So, yeah, there is language beyond words, communication that is not occurring on the immediately obvious plane of a conscious logic. This is not a bad thing at all, if for no other reason than people who are motivated by metricizing every aspect of our behavior are not my friend, and probably not yours either.

upgrade-your-work-day-with-quantified-se

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, JSngry said:

That's easy - by the macro-vibration of context.

And before you scoff at that, tell me this, then - where are we, ever, where there are no vibrational patterns going on?

I mean, c'mon, do you really need words to be able to tell you if you're standing in front of a general or if you've just stumbled across a dead rat with your lawn mower?

And do you need words when somebody who has it in themselves to give you "that look" gives it too you? Survival instinct is that you process the information first, figure out the words later.

And besides, if words alone were the most definite medium for conveying an idea, where's the traction for lying, deadpannng, punning, ironyizing, or any of that saying one thing and meaning another stuff?

"I mean, c'mon, do you really need words to be able to tell you if you're standing in front of a general or if you've just stumbled across a dead rat with your lawn mower?"

No, you don't need words to  tell you those things, but you do need words to tell someone else about them (i.e. to communicate those experiences). OTOH, I can imagine a skilled interpretive dancer doing a pretty good job.

"And besides, if words alone were the most definite medium for conveying an idea, where's the traction for lying, deadpannng, punning, ironyizing, or any of that saying one thing and meaning another stuff?"

I see no contradiction there. Rather, all those things play off of the definiteness of words. One hears the definite thing that those words usually mean and then one detects the irony, the pun,  etc. If the definite usual meaning of the phrase "Go, and never darken my door again!" were not there in our minds, then my father's shaggy dog story about what he said to the guy who'd applied the wrong shade of wood stain to our front door would have been meaningless.

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4 hours ago, Simon Weil said:

When I was a student, one of he courses I had was Physiology. The way information is conveyed through the nerves in the body, via electrical signals that modulate in frequency, has some parallel to the basic language of music - notes are sounds of different frequencies. Because music is so immensely powerful, yet made up of these rather basic elements at source, I thought "Well, that is why music is so powerful. It's basically speaking the language of the brain [The brain being just nerves]". Just because it was a simple solution - that's why it appealed to me.

I had the idea that the brain somehow encodes emotion in a form akin to music. Years ago I did find a paper where one Professor seemed to imply something parallel, but nothing else.

Anyway, that's always stuck with me - but, by language of the brain, I mean emotional language of the brain - because that is  basically what music is for me, a massively effective way of articulating, conveying and evoking emotions - feelings (the role of film music - where music is used instrumentally to this effect).  We think in words, that is the conscious language of the brain - while visual symbols and mental pictures also have their effect.

So...a totally non-aesthetic way of looking at it.

Let's also concise the emotion of math/the math of emotion. Pulse, meter, syncopation, all these things bring "meaning" to be processed. To be ignorant of that is absurd!

I've lately started listening to music as science, or if you will, "science". That's not an elimination of "emotion", but it is a conscious refutation of the "romantic" notion of "pure passion" and such as a desirable end. If you want pure passion, go watch a murder or a honeymoon (hopefully) or that kind of thing. If you want to make an expression that survives, though, you better get that science in there, because science lasts, passion flames up and then dies.

Now, how do I reconcile the desire for science with the suspicion of measurement? I don't. That's an individual's responsibility,to figure out where the line between building and expression and "managing" lies, and good luck to each of us as we go on our own ways with that.

 

7 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

I see no contradiction there. Rather, all those things play off of the definiteness of words. One hears the definite thing that those words usually mean and then one detects the irony, the pun,  etc. If the definite usual meaning of the phrase "Go, and never darken my door again!" were not there in our minds, then my father's shaggy dog story about what he said to the guy who'd applied the wrong shade of wood stain to our front door would have been meaningless.

You know doubt run with a more civilized crowd than I do, but nothing ruins a good joke better than somebody not getting that it is a joke, or even worse, thinking that it's intended as an act of aggression rather than an attempt to share, the whole "sarcasm is bullying" crowd, I mean how can you take a joke when you don't know even how to laugh?

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6 minutes ago, JSngry said:

is a conscious refutation of the "romantic" notion of "pure passion"

That is the reason I mentioned film music. Because that is music devised with one (and one only) end. It's supposed to move the audience's emotions in a certain direction. It's a purely instrumental (in the sense of being a means to an end and only that) use of music. Do you agree with that characterisation - and, if so, how does it fit with your scheme?

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I think that the more specific the intended desired manipulation, the better it is served by science. Really/Real "pure passion" is not a matter of conscious manipulation over any number of runs for any number of different people.

And nothing wrong with that, I mean, I enjoy a good film, and a good score will certainly enhance (at the least!) the experience. But hardly ever am I not aware that the whole thing is a constructed product intended to manipulate me into a state of entertained. It in no way mirrors reality, at least not the reality of living from moment to moment in an environment of many knowns and even more unknowns.

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