Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Larry Kart

Musings on how music means

41 posts in this topic

4 hours ago, Simon Weil said:

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.

I don't think there's any "language of the brain" that isn't emotional at some root level.  That is, even our most "rational states" are circumstances that evoke the feeling of rationality.  I guess I agree with William James on this point; in one of his essays he called it "the sentiment of rationality." 

And I think this why music can have such a powerful effect on us. As a listener, music offers the possibility of bypassing the "linguistic, rational stuff" that's laid on top of our experience (what Jim's calling the "trailing edge") and going directly to something that's more primal . . . the "leading edge"?

By the way, I've got to say that I absolutely love this forum and this thread.  I often feel like a freak, walking around, thinking about these sorts of questions. That there's someone else out there grappling with these same things -- even if you come to COMPLETELY different conclusions! -- well, it's nice to know that there are others. So thank you. 

Enough of that. Back to the discussion! :) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, JSngry said:

[1]I think that the more specific the intended desired manipulation, the better it is served by science. [2]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 [3] 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.

OK. I've put numbers by the bits I'm going to respond to:

[1] I would agree  with "served by science" in the sense of using a constrained-by-rationality approach to the tools of art.

I would probably agree with [2] too. Because I don't think an artist knows absolutely all there is to know about what he's doing in a conscious, rational, though-through way. He does know somewhere however.

[3] Enhance, I think, understates. There are movies where it's just essential. Imagine the first Star Wars film without that grandiose theme that opens the film. I mean it opens you up.

49 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

I don't think there's any "language of the brain" that isn't emotional at some root level.  That is, even our most "rational states" are circumstances that evoke the feeling of rationality.  I guess I agree with William James on this point; in one of his essays he called it "the sentiment of rationality."

 I can only speak for myself - and I know there are moments when I am thinking in a very directed, rational kind of way. It is a means to an end, I want to solve this problem kind of thinking. On the other hand I do also respond in a highly emotional, instinctive kind of way - and that, I believe, is the more reliable, grounded side of me. I need that to stop myself being totally led up the garden path by something that seems perectly rational, but is, in fact, horse$hit.

Not to disagree with the esteemed Mr James, but I do definitely feel there is a rational bit of myself and it's distinct and separate - but the thing that roots me is emotional. So maybe we're not so far apart.

49 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

even if you come to COMPLETELY different conclusions!

Yup.It's just nice we can do it in a collegiate way. And it's really nice we can discuss this sort of "deadly serious" stuff.

Edited by Simon Weil

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Music in the Making" - a little book by Wilfrid Mellers that is about the questions Larry raises.  Published around 70+ years ago and extremely hard to find.  Sure enough, I want it today but lost my copy in the fire and have not yet found a replacement copy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, johnblitweiler said:

"Music in the Making" - a little book by Wilfrid Mellers that is about the questions Larry raises.  Published around 70+ years ago and extremely hard to find.  Sure enough, I want it today but lost my copy in the fire and have not yet found a replacement copy.

Found a copy on the Internet at a decent price and will order it. Other copies available. I've read a lot of Mellers and always find him stimulating.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another book that explores similar questions -- although perhaps they're pitched from a more "psychological" point of view (rather than from "the muscian's intention" perspective with which Larry opened the discussion) -- is Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, JSngry said:

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

 

 

 

Well, I was with you up until this line:

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?

In my view, there's no such place as someplace else; it's there in our minds - perhaps in a part of our mind we haven't visited lately. But our minds, well known or little known, are the only resource any of us has at our disposal. Not even our bodies are our own resource without our mind commanding it to do this that or the other. But we don't stand outside our minds because our minds are us and there ain't nothing else. No matter what religious or spiritual experiences we might believe we've had, it's in our minds that we've had them.

So I take the view that what we bring to the party is only our own minds and that reaching out for the 'other' is simply a metaphor for reaching in to some notion or emotion we'd forgotten we'd always known about.

It's gigantic, but not infinite. There's room to store - as it were in compressed archives - every moment of our lives, from having a shit to making love; up to a point. As one gets older, bits are deleted and later even removed from the deletions box. Also some of the chips get buggered. Oh well, those are things that happen. But what's in there is all our internal and external experience of life and that's where an artist might conceivably go in search of a new idea or feeling. But that's a decision the artist takes as part of pursuing his employment.

But if the artist is his mind, that doesn't mean it's one thing only. The mind's a multiprocessor with different bits taking care of different aspects of the business of living all the time, so there's no real dichotomy between the mind's businesses as creative artist, wife, husband, parent, cook, chauffeur, cleaner etc etc etc. We can manage them all ie take decisions about them all; simultaneously if need be.

Nothing wrong with management; personally, I'd guess that there's some part of our minds that measures stuff that's going on in order to inform other parts of what may or may not be possible at any particular time. And you can call it your Peter Drucker bit if you like, but it IS your friend.

MG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I was in the back of my dad's car in the 60s, there was (when he wasn't listening to the financial reports) the pop sounds of the day playing. This was when I was about 11. For whatever reason, I seem to have the female British pop singers stuck in my mind as a core sound of the day. I bought some Dusty Springfield because she seemed archetypal of that sort of constrained, strangely hypnotic kind of thing.

There's something seductive and  very odd about her voice - a strange place that she's coming from. Not just that she was a lesbian who couldn't out, but also some weird cocktail of psychopathology you can read about in the Penny Valentine/Vicki Wickham biography. I don't know that it really gives you the secret of the music, but it gives you some sort of sense that, "Yes, this was a very specific place the music was coming from."

So I think this is like Larry Kart's idea of the music taking you somewhere else. Only I do think it was inside Dusty Springfield - and, maybe, to some extent, representative of the women of the time. We always read about the 60s being the decade of liberation - but this doesn't sound like liberation to me. More like the music of  a strange sort of survival in  her sound. (IMO)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that "someplace else" is ultimately inside ourselves, but if it's someplace to "go to", that to me says that it's still someplace else, a place that we dont't usually have at our immediate rational/logical disposal, at least without some practice towards accessing it. and even then, once we know where "it" is, there's always the risk of imitating being there than actually being there.

Peter Drucker is not my friend, if only because he's not speaking to individuals about personal discipline and responsibilities, he's speaking to the would-be next-gen slaveholders. "Measuring" has no room for the in-between. Real life most certainly does.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simon, I like that post.

BTW what you've said reminds me that I can trace my career as a would-be music critic right back to its point of origin. Again, I'm in the kitchen of our Chicago apartment with my mother, where she and I would listen every weekday morning and afternoon to a roster of radio soap operas. One of them, "Lorenzo Jones," had a theme song -- played on a seasick electric organ and incorporating some of "Funiculi Funicula" -- that I found almost literally nauseating:

I can establish that this was when I was about age three, in 1945, because the first piece of music that I responded to with enthusiasm rather than disgust was the then new Number One song on the Hit Parade, "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe," written by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer for the film "The Harvey Girls," where it serves as the very effective opening number. I didn't see the film back then; I was just caught up in the considerable happy swing of the song itself. So those were the negative and positive poles of my three-year-old musical universe. Everything flows from there.

 

12 hours ago, HutchFan said:

Another book that explores similar questions -- although perhaps they're pitched from a more "psychological" point of view (rather than from "the muscian's intention" perspective with which Larry opened the discussion) -- is Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr.

I'll look for it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, JSngry said:

Peter Drucker is not my friend, if only because he's not speaking to individuals about personal discipline and responsibilities, he's speaking to the would-be next-gen slaveholders. "Measuring" has no room for the in-between. Real life most certainly does.

 

OK, well I'll believe you - thousands wouldn't. He's another geezer I've never heard of. Personal discipline and responsibility is the right stuff. Propaganda for future slaveholders ain't.

MG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Believe me, the tool of metricization has fallen into the hands of the enemy and they are running like hell with it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Larry.

My roots are a lot more scattered. I had I guess what you'd call my first critical experience when I was going up the road and looked at this puddle. It had the sort of iridescent colours you get when there's petrol on the surface and I went "Is this beauty?" I think I was about 6. Also when I was 6 I forced my parents to buy me "The Runaway Train" by Michael Holliday (I've still got the replacement 45 they bought me when I broke the original 78).

So I have an early train-related music thing. There's also a sea thing (but not musical). When I was 3, I remember looking at a ship and thinking why does anti-rust paint look like rust?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, JSngry said:

I agree that "someplace else" is ultimately inside ourselves, but if it's someplace to "go to", that to me says that it's still someplace else, a place that we dont't usually have at our immediate rational/logical disposal, at least without some practice towards accessing it. and even then, once we know where "it" is, there's always the risk of imitating being there than actually being there.

Isn't this what Tristano was seeking, on the "feeling" side of his "feeling/ emotion dichotomy? He called it "playing from the id" (in the Freudian term of the day).

Interesting discussion ...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That’s how I have come to take it, yes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW, I just ran across this in Wyndham Lewis' "Time and Western Man' (p. 187, Black Sparrow Press ed.):

"I will state very briefly my own belief as to the true character of artistic creation. The production of a work of art is, I believe, strictly the work of a visionary. Indeed, this seems so evident that it scarcely needs pointing out. Shakespeare, writing his King Lear , was evidently in some sort of a trance;  for  the production of such a work of art  an entranced condition seems as essential as it was for Blake when he conversed with the Man who Built the Pyramids. *** To create King Lear, or to believe that you have held communion with some historic personage -- those are much the same thing. The  traditional romantic epithet for the poet -- and ... all creators are equally poets -- namely 'dreamer' ... accurately describes all creative artists; though of  course, it need not apply, indeed could hardly do so, to the great number of practitioners of art who do not possess the essential qualifications of the artist.

"If you say that the creative act is spell, a talisman, an incantation -- that it is magic, in short, there, too, I believe you would be correctly describing it. That the artist uses and manipulates a supernatural power seems very likely."

I quote this not to cite Lewis as an authority -- for me he is a very equivocal figure for many reasons and in more than few ways -- but because this passage surprised me coming from a man whom I had previously thought of as having had no sympathy whatsoever with any notions of supernatural power, quite the opposite in fact.

*** Blake and the Man Who Built the Pyramids:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visionary_Heads

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How Keith Jarrett-y of him!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.