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Conversation between Alex and Stephen (prev top next)

2007apr03

Alex,

I was surprised to learn that Dilara Arin didn't intend the music and the graphics at that point in The Practise to go together. She wrote:

... let me clear one thing about the abstract part; it is not about the music, it is about the feelings of the performer ... I don't know if you've heard of him, but Oskar Fischinger who's an abstract animator has many films trying to depict music. I especially had to avoid that. The visuals had to do nothing with the music in this abstract part, and even, the music should have disappear completely, leaving that flow behind.

It's hard to make it so that things which happen at more or less the same time seem unrelated; the brain is a coincidence-finding engine, and it doesn't take much to set it off. (I remember the first time I was struck by this: in second grade, we were having a party on the last day of the school year, and I was playing with the pins on the bulletin board; at just the moment that I stuck a pin into the board, somebody took a flash picture in the room; the sense that I'd caused the flash was instantaneous and unavoidable, even though I knew that the two were unrelated.) The only reliable way to keep the mind from forming an association between two nearly-simultaneous events is to provide another, stronger association to displace it.

You mentioned the unfortunate legal status of

LSD

The clampdown on research into its effects has begun to relax in recent years, I'm told ...

Last weekend I put my transcription of Bach's Air ("on a G-string," from the orchestral suite) into Sibelius (the music notation program) and started practicing it again. It occurred to me that there are several different kinds of paths I take through the piece. The "performer's path" is the one I'm aware of most of the time (since I'm practicing it); this path has three threads: rhythmic, dynamic, and motor. I'm always aware of the rhythms of the piece. The dynamics I'm aware of whenever something is changing. The motor parts I'm very aware of in places where my technique needs my attention, and occasionally aware of at other times. The performer's path is very disciplined, even if I'm playing in a wild and loose way; there are certain transitions of attention that happen reliably, those that are necessary for the performance to continue. The "listener's path" is another; this is much less disciplined; I can be thinking about any aspect of the music, or none; there may be a motor response (either real or imagined) or not; my focus doesn't necessarily go forward with the piece, some element can catch my attention the music can go forward without me; I can even be thinking about some other piece, or start improvising along. The "conductor's path" is like the performer's but much more stripped down; the rhythms I'm aware of most of the time but not necessarily always; the dynamics I'm aware of but at a much longer time scale; the motor parts (what the performers are doing) seldom occupies my attention. The "composer's path" is actually not a path; it's more like a collection of observation points, thoughts about the things that happen in the piece and how they fit together. "What path am I trying to take the audience on when I do a music visualization?" I asked myself. At first, I thought that it was something like the conductor's path: showing where things change. But having come back to it a few times, I now think that it's not any one of these, but something combining elements of all of them. I want the audience to be free to either follow obediently like a performer or come unstuck in time like listeners do; I want them to be aware of how things change, the way a conductor does, but also aware of what's going on, structurally, like the composer.

This led me to the idea of a piece (at least, this particular piece) having (or being) a "body." That is, that in addition to the path that's being followed, there is a kind of identity, or personality that is following that path, doing the things on the path. In some pieces, like the Air, this body seems personal in scope—on the order of an animal or a human being. In some pieces (especially, those for large orchestral forces), this body seems larger, like a crowd—not a crowd in the sense of many separate individuals, but as a larger, single organism, a swarm with its own diffuse sort of mind.

Why do the path and the body make sense to me? I'm not sure. I think part of it is that music for me is more than just a sound; it's a feeling, and that feeling is about motion and action. People talk about "tension and release" in music; what is the locus of this? One way of thinking about this is that it is in the listener, but this leads to the question: why does the listener feel this? When I listen to music, I feel that the tension and release is an empathetic response, like what I experience when I'm listening to a baby cry. The "body of the piece" is, I guess, what I'm imagining I'm feeling empathy with. The "path" part has to do with motion; music has a gestural quality, a quality of motion, which implies actions and points of activity within a spatial reference frame.

What I'm hoping to do next is map the body of the Air through its path ...

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