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13
Jan 20

THE SENTENCES IN MUSIC; THE MUSIC IN SENTENCES

I was scarcely more than a boy when I attended the Clarion Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. One of the instructors was Harlan Ellison, and being a fan of Ellison’s I was on edge with excitement, even more like a cat on hot bricks than usual. In those days I was wildly callow, the very soul of impulsiveness. One night I dropped acid — and I dropped down on Ellison, just missing him, from the boughs of a tree as he walked underneath. After the necessary fulmination, Harlan let it go. He put up with me, he said, because I “heard the music in the sentence”. You either heard the music in prose, he told us, or you didn’t.

I’ve been singing lead in rock bands for more than thirty years. I still write songs, sing, and perform. Tracks I recorded from 1978 to 2012 are found in the Broken Mirror Glass collection from Black October Records and newer sonic works in Spaceship Landing In a Cemetery.

John Shirley on right with band-members, back in the day

You see, for years, writing science fiction and fantasy was mostly my day job. Music was my real life, then–first punk rock, then something I called “futuristic funk” and then a post-industrial sound. I wrote paperback novels chiefly to support the band. Book advances paid for rehearsal rooms, bought hamburgers for players, paid for studio time to work up demos, paid for gas to the gig. Music made me feel good–otherwise, I was bad at feeling good. I signed a record deal, made a record, played at CBGB and the Pyramid, and crashed through the china shop of my youth. The rock scene was powder keg volatility and I was always flicking lit matches; it’s possible I’d be dead now, if I’d taken a certain deal at CBS records — the drugs would’ve been too easy for me to get.

Then…I became the father of twin boys, and the responsibility eased me away from bands–and away from drugs. I felt a genuine grief in letting rock’n’roll be displaced from the center of my life, and wrote about the feeling of loss, transposed into a near-future cyberpunk setting, in the story “A Walk Through Beirut”.

Fortunately, I love science fiction. But music kept cropping up in my books. My novel City Come A-Walkin’ was set in a futuristic rock club, featuring a character inspired by Patti Smith. A near-future rocker features prominently in the Eclipse volume of my cyberpunk trilogy, A Song Called Youth. The sf novel I’m writing now, Stormland, doesn’t involve rock characters, but it has its own soundtrack, in my mind, including “Black Planet” by the Sisters of Mercy.

For me, writing prose has always been intertwined with music, while writing a song — for most anyone — involves storytelling. Rare is the song which doesn’t tell a story. Often the story is hinted at; you can infer a great deal from the lyrics of “Mack the Knife”. Sometimes, as in Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, it’s a view from on high, a whole dramatic landscape revealed. Other times, as in many a Lou Reed song–”Street Hassle”, say–an entire story is told, with a beginning, middle, and end. Every country-western song tells a story, as do most rock songs. There’s a clear-cut scene playing theatrically out in “Honky Tonk Women”. And I do hear the music in prose. When I give a live reading of a story, I hit the rhythms of the sentences hard, I explore resonance, like the vibration at the heart of music; at key moments I ring the emotional bells of the imagery. I’ve written countless song lyrics, some for myself, some other artists like the Blue Oyster Cult (18 songs they’ve recorded and five more in their new album, coming in 2020 from Frontier Records), and Blue Coupe, and that medium of composition comes to me so flowingly I can improvise lyrics live at a jam session; lyrics that are in meter, that rhyme, and make sense. So the artistic symbiosis between words and music is second nature to me.

When I write, I usually listen to music; it might be Stravinsky, it might be John Coltrane, it might be Savages, it might be Blue Öyster Cult or it might be Motorhead or it might be Ennio Morricone. I don’t find it distracting–music embeds me in the energetic fields of the writing, and somehow makes my composition in prose come alive for me…


18
Dec 19

The Worst–and the Worst

The Internet brings out the worst in people–and it brings out the worst people.

Let us review a few facts. There were harassers and stalkers and bullies before the internet existed, but far fewer; the internet has offered cover to people who would have been too scared to act this way before; with its ease of access, its bells and whistles, it has even seduced people, who might’ve stayed harmlessly in the background, into bullying, into lying, into targeting innocent people for kicks. Recently, a man on the left side of a political argument was discovered, by the Trumpies who wanted to bully him, to have epilepsy. So they targeted him with a tweet that flashed in certain patterns, saying he “deserved a seizure”–and he did have a vicious seizure as a direct result. He might’ve died if his wife hadn’t found him. The internet seduces by offering more ways to do harm…

There was a time when white supremacists mostly stayed hidden under their rocks. But Trump’s Bully(ing) Pulpit and the internet’s anonymity has allowed them to emerge into a digital public space where they’re free to use the Big Lie, repeated over and over–with Conspiracy Theory as its verbal delivery system–to increase their numbers and their sway; indeed, to give them real power for the first time. Russian operatives, child molesters, con artists of all kinds, purveyors of the *actual* fake news, are empowered by the web. Yes, our media now brings out the worst in people and brings us the worst people. The internet has many good uses; medical and scientific data passed, legit news, contact for shut-ins, the better forms of free expression–I’m using it here to make a statement on my blog–but it’s out of control; it’s  a wilderness, and we’re lost in it.

Strange to think that we must also be clear on what fake news is fake news. The President appropriated the term, in his instinctive 1984-style “up is down, blue is red” system of applied chaos, so that he can point at legitimate news sources–The Washington Post, or for that matter the Denver Post, any genuine newspaper or legitimate media outlet– and tell his followers it’s “fake news”. And they’ll believe him. Whereas right-wing extremists, purveyors of conspiracy theories, Russian bots and operatives, and the Alex Joneses of the world are spewing *actual* fake news.

The actuality of fake news –that is, of the existence of fake news–is an irony, but false news stories are a fact in the new reality of the popularization of the Big Lie in all its forms…


9
Dec 19

Extraterrestrials Decide What Should be Done with the Dominant Species of Inhabited Planet 38790

“Isn’t it too early to despair of Inhabited Planet 38790, Inspector 71,844? Most early civilizations are barbaric. They engage in the sort of unfortunate things confused infants do if unattended in a room filled with dangerous objects. Tragedy ensues. Eventually these creatures will either go extinct — most civilizations destroy themselves — or evolve to something saner, and more adult. I see no reason to put them out of their misery yet. They may grow up.”

“Simple barbarism isn’t the problem, Supervisor 9,221! Barbarism — yes, as for example their many wars, but…let me give you some examples. They’re the kind of species which spawns males who brutally sexually assault females and then set them on fire for complaining — as happened in a land called ‘India’ recently. Meanwhile, a female in a land called ‘the United States’ hanged her two small children, aged eight and four, by the neck, thus strangling them to death, whereupon she informed the authorities they had ‘committed suicide’. She does not seem to be psychotically insane — she said she just ‘didn’t care about her children anymore’. Also, in the ‘United States’, it is a matter of policy to separate innocent offspring from their desperate migratorial parents, when the family is simply fleeing intolerable conditions; this policy thereupon subjects small children to caging, sometimes death, just to make a point about the society’s dislike of migrants.”

“That is a high degree of vileness. But how many support the policy in that nation?”

“At last count, about 45%.”

“Inspector–should you really categorize the entire ‘human’ species of Inhabited Planet 38790 as ‘innately vile’? It is a rather extreme category.”
“Look at that which they delight in! For example, their popular entertainment transmissions. Here is ‘The Bachelor’, a sample of something they are pleased to call ‘Reality Television. Observe.”

[An interval of time in which Supervisor 9,221 takes in several episodes of The Bachelor.]

“But — it’s so humiliating to the female participants,” the Supervisor burst out at last. “And it curries the worst in the males!”

“Yes indeed: the worst aspects of everyone involved — the ‘producers’, the ‘contestants’, and the viewers. This ‘Reality Show’ is a celebration of an utter lack of real self-awareness, and an innate liking for passive aggressive cruelty. And that kind of thing is common in their entertainment. Some of their ‘television’ extols the use of torture to stop miscreants — ”

“But this global culture should be too advanced to sustain torture!”

“Oh, but they not only promote it, they carry it out in many, many forms. Another example of innate vileness: a remarkable number of them also show an eagerness to sexually assault children and watch images of them being assaulted — ”

“What!”

“Oh yes! Many of this world treat the unwary of their own species as prey! They have a surprising number of ‘serial killers’, as they are called, and ‘mass shooters’ — and many humans regard these sport murderers as a form of celebrity! They celebrate them in books and movies and extensive television documentaries; they enable those who enter educational institutions with powerful weapons, so to slaughter children; they then publicize them widely, which seems to generate yet more mass murderers who try to outdo one another.”

“There is a good deal of vileness among them, yes — but it sounds as if these may be problems brought about by inbreeding.”

“We checked. That isn’t it.”

“Well then, it may be brain damage from environmental toxicity.”

“That is a factor in some cases — and they don’t seem to care. They have a very toxic herbicide all over the world, and besides causing dreadful environmental problems, it often brings about severe diseases in users and those exposed, and its neurotoxicity is such that it seems to be damaging the brains of the young at a remarkable rate of speed. But as there is a great deal of what is called ‘financial gain’ involved in the manufacture and sale of it, it goes on unabated. Yes, some of the vileness may arise from various extent artificial toxins but I put it to you that as they’ve saturated the world with neurotoxins it’s too late for them to do anything significant about it. Also, many of these cases of abject vileness are not neurotoxic psychosis; many seem to be cases of innate species vileness. Reflect on what the very populous place called ‘China’ does to animals, especially canines — in a certain ‘Chinese’ city they traditionally torture these canines to death at a feast festival, after which they eat them. They believe the suffering makes the meat taste better! But there is plenty of cruelty to animals in every nation and culture on Inhabited Planet 38790…”

“It’s true that cruelty to animals is an indicator of irremediable vileness in a race…”

“Oh, they’re vile indeed. Consider their tendency to enslave other members of their own race — yes, common among primitive civilizations but this crops up over and over even now, when they are in the Penultimate Stage — they claim to have ended it yet vast numbers of workers are little more than slaves; worse, in many places they permit the forced trafficking of women, even children, for sexual satisfaction.”

“That is quite a repugnant thing to see in a civilization so comparatively technologically advanced, yes. Have they no guiding philosophers?”

“The benevolent ones are overbalanced by those who enable selfish impulses — there is one called ‘Ayn Rand’ who spouted a philosophy of selfishness, the rejection of empathy for the under privileged, the worship of an uncontrolled marketplace, who is widely influential. Many powerful elected officials in ‘the United States’ and ‘the United Kingdom’ are adherents of her vile, soulless philosophy. Suppose they were to spread this ‘philosophy of selfishness’ intra-galactically? It could destroy many of our best civilizations!”

“But — I am simply not certain of this broad-brush categorization of Extreme Vileness you advocate, Inspector…”

“As an example of Extreme Species Vileness on Inhabited Planet 38790: There is a syndrome in which young people try to persuade those with whom they engage romantically and sexually — to kill themselves! And, strangely, they often succeed. This is partly enabled by the tortured psychological contortions arising from a particularly vile and gigantically popular technological cancer which they call ‘social media’. Observe this case in point, entitled ‘Instagram’…”

“Ugh! Please turn that off! I don’t understand…No sentient species can be that shallow and self-obsessed…”

“Shallow? Very much so. Willfully stupid as well. You know, their brains are, on average, quite capable of advanced cognition and well equipped with creativity. Some of their artistic expressions are intricate and profound. But as a whole the species works hard to suppress its intelligence. The species squanders what it has been given — that is humanity’s hallmark. If you doubt it, let me tell you about their Flat Earth movement — an astonishingly vigorous, growing movement of people insisting their planet is a flat disk floating in space, with the sun revolving around it…”

[An interval in which the Supervisor hears the statements of believers in the Flat Earth]

“What an odd sense of humor they have.”

“They are not joking, Supervisor.”

“But…that sort of thing is an obviously primitive belief—it is infantile! How can they have it in an era of space travel and astronomy?”

“They turn their backs on whatever evidences they prefer to ignore. Indeed, they often spurn the workings of their own brains — they are prone to shrugging off the normal operation of these powerful biological thinking engines, in favor of something that our analysis categorizes as ‘selective stupidity’. They select only self-serving data that sparks in them a pleasing neurological stimulus. The creatures cling to a variety of obvious falsehoods despite all evidence; despite rationality. They still cling to ancient creation myths! Billions of people believe the universe is only 6000 years old! Even at this late stage in their development they take myth as fact and superstitious illusion as evidentiary.”

“I am now officially sickened by these creatures. I trust that’s all the testimony against them you have?”

“Far from it! Still widespread among them is the self-aggrandizing xenophobia they call ‘racism’…Look at this account of an event called The Holocaust…”

“Monstrous! Unspeakably cruel!”

“And yet on a smaller scale not uncommon in their history — large numbers of these creatures have cheerfully enabled genocide. I could provide many other examples.”

“But they should have outgrown racial xenophobia many centuries ago! It has no basis in fact!”

“They stubbornly cling to ignorance — it seems to make them feel good in some aberrant fashion. They also rush headlong into addictions, of all kinds. Besides narcotics, they cheerfully become addicted to their communications devices, to ritual games of competitive low-grade violence, to endless images of their reproductive processes — they call it ‘internet pornography’…”

“Wait — how could they become addicted to that? Nature has seen to it that it is enjoyable to engage in the reproductive process in person — but to stare at it for hours on a screen?”

“It seems to be a peculiarity of their neuronal function. Worse is a kind of constant interchange of something they call ‘conspiracy theory’ with which they pick and choose the data they prefer, and twist it to come to bizarre, radically improbably conclusions. Look at this documentation of their ‘anti-vaxxer movement’. To reject the gift of reason…the horror of it…”

“It truly is vile! But still, they may evolve…”

“As to that, Supervisor 9,221, they have reached the penultimate environmental tipping point. They had an exceptionally beautiful, ecologically intricate planet, and they trashed it. In an incredibly short time they have choked their magnificent seas with waste products so that their magnificent leviathans die horribly of the inadvertent ingestion of discarded polymers; variants of the same carbon-based synthetic now saturate the seas, causing destruction to thousands of species. The concatenation of the unintended consequences of greedy acquisition and barely modulated industrialization, and destruction of wildlife habitat has led to hypertrophic climate change. In places called ‘Southeast Asia’ and ‘South America’ they deliberately burn up their forests, destroying the source of much of the world’s breathable air, purely out of monetary greed — this of course is altering their climate so much they’re about to ‘fry in their own juices’ to use one of their grotesque expressions. They’re so sunken in their entertainment media trances they are scarcely aware of all this. There are those who try to raise the alarm, who extol rationality and an appreciation of the beautiful ecological matrix of their once-rich world — but they are a minority. Most of them are simply…”

“Vile?”

“Yes. In consequence this species will simply not have time to improve. Environmental catastrophe will destroy their civilization, likely leading to widespread famines, and a struggle for resources, leading in turn to an exchange of nuclear weapons — ”

“Good Cosmos — don’t tell me they still have large numbers of that crude weapon of mass destruction!”

“Oh, but they do! They recently decided to end the limitations on them and everyone is building more. Besides that, their ‘anti-vax’ movement will lead to enormous pandemics…They’re quite doomed. The problem is they are taking the gorgeous interlacing biomes of this particularly environmentally rich planet with them. They’ve driven countless animal species to extinction and now they will eradicate the rest. If we act quickly to remove them, then clean up the seas, remove the hideous ‘box stores’ and the other concrete and asphalt wastelands, replant the forests, we can save much of the natural world…What a lovely intergalactic touristry park it would make if we could just…”

“Say no more. Morally and, especially, aesthetically, I cannot bear these people. I will order the ‘humans’ of Inhabited Planet 38790 exterminated in consequence of Extreme Vileness — of course we’ll do a scan of their young, and save those that are not too damaged, for rehabilitation.”

“You’ve made the right decision. I haven’t even mentioned their embrace of situational empathy, often an abandonment of empathy entirely. Just have a look into their slaughterhouses. And they constantly looking for new ways to prey on one another; millions of elderly are defrauded, ‘scams’ of all kinds spread like wildfire. They make vast industries of selling poisons to one another, and then they conspire to lie about it — just look at their tobacco industries, their marketing of nightmarishly toxic Teflon products, the toxic pesticides they allow in foods —”

“Inspector, I’m becoming concerned that you’ve suffered trauma in the course of your study of these creatures — perhaps you should have a session with the perspectivizer — ”
“The horrific concentration camps of the place called ‘North Korea’; powerful nations ‘Russia’ and ‘Saudi Arabia’, where the rulers are murderers; and in ‘China’ the forced labor prisons— ”

“Enough! I will use System 77, which will be painless and quick. We’ll break down their bodies into harmless components, and use them as compost for the natural world.”’

“System 77? That one is quite — ironically, they would call it, humane. Which is a term they use quite casually. As if most ‘humans’ were capable of being ‘humane’!”


3
Dec 19

SCREAMING GEEZERS SITE IS LIVE (“Who are the Screaming Geezers?!”)

It’s my band. The Screaming Geezers. To see the website, follow the link below. Free song samples there. I’ve always been in bands, and also writing for bands. I’ve written lyrics for 18 songs recorded by the Blue Oyster Cult (Not their hits–I started working with the BOC, one of the very best rock bands in history, after their time with Columbia records. After that the Pop Powers wouldn’t pay any attention to their new singles. But new singles there were anyway and the BOC albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror. You can hear those albums on youtube. AND a new Blue Oyster Cult album, also using my lyrics on many songs, is coming out from Frontier Records in 2020.

I’ve had record deals of my own, on Celluloid Records for one. Now, the Screaming Geezers and my other musical project, Spaceship Landing in a Cemetery, are on Black October Records, soon to be distributed by Rough Trade, a major label. The first complete Screaming Geezers album will be out in January; there’s a sampler out now, with some studio songs and some live material, is available to radio stations and podcasts.

Are you in the Portland, Oregon area? John Shirley & the Screaming Geezers will be playing at the Kenton Club, Saturday 1/11/2020. Next month.

www.screaminggeezers.com

 

 


10
Nov 19

Why Doesn’t the Human Brain Want Us to Know We’re Dreaming?

Dreams are mysterious. Science is not sure why we dream. There are only theories. But what intrigues me is: Why does our brain prevent us from knowing we’re dreaming?

Sure, there are theories that might well explain why we dream at all. An article in Psychology Today offers some plausible explanations. They tell us that dreams could be: “A component and form of memory processing, aiding in the consolidation of learning and short-term memory to long-term memory storage.” Or: “A means by which the mind works through difficult, complicated, unsettling thoughts, emotions, and experiences, to achieve psychological and emotional balance.”

But–why is it  necessary that we not know we are dreaming? Most people don’t know they’re having a dream. Yet the mind can operate at pretty high levels while dreaming. I can read and write in a dream. I can compose song lyrics in a dream. I can have pretty coherent conversations in them. (Sometimes I even try to rewrite the stories as the dream is going on–even though I don’t know it’s a dream. It’s feels as if I’m writing a script or a novel. But as I write scripts and novels in real life, that’s not too surprising. What’s surprising is, in this whole weird dream-story revision attempt, I STILL don’t know I’m dreaming!) You’d think that, operating at that level, the mind would be capable of noticing it is dreaming, especially as dreams are often quite surreal.

Surrealism–the actual art form–is associated with dreams, and surreal things do happen in mine. In a dream I had recently, a friend told me that his car wasn’t working. I asked what was wrong with it and he said, “Just look!” The car was 95 per cent buried in his front yard with lawn growing neatly over it. I said, “Yeah that would do it.” Now why didn’t I say: “Wow, that is not going to happen in life. I must be dreaming!” Never occurred to me I could be dreaming.  I never ever think I’m dreaming even if there are talking soap bubbles flying past, or tiny little people crawling out of my shoes. In the dream I sputter, “What the hell! Hey there’s these damn little people in my shoes, honey, look! Dammit!”

It seems to be integrally designed into dreaming that you not know that you’re dreaming. I can think of possible reasons; if you’re processing some  real-world psychological stress  in the dream,  and you realize you’re dreaming, it does somehow make sense that the realization would interfere with the processing. You might need to take the event in the dream seriously to process the underlying stresser, or trauma, that generated it.

But doesn’t it feel strange that we have a built-in neurological device for suppressing the realization that we’re dreaming? It’s as if our brains are wired to deceive us, to tell us that we’re not dreaming when we are. (Matrix fans can say, “Maybe that applies to waking life too!) Yes there are visual illusions that happen in the brain. Pareidolia, and so on. But that’s more like an accident of the brain’s information processing limitation. In the case of dreams, it’s almost as if our brains are designed to lie to us! I know: we’ve probably evolved this way for a reason.

But still–it feels like our brains are messing with us.

PS: Yes, there are “lucid dreaming” adventurers who claim they can learn to know they’re dreaming, and even control the dreams. If true, there aren’t very many such people, and I understand that getting there is a long road. It’s sort of like hacking some part of the brain. It may even be doing them harm–because like I said, the brain likely has its reasons for keeping us from knowing that we’re dreaming.

Here is that Psychology Today article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201502/why-do-we-dream


7
Nov 19

Holograms replacing musicians? And eventually–political leaders?

“The Spectacular, Strange Rise of Music Holograms”, the Washington Post tells us. “Dead musicians are taking the stage again in digital form. Is this the kind of encore we really want?”

Buddy Holly on stage, as a hologram. Happening now. As predicted years ago–along with many other things, like deep fakes–in my A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy.

Another current real-life phenomenon is Pretend People on Instagram: Talking, real-looking CGI generated “models” and “influencers”, unnaturally beautiful human-seeming creatures with names and histories–who are entirely fabricated. They are not real physical persons. They’re an elaborate form of animation. Yet many people believe in them as if they are real. These scripted 3-D CGI animations have legions of fans ogling them with goo goo eyes as they coo over them. “I love your new look, Elisha!” In Japan, right now, 3-D anime characters who sing are already replacing singing acts.

In the USA we’ll inevitably generate new acts, designed by “entertainer designers”, like those computer generated media darlings on Instagram. (After all, you don’t have to pay a computer generated performer.) The music will be computer generated too. People will believe in them and write them mash letters and start fan sites for them. Fake scandals about these fake characters will appear in Us Magazine and on Entertainment Tonight. They’ll be “interviewed” on talk shows. “I love the musicians I’m working with now…”

We’re setting people up to be manipulated by computer generated imagery in deeper ways than ever. It’s all part of the general process of hemming people in with media illusion, so they don’t know what’s real, or they don’t care. So they’re hyper distracted, and easily manipulated.  And when will politicians, political leaders, be replaced by carefully crafted holograms? What will be the social agenda of the Pretend Person programmers? As in my A SONG CALLED YOUTH novels: https://store.doverpublications.com/048681789x.html


2
Nov 19

THE ONE AND THE MANY

I wish to be ONE
of the MANY
who become the ONE;
I wish to become ONE
who remains individual
while becoming part of the ONE
that unites the MANY.
I wish to be ONE
of the MANY
who become the ONE.


31
Oct 19

Is harmony chaotic? Is chaos harmonic? A study suggests…

“Perceptions of Musical Octaves Are Learned, Not Wired in the Brain” ~

“Singing experiments with residents of the Bolivian rainforest demonstrate how biology and experience shape the way we hear music.”

So we’re told in the article linked at the bottom of this piece. And I’m sure they’re quite right. But that’s not the whole story.

Of course, we always had suspicions about the relativity of the musical scale and musical values, in a way.  Remember The Addam’s Family? Morticia, at least on the show, played a form of dissonant–to our western ears–Japanese music. It was based on real Japanese music but it was supposed to be another example of the innate bizarrity and “That’s Just Wrongness” of the Addam’s Family. (I love all formats of The Addam’s Family by the way. I have always had a terrible crush on Morticia, especially in her movie form. Female beauty is a matter of perception too).  Musical sounds emitted by youth often repel the aged.  A good many foreign musical styles at first can sound grotesque to the close-minded listener–but we learn to appreciate them, to hear their beauty. American music, at first, sounded quite ugly to many people in Asia. It grew on them and they adopted some of it and combined it with their own forms. This demonstrates not only the relativity of musical values but also the wonderful plasticity of our aesthetics.  So, it’s not terribly surprising to hear that the octave is not wired in to our gray matter.

Still, Pythagoras saw–or rather heard–things from another angle.  He heard mathematics in music. Harmonies and harmonics could be parsed mathematically–and math is our way of perceiving logic and the orderliness of some aspects of nature. Even chaos can be mathematically measured, it seems to me, since any object will break down into chaotic parts according to specific  laws–laws of physics which follow mathematical rules. Standard harmonics does seem to have some cosmic resonance, if not always a neurological one.

The Quanta article tells us, “It appeared that the same notes in different octaves, like high C and middle C, didn’t sound alike to the Tsimané as they did to people in the U.S.” They theorize these rainforest folk actually perceive sounds differently, in ways they were taught to perceive them. This suggests that we also, here in the USA,  in our turn perceive sounds–octaves, harmonics–as we’re taught. It’s a learned perception, sure. I can remember hearing “Do, a deer, a female deer, ray, a pocketful of sun…” in  The Sound of Music as a child. I was taught do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti…and back to do, in elementary school and the corresponding sounds were played for me. I was told this was a basic pattern used in organizing music. I accepted that.  And it is used that way–for some people. On the whole, I perceived it that way. This perception was broken down, or at least much modified, later, when I came to deeply appreciate alternative forms of music, like the stochastics of Xenakis and the tortured and strangely gorgeous sounds of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica; like the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray; like the barely controlled music of Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum; like the wildest free jazz. Some of these forms incorporated walls of raw sound, chaos; others traded in the superimposition onto background rhythms of seeming dissonance which nevertheless had an alien, cutting beauty. So it’s possible to unlearn conventional harmonics, conventional musical values! Or rather, to put the standard harmonics and structure aside, so to try something else; to take in a different sort of nourishment at the feast. What is this yellow thing, a lemon? I have never tasted one before. I bite into it. Holy crap, that’s intense! What joy! And soon after I appreciate oranges more, even as I begin to like Sweet and Sour Chinese foods.

It all reminds me of Wittgenstein’s idea that our way of perceiving the world is filtered through the language we’ve been taught.

So–it appears that our most basic American and European rigid musical structures are not wired into our brains from the start.  However–there is such a thing as recognizing and relating to felicity in all its forms. And we are attuned, in some wise, to felicity. To harmony. It’s the sonic version of things going well at home. Of being loved. Of the right word falling into place. Naturally we respond to it music. The rainforest folk presumably do the same–but they represent it differently.

Dissonance–why does it tend to set our teeth on edge? Notice that danger is associated in nature–not always, but as a sort of trend–with dissonance. Predators generally do not make conventionally harmonious sounds–hawks shriek;  the wolf snarls and makes other blood curling sounds as it prowls; bears on the attack make a glutinous angry roaring; mosquitoes make an unpleasant humming whine. (Some owls, who are predators, hoot pleasantly but there are owls that shriek). The rattlesnake’s warning is not a pretty sound. It can be well used in a composition–I’ve heard it done–but in itself, it’s an unnerving sound. And think of the sound of an erupting volcano. A tree exploding as lightning strikes.  A building will make many alarming sounds when it’s collapsing. Many birds do make conventionally “prettier” sounds. We associate them with the friendly side of nature. Jays make a raucous sound, and will do you little harm–but they are rapscallions.

Now, chaos can be used in thought-out, planned compositions, as well as in improvisation–Zappa’s Uncle Meat, say, or his Weasels Ripped  My Flesh.  Or consider a Jackson Pollack painting. But one of Zappa’s or even John Cage’s more chaotic sounding compositions are planned, not random, and Jackson actually composed as he painted, coming up with uproarious chaotic but still patterned paintings…

https://www.quantamagazine.org/perceptions-of-musical-octaves-are-learned-not-wired-in-the-brain-20191030/

[thanks to Jim Baldwin for providing the grist for the mill, here]

 

 


22
Oct 19

Saw ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST a 2nd Time, 1st was 45 years ago

I appreciated some aspects of it, in my youth, but thought it was exasperating and it was not paced for an impatient guy about 18. Now I appreciate it as a cinematic masterpiece–an exasperating one at times–and as an operatic fantasy some Italian guys had of the Wild West (Bertolucci and Argento were involved too!), an enacting of masculine rituals of face to face struggle for dominance, and of ritualistic revenge…SO ritualistic. And it’s also just as exasperating as ever. As a writer they lost me when Cheyenne shoots someone through a train window with a gun in his boot. Stupidest fucking thing to stick in the picture….GOD that’s still annoying…the movie ALMOST had internal-logic cohesion up till then. And the woman in it–another ritual: the ritual of her subjugation. The primal, traditionally patriarchal male/female roles are etched into ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST to a degree that many modern women must regard as misogyny.  It’s foolish to look for real internal logic in this rickety and beautiful masculine fantasy…This halcyon paean to adolescent coming of age dreams…Just look at the pretty pictures…Wonderful scenes…glorious creativity…homages to John Ford films and to Union Pacific….The dueling charisma of Fonda, Robards, Bronson…


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Oct 19

“Do Not Be Daunted by the Enormity of the World’s grief.”

“Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated
to complete the work,
but neither are you free
to abandon it.”

       The Talmud