Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Cosmic Corso & Recorso: Tones for Joan's Bones

Thanks to music, we are able to behold time. --Zuckerkandl

[T]he deeper teaching of music concerns the nature not of 'psyche' but of 'cosmos.' --Zuckerkandl

Our personality is precisely that: the continuous melody of our inner life. --Bergson

I just wanted to wrap up this series of posts about music, because I want to move on to a couple of other topics, hopefully starting tomorrow. For this reason, it may have a bit of a rushed feel, but I need to finish this performance and go on to the next gig.

For reasons that should be bobvious, the following passage by Zuckerkandl caught my attention. It is a continuation of the idea that in a melody, one tone recalls the past and anticipates the future, handing it off to the next one:

"In the course of this motion, then, the departing becomes a returning. The direction of the motion at the beginning appears changed into its opposite at the end. Is it possible to determine a point at which the reversal takes place, at which 'away from' becomes 'toward'?"

In my book, I put forth the idea that there exist nonlocal "attractors" in the phase space of the human psyche. In fact, in the final analysis, you could say that man is suspended roughly halfway between two Great Attractors. You can call them "spirit and matter" or "being and non-being" or "heaven and earth" or "slack and conspiracy," but again, I prefer the more abstract and unsaturated symbols, which I unname O and Ø.

Faith is an absolute prerequisite when one is circling in the obit of the Ø attractor, and in the absence of faith, one will remain stuck there, cash to ash and lust to dust. But with patient surrender, a point is reached whereby faith is slowly transformed, either to knowledge, or love, or virtue, or being.

Afterwards faith is still required, as one must continuously "empty oneself" in order for the endless process to continue. It's just that now one is "moving toward" instead of "away from" -- like a rocket that has escaped the earth's gravitational pull. At some point the ascent from earth becomes a descent to the moon, and "motion and gravity point in the same direction."

Now, you might think that the point of the spiritual life is to escape Ø in order to flee toward O, so to speak. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that this purely ascending approach is one way of doing it, but I think it is only a half measure. Beware of spiritual mentors who only teach you how to fly but not to land.

Rather, the point is to come "full circle" back round to Ø, which then becomes infused and revivified, so to speak, with O. Darkness and death are resurrected in the Light of the return. This is how we can say that our end is in our beginning, and vice versa, and how we can thereby know the place for the first time. The Poet was not merely being poetic, but noetic.

The octave -- the completion of the scale -- is simultaneously an arrival and a return, like the prodigal son. Various paradoxes of physics -- "wherever we go, we return; start and goal are one and the same; all paths travel back to their own beginning -- are in the world of tone, simple statements of fact."

Now, just as the melody represents the reality of immaterial horizontal wholeness, the chord, or harmony in general, is only possible because of our ability to transparently grasp its transcendent vertical wholeness. Again, the melody is in time, the harmony in space.

As Zuckerkandl desribes it, "the basic chord," "the holy chord of our music, is the triad, the conjoint of three tones arranged in a definite pitch pattern."

Here I am reminded of the vocal harmonies of the Byrds, in which Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark would generally double each other, but David Crosby would provide the real harmony by moving around from note to note within that frame, altering its center of gravity and creating a kind of ascending and descending vertical motion. At one moment he might take the lower note, but then move to the higher note, giving the passage a dynamic and soaring quality.

This is very different from the distressing experience Ms. Joan had the other day in being subjected to new age musical pap while undergoing a much deserved massage. As she put it, the masseuse "had a CD of so-called music that was only one long sustained note with buzzing and tinkling bells all around it. It created the opposite of peace and tranquility in my Spirit, and told me volumes about her own. I couldn't explain to her in words what was wrong, but now I know that I was experiencing the nihilistic 'music' of nothingness. This confirms to me also, that eternal nothingness is not bliss. It is madness."

That is exactly how Zuckerkandl describes it: a "filling of the gaps between tone and tone, a sirenlike glissading up and down, does not produce the most perfect musical motion but no musical experience at all; it produces mere noise." Hardly the appropriate Tones For Joan's Bones.

The next series of posts will further explicate this idea of a vertical approach to spirituality, in which the individual harmonizes with the ultimate Other, vs. O-bliterating one's own melody within it.

Heavenly harmonies:


More harmonic goodness:

One more:

14 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

The holiness of the triad reminds me of a story about Mel Bay -- almost certainly apocryphal. Supposedly Jimi Hendrix called Mel from London in a panic. "Mel," he said, "you have to help me. I've forgotten my A chords."

"Jimi," Mel replied calmly, "have you been practicing your triads?"

It's not unbelievable that Hendrix of all people could blank out on something he knew so well -- most of us have done that, but even if Hendrix forgot, his fingers still knew.

11/21/2009 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous slackosopher said...

Yeah, I would think that Hendrix would have to have been *seriously* high to forget an A-chord. But the lesson remains...practicing the fundamentals relentlessly over the course of one's life is essential. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

11/21/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger debass said...

"The octave -- the completion of the scale -- is simultaneously an arrival and a return, like the prodigal son".
The farthest distance from the octave is the diminished 5th also knows as the "devil's interval". What a coincidence.
Practicing fundamentals helps develop muscle memory. You must think ahead of where you are playing to construct a bass line to where you are going while you are playing.
Tones for Joan's Bones is one of my favorite tunes. I still struggle soloing over the changes.
I just haven't sat down and learned it well enough yet.

11/21/2009 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

The farthest distance from the octave is the diminished 5th also knows as the "devil's interval".

Debass, isn't that the one also known as the "tritone"? Interesting. You can certainly hear why it's diabolical, though.

11/21/2009 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

It's been ages since I've heard Chick Corea, but how delightfully apt.

The Beach Boys tracks made be go back and re-read this musical episode of joy.

I simply must find a way to make a sound file of some of it. Drat!

Isn't the fifth interval played with the first the essence of oriental music? Where did I read that?

11/21/2009 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Re: the triads. The triads taught my hands, my hands taught my brain, and the world of music opened up to me in one fell swoop --and I could immediately transpose to any key in that one moment. I'll never forget that amazing mind-expansion. . . like an explosion or a thermonuclear bloom of heat and light.

Which makes me wonder why so many musicians take to drugs when the world of music is so supernaturally exhilarating and endlessly fascinating.

11/21/2009 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger debass said...

"Which makes me wonder why so many musicians take to drugs when the world of music is so supernaturally exhilarating and endlessly fascinating."
Joan-I've always wondered that also. I've never used drugs and that has kept me from getting some gigs. I was always the outsider because I didn't do drugs especially in the 60s.
Julie- Yes, it is also called a tritone. If you think it sounds bad with tempered tuning, listen to the interval in just intonation.
It doesn't sound so bad when it's part of a seventh chord or an interval within a harmonic structure, ie; C7 which is C-E-G-Bb where the tritone is the distance between the third and the seventh.

11/22/2009 12:39:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

"The stoned ear loves complexity"

-Joe Boyd: Nick Drake, Fairport, ISB's producer

Pass th' headphones and some sweet reefer, please!

11/22/2009 06:45:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Debass,
If you think it sounds bad with tempered tuning, listen to the interval in just intonation.

Yes, it's awful. Just thinking about it is the mental/audio equivalent of biting on tinfoil, unless the context is just right. In which case it can be really beautiful.

What I find interesting is that the interval consists of three whole steps, and that going a half tone up or down is as pleasant as that one is unpleasant. A visual analogy would be a checkerboard of bright complementary colors; in fact, those are also three whole steps apart. If the pattern is stark and contrasty enough, it can actually make one dizzy.

Anyway, the fact that three wholes played against each other causes such disharmony is intriguing.

11/22/2009 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Thanks to music, we are able to behold time. --Zuckerkandl"

Ohhh...HO!!!

"[T]he deeper teaching of music concerns the nature not of 'psyche' but of 'cosmos.' --Zuckerkandl

Our personality is precisely that: the continuous melody of our inner life. --Bergson"

[regains footing after brain settles down and stops rotating]

[gasp... pant... breathing stablizes....]

Wo... there's more to the post than that?

[Gulp. Continues reading....]

11/22/2009 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Wow. Something about not posting daily has turned the OC posts into super concentrated decoctions of O.

I've got a notepad of pull quotes and several posts worth of comments... but... I thnk I'll leave it with "The octave -- the completion of the scale -- is simultaneously an arrival and a return, like the prodigal son."

, and,

"Now, just as the melody represents the reality of immaterial horizontal wholeness, the chord, or harmony in general, is only possible because of our ability to transparently grasp its transcendent vertical wholeness. Again, the melody is in time, the harmony in space. "

with,

"This is how we can say that our end is in our beginning, and vice versa, and how we can thereby know the place for the first time. The Poet was not merely being poetic, but noetic."

, which leads back to end with the beginning,

Ohhh...HO!!!

11/22/2009 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Beware of spiritual mentors who only teach you how to fly but not to land."

Aye! A crash landing can be as bad (or worse) than not knowin' how to fly to begin with.

An Ayelot hasta gno the pitch of the ship (s)he's landin' on and match it...precisely! Or all hell breaks loose.

11/22/2009 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Reaboi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/30/2009 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Reaboi said...

Check out the Four Freshmen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy40kQZ1GUc

They were the template. Truly heavenly performances and arrangements by Pete Rugolo.

11/30/2009 03:55:00 PM  

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