zenpundit.com » music

Archive for the ‘music’ Category

What the PK Dickens?

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — conceptual echoes in a PK Dick bio-flick ]

PKD covers 600


I have just been watching Mark Steensland’s movie, The Gospel According to PK Dick, and a couple of fine parallelisms – echoes, really – struck me.

I’m going to start with one quote from the Chuang Tzu which is so often quoted it has been dulled for me, like a few other very great very over-celebrated works, Beethoven’s Fifth, and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, among them. Finding its echo in the words of Robert Anton Wilson in this film breathes new life into it, at least for me, for this moment.

Chuang Tzu, then, from The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu translated by Burton Watson:

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

DoubleQuote that with Robert Anton Wilson in the movie:

In 1994, I think it was, somebody put up on internet a report of my death, and no matter how much I’ve denied it, it seems most people accept that I’m still alive, but there’s a die hard minority who insists I’m dead and the CIA has replaced me with an android. And I’d be much happier if I’d never read Philip Dick, because I would just think, “Well, I know I’m not an android,” but having read Philip Dick I realized if I was an android who’s properly constructed, I’d think I am Robert Anton Wilson. So that leaves me perpetually in a predicament of not being sure that I’m Robert Anton Wilson or an android programmed to think it’s Rob– to think, talk, and write like Robert Anton Wilson. I guess I’m really grateful to Phil for that, it gives me a certain agnostic detachment, which I think is necessary for mental health.


The echo of Chuang Tzu in the words of Robert Anton Wilson occurs towards the beginning of the movie. Towards the end of the movie, we have Paul Williams, the “father of rock criticism” also talking about his friend PK Dick, who was also the subject of his celebrated 1974 Rolling Stone article:

That particular, unique personality this is Philip K Dick arises, when you and I or the three of us, or any two or three readers of {Philip K Dick, or friends of his, or whatever, get together, then we have the opportunity, as in the ends of those stories, to actually experience his presence, and it’s uniquely him. And, uh, I appreciate that, and I appreciate that in that way, I still have him in my life. And that’s definitely quite a gift.

DoubleQuote those words of Williams with these, from Matthew 18.20:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


Gospel, indeed. and Tao, too.

Must Beethoven really roll over?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away ]

I’m more than a little proud of these two tweets from my nephew, the conductor Daniel Harding, who was in Japan at the time of the March 2011 quake:

SPEC Daniel Harding Tokyo quake

I remembered them today while reading Anna Goldsworthy‘s The Lost Art of Listening — subtitled Has classical music become irrelevant?


Goldsworthy’s central theme is this:

Reports of the death of classical music are not new. There are those who have made a career out of eulogising it, such as the English journalist Norman Lebrecht, who has written the same book on the subject several times; the late pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen quipped that “the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition”. Classical music has absorbed a number of deaths already – the death of patronage, of the composer-virtuoso, of tonality. Clearly it is made of stern stuff, but can it survive the death of its audience?

It was this sentence, however, that reminded me so vividly of Daniel’s tweets:

Might there be a concert a few decades hence in which – God willing – my trio is still performing, but only to an audience of one? And if that listener were to perish mid performance, would we keep playing?


I’m wondering whether Goldsworthy’s question — Has classical music become irrelevant? — may not parallel a similar concern about poetry.

Language shifts. Eliot caught it nicely:

                                  Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has announced its plan to “provide translated texts in contemporary modern English as performable companion pieces for Shakespeare’s original texts..” The OSF comments:

We have asked the writers to limit their efforts to updating the more antiquated language in the plays. Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that in the last 400 years, many of the words, phrases and references have fallen out of use. So our focus is squarely on translating this antiquated language to increase understanding, while maintaining the vibrancy of the original.

So there you have it: Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that..

And so the wheel turns.


When I was researching 4chan clues to the recent Umpqa shooting, I had to avail myself of the Urban Dictionary to learn the meanings of such terms as sperg out, pepe, normie, edgelord


A poster on an Internet forum, (particularly 4chan) who expresses opinions which are either strongly nihilistic, (“life has no meaning,” or Tyler Durden’s special snowflake speech from the film Fight Club being probably the two main examples) or contain references to Hitler, Nazism, fascism, or other taboo topics which are deliberately intended to shock or offend readers

— and there isn’t even a definition for libcucks as yet. Hey, I’m an Ancient. It’s what happens to the young.

So I get the feeling Shakespeare may have now reached the point of obscurity that Chaucer had reached in 1951, when I was yet a child and Penguin published Neville Coghill‘s verse translation of The Canterbury Tales.


One of many notable comments in Goldsworthy’s piece was this:

In 1942 starving musicians performed Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in Leningrad while the city was under siege. The musicians were given an hour-long ovation, and the concert was broadcast to German forces as a form of psychological warfare.

Pablo Neruda, Andrei Voznesensky: I’ve seen it suggested that poetry has urgency — and the large audiences to prove it — in those times and places where poets also risk imprisonment, perhaps torture, and even death.

Irina Ratushinskaya described her writing habits while in the Soviet Gulag:

In defiant prose, she tells of her refusal to cower in the camp “like a frightened mouse.” Determined to continue writing poetry, she would scratch verses onto bars of soap with the burnt end of a matchstick. One poem described “the first beauty which I saw in this captivity: a window in the frost!” Another confided: “We live stubbornly/like a small beast who’s gnawed off his paw/ to get out of a trap on three.” After memorizing her words she would wash the evidence away. Later she copied the poems, in minute handwriting, onto four-centimeter—wide strips of cigarette paper and smuggled them out to Igor, who passed them on to Western journalists. “All poets should have such a school,” she says now, with a laugh. “It taught me to be very spare and concise.”


Daniel’s tweets:

  • Daniel Harding, Wonderful atmosphere on strangest of days
  • Daniel Harding, Would have played just for the 69 year old
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival announcements:

  • News Release, OSF Launches Three-Year Shakespeare Translation Commissioning Project
  • Play On FAQ, 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare
  • Next year, Daniel takes up the post of music director of the Orchestre de Paris.

    How is history made — songs, dreams, and sermons included?

    Saturday, October 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — the moral arc of history from Billie Holliday via MLK to Obama — and beyond, who knows? ]

    Our topic here is foresight — prediction, prophecy, prognosis, projection.


    The Legatum Institute today tweeted a Pew Research projection of Muslim and Christian growth 2010-2050.

    Pew Christian Muslim to 2050

    It is now 2015, so for practical purposes, we’re thinking here about prophecies and predictions that offer what their authors hope will come close to 35-year foresight.

    Short form: I don’t get it.

    Obama, like him or not, Christ or Antichrist, Peace-Nobelist or Pol, is now US President and has — whatever his strengths, failings, or both — some influence on how the earth turns, which way the moral arc of the universe bends, and or what history will be seen and written once the future is present.

    Short form: How does history happen?

    I’ll raise that question by posting three videos along one such arc of history — and I’ll avoid the usual genre of “news” and work with song, dream and sermon.


    Describing the impact of Billie Holliday’s song, Strange Fruit, David Margolick wrote in his “biography of a song“:

    An “historic document,” the famed songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg called “Strange Fruit.” The late jazz writer Leonard Feather once called “Strange Fruit” “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” To Bobby Short, the song was “very, very pivotal,” a way of moving the tragedy of lynching out of the black press and into the white consciousness. “When you think of the South and Jim Crow, you naturally think of the song, not of `We Shall Overcome,’” said Studs Terkel. Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary record producer, called “Strange Fruit,” which Holiday first sang sixteen years before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, “a declaration of war … the beginning of the civil rights movement.”

    As Shelley reported, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”


    Preaching borders on prophecy when it addresses dreams, as in Martin Luther King’s great 1963 oration, spoken decades after Abel Meeropol published Strange Fruit as a poem in 1937 and Billie Holliday recorded it in 1939:

    It’s surely notable that a singer had a part in that speech, too. As Wikipedia reports, citing DD Hansen‘s The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation:

    The focus on “I have a dream” comes through the speech’s delivery. Toward the end of its delivery, noted African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” King stopped delivering his prepared speech, and started “preaching”, punctuating his points with “I have a dream.”


    The President of the United States is an acknowledged legislator, constrained by checks and balances that preachers and poets do not face, yet his voice too has been raised from rhetoric to song:

    Here are the Here are the “three rhetorical aspects” of Obama’s speech that James Fallows singled out for special praise:

  • The choice of grace as the unifying theme, which by the standards of political speeches qualifies as a stroke of genius.
  • The shifting registers in which Obama spoke—by which I mean “black” versus “white” modes of speech — and the accompanying deliberate shifts in shadings of the word we.
  • The start-to-end framing of his remarks as religious, and explicitly Christian, and often African American Christian, which allowed him to present political points in an unexpected way.
  • Amazing Grace now takes the place of Strange Fruit, and a President that of a poet and a singer — much has changed, yet much remains.


    My own Prior Art on prognostication:

    Recently, in Simply so much.. 02 here on Zenpundit, I pondered the nature of foresight in terms of a Marine Corps forecast:

    I’m thinking of Lise Meitner as I view the Marine Corps’ ambitiously titled Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045. Who would have thought in 1919 that Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann in 1935 would begin a program that resulted in 1939 in her 1939 paper Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction — which in turn led to Moe Berg‘s attending a lecture by Heisenberg, the Trinity test at Alamagordo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    And yet the period from 1919 (Treaty of Versailles) to 1939 (fission theorized) is only 20 years, and from 1919 to 1945 (nuclear warfare) is 26 years — equivalents, respectively, to the periods from 2015 (today) to 2035 (a third of the way into the USMC’s period of prediction) and 2041 (still within the UMSC timeline).

    That’s my attempt at a sober assessment of how difficult it is to “see ahead”.


    My Art of Future Warfare story, War in Heaven, is set — as the contest rules required — in 2090.

    By twenty-ninety, in my fanciful hypothesis, we may well have learned how to choose which timeline we want to live along in a “manyworld” of constantly branching possibilities – “words are many, worlds are many more, if possible” I wrote, and supplied portals to worlds secular, magical, religious and fictitious:

    Forty some years from now, in the wake of John Hardy Elk’s vision and its definitive corroboration “in the external” by physicists at the CERN Diffraction Lab, Shamanism is overturning “the Enlightenment” as the preferred intellectual basis for inquiry. With its gestalt understanding of the interconnectedness not only of space and time but of chance and will, context and perspective, self and other, the Shamanic method of burrowing into deep external space “in the internal” has proven more powerful, faster, and – yes — way more creative than what are now known as the old “heavy lifting” methods of transport.

    With schools of Tibetan, Navaho, Benedictine and other forms of contemplative instruction now rapidly surpassing CalTech as the educational venues of choice, and Oxford morphing back towards its earlier life in which theology was Queen of the Sciences, a great many talented explorers have now visited realms considered impossibly “far away” even a decade earlier, the “digital” has fallen away at a time when communication between the like-minded is achieved telepathically, and “radiance bombs” vie with “dark bombs” in the end-of-century duels scattered across many galaxies in which “white” and “black” magics compete — under the law, some would say theory, of the Conservation of Moral Balance.

    Who knows? Who can really say?


    And then there was the ChicagoBoyz Afghanistan 2050 RoundTable. Introducing the RoundTable, Lexington Green noted:

    40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.

    The event, then, was pitched five years past the Marines’ forecast, though still forty years short of my War in Heaven. And once again, though more explicitly this time, I relied on the branching worlds idea.. Here, though, I attempted –- not unlike a circus performer astride two horses -– to bring together the physical and moral universes:

    Historians — on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me — tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.

    We don’t, I posited, move across parallel “shadow” worlds by diving into portrait size Tarot cards, walking a kundalini-enhancing maze, or substituting the sky, landscape and other furniture of one world-line into that of another, though the great Roger Zelazny in his Amber series posits these as methods for planet-hopping.

    My suggestion: we chose which routes we take when faced with the constant bifurcations of the manyworlds by the moral choices we make.


    And in all this I attempt, however playfully, to glimpse how the past and present might prefigure our possible and impossible futures — and how one or more of those futures may pass through the sieve of the onward-pressing present to become history

    Sunday surprise: House of Cards meets monks and sexy riot grrls

    Sunday, October 11th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — wondering if the same mind (Beau Willimon?) suggested both? ]

    Two very different modes of factual reality found their ways into the fictional world of House of Cards, Season 3, American version, and I found the two choices pretty interesting. I’ve recently found clips relating to both on YouTube, so here they are for your consideration:

    Pussy Riot:


    Tibetan monks:

    Taking those two choices together is a bit like juxtaposing Gregorian chant and punk rock — which, come to think of it, is pretty close to what I was getting at in my first ever Riot Grrls post, Pussy Riot, Holy Foolishness and Monk Punk.


    Contemplation and activism — poles apart, or one the mainspring for the other?

    Simply so much.. 01

    Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — an experiment in blogging — morality transcending laws, the pope, battleships, jellyfish, & Catholic politicians ]

    There’s simply so much going on that I need to try a few way of sifting and posting my daily catch. So here’s my experiment. Each day I’ll open a Simply so much post at the start of the day, adding things that catch my eye as I go, and posting either late in the day or the next morning.


    The right to migrate trumps politics as usual:

    The granting of asylum does not fall within the usual logic of statecraft in which a policy is considered from the perspective of the political interests of a governing party, taking into account how it will play to popular prejudices, how it fits with internal party disputes, its consistency with budgetary and other manifesto promises, its influence on the viability of other policies the government wants to pursue, and so on. None of these have standing in the face of the moral emergency of aiding refugees to regain their lives.

    DoubleQuote that with Pope Francis: Government workers have ‘human right’ to deny gay marriage licenses:

    It is the “human right” of government officials to say they cannot discharge duties that they believe go against their conscience, Pope Francis told reporters aboard the papal flight back to Rome on Monday.

    “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection,” the pope told reporters on the plane. “But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right.

    “And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

    See also the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (my emphasis):

    On the most widely accepted account of civil disobedience, famously defended by John Rawls (1971), civil disobedience is a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies. On this account, people who engage in civil disobedience are willing to accept the legal consequences of their actions, as this shows their fidelity to the rule of law. Civil disobedience, given its place at the boundary of fidelity to law, is said to fall between legal protest, on the one hand, and conscientious refusal, revolutionary action, militant protest and organised forcible resistance, on the other hand.


    in the Remarks by His Majesty King Abdullah II at the 70th Plenary Session of the United Nations General Assembly, we find the following description of IS:

    I am here representing Jordan, and as a God-fearing, God-loving human being. I am here as a father who wants his children, like yours, to live in a compassionate and more peaceful world.

    Such a future is under serious threat from the khawarej, the outlaws of Islam that operate globally today. They target religious differences, hoping to kill cooperation and compassion among the billions of people, of all faiths and communities, who live side-by-side in our many countries. These outlaw gangs use suspicion and ignorance to expand their own power. Worse still is the free hand they grant themselves to distort the word of God to justify the most atrocious crimes.

    That phrase, the outlaws of Islam, nicely finesses the ongoing dispute as to whether IS should be termed “nothing to do with Islam” or “Islamic”.


    Three variants on the meaning of Man of War:

    The British Man of War, c 1750


    The Portuguese Man of War:


    GF Handel‘s The Lord is a Man of War, from his oratorio Israel in Egypt, 1739:


  • The British Man of War
  • The Portuguese Man of War
  • Handel’s Lord is a Man of War
  • Hm, that would have made a great post all by itself!


    Great Andreessen-style DoubleQuote:

    And that’s a really interesting nested question right about now, eh?

    Switch to our mobile site