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Point and Counterpoint in Defining Warfare II.

Monday, December 10th, 2012

A few comments on the article by Lt. Col. Jill Long at SWJ and the hardheaded critique by Jason Fritz of Inkspots to which I linked yesterday.

First, the attempt that Long was making in posing an alternative to Clausewitz was a laudable one, in the sense that every serious student who picks up a classic text, Clausewitz, Thucydides, Sun Tzu, Marx, Plato, Machievelli, Musashi and so on, should do more than simply try to understand the author and accept their views uncritically. Doing so would make you a parrot, not a scholar. Instead, we need to wrestle with and challenge the text; try to poke holes in the argument, turn it inside out and break it apart, if we are able. Sometimes we can make a legitimate chip or dent but most of the time, we are going to fail – the reason people have read these books for two or twenty centuries is because the arguments of brilliant minds within them continue to have enduring relevance.

I don’t think Long succeeded in her effort here, but if every officer had as part of their PME to formally construct an alternative to Clausewitz as she tried, we’d have a more strategically informed military and arguably one that better understood Clausewitz. If nothing else, Long was intellectually more courageous than the majority of her brother officers to make the attempt in the full glare of public scrutiny and that is praiseworthy

That said, “What is War? A New Point of View” is problematic. In my view, there are three major structural flaws in Long’s article: first, I don’t think she wrestled with On War  to plausibly justify her opening claim that that Clausewitz’s definition of war was obsolete. As Colonel David Maxwell pointed out at SWJ, that kind of bold discussion requires some reference to CvC’s “remarkable trinity”. Jason Fritz was probably speaking for a Clausewitzian legion when he, quite correctly, jumped on her argument for using dictionary definitions(!),  not tackling Clausewitz’s actual definition of war in asserting it was an anachronism or that such a definition can and does apply to non-state actors making war as well as states. You can’t make sweeping claims as a declaratory preface to the subject you’d really like to talk about – your audience will demand proof of your claim first.

The second major problem, is Long similarly dismisses the accepted definition of war under international law which is not only as equally large a field as Clausewitzian thought, it’s far larger and more important – being, you know – binding international law!  Disproving either of these alone is a fit subject for a dissertation or a book, not a paragraph. Sometimes we must learn how to construct a melody before we attempt to write a symphony.

The third structural problem is one of basic epistemology. Long’s assertion that Clausewitz’s (or any ) definition is not sufficiently broad because it is simple and that her definition is because it is complex is fundamentally ass-backwards. The question of definitions is one of the oldest ones in Western philosophy and we know that simple and profound definitions are by nature broadly stated while the negative dialectical process of qualifying them narrows their scope of application by revising the definition in a more complex form.

Jason Fritz raised a very interesting objection in his rebuttal:

….Long fails to adequately describe how the world has changed or how the “Global Era” plays into this. She states that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have changed how we should perceive the world. It seems that the she believes that that day should have awakened Americans to the threat of non-state actors. Long also states that “‘interconnected systems of trade, finance, information, and security’ demand a larger perspective when considering the engagement of imposing national will on others.” Both of these points are stated in defiance of history. Globalists enjoy selling the greatness and threats of our “interconnected systems” in the modern day, but that presumes that the world is newly interconnected. We know this is not true. Interconnection in today’s world may be faster and easier, but it is not new. States and other political groups have interacted over the elements listed for millennia – look only to the period of global colonization to see how long we as humans have been at this. Long does not describe how today’s globalization is unique and why that changes how we define war.

There are important distinctions to be made here but my short comment would be that globalization has had a significant effect upon warfare but not upon war.

As Jude Wanniski once pointed out, there is and has always been only one “system” – the whole world. What globalization has changed among the constituent parts is the velocity of transactions, their frequency, the potential number of players making transactions, where the system has degrees of transparency and opacity, the incentives and capabilities of political “gatekeepers” to control exchange of information or goods among other things. It is a different global economy than the one under the auspices of Bretton Woods or the quasi-autarkic decade of the Great Depression or the first globalization that died in August 1914.

Most of these things have direct bearing on economics, politics or policy but indirectly on the conduct of warfare as well. Balance of comparative advantages can be altered, situational awareness of conflicts can be heightened and the line between de jure war and “mere violence” uncomfortably blurred. Generally, statesmen have reacted to globalization by imposing greater political constraints – usually more than would be tactically wise or efficient –  on their own use of military force in less than existential conflicts. Generally, this is perceived as an aversion to taking or inflicting casualties and a legalistic-bureaucratic micromanaging of  military commanders and troops.Whether such politically self-imposed limits are useful in pursuing a strategy for military victory is another question, one that can only be answered in specific contexts. Sometimes restraint and de-escalation is the best answer on the strategic level.

What was good in the Long article? In my view, the root idea of conceptualizing of war on a spectrum; it is a useful cognitive device that could accommodate nuances, ideal for examining case studies or changes in warfare over time. But would be more persuasive if developed with accepted definitions.

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Point and Counterpoint on Defining War

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

A quick note. There’s a provocative article at SWJ by a USAF Lt Col., Jill Long that attempted to pose an alternative definition of war and Jason Fritz at Inkspots has written a tough rebuttal; both are worth reading:

Jill Long – What is War? A New Point of View

….The Spectrum of War in the Global Era

Michael Howard summarizes the changing environment as shifting from one centered on the control of territory, to one focused not only on territorial control but the effective exploitation of the resources of that territory.[8]  This concept leads to a new approach to view and define war…within the context of globalization.  As the global finance crisis illuminated, economies can no longer be managed/controlled internally but in fact are impacted by events and decisions made across the world.[9]  One only needs to reference the so called “CNN effect,” the Arab Spring or current anti-American protests to understand the impact digital communications and the 24-hour news cycle have had on regional and world affairs.[10]  The bottom line: “interconnected systems of trade, finance, information, and security” demand a larger perspective when considering the engagement of imposing national will on others.[11]

One method to approach this broader perspective is to view war as a spectrum of discord, a continuum where unrestrained armed conflict and world peace are at opposing ends.  By establishing this graphic scale, it is relatively easy to conceptualize that as a nation approaches peace (or harmony) with other entities’ values, objectives, and ideals, there is an abeyance of hostilities.  War is not over, a nation’s desire to impose its will remains; it simply does not require the use of armed conflict to achieve its goals.  What might appear on the surface to be the age old argument between Thomas Hobbes’ theory of man’s natural state as one of war and John Locke’s more peaceful perspective, is actually providing the answer to that debate…both may be right.  If a nation’s will is in harmony with other entities’ then the natural tendency will lean towards world peace.  As discord develops between a nation’s will and other nation-states or non-state actors the natural tendency will increasingly lean towards more aggressive national engagement and armed conflict.  This theory purposefully focuses on nation-states and/or non-state actors versus the individual.  While one may argue it can be applied to individual interaction, this is not the author’s intent. 

This spectrum facilitates understanding that the art of war encompasses much more than the concept of armed conflict and acknowledges a nation’s capability to change their “natural state” based on the will of the people, political landscape, as well as a nation’s strength, ability, and desire to project power. […]

And now, from the other side……

Jason Fritz-  Our definition of war is pretty good as it is

…..Long fails to adequately describe how the world has changed or how the “Global Era” plays into this. She states that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have changed how we should perceive the world. It seems that the she believes that that day should have awakened Americans to the threat of non-state actors. Long also states that “‘interconnected systems of trade, finance, information, and security’ demand a larger perspective when considering the engagement of imposing national will on others.” Both of these points are stated in defiance of history. Globalists enjoy selling the greatness and threats of our “interconnected systems” in the modern day, but that presumes that the world is newly interconnected. We know this is not true. Interconnection in today’s world may be faster and easier, but it is not new. States and other political groups have interacted over the elements listed for millennia – look only to the period of global colonization to see how long we as humans have been at this. Long does not describe how today’s globalization is unique and why that changes how we define war.The issue of state versus non-state actors, as pertains to the definition of war, is a silly discussion. The idea that this new “globalization” has resulted in the rise of non-state actors is also historically inaccurate and is prima facie absurd.  Civil wars have raged as long as long as humans have fought wars (indeed, civil war comprise a significant proportion of the wars humans have fought). Who are these wars supposed to have been fought by if not by non-state actors? Insurgencies and terrorism are also not new to the 21st Century (or even the Common Era) and it would take a peculiar interpretation of history to argue otherwise.

It is important to note that in his definition, Clausewitz does not describe war as act of force between states. War is engaged between enemies as the means to achieve political objectives. Of course, political objectives are not the sole purview of states as many non-state groups have exhibited and Mao so logically codified. This is not to say that Clausewitz did not intend his definition and the rest of the book to discuss war between states in the best traditions of the post-Westphalian world. He clearly speaks of states throughout the book, as indicated in the parenthetical comment in his definition of war (I did say I would return to that point). But this does not limit On War solely to war between states as mean scholars have, most prominently historian John Keegan and strategist Martin van Creveld to name a couple. It does not take that large of a leap of thought to read On War and understand that states can be any organized political group, that princes can be any leaders of those political groups, and armies can be the armed elements of those political groups. A literalist reading of Clausewitz would be as unwise as a literalist reading of Plato or Aristotle and saying their writings do not apply to the modern world because we are no longer city-states. A non-literalist exegesis of On War easily provides for the incorporation of non-state war into Clausewitz’s thesis. As a last point on non-state actors, Long indicates that these offspring of globalization are driving this need for a new definition of war and yet her new definition specifies that means required are to bring about “sufficient adherence to a nation’s will.” This suggests that only nations have wills or that the means of war could only be used to achieve national wills. Ergo, only nations can be at war. I suspect that non-state actors would like to know how to label their activities if “war” is closed to them. [….]

I am pressed for time, as usual, this morning, but i will try to offer my own comments later tonight.
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Form is insight: a musical experiment

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — here’s a musical experiment from the book / project i seem to be writing, which offers a grand slam intro to contemplative and artistic approaches to creative thinking, and hence a fresh angle on intelligence ]
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It looks very much as though I’ve been beginning to write parts of let’s call it “a book” for a while here on Zenpundit. I laid out the overall topic and approach as I see it in my previous post, but here I would like to launch into it mid-stream, with a musical experiment to explore the mind’s capabilities. I’ll explain why, later.

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Okay, here’s the experiment.

I invite you to listen to a short piece by JS Bach on YouTube. This will take roughly three and a half minutes of your time, the piece of music itself is one of the glories of the classical tradition, I’ve chosen the video because of the terrific graphics that accompany and illuminate the music, there will be some rock and ragtime to follow for those whose tastes go those ways — and I must ask you to pay very special attention while watching and listening to the video.

Before you do that, however, I’d like you to take a look at the image at the top of this post, which shows you the ending of the piece both as the video graphics present it, and in the musical notation or “score” an organist would read. The graphics are terrific because they allow the untrained eye to follow the threads of the different melodies or “voices” as Bach braids them together. The work is his “Little Fugue” in G minor, which you can find indexed in his collected works as “BWV 578″.

Here’s how I’d like you to pay attention during the piece:

As you listen to the performance on video, I’d like you to follow the colored lines of the melodies as they move along in the video graphic, and listen carefully to hear how many of the lines of sound you can actually follow distinctly in your mind. At the beginning there’s only one “voice” – only one line of melody – so your task is easy. If you are used to listening to music of one sort or another, you’ll almost certainly be able to track, more or less, some kind of thumping bass line and some kind of melody rising above it – two voices.

Can you manage three? four or more?

If you’re a musician you may still find the graphics — and the exercise – illuminating, but you might prefer to make the same experiment with a version of the piece played by Robert Köbler on a Silbemann organ, accompanied on video by the score..

Here’s the video — see how many voices you can hear and track:

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How did you do? How many voices could you follow at one time?

And why am I bothering to as you to do this, and then talking so much about it? After all, you may already know everything I’m saying and more, or you may simply not care that much about such things.

Here’s why: the project is about creativity and intelligence.

It’s about how to apply forms of creativity that are generally found in the arts and humanities – and in the world’s contemplative traditions — to the questions that arise for every bright human as we face the exhilarating challenging and terrifyingly complex world around us.

It’s about understanding complexity, in the way the Intelligence Community needs to understand complexity, and business leadership, and our scientists and technicians, and the congregants at our synagogues, churches, mosques and temples, and, well, all the bright people everywhere — disillusioned, or fresh and rarin’ to go.

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Complex problems often require some sort of recognition and resolution of several or many distinct and sometimes conflicting voices, points of view, concerns or vectors.. which may shift in intensity and direction as the situation evolves.

In musical terminology, any music that includes two or more distinct melodic lines or “voices” playing together simultaneously is polyphonic – from the Greek for “many voices”. Counterpoint – from the Latin for a point that counters another point — is the artful way in which composers can “work” two or more melodic lines together, so they clash at times, resolve, and harmonize.

The fugue – the particular contrapuntal form Bach uses in the piece you just heard — imposes even tighter constraints on the composer, and can elicit even greater creative inspiration as a result — as many of Bach’s, Mozart‘s, Beethoven‘s and others’ greatest works testify..

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I imagine you can see that the many voices of polyphony — voices in counterpoint, that at times clash and are in need of resolution and harmony — have their equivalents in the complex multi-stakeholder problems, clashing points of view and need for constructive resolutions that creative artists, intelligence analysts, strategy, policy and decision makers, and anyone who wants to keep aware of the shifting currents of our strange and complicated times all need to take into account.

So polyphonic, and specifically contrapuntal, thinking, can be extended way beyond the realm of music — as Hermann Hesse suggested in his greatest novel, Glenn Gould tried to demonstrate in his “contrapuntal radio” pieces, and Edward Said understood when he characterized the Israeli-Palestinian issue in these words:

When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes — opposites in the Hegelian sense — that is yet to receive its due. So what you are faced with is a kind of sublime grandeur of a series of tragedies, of losses, of sacrifices, of pain that would take the brain of a Bach to figure out.

The “book” may turn out to be a DVD, or a workshop, at this point who knows? Whatever format it winds up it takes, it will teach contrapuntal thinking — using examples drawn from world culture and contemporary geopolitics — as a radical alternative methodology, complementary to but very different from our current analytic methods. It will be a text in the cross-disciplinary, associative, lateral or horizontal equivalent of the kind of disciplinary, siloed, linear or vertical thinking that our increasingly specialized culture has trained us in —

and which we need to supplement, if we are to have the mental flexibility to see and make the creative leaps our times require of us.

For more on this, see also my Feb 2011 post (at least I’m reasonably consistent over time) A HipBone approach to analysis VI: from Cairo to Bach.

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God only knows how many voices there are in Bob Dylan‘s song Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, or Eric Clapton‘s Have you ever loved a woman from the 2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival – the principle’s the same, but we don’t (yet) have the graphics to allow your eye to follow what the musicians are doing — and there are solos, and sidemen.

Each musician has at least one voice, its melodies and its silences, to present – and sometimes several, as we saw with the Bach organ piece. And together the individual musicians add up to an ensemble, each with an awareness of the others’ voices and a concentration on their own.

And for an insight into the varieties of organ mastery, compare Billy Preston‘s amazing solo starting at 9’33” on the Clapton piece, Al Kooper‘s organ work on Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady, and Ton Koopman‘s rendering of the same Little Fugue BWV 578 we started with – where at times you can watch Koopman’s fingers on the keys or feet on the pedals, for yet another way of visualizing the intricate interweavings of this glorious music.

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Glenn Gould had an amazing mind: for your enjoyment, here’s a version of his own fugue, aptly entitled So You Want To Write a Fugue? — with a similar graphical display to help you follow along with the interweaving lines of melody…

It’s serious, and it’s hilarious too! Or maybe you’d prefer Scott Joplin? Either way, enjoy:

Glenn Gould:

Scott Joplin, Euphonic Sounds, a Syncopated Novelty:

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Kelly Vlahos Spoons John Nagl Over COIN

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

There is quite a buzz going in mil and defense blogger circles over the recent op-ed savaging in The American Conservative by Kelley Vlahos regarding Dr. John Nagl and COIN. Unfortunately for Vlahos, little of it that I have seen online or privately is favorable – including from some people who I know are less than well-disposed toward COIN or the COINdinistas.

Speaking as someone who was one of the earlier voices to remark that the political moment of pop-centric COIN had passed, I found Vlahos’ post to largely be ill-tempered, context-distorting, schadenfreude.

But hey, judge for yourself. My comments will be in normal text:

Learning to Eat Soup with a Spoon 

….Then Tom Ricks, Washington Post correspondent-court scribe, conducted a full-blown high school popularity contest, literally ranking the “brains behind counterinsurgency’s rise from forgotten doctrine to the centerpiece of the world’s most powerful military.” In this cringe-worthy “top ten” published in Foreign Policy in December 2009, Ricks places “King David” Petraeus at Number 1, and then Nagl, whose Oxford dissertation-turned-Barnes-and-Noble-bestseller Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife made him a counterinsurgency “scholar,” among other bright lights of the time. Nagl, Ricks predicted, would be “in a top Pentagon slot within a year or two.”

That was just three years ago. Today, there is no better symbol for the dramatic failure of COIN, the fading of the COINdinistas and the loss that is U.S war policy in Afghanistan than this week’s news that Nagl is leaving Washington to be the headmaster of The Haverford School, a rich preparatory school (grades k-12) for boys on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

Hmmmm. I guess General Petraeus as CIA Director and General Mattis as Combatant Commander of CENTCOM are therefore examples of a rare form of career failure.

And really, only a subpar military officer would involve himself in educating young people. Shame on you, John Nagl, for joining such a shady group of misfits.

….That’s right — Nagl, once called the Johnny Appleseed of COIN, who reveled in his role as face man, tutoring reporters with practiced bookish charm on the “the new way of war,”  and burnishing his personal story to convince everyone that he was a counter-insurgent before his time — a modern T.E. Lawrence — is packing up for good. Turns out that despite all the high hopes, the COINdinistas hit the brass ceiling with a smack, especially once it became clear that the magic they sold was a bag of beans….

Again, most of the COINdinistas, so-called, have not hit some kind of brass ceiling  nor are they secretly running the Army or the administration. Most are  in perfectly respectable but unremarkable ranks, institutional positions or jobs in the private sector. HR McMaster is now a brigadier major general, Con Crane is a director at the US Army Military History Institute, Kalev Sepp is a lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, Montgomery McFate holds the Minerva Chair at NWC,  General Jack Keane sits on several corporate boards, Fred Kagan is still at AEI,  Andrew Exum is at CNAS, David Kilcullen is the  CEO at Caerus Associates and so on.

By Washington standards, this is a relatively modest level of policy influence or promotion (Petraeus and Mattis excepted). If you want to look at rapid advancement through political connections, consider Al Haig rising like a rocket from LTC to full general and NATO Supreme Commander due to his proximity to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Or the unusually gilded career path of Colin Powell.

That said, there are many grounds, theoretical and practical, to find fault with pop-centric COIN theory and FM 3-24, from an anti-empirical legacy assumption of a Maoist model of insurgency, to a fundamental confusion of tactics and operational art with strategy to the hardening of COIN from a fairly flexible emergent doctrine in Iraq into a rigid, micromanaging, ROE dogma in Afghanistan. COIN is ripe for revision, not excision and substantive, informed, critiques of the wars of the past decade are sorely needed by scholars, military officers and defense intellectuals. Irregular conflict is never going away any more than war will go away.

Unfortunately, Vlahos was too busy with gossipy smears on Nagl’s character to make any substantive points of that nature which would have made her column something more than ad hominem rubbish.

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The zen of Cage II: from the A Train to Liverpool Street Station

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — two performances of Cage’s 4’33” in the New York and London Times: an interlude in my review of Where the Heart Beats, with a brief meditation on contrapuntal listening ]
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I began to review Kay Larson‘s Where the Heart Beats in a post here last week, and am not done yet.

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London:

photo credit: Chris Harris for the London Times

In John Cage’s sound of silence… at Liverpool Street station [London Times, subscription required], Igor Toronyi-Lalic describes performing John Cage‘s silent work 4’33” in what Cage himself — but few others — would have recognized as a concert venue, London’s Liverpool Street Station:

My rendition isn’t going down well. “This is doing my head in!” groans a drunken West Ham supporter as he watches me at the piano outside Liverpool Street station. I hear shuffling. “I can’t dance to this,” someone shouts. The restlessness is in danger of turning to anger. And I probably should have guessed it would. Presenting a performance of one of the most controversial works of music yet written in a rowdy Central London station forecourt on a Friday night on a public piano (one of several that made up the City of London Festival’s Play Me, I’m Yours artwork) was always going to be ambitious.

The work itself is hardly over before it begins — again, a paradox Cage would have enjoyed:

At my Liverpool Street Station performance, there was a symphony of rush-hour noise: commuter patter, train announcements, drunken heckling and the screeching of taxis stopping to pick up fares. Not everyone appreciated the music in this.

“When’s he going to start?” asked one lady as I finished the final movement. Others felt like they’d been had. “I thought you were going to play,” they shouted.

There’s more, and if you can get past the pay-wall you should read it all. I’ll just quote one more snippet here, though, because it leads directly into one strand of the book that I’ll be discussing in Part III of my review of Larson’s book:

“Classical musicians don’t know about Cage. They don’t perform it. We aren’t taught it in schools,” Volkov says.

But, for visual artists, Cage is a revered figure, a key part of the 1950s and 60s New York arts scene and godfather to conceptual and sound art, a connection cemented by Cage’s 40-year creative relationship with his lifelong partner, the late choreographer Merce Cunningham. “Cage worked with Rauschenberg and Cunningham and, at Black Mountain College, he mainly taught music to artists,” observes Volkov, “So, today, in art schools, they teach Cage properly. They teach his ideas.”

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New York:

photo credit: Christian Hansen for the New York Times

From London’s Liverpool Street Station we pass to New York City’s subway system. I don’t know what it is about trains, but there you are and there you go. Or perhaps the transit is from Times to Times?

Allan Kozinn‘s John Cage Recital? Take the A Train [New York Times] starts by defining “Cage moments”:

You know about Cage moments, don’t you? We all have them, whether we think of them that way or not. They occur when happenstance kicks in, and surprising musical experiences take form, seemingly out of nowhere. They can happen anywhere at any time.

Listening. Listening as though all life is music.

Kozinn is a listener, a listener to music — but he doesn’t always listen for the music in his daily life. This time, as it happens, he did:

On the A train I wasn’t thinking about Cage at all. I had just heard an exquisitely turned, energetic performance of Schubert’s String Quintet in C at a church in Greenwich Village, and Cage could not have been further from my thoughts. Nor did the crowded subway car bring him to mind at first. But I noticed that it was unusually noisy.

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Then something shifted:

Typically, most of the noise you hear comes from the subway itself: its din drowns out conversations, and people tend to stare at their feet, or at whatever they are reading, and listen to their portable music players. But this Tuesday evening just about all the people were talking, and working hard to drown out both the subway and the chats taking place around them.

I would normally have tuned all this out, but instead I sat back, closed my eyes and did what Cage so often recommended: I listened. I made no effort to separate the strands of conversation or to focus on what people were saying. I was simply grabbed by the sheer mass of sound, human and mechanical. It sounded intensely musical to me, noisy as it was, and once I began hearing it that way, I couldn’t stop.

Okay, this is where it get’s interesting. You remember that I pointed to the pianist Glenn Gould in my Said Symphony posts, and quoted this passage from David Rothenberg‘s Sudden Music:

Gould set himself up to hear the world in a new way. In diners he ate his lunch alone, eaves dropping closely on the voices around him. He learned to hear conversation as music, the lilting lines, the rhythms everywhere up, down, and around, what Bach does to our sense of talk. There are two part inventions in words, themes and variations in the quarrels of couples and the tales told by friends. Gould met the world on his own terms, and he was fascinated by this way of listening to human voices as if they were a musical interplay, not participating in a conversation but taking it all in, as an audience.

What Gould sets out to do — and records for Canadian Broadcasting — Kozinn finds himself doing:

Strand upon strand of the chatter was animated and midrange: there were neither basso profundos nor soaring sopranos in this choir, but after a moment the pitch levels began to sort themselves out as a kind of orchestration. Argumentative voices created driving, punchy rhythms that sailed over more smoothly floating narrative tones.

At least three languages were being spoken, each with its own melodic lilt and rhythmic character. To my left, a woman’s laughter momentarily changed the coloration of this vast choral tapestry and offset the argument to my right.

Within it all, squeaking metal yielded a high-pitched ostinato, and the ever-so-slightly-clattery rumble of the train was the high-tech equivalent of a Baroque basso continuo. As the train pulled into each station, the muted squeal of the brakes, the opening and closing of the doors and the slight shift in the balance of voices as some people left and others entered, already talking, suggested shifts between connected movements.

Again, I recommend reading the entire piece, but will close with just one more short clip:

I have heard “4’33” ” performed by pianists, percussion ensembles, oboists, cellists and orchestras, but none of those versions were as exciting as what I now think of as “4’33”: The Extended Subway Remix” by the A Train Yakkers, an ensemble so conceptual that its members had no idea they were in it.

Cage would have understood.

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And wherever:

Listening — and listening to the world around us as music — can happen anywhere and everywhere. But as usual, I’d like to take this a step further.

As I never tire of repeating, Edward Said — pianist and music critic as much as writer on Israeli-Palestinian issues — carries the idea of listening to multiple voices a step further, when he suggests:

When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes — opposites in the Hegelian sense — that is yet to receive its due. So what you are faced with is a kind of sublime grandeur of a series of tragedies, of losses, of sacrifices, of pain that would take the brain of a Bach to figure out.

Said’s proposed manner of listening to the many voices of life in counterpoint involves listening to the words, their meanings, their stories, their histories, and thus to a simultaneous listening across time itself — not just to a harmonious blur, “Strand upon strand of the chatter .. a kind of orchestration .. driving, punchy rhythms that sailed over more smoothly floating narrative tones.”

It goes way deeper: my life and concerns, and yours, and yours, heard together — separate and interwoven — in polyphony, in a many-voiced music — in counterpoint.

In conflict, and in hope of resolution.

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