Cross-grain thinking, 1: Mozart and how music reaches us

[ by Charles Cameron — tracking a single pattern back and forth across the Cartesian divide between “inner” (subjective) and “outer” (objective) realities, and why ]

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From God’s lips, figuratively speaking — via Mozart‘s mind and hand onto paper and out to musicians’ eyes and into their minds, then back out through their lips and hands and instruments and air — to your ears, and beyond? One pattern across a variety media.

We study Mozart’s biography. We study the “chunking” techniques a pianist typically uses to become proficient. My friend Wm. Benzon writes about how the brain’s oscillatory circuits can be internally synchronized through sonic activity and much more. We study how musical tastes correlate with education, or wealth, or class. What we don’t study nearly so intently, it seems to me, is the entire sequence by which a musical pattern makes its way from a composer’s initial thought to a listener’s delighted experience.

And what makes me want to talk about that is my sense that it requires thinking across the grain — across disciplines, across silos, across assumptions and languages and expectations.

It helps that I love Mozart. And I’m interested in the way patterns work. And perhaps most significantly, I believe that analytic mapping that doesn’t concern itself with both “inward” subjective experience, thought and emotions as well as “outer” realities, people, processes, and so forth will have us firing on only 50% of our cylinders at best. As I said in an earlier post on Anders Breivik:

A lot of our maps and models move between one quantity and another, and a lot of our thinking, correspondingly, has to do with materiel rather than morale — but nowhere is there a map or model of how quantity and quality affect each other, or how morale “force multiplies” materiel — even though “real life” moves seamlessly between (subjective, qualitative) mind and (objective, quantifiable) brain.

We have no map to walk us through the hard problem in consciousness — except our own insight.

And x-rays do not an insight make.

Let’s simply call this an early attempt to think about a stretch of the border between subjective and objective worlds, taking Mozart — a reasonably innocuous subject compared with Breivik — to start with.

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There’s a phrase of music in Mozart’s head: it is a pattern – we shall see it later as a pattern in ink on paper, a pattern in keys depressed on a keyboard, on strings struck and vibrating, as a pattern in acoustic waves in air and a pattern of impacts on the ear drum, then of electrochemical activity in the brain, of “Mozart” in the mind – and perhaps in a tapping of the feet on the floor, and from thence, onwards…

Perhaps Mozart got it, this pattern, consciously or unconsciously, from the starling he wrote a poem to, and gave a burial to when it died [1, 2] … No doubt something of that pattern would have been in the starling’s brain as its throat muscles moved, and in the air that moved and he sang…

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