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The music of snakes and computing machines

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — with enough joy here for all lovers of classical music, herpetology and the national pastime — but I’m stunned by one most curious herpetology-Bach crossover in particular — and more ]
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Here’s a fine DoubleQuote:

I gave you the snake first, in about as amusing a context as I could find: Now here’s the serpentine windings of a Bach melody, as tracked by musical-graphics maestro Stephen Malinowski::

The music is Bach’s Cantata 140 (Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme), performed by members of the Netherlands Bach Society (s part of their All of Bach project.

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I think of the vaulted arches of Hermann Hesse’shundred gated cathedral of mind as places where science / technology and the arts / humanities map closely to one another — my locus classicus being the analogy between van Gogh‘s night sky and von Karman‘s vortex street, with which by now you are likely all familiar..

Far more unexpected, yet incredibly rich, it seems to me, is this close correspondence between music and snake. Does this suggest any further explorations to anyone? Ali Minai, anything this suggests for AI? Anyone?

Ada Lovelace‘s vision of the applicability of the Jacquard loom’s punched cards to Charles Babbage‘s engine is another instance, at the apex of an arch, I think — and it’s interesting to note that Lady Lovelace speculated that Babbage‘s machine

might act upon other things besides number… the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent

Howzzat? as we cry out in cricket.

Trump — King or Queen? A Biblical DoubleQuote

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — a gender-bender for our times, and a caution against messianic projections on all too fallible humans }
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Either way, Donald Trump:

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To be frank, I don’t think Trump is either one — but Biblical excuses made by or on behalf of those Evangelicals who favor Trump‘s policies, and particularly his choices for the bench, are worth considering on their own merits.

King David notoriously slept with Bathsheba after sending his friend, her husband, off to die on the front lines, and yet G*d seems to have favored and used him. Similarly, Cyrus wasn’t even one of the Chosen People, yet he seems to have been one of the people chosen.

An aside — while I’m not sure if he originated the idea, it’s interesting that David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, named himself “Koresh” — “Cyrus” in Hebrew — and gave himself the title “sinful Messiah” because he felt both convinced / convicted of his sinfulness and called to a salvific, nay messianic, purpose. Esther? She was Jewish herself and beautiful, and protected the Jews from a holocaust back in the day.

David exemplifies the leader with a shady, nay adulterous and murderous, past.

Cyrus is the unbeliever in a G*d who uses him for his own purposes. And Esther is a ruler who preserves the Jewish people in a time of trouble.

Each analogy in turn has its merits — yet as regular readers here know, while I’m an enthusiast for thinking via analogies, I’m also concerned to bring critical appraisal to them. I have to admit I don’t see a Cyrus, David, or Esther here, and tend to think the long history of messianic projections by enthusiastic crowds, and messianic pretenders who came and went, should be a caution for us.

Trump looks to me like a man, is all. I wouldn’t trust him, and I don’t even trust myself.

**

Sources:

  • CBN (2016), Chaos Candidate: Is Trump a Modern-Day King Cyrus?
  • WaPo (2019), Holy Moses. Mike Pompeo thinks Trump is Queen Esther
  • The Magic in Advertising series — rhyming, twinning, pattern recognition

    Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — the ability to recognize similarities across wide conceptual or memory distances is what Cindy Storer calls “magic” in analytic practice — here we examine it in terms of advertising ]
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    You could almost learn how to write poetry by watching the commercials on TV — or learn a bit more about how the ads themselves work.. come have some fun.

    Consider rhyme for a moment. There’s a rhyme between the car that’s too small for comfort and the shoe that’s too tight to fit in this ad, and there’s an analogy between the larger, more comfortable — luxurious, even — car and the wide and comfortable — “like a luxury ride for my feet” — Skechers wide fit shoes that the ad is all about:

    The rhyme here between today’s American fisherman and his Irish fisherman ancestor is stunning — and plausible. This, after all, is genetics, which is often said to rhyme from one generation to another:

    And even when the analogy between an image and the product it’s supposed to resemble (“rhyme with”) is weak, making a successful rhyme between two such images is a delight in itself, and makes the weak rhyme seem plausible. Here, a two-thirds shaved dog rhymes with a two-thirds mowed lawn:

    Allstate piles the rhymes on — drawing on powerful similarities between widely different parts of the country — in its brilliant Park Road / Street / Avenue commercial:

    Here’s a beautiful rhyme between cement and sand — it’s not so great to find you’ve stepped unexpectedly in wet cement — but what a delight to feel sand on the beach between your toes!

    Look, Exxon wants to make it’s industrial plants more closely resemble living, breathing, green plants: it’s not a bad idea, laudable really — but the rhyme is a bit of a stretch, eh?

    **

    One form of rhyme that’s worth noting falls under the heading of Opposites:

    In this case, the equation would be something like blue plus red equals unbiased. I haven’t checked the product, but the math is clean, and the divide the ad bridges is very real and quite perilous for democracy:

    So opposites can be powerful. But it’s worth considering, too, the mind-numbing effect of seeing opposing commercials:

    That’s not the kind of opposition you want if you’re Roundup, but exactly the kind of opposition you seek if you’re the legal opposition!

    **

    Rhyming — twinning — as it’s dreamed up in the creative agencies of Madison Avenue, and no doubt Madison Wisconsin too, requires horizontal, associative thinking — thinking based on pattern recognition, thinking that makes creative leaps where similarities can be found in the midst of difference. Metaphors and analogies are woven of the same kind of thinking, rhyme in poetry, graphic match or match cut in enema, canon and fugue in music — and it’s the type of thinking my HipBone Games are designed to teach and practice, until they’re strong reflexes in your intellectual arsenal.

    When readers or movie-goers, or just people watching commercials on TV, recognize patterns or rhymes — shaving a dog, then mowing a lawn, okay — it may elicit a chuckle the first time you see the ad, but you’re not sitting there to learn about dogs or lawns, or even Flonase unless you happen to need that kind of medicine. No, you’re there to see the next installment of the movie you’re watching, the next entertainment — which was almost certainly put together with less cash and care per minute or per frame than the commercials that slip into your mind almost subcutaneously.

    And analogy — this type of analogical thinking — works. Analogy is the very heart of magic:

    **

    Do you have time for another example?

    Here we have analogy across time, as we did in the case of the Donegal fisherman, but this time woven into the telling of a very simple short story: he wants a Heineken, looks in the fridge, no luck, goes out onto the street, flags down a cab, takes a short ride, steps down from his Hackney Carriage about a century earlier, and gets the Heineken he was looking for. Plus ça change!

    The Heineken’s the same — the six-pack at the end is the essence of difference!

    **

    Previous episodes in the same series:

    Advertising series 01: Music
    Eros, the Renaissance and advertising
    Authentic, spiritual magic!
    The magic of advertising or the commercialization of magic?
    Here’s magic!
    The magic of miniatures

    I imagine there will eventually be about twenty posts in the series..

    The human voice, counterpoint, & the analysis of complex systems

    Saturday, February 9th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — with Mike Sellers and Ali Minai particularly in mind, and more to come.. ]
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    Roomful of Teeth:

    That’s composer Caroline Shaw‘s Partita for 8 Voices, a piece she wrote for Roomful of Teeth.

    A piece she composed and wrote for them — in the remainder of this post, we’ll explore the overlap of text (writing) and music (composition) in increasing subtlety and detail..

    **

    I’m brought to make this post by a paragraph I read in a fascinating New Yorker article, Roomful of Teeth Is Revolutionizing Choral Music. Roomful of Teeth is the group whose music I first praised in Pulitzer : Lamar :: Nobel : Dylan?, and showcase again in the video clip above.

    Here’s that New Yorker para:

    The human voice is the world’s most astonishing instrument, it’s often said. It’s capable of everything from a trill to a bark to an ear-splitting scream, from growling harmonics to liquid acrobatics, lofted on the breath like a lark on an updraft. Instrument is the wrong word, really. The voice is more like a chamber ensemble: winds and strings and blaring horns, strung together end to end. It’s a pump organ, a viola, an oboe, and the bell of a trumpet, each instrument passing the sound along to the next, adding volume and overtones at every step. Throw in the percussion of the lips and tongue, and the echoing amphitheatre of the skull, and you have a full orchestra playing inside you.

    My aim in this post is to add that “full orchestra playing inside you” to that other internal polyphony of contrasting desires, identities, and emergent thoughts, and the external polyphony of all those voices with a stake in our common concerns, risk assessments and deliberations — which are constituent of our complex analytic topics.

    Done.

    **

    The rest is context…

    I’ve often talked about the notion that the analysis of complex human systems involves dealing with multiple stakeholder voices, also on occasion with the many internal voices within each individual, and suggested that music offers the clearest equivalent or analogy that humans successfully and repeatedly navigate. Specifically, the twin notions of polyphony — the sounding together of many voices — and more specifically counterpoint — the juxtaposition of conflicting voices and the possible resolution of their conflicts from dissonance to harmony in an iterative process — are clearly relevant to analytic practice, albeit drawing on a tradition that will seem wildly cross-disciplinary to many analysts.

    Relevant here is Edward Said‘s definition of counterpoint:

    In counterpoint a melody is always in the process of being repeated by one or another voice: the result is horizontal, rather than vertical, music. Any series of notes is thus capable of an infinite set of transformations, as the series (or melody or subject) is taken up first by one voice then by another, the voices always continuing to sound against, as well as with, all the others. Instead of the melody at the top being supported by a thicker harmonic mass beneath (as in largely vertical nineteenth century music), Bach’s contrapuntal music is regularly composed of several equal lines, sinuously interwoven, working themselves out according to stringent rules

    In my view , which I have repeatedly expressed, Johann Sebastian Bach, the master of contrapuntal writing, is a significant exemplar for us at this time. And if it should be argued that musical methods cannot be transposed — another musical term — to matters of verbal thought, let me say that the great Bach pianist Glenn Gould towards the end of his life made specifically contrapuntal human voice radio plays for the Canadian Broadcasting Company..

    **

    Gould’s contrapuntal mind:

    Among Gould‘s eccentricities — David Howes in Glenn Gould’s Contrapuntal Constitution calls them bi-centricities, a phrase that reminds us of Arthur Koestler‘s notion of the creative leap as the bisociation of two planes or matrices, are:

    the way he liked to have one AM and one FM station playing all the time in his apartment, one for news, the other for music; the way he could learn a score while talking on the phone; and the way he enjoyed eavesdropping on three or four conversations at the same time going on at neighbouring tables in the restaurants he haunted (Kostelanetz 1983: 127).

    We can see here that Gould‘s basic thinking is in terms of multiple voices, often contrasting, in simultaneous awareness — Gould, Howes continues, spoke of counterpoint as “an explosion of simultaneous ideas”. As Gould puts it, Howes reports, when speaking of his radio programs for human voices:

    The basis of it was that we tried to have situations arise cogently from within the framework of the program in which the two or three voices … [recorded previously in conversation with Gould, but with the latter’s voice edited out for the final version] … could be overlapped, in which they would be heard talking – simultaneously, but from different points of view – about the same subject. We also tried to treat these voices as though they belonged to characters in a play, though all the material was gained from interviews. It was documentary material, treated in a sense as drama (cited in Payzant 1982: 131).

    This, then, is Gould‘s contrapuntal radio, and we can see Gould vividly transposing conytrapuntal imagination from the musical sphere to that of the varieties of human verbalization.

    **

    As not an aside but the re-introduction of a theme previously only hinted at, here is Arthur Koestler on the conceptual or creative leap:

    **

    Okay, our concept of music must shift, change, expand, if we are to consider Gould‘s Idea of North as a musical composition — in ways that are consistent with my own development of contrapuntal analysis. As Anthony Cushing explains in Glenn Gould and ‘Opus 2’: An outline for a musical understanding of contrapuntal radio with respect to The Idea of North:

    A musical understanding of North requires re-thinking some traditional elements of music theory: harmony must take into consideration semantic content and shifting topic areas; form follows somewhat traditional musical structures (ternary, binary, etc.); and texture encompasses layering of literal voices and dispenses with traditional notions of melody. One must also consider the spatial component of tape composition, in which voices inhabit locations in a sound field. The later documentaries in the trilogy and the Leopold Stokowski and Pablo Casals tribute radio documentaries contribute to a more complete musical concept of contrapuntal radio — complex polyphonic textures, stereo sound, pitch-based harmonic content — the germ of contrapuntal radio was developed and actualized in North.

    I’d like to take that lead, given us by the masterful pianist Glenn Gould, across into the field of analytic understanding — as a stream of analysis complementary and in counterpoint (for instance) to “big data” analytic tools — contrapuntal analysis characteristically working with a few, humanly-selected verbal utterances rather than data-points algorithmically-selected in the millions.

    **

    Moving to a larger geopolitical canvas, Edward Said once told an interviewer:

    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. It would require the imagination of someone like Edmund Burke to fathom.

    We see here the invocation of Bach in a context of geopolitical analysis — one paragraph in the life-work of Said, who was a music critic as well as a well-known Palestinian-American public intellectual.

    That single paragraph — and Gould‘s clear understanding that contrapuntal thinking can be applied to the polyphony of human voices, not just in the musical sphere — prompts me to go further, and assert that complexity studies with application to the human condition and intelligence and geopolitical analysis will all, sooner or later, arrive at the practice of contrapuntal thinking as basic to their deeper purposes.

    **

    Refocusing at the national level, on Glenn Gould‘s native Canada:

    I’ve mentioned the simultaneity of voices in social contexts such as listening, hearing and understanding the views and voices of multiple stakeholder. In similar vein, Howes suggests Gould‘s own taste for counterpoint stems from and reflects the Canadian Constitution:

    Gould understood music to provide a model of society, and the performing artist, hence, to be performing society, as well as music. Along these lines, counterpoint, Gould’s preferred musical style, provides a specially apt model for comprehending the constitutional structure of the Canadian state. Gould’s interest in keeping the different voices of a fugue distinct, equal, and bound together parallels the concern of the Canadian state to keep the different parties to Confederation distinct, equal and bound together. In this difficult task, however, there is always a risk of overemphasizing or losing one of the voices. If Quebec is proclaimed “a distinct society” will that disturb the equality of the provinces (for surely all are distinct); if it is not, will that lead to the separation of Quebec and the break-up of Confederation? This bi-cultural counterpoint confronts Canadians daily, from the bilingual product information on their cereal boxes to the reports of English/French political jousting on the evening news.

    Counterpoint, or in more general terms, polyphony, is non-dialectical, for it involves the interweaving of voices, of ideas, rather than the Hegelian process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Polyphony as social theory does not, therefore, entail the negation of any countervailing views the way, say, a dialectical social philosophy would. With polyphony, accommodation or peaceful co-presence takes the place of negation.

    **

    Readings:

  • New Yorker, Roomful of Teeth Is Revolutionizing Choral Music
  • NY Times, The Glenn Gould Contrapuntal Radio Show
  • Open Culture, Listen to Glenn Gould’s Shockingly Experimental Radio Documentary
  • Hermitary, Glenn Gould’s The Solitude Trilogy
  • Canadian Icon, Glenn Gould’s Contrapuntal Constitution
  • Politics & Culture, An interview with Edward Said

  • Charles Cameron, Pulitzer : Lamar :: Nobel : Dylan?
  • Charles Cameron, Getting deeper into Koestler

  • Mike Sellers, Advanced Game Design: A systems Approach
  • Ali Minai, A core concern of our research is the desire to catch ‘creativity in the act.’
  • **

    More Teeth — your reward for reading this far:

    And BachGlenn Gould plays Contrapunctus IX from The Art of Fugue — on organ:

    GOV Employees Can Now Attend Suits and Spooks DC During Gov Shut Down

    Friday, January 11th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — i’ve always thought Suits and Spooks would be a great conference to attend, but finances & health have never quite permitted me.. ]
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    Over to you:

    Jeffrey Carr has opened Suits and Spooks DC to government employees for a nominal $5 donation to some mutual support group. So I raise my cup to toast him for an excellent response to the shutdown, and am passing his message along to any Zenpundit readers who may be interested:

    Read Jeffrey’s pitch on his blog here:

    GOV Employees Can Now Attend Suits and Spooks DC During Gov Shut Down


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