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One of the more interesting comments about, well..

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — reading my daily dose of 3QD again after a health-induced lapse, and glad I’m back ]
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One of the more interesting comments about, well, religion, comes from a review by Robert Fay in 3QD of Chinese science fiction master Liu Cixin‘s novel, the first in a trilogy and the one President Obama so praised, The Three Body Problem, reading it in a wide world context:

Sacrifice used to be part-and-parcel of the western self-identity. Jesus on the cross at Calvary was the central spiritual truth of Christendom. The west, of course, left much of this behind during the Enlightenment. The French Revolution further asserted the rights of individuals. If anything, the consumption of consumer goods is the true religion of the west now, and it demands we all act immediately on our impulses, cravings and desires.

This hasn’t worked out well for the planet.

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Yes, sacrifice, and it’s dual, martyrdom, have all but disappeared, although, well, the Marines understand sacrifice, and the jihadists understand martyrdom.

To take you into the audacity of sacrifice or the self-surrender of martyrdom is beyond me here. Let me just note that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and the death of Joan of Arc a martyrdom. Arguably, the two ideas are parallel, and meet at infinity, as in the Cure D’Ars observation:

If we knew what a Mass is, we should die of it.

Thus, theologically speaking, the Eucharist (present) cyclically repeats Christ‘s sacrifice on the cross (past), in a transcendent manner which makes of it a foretaste of the Wedding Feast (future) envisioned in the book of Revelation.

But enough!

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There’s a fine alternative vision of the three body problem in Bill Benzon‘s Time Travelers We Are, Each And All, his account of brain, mind and Beethoven, which, like Robert Fay‘s account of Liu Cixin‘s novel of that name, arrived in today’s edition of 3QD. Benzon is quoting the literary critic Wayne Booth describing a performance of Beethoven‘s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 as constituting unities out of a string quartet, Booth himself and his nwife, and, somehow, both of those and Beethoven — three bodies as one:

There is Beethoven, one hundred and forty-three years ago … writing away at the marvelous theme and variations in the fourth movement. … Here is the four-players doing the best it can to make the revolutionary welding possible. And here we am, doing the best we can to turn our “self” totally into it: all of us impersonally slogging away (these tears about my son’s death? ignore them, irrelevant) to turn ourselves into that deathless quartet.

That unity of three bodies is found, and can be joined, in Beethoven‘s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131:

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Reading Benzon‘s piece, we can benefit also from his presentation of neurons, their connections and internal workings:

We have no way of directly counting the neurons in the nervous systems, but estimates put the number at roughly 86 billion with an average of 10,000 synapses per neuron.

To specify the brain’s state at a given moment in clock time we need to know the state of each unit component, such as a neuron. One convenient way to do this is to say that a neuron is either firing or it is not. So it can have two states. Neurons are complicated things; each is a living cell with the full complement of machinery that that requires. There’s a lot more to a neuron that whether or not it’s firing.

This description of neurons is in service to a discussion of clock-time and brain states, which is itself in service to a wider discussion of time itself, as our wrist-watches understand it, and as our experience of Beethoven might cause us to discover it.

Following the musical branch of this discussion, we find Benzon quoting Bernstein on ego-loss:

I don’t know whether any of you have experienced that but it’s what everyone in the world is always searching for. When it happens in conducting, it happens because you identify so completely with the composer, you’ve studied him so intently, that it’s as though you’ve written the piece yourself. You completely forget who you are or where you are and you write the piece right there. You just make it up as though you never heard it before. Because you become that composer.

Benzon‘s three into one is Bernstein‘s two into one, and all paths lead to reliving a keynote segment of the life of Beethoven — Beethoven as a musical Everest, with Bernstein and the quartet as sherpas, Booth and his wife and Benzon and you and I as climbers, some at base-camp listening to the great Chuck Berry, some on the final ascent, some planting flags at the peak..

Peak Beethoven is phenomenological unity. Across time, time travel.

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Oh, the numbers games one can play — Sixteen into forty into one in Tallis’ forty-part motet, Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui — where the very title speaks to the union – I Have Hope in None Other:

Oh and is not religion at the heart of this unity, this unity at the very heart of religion? And is not this braiding of voices, this polyphony, a working of this unity?

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My early mentor and friend, Herbert Warner Allen, wrote of his own time with Beethoven. As I wrote elsewhere:

Herbert Warner Allen, a classical scholar, sometime newspaper editor and noted authority on wines, experienced a timeless moment between two beats during a performance of one of the Beethoven symphonies. Not knowing quite what had hit him, he went on to research the mystical tradition and wrote three mostly forgotten books [of which the first was aptly named The Timeless Moment] situating his experience within intellectual tradition without nailing it to any particular dogmatic structure. TS Eliot, who published the books, inscribed a book of his own poetry to Warner Allen with the words “from the Srotaapanna to the Arhat, TS Eliot”, with a footnote to explain “Srotaapanna: he who has dipped one toe in the river of the wqaters of enlightenment; Arhat: he who has arrived at the further shore”.

Here’s the almost anonymous A.T. writing to The Times, 19th January 1968:

In your obituary notice of the late Mr. Warner Allen you do not mention the books he wrote describing his “journey on the Mystic Way”. The best known of these books was The Timeless Moment in which he gave some account of a visionary experience that for him “flashed up lightning-wise during a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the Queen’s Hall “. In this split second of time he received (as no one reading his books can doubt) a flash of absolute reality that broke through the normal barriers of the conscious mind and left a trail of illumination in its wake. Mr. Allen never claimed to be an advanced mystic or profound philosopher. He described himself as an ordinary man of the world. He spent years unravelling the implications of his strange experience. The resulting volumes were and are of extraordinary interest.

Amen. Warner Allen’s was a Timeless Moment, an ego-loss indeed!

I must have been fifteen or so when I had the great good fortune to meet and be befriended by this extraordinary man..

Sunday surprise, musical edition

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — two of my heroes, one old, one new today ]
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I had the privilege of seeing Shankar one time, I think it was at Occidental College — an evening with an undoubted genius:

Shankar‘s playing — in the above video, as he was that evening — a double violin, its twin necks allowing him to play drone as well as melody synchronously. Brilliant.

I suspect it was Ken Cowan who alerted me to Shankar and took me to that concert.

New to me today, thanks to Bill Benzon and Bryan Alexander, is Japanese jazz composer pianist Hiromi Uehara:

What friends I have! And what terrific creatives we have among us today!

The binary advantage

Monday, September 30th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — there’s this word, multi-tasking, but multi-listening would be more useful and to the point — counterpoint, that is ]
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We know that in general, binocular vision allows us to see an additional depth dimension not available to a single eye — but that’s when both eyes are looking at the same object. Now — after a quick F Scott Fitzgerald refresher — this:

Sources:

  • F Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up
  • Anna Antinori et al, Seeing it both ways: Openness to experience and binocular rivalry
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    The F Scott Fitzgerald quote you’ll probably recognize, but the one about more “open” personalities being better able to “see” two opposing images — red shown to one eye, green to the other — merging into one more complex image is intriguing, to say the least..

    We already know instinctively how to listen to several voices when we listen to music — but when two speaking voices are in conflict, or talking right past each other, or one’s going big picture and the other deviles in the details.. let alone when there are three opinions to be heard, or four, or seventeen..

    Below, you’ll find Joni Mitchell singing Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter with lyrics that keep bridging gaps “between yes and no .. altitude and flesh .. some duality .. fire and rain” and summed up in the lines “the eagle and the serpent are at war in me, the serpent fighting for blind desire, the eagle for clarity”. Listening to Joni sing, we can hear her powerful voice and the poetry of her lyrics, her guitar, and at the very least underneath both the driving bass of Jaco Pastorius — three “voices” simultaneously.

    Below, too, I’ve posted Bach‘s A minor Fugue, BWV 904 — with the brilliant graphical scoring of Stephen Malinowski — and again, it’s possible to follow two or even three voices, particularly with the assistance of the graphical score.

    Now, at a geopolitical conference, or a discussion of Presidency and impeachment, or a board meeting — or on the inside of your skull — how many voices can you hold in tension, in counterpoint, or bring into harmony and concord?

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    The Joni:

    The JSB:

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    Enjoy!!

    Greeting & three musics for Sunday Surprise: Rouse, Ligeti, Teeth

    Sunday, September 29th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — with a definition that places poetry and the drama as a subset of music ]
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    L’shana tovah!

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    Christopher Rouse just died. I knew nothing of him, but already I love his Gorgon:

    May he rest in peace.

    Ligeti, Mysteries Macabre with the astounding Patricia Kopatchinskaja:

    Furiously at play!

    Kopatchinskaja it is, I guess, who writes:

    Temperature and ocean levels go up. Whole world regions dry out. Hundreds of millions will have to leave, migrate, millions will fight wars, no end being in sight. Can we go on listening as usual to Buxtehude, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Bruckner?

    and at last Teeth — with the Ligeti from the late ’70s as context, the stunning Roomful Of Teeth plays Caroline Shaw‘s Pulitzer-winning Partita:

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    Music, it would seem, is the chosen placement of sounds, random or chosen, from the field of all sounds, in some form or container within which they may bounce and reverberate.

    Note that under this definition, the barnyard’s sounds may sound (Ligeti, children’s rhymes), as may silence..

    the words of operas and masses..

    Note too, that under this definition, plays and poetry are a subset of music, also.

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    L’shana tovah!

    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.


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