Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tear Down the Wall

I never got to know my great grandmother in person because by the time I was born, she had already passed away. But my father has told me stories about her. Like many of the Irish who lived in Boston at the time, she did not really have even two dimes to rub together but one of her great sources of entertainment and enlightenment was to go to the local library and bring back a stack of books that she would then devour over the week and return the next week for another stack. I have little doubt that if she went to a University and mingled with the whose who walked the hallowed halls of the ivory tower, she would have found a group of her peers even though her small Boston apartment was never adorned with a diploma from one of the great higher learning institutions.

Now I understand that people with degrees often find a ready group of people that can relate to them and that different intellectual disciplines often develop their own vocabulary and knowledge of advancements in the field. I do the same with music. Now mind you I have no degree in music (I have degrees however), but I have learned from experience, a lot of hand on practical experience and a have done a lot of reading and talking to people in the field about many things about synthesizers. With people I often talk to on Twitter for example, I can talk about the VCS3, VCOs and VCAs and most will know exactly what these things are. They know who EMS is and Robert Moog and Donald Buchla. All this is natural and good.

However, I am always open to learning something new. I like my grandmother, am not so interested in getting a nice new piece of paper on my wall but rather, getting a new stack of books (in my case often put in my own bookcases) and read and learn. Or to sit in front of a soft synth or a hard synth and play music. Music that speaks to my heart and I want to share with others.

IMHO (degrees or no), we can all learn from one another and frankly, if someone has a degree or not, I don't really care. It's why I rarely share what diplomas I have. My great grandmother did not have any degrees from higher learning institutions as I do but I would rather go back in time and be able to spend an hour with her than with the great minds of the universities. She had a practical knowledge that I think the world is losing. The Irish are some of the greatest writers because they learned the art of poetry, music and story telling by sharing it with their friends at the local pub. They learned to paint with words and notes not because they had a degree but from telling stories and playing music.

I posed a tweet the other night about the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which is, as I said, not really about either zen or motorcycles but has a lot to say about metaphysics. I know, not a word that you hear discussed much these days although I bet my great grandmother knew what it is. Metaphysics is the study of being, of what something is, the underlying essence of things.

The academic mind tends to break things down into small pieces so that each knows their own piece but often not the whole and so they only see the trees and not he forest. They see a drop of water and not the ocean or even the world of life that can exists in a single drop of water from that ocean. A person can only know something by knowing it from all sides and then, putting it all together and then, and only then, understand it's essence. I will tell you my take on music and the brain. That is why so many parts of the brain light up when music is being played.

Music can also be seen from many directions. It is theory, notes and scales and tempos and the like. But it is also emotion and mystery. It speaks both in conterpoint but also of sadness and longing or the joy of summers day. It speaks a language all its own. I can approach music from the perspective of neurology, psycho acoustics, psychology, music theory, electronics even physics. Each can tell me something but none on their own capture the essence.

When I allude to the Carolian rabbit hole, I am trying to invite people down a hole that will show them a world below the surface of academic disciplines that they seem to cling to with such fervor. One of the reasons I love the first Matrix movie (the 1st, the writers kind of blew it after that) is that we each live in our own matrix. We have a vocabulary that we may share with a particular group of people, or knowledge, or experience. And like the movie, it's ok sometimes to enjoy taste of the steak, but there is more to the human experience than that and to experience it, we have to leave our matrix.

We hold up our degrees and believe that only those in our small circle have something to say or contribute to our jobs and our life but the truth is, in the words of Simon and Garfunkel, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway ways and tenement halls". Perhaps, we have only to listen and the silence will speak to us.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do Sounds Have Meaning?

I just listened to this great interview with John Cage again:

In this interview, Cage claims that sound has no meaning.

I think the question as to if sound has meaning or not relates to the very old philosophical question that if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound. If the meaning of sound is that the molecules in the air vibrate when it falls then yes, it makes a sound. If one where to leave a recording device in the forest when the tree fell it would also produce a recording of those vibrations. But if one means by sound what we associate sound with in language, our experience of the sensation of sound, then no, the tree does not make any sound.

It is impossible for us to hear a sound the way a recording device records it. Each time we hear a sound our brains not only filter it, but try to make sense of it. There is a psychological theory refered to as pareidolia