Read: The Dark Tower, an [(should that be ‘a’?) heartbreakingly, frustratingly!] unfinished novel by C. S. Lewis—I think one day I’ll host a contest in which participants write possible endings. I’m dying to read the rest of it, but it doesn’t exist!
Listened to: more Father Brown, part of the soundtrack to “Evita,” and my “Music Composition in Medieval and Renaissance Forms” students’ final compositions.
I need to put a caveat on my comments about art that opposes “natural principles.” Let it never be assumed that I think it is for that reason not art! 12-tone music, for example, is a very impressive art form. Schoenberg and the rest thought that the traditional foundations on which music had been built for centuries had crumbled, so they decided to invent a new system. They did not set out to work contrary to the way the universe works; they simply chose a new method. The system of ternary harmony, they thought, was worn out. This system of triads, by the way, seems to have some “natural” basis in the radio frequencies/pitches produced by the planets, or the “songs of the stars.” These theories stem from Pythagoras, Ptolemy, and Kepler.
Click here for Music of the Spheres
But Schoenberg & Co. decided to use a new system, a mathematical principle of musical equality. There’s nothing wrong with that as a philosophy. But, see, they really thought that it would be great as a music, too. Schoenberg is often quoted as saying in a few generations or so, kids would be whistling 12-tone rows in the street. Well. It didn’t work. And I don’t like the music. I love studying it (what could be more fun than a dodecaphonic matrix, I ask you that??), but I don’t like to listen to it. That could be just me. But have I any right to say it is not great art just because it sounds awful??
And what about composers who dip a mouse’s feet in ink and let it walk across the score, then play the resulting notes? Aren’t a mouse’s steps according to nature? Hum. I’m arguing with myself here. Sure, there’s rhythm and pattern in the way that little guy trots. But does it therefore follow that it would make good music? Funnily enough, aleatoric (“chance”) music and serialized (12-tone) sound pretty much the same. The least organized and the most organized.
So, in other words, I have no idea what I’m talking about when I say art must conform to natural principles to be great. There seems to be no logical reason why an “arbitrary” organization some guy came up with out of his head is unnatural. Aren’t human thought processes natural? And really, those paintings made by elephants, or monkeys, or dogs, are more natural, in one sense, than those made by people through their overactive rationality. This is coming back around, like the conversation on soul. We probably cannot tell how much soul is in a work.
Is everything a strange loop?!?
Thanks to the brilliant Douglas Hofstader