Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Monday, September 30, 2013

What, exactly, is alive with the sound of music?

My attention was directed to a short Japanese film. I am late in commenting on this (it originally went up in march of last year), but in case you have not seen it I am putting the link first, before any of my more or less haphazard remarks, so you can enjoy it unimpeded by what I say. There are actually two videos; each is barely over 3 minutes long (the second is a mini-documentary on the making of the first). Click Here, then if you still feel interested, come back.

OK, so where was I?

There is a great deal that could be said here about the relationship between the forest, the stream, the birds and the deer, the cell phone, the boom mike, the proportions of wood weight and density that give rise to individual notes that, taken together in order, comprise a piece of music. Is it just another in the long, long, long series of moves by which capitalism appropriates art and/or nature, or can it be read as art appropriating capitalism? Is this even an interesting question? Is the idea that something like Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring being "appropriated" by something like capitalism laughable, or spooky, or just trivial, or...?

Sue Thompson in her just-published Technobiophilia considers the extensive interface between our attraction to cyber-tech and our attraction to (what's left of) the natural world (and yes, I know "nature" is a construct, I'm writing shorthand here). In an interview Thompson conducted with Kevin Kelley which I presume made it into the book (it's just been published, so I haven't had time to see it yet), Kelley remarks:
Just as we go into a redwood grove and get that cathedral-like feeling, I think that as the Internet continues to complexify and become larger, it will also become a spiritual place where people will retreat to feel something bigger than themselves.
Well, on the one hand, any human endeavor that stays around very long is going to "become spiritual". On the other hand, note that he doesn't say we go into a cathedral to get that redwood-grove-like feeling. Is this part of the problem, or does it point us to something about the grammar of the "feeling" we're talking about? (On the other hand, there is something I balk at when I find "the spiritual" spoken of in terms of feeling, as though that were its primary locus. This needs a lot more unpacking; it isn't the main point here.)

But the grove and the cathedral do shed light on one another, and the comparison makes me see this online film a little differently. When I consider the exquisite care that must have gone into the preparation for this film, my response is somewhat akin to what I feel looking at a stained glass window and thinking of (among other things) the tremendous human effort it represents -- hours and hours of coloring, cutting, and shaping the glass, fitting it into place with strips of lead, carefully, carefully raising it up hundreds of feet into the air, by pulley and rope, to insert it into the stone wall. Moreover, the appearance of the cell phone at the end of the film does not feel like "product placement" analogous to having the hero of an action movie refresh himself with a soft drink between bouts of kicking bad guys' asses. It seems more akin to a medieval guild paying for a panel of stained glass window or altarpiece in a medieval cathedral, and being included in a little picture in detail. But I'm not sure this is the right analogy either.

Bach's melody was the very first one (that I recall) to furnish evidence to my young mind of the existence of Platonic forms. It seemed to me obvious, even at the age of 8 or however old I was, that the music had been discovered not invented. As I listen to it in this permutation, it still seems obvious.

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