Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

When you see a great performer, a singer or instrumentalist, at work realizing a piece of music, you are looking at one human being at the limit of their skill and concentration. All their strength, their freedom, and you could even say their love is focused on bringing to life the work and vision of another person. Think of Jacqueline du Pré’s legendary playing of Elgar’s Cello Concerto — memorably captured on film — and you may see what I mean. But you see it any time you go to a concert, classical or popular, when you go to a cathedral service with choristers, when you watch a singer close up on the big screen. Here is Someone who is completely themselves, free and independent, and yet for this time the whole of their being, their life, their freedom, their skill, is taken up with this mysterious, different thing that is the work to be brought to life. The vision and imagination of another person, the composer, has to come through — not displacing the human particularity of the performer but ‘saturating’ that performer’s being for the time of the performance.

Now, could we imagine what it might be like for a whole lifetime to be given up to ‘performance’ in that way? Because that, surely, is what we’re trying to say about Jesus as a human being. He is performing God’s love, God’s purpose, without a break, without a false note, without a stumble; yet he is never other than himself, with all that makes him distinctly human taken up with this creative work. If we look at great musicians, we see both the intensity of the struggle and the strength of the joy that goes with it. Whatever is happening, these performers are not becoming less human, less distinctive. In the fullness of their skill and their joy, another is made present. So with Jesus; this is a human life and a human will whose power and joy is the performance of who God is and what God wants, the performance of the Word of God.

— Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust

Read Full Post »

Jaron Lanier … argues that digital networks that make information appear to be “free” have had the effect of making it harder for people to be compensated for their talents. We become laborers who cheerfully contribute to the value of the network (consider the staggering array of talent on display on YouTube), but that value accrues to whoever owns the network. Our desire for recognition from other people makes us post our best efforts online, and it is the ideologists of “free” who become billionaires while promoting the spirit of sharing.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

Read Full Post »

Joint attention is an actual experience that we have. By contrast, the attentional commons is best understood as a purely negative principle, by analogy with the “precautionary principle” invoked by environmentalists. The point of being aware of the attentional commons is not to make it happen but to refrain from damaging it; to be aware of the valuable absence that creates space for private reverie, and indeed for the possibility of those episodes of joint attention that arise spontaneously and make cities feel full of promise for real human contact.

What this boils down to: Please don’t install speakers in every single corner of a shopping mall, even its outdoor spaces. Please don’t fill up every moment between innings in a lazy college baseball game with thundering excitement. Please give me a way to turn off the monitor in the backseat of a taxi. Please let there be one corner of the bar where the flickering delivery system for Bud Lite commercials is deemed unnecessary, because I am already at the bar. The attentional commons is an idea that I hope will catch on among those who are in a position to make such sanctuaries happen: building managers, commercial real estate developers, and interior designers. Here is a modest proposal: Could the Muzak be made opt-in rather than opt-out? Once every twenty minutes, somebody in the room would have to deliberately hit a button to restart it, and thereby actively affirm “Yes! We want some emo in here!”

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

Read Full Post »

Further, such squeamishness [engendered by subjectivism] creates a certain normative vacuum in our public spaces. In walking off the field of our shared moral and aesthetic life, we cede that field to corporate forces, which are not at all shy about offering up a shared experience: the emo coming out of the sound system. That’s what we end up with. The way anonymous others leap in on our behalf and install these systems, without anyone taking responsibility for them, makes the shared experience unavailable for discussion. It can’t be subject to disputation, and this is why it feels suffocating.

The taken-for-granted presence of the Muzak system spares us the exposure that comes from bringing forward one’s own taste for others to respond to…. And this process is self-reinforcing: the saturation of public space by the inevitably lame manufactured experience spurs us to plug in our earbuds, reinforcing our self-enclosure.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

Read Full Post »

Capon on playing recorded music (or probably audiobooks) in the home (what he calls the “liturgy of listening”):

I must watch that it doesn’t destroy the local liturgy of singing, playing, and telling my own stories. When I go to a man’s house, I should hear his children, not the Kingston Trio; his jokes, not Shelley Berman’s

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

Read Full Post »

Once, while listening to the bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice in concert, I had the thought He can do whatever he wants. Such was his complete command of his instrument. Yet “freedom” doesn’t seem quite the right concept to capture this expressive power, if by that term we mean an untutored exercise of the will. His freedom, if that’s what it was, was artistically compelling because of the musical ideas it was in the service of. These ideas were his own, but not simply his own. His expressive power was born of artistic formation.

The kind of collaborative improvisation that takes place among musicians in bluegrass, jazz, or classical Indian music is a good example of what I mean by an ecology of attention. It is mutually adaptive. The improvisation is possible because all parties are attending to one another. It is fruitful only because they are also steeped in forms; the history of their art has become the genetic material, the constitutive fiber, of their own creativity. A master jazz musician quotes from The Real Book with the same ease that a master preacher does from the gospels, and the allusion is gotten. It may be taken up and commented upon by the other players; it may be pushed forward toward possibilities that hadn’t existed moments before, as they come into being only through the improvisation itself. One must be alert, opportunistic. As in ecology, that is how new forms arise.

Note that worries about “conformity” versus “individuality” are simply put aside in the account of creativity I have just sketched. More strongly: membership in a community is a prerequisite to creativity. What it means to learn Russian is to become part of the community of Russian speakers, without whom there would be no such thing as “Russian.” Likewise with bluegrass. These communities and aesthetic traditions provide a kind of cultural jig, within which our energies get ordered.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

Read Full Post »

Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely. If an hour can be spent on one onion, think how much regarding it took on the part of that old Russian who looked at onions and church spires long enough to come up with St. Basil’s Cathedral. Or how much curious and loving attention was expended by the first man who looked hard enough at the inside of trees, the entrails of cats, the hind ends of horses and the juice of pine trees to realize he could turn them all into the first fiddle. No doubt his wife urged him to get up and do something useful. I am sure that he was a stalwart enough lover of things to pay no attention at all to her nagging; but how wonderful it would have been if he had known what we know now about his dawdling. He could have silenced her with the greatest riposte of all time: Don’t bother me; I am creating the possibility of the Bach unaccompanied sonatas.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »