Thursday, May 24, 2012

Atonality in classical music has failed

In the world of classical music today, there is still the idea being promoted that the transition to atonal music at the beginning of the 20th century was a logical and acceptable progression in the evolution of the art from what came before it.
For those who don’t know what atonal means.. basically, you know that thing about music that makes you know it’s music when you hear it? Well, the idea behind atonal music is to take that thing out, and leave everything else. (If you want a more in depth description email me or look it up).
Throughout the history of classical music, there have been different revolutionary composers at different times who sometimes did radically new things with music, which weren’t always accepted by classical music lovers at the time of their composition. Much of what Beethoven did for example what considered crazy in his day, but of course people grew to love it later. It is through this concept that the defenders of post-tonal music stake their claim to legitimacy in their non-music music, and there is this implication that we’re kind of all just waiting for the public to grow to enjoy and appreciate this new radical shift, just as they grew to appreciate the originally unappreciated works by Beethoven.
The only problem with this is that even Beethoven’s most challenging works were loved within 50 years of his death, and the reason for that is because it was music. It was great music. And it had a lot of new ideas in it that the public couldn’t digest at first, but because it was great music, naturally they’d grow to appreciate it.
It has been 100 years now since Arnold Schoenberg killed tonality in music, and essentially, in the classical music world (except for in a few schools which proudly champion the performance and creation of new atonal music and within which their students may become disillusioned about the reality of the situation for the bulk of the classical music audience) nobody has grown to appreciate it. And how could they? Unlike all the other revolutionary things that happened in music before, this was not a new revolutionary thing in music. This was the death of music.
Beethoven wrote a significant number of string quartets during his lifetime, and today there are an average of 75 - 80 recordings of each quartet.
Schoenberg’s most-recorded quartet is his No. 2 in F# minor, with 21 recordings, and this relatively decent number is due to the fact that this quartet was still tonal.
After he killed tonality, he wrote quartets No. 3 and No. 4, which have been recorded 9 and 10 times, respectively.
Likewise, Alban Berg, a disciple of Schoenberg’s in the new atonal tradition, wrote a violin concerto which is “considered a masterpiece” by “reputable figures” in classical music. It has been recorded 46 times, vs. well over 200 recordings each of the great violin concertos previous to the 20th century (Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Brahms, etc).
Atonality has failed. It’s a ludicrous idea to consider the murder of music to be a revolutionary thing that people should be expected to grow to appreciate. Let’s end it now and start writing music again.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Introducing a Wagnerian journey through The Lord of the Rings

The Fellowship of the Ring, Part One
I spent all of this last summer becoming acquainted with Wagner’s Ring cycle, for no reason other than to become acquainted with it and enjoy watching them that much more. Little did I know that those dozens of hours of listening would pay off in another way as well.
On or around September 5th, I was visiting some relatives in Maryland, and I had the thought of making a music video of The Lord of the Rings using music from Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). I very quickly began conceiving how I could create a whole series, and which piece of The Ring I could use for which scene of The Lord of the Rings.
Even though I was away from home and had no access to my computer, I began jotting down on my phone the locations and durations of the orchestral segments in The Ring. I began listening to the music with the project in mind, brainstorming what could go where. Some combinations were obvious and were decided upon even at this early stage. These include using the theft of the ring music for the scene where Sauron gets the ring cut from his hand, the Siegfried forest music for the shire, and the “descent into nibelheim” music for the scene where we descend into Isengard and see orcs forging weapons.
So, quite some time was spent just writing down what all the orchestral pieces in the cycle were, and thinking about where they could be used in The Lord of the Rings. I wrote down anything that came to mind as an orchestral segment, which included everything in the opera that was over twenty seconds long or so.
Then, after arriving back in Seattle on September 8th, and after some more jotting and brainstorming work, I began editing in Final Cut Pro. I actually chose to use Final Cut Pro over iMovie solely for the audio cross dissolve feature, which allows me to transition from one piece of music to another as smoothly as possible. Once I became re-familiarized with the program, I was glad I had chosen it for other reasons as well.
Anyways, so I put down the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring in my timeline, and dragged in the opening prelude to Das Rheingold, and got to work. Basically the process was pretty simple throughout the project. I had the whole film right there, dragged in whatever piece of music I wanted to use, and sculpted down the footage around it. Then I would drag in the next piece of music, make sure there’s a smooth transition between it and the last one, and continue to cut footage around that piece accordingly. Of course it was almost never as simple as this sounds in reality, but overall that’s what was happening.
A lot of the choices I made in terms of which piece goes to which scene were made in advance, but some combinations came up as I went along. The video and audio would be playing together, and suddenly I’d be seeing a scene along with this music that I hadn’t planned to use in that place, but it happens to fit really well, so I’d go with it and edit that scene around the music.
The basic editing for each of the six videos took about five to eight hours approximately. Then there’d be hours of fine tuning work, making sure audio and visual transitions are smooth, and sometimes making more major changes if I didn’t like something.
I mostly avoided having any voices from the music be in the video, though there are a few places where a hint of a voice can be heard, because it trailed into the beginning of the segment of music I wanted to use. This only happens two or three times throughout the whole series.
Also, there are a few notable exceptions to the rule, which I chose to do. When Gandalf is fighting the Balrog, I had to use the music of Siegfried fighting the dragon, and it includes the dragon yelling during the fight. In my video it appears as though the Balrog is the one yelling. Also, in the first part of The Return of the King, we hear the eight voice chorus of the Valkyries at one point when Faramir and his troops are running from Osgiliath. And finally, when Frodo and Gollum are fighting over the ring, and falling over the edge of the cliff into the cracks of doom, Hagen's voice is heard shouting "Keep away from the Ring!" (in German). I didn't really have a choice here, because I needed to use all the music before and after it, and I allowed it to stay because it does really fit in the context.
And at the very end, after the ring is destroyed and the Hobbits are back in the shire, I use the beautiful song from the end of Siegfried, “Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich,” and we hear a voice really sing for the first time.
I thought this would be a really fun project to do, because the music of Wagner’s Ring Cycle is in a way the “original” score to the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s story is quite similar to Wagner’s, and as can be seen in the videos, the music summons up the same mood as the images. I was honestly surprised that no one else had done this yet.
Anyways, here again are the links to the six parts! Total running time is about 1 hour 38 minutes, making it by far the longest fan music video ever made.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

There are no individuals; only different elements of the whole.

The vast majority of people I have ever spoken to can all name someone on this planet that they don’t like. Someone who they think is perpetuating or encouraging a lack of morality usually. They look at this person and say “You’re a bad person. You’re doing bad things. If you didn’t exist other people would be better off.”
But if that person didn’t exist, someone else would be in their place saying the exact same things they are. In other words, the “individual” is completely irrelevant. They are merely, coincidentally, the instrument through which that particular expression is currently being expressed.
It is that element of human nature that people despise, but to label a singular individual by name, saying that they are causing that element, is ludicrous. They are only, at this point in time, the physical manifestation of that portion of the whole. If humanity grows past the point of having these undesirable elements, then nobody will display those undesirable characteristics, but currently, it is humanity as a whole that is at a place that still harbors these characteristics. You are part of it as much as the person you dislike is. The current human mindset, the one you and almost everyone else is in, is the mindset that allows monsters to grow. They just happen to be where they are, and you happen to be where you are.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The nature of "respect" for others beliefs.

A lot of people tout the idea that we should be respectful of each others beliefs. If you’re an atheist, and your neighbor is a christian, you should respect that, and treat that person with the same kindness and compassion that you would another atheist.
But there’s a fundamental problem with the notion of respecting others beliefs, because it requires on your part that you grant their beliefs credibility. Nobody unconditionally respects someone else’s belief. They say “well, I agree that your belief has enough credibility, that I will respect your having adopted it, even though I don’t agree with it.”
You can respect your neighbors belief in UFOs for example, because you can say “well, I don’t believe they exist, but I don’t know for sure. My neighbor could be right, but at this point in time I disagree.”
Would you respect your neighbor if they believed that you were ten years younger than you actually are? You might be flattered, but you’d think they were crazy if they honestly stuck to that belief in the face of your birth certificate. You would not be able to respect their belief, at all. Likewise, you wouldn’t be able to respect their belief if they believed that cars can fly, or that Star Wars was filmed in 1950. You wouldn’t be able to respect their belief if they believed that cats have three stomachs.
In other words, no human has any place within themselves to find respect for a belief that they know cannot be true. And this is the thorn in the side of the notion of unconditional respect for each others beliefs. We can behave kindly towards those who believe things that we know cannot be true, but we cannot respect their beliefs. You would have to delude yourself greatly in order to convince yourself that you’re feeling true respect for their belief. You cannot respect it because you know it cannot be.
When you feel that you cannot know for sure one way or another, then you can respect opposing viewpoints, because you agree that there is a possibility of their authenticity. And of course, in all areas where it’s a matter of taste, such as which movie is good, which car is most comfortable, etc, in those cases it is easy to respect others beliefs, because it’s a matter of taste. There is no empirical reality about it out there.
This is how mixed religion marriages can work. If an atheist marries a christian, and feels “well, I don’t believe what my partner does, but there’s always the slim possibility that it’s true,” then that’s great. The atheist is granting credibility and possibility to the christian’s beliefs, even though they don’t agree. But if an atheist enters a relationship with the knowledge that the christian stories cannot be true, they will not be able to respect the beliefs of their partner.
So, nobody is really respectful of others beliefs. They are only respectful of what they themselves have agreed to grant credibility to. When a person feels that something simply cannot be true, there is no respect for it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Credibility comes from majority vote.

Imagine that one day you meet a person who believes that there are monsters living under his or her bed. They tell you all about them, and explain all their theories. Also, they claim that if one eats apples, the monsters under the bed grow larger. And furthermore, they tell you that there are monsters under your bed too, as well as everybody else’s.
I don’t need to ask you how you would view this person, and what your internal reaction to their claims would be. But before we run off with the assumption that people are willing to say “you’re insane and childish” if someone is, there’s an important fact we have to realize about recognizing insanity in other people.
The reality is, a lot of people wouldn’t be finding that person’s story crazy because it’s crazy, but they’d be finding it crazy because that person is in a tiny minority, if not alone, with their crazy story. See, imagine that that person’s best friend begins to subscribe to the monster story, and then a few more friends, and it begins to spread out in a small community. Imagine then that within a few years, one billion people on earth believe that there are monsters under our beds, and that they grow larger when we eat apples.
Suddenly, the idea would have credibility, regardless of how insane it is. It would be rude to say “you’re an insane child” to someone who believes in the monsters. There would be intelligent scientists and philosophers discussing the possibility of the monsters, and coming up with stories of evidence for it.
What people consider normal, weird, crazy, sane, etc, just has to do with how many people believe it. One of the first defenses a person will have when you point out how crazy something they think is, is that “lots of people feel this way!” They feel that that gives them credibility, because, if so many others feel the same way, there must be something to it.
The monster example was taking an idea that we all agree is crazy, and showing how it could gain credibility if enough people believed it. The reverse example would be taking something like religion, which is currently accepted as a valid belief system, and reducing the number of believers down until the majority of people would feel that it is insane. If there were only five christians on earth, or even fifty, or five hundred, they would be laughed and scoffed at, and be labeled insane children.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We are creatures of habit.

Everybody has heard this phrase before, but today I’d like to point to a much more elusive aspect of this reality, one that clouds our vision and distorts our perception of life every second of every day.
Everything that we feel is normal, as humans, we feel is normal because it’s a habit. This includes eating, walking, talking, breathing, and even being shaped the way we’re shaped.
Look at your legs. Look at your arms. Feel your face. How would you feel if you didn’t have a deep-set habit that your form is somehow normal? And I’m talking philosophically here, I’m not talking about whether you’re skinny or fat or whatever. I’m talking about your form as a monkey. Having two hands, two feet, a nose, two eyes, etc. It could be considered a very strange form and a very odd body to be in, but we feel completely at home in it and never even think about it. We think of ourselves as “people,” a kind of “gold standard” among creatures on earth. We hold ourselves as gods among the animals in a way.
When you walk, you don’t feel strange or amazed doing so. You just walk. One long leg moving in front of the other, and then the other one coming up to move in front of that one.... if you didn’t have a deeply ingrained habit of walking and perceiving it as a normal thing, you’d be much, much more in touch with your animal nature.
And putting on clothes especially! We feel so normal doing that. We get up in the morning and slip on a shirt, pants, whatever, and it’s like “yeah, I’m a person. I’m getting dressed.” The habit of seeing ourselves as people instead of animals greatly clouds our vision. Look at your hands. Look at your arms. Look at yourself sitting there. Why do you feel normal and comfortable? Like this is a normal way of being, of doing things, of perceiving? What do you think this is, really? Outside of “I need to go to college, I need to get a job, I want to have a family.” What is this Really about?
What do you think life might be about, outside of all the things that everyone’s always told you you need to do? School and work are just things we get programmed into doing, like a machine. There’s nothing personal about that. Having a family happens because the species wants to reproduce. So what’s going on here?
We likely will never know. But for now, it is a good thing to try and break free of the habit of perceiving all this as something normal. People are born, and they’re told “You’re so and so, you have to go to school, get a job, and have a family,” and the baby later repeats “I am so and so, I have to go to school, get a job, and have a family,” and that’s it. That’s how deep the level of thought is with a lot of people. It’s literally no different than when I program my computer to do something and then it executes it.
Break free of the habit of perceiving those steps as a kind of “center” of reality. I’ll say that again. Break free of the habit of perceiving those steps (school, college, work, family) as a kind of “center” of reality. The earth to the universe is like a femtometer to the earth, but in many people’s perception, all these earthly things are stretched way out of proportion, to fill nearly the entire universe. They know there’s other universe out there, but they experience this planet and our doings as a sort of staple or pillar in the universe. It’s not. Perceiving our form, our actions, our aspirations and systems and philosophies, as a kind of “norm” is a habit. A habit that constantly takes us away from the bizarre and mystifying question of existence.
Begin to perceive life and think about what this Really might be, at its true nature. In the presence of that mysterious question, life becomes much more alive.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The difference between projection and perception.

Most people are familiar with the idea that what one sees around themselves in the world is to a certain degree a projection of their mind. That if you see someone as angry, it could be that you’re angry and “projecting” it on them, or if you feel certain that a certain outcome is going to happen for another person, it could be that that’s the outcome you had in a similar situation, and you’re projecting your experience on them, etc.
Certainly, people do project. A lot. The average person hardly ever perceives anything clearly, always projecting their own insecurities, memories, beliefs and prejudices onto people around them. For example, a person might be completely certain that if their friend has sex with a certain person, that they’re going to get hurt and end up really sad and lonely. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this prediction is coming from a person who had that experience themselves, and simply doesn’t know that things can be different for other people, and that not everything in the world is exactly like them.
If “not knowing that things can be different for other people” seems like something not suited to be preceded by “simply” to you, let me explain. You’re right, not knowing that things can be different for others is a big deal, I would venture to say bordering on some form of pseudo-autism, but the psychological mechanism that results in this blindness is actually quite simple, hence the use of that word. They “simply” don’t know. It’s a huge problem and mental defect, yes, but also a simple one. People are simply projecting their entire reality onto everything around them, with no awareness to the fact that other people could perceive things differently than them, or feel differently about things than they do.
So that’s projection, in it’s most basic, blinding form. It takes the projector clear away from reality, by cutting off all awareness of things around them. All they see is their own mind and their own stories, plastered everywhere in the world and onto everybody they meet.
Now, before I go into how clear perception works and why it is possible, let me first confirm that it is 100% true that you can never see anything in the world that isn’t also within you. When they say “you could not see that person as angry, unless there was anger within you,” that is true. And in this sense, the basic understanding of how human projection works is true, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that this law does not prevent a wise, intelligent person from perceiving completely clearly, as opposed to projecting. I will explain how this works.
Basically, the fundamental truth at the center of the concept of humans projecting things onto others, is that you cannot see something that you don’t believe or understand yourself. If you have no notion of fear, you won’t be able to detect if someone else is afraid. If you have no notion of anger, you won’t be able to detect when someone else is angry. You’ll see their actions, hear the volume of their voice, etc, but you won’t be able to make any sense of it if you don’t know what anger is.
The common misunderstanding surrounding this truth is this: If you see something in someone else, it is within you, only within you, and has an emotional hold on you. In the anger example, this would mean, if you see someone as angry, it’s because you have anger issues yourself, and the person you’re perceiving may or may not be angry at all, and it has no relation to your perception. This is of course ridiculous. If you were seeing anger in that person only because there is anger within you, then you would see every single person as angry, because your anger would be projected in the same way everywhere.
All that the concept “you can’t see what you don’t have within yourself” says is that in order to recognize something in someone else, you have to have an awareness and understanding of it yourself. It’s like radio channels. If you have the frequency “anger” within you, then you can pick up the signal when someone else is angry. It doesn’t mean that anger has a hold of you at that moment, and it doesn’t mean that the other person isn’t angry. It just means that in order for you to perceive anger, you did need to have it within yourself, in one way or another, otherwise it would not exist in your reality.
So, as you can see, projection and perception are two completely different things, and both are possible. Projection is a blind superimposition of your own mind onto things around you. Perception is being able to recognize the nature of things around you, using your own understanding and experience with those things, in order to be able to recognize them. The statement “it must be within you if you see it outside of yourself” holds completely true, but as I’ve shown, it does not negate the possibility of clear perception.
Imagine a giant board filled with numbers. Random numbers spread across a giant checkered board. And every person has certain numbers within their mind, and they can only see on the board those numbers that they also have in their mind. For example, if a person had only the numbers 19, 37 and 102 in their mind, then they’d only see those numbers on the board, wherever they show up, and everything else would look blank. The more numbers you have in your mind, the more you can see. It doesn’t mean you’re “projecting” those numbers. It means you’re able to perceive them, because you understand them yourself. It’s more of a resonation than a projection.
This is how projection and perception can both exist. And it is quite irritating when a clear-headed person makes an accurate observation, and is told “well, if that’s what you’re seeing, that must be what’s within you. It has nothing to do with what’s out there.” That is utter bull shit.