Re: Serial music and transhumanist art forms

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Thu May 05 2005 - 12:36:44 MDT

primeradiant wrote:

> Dear Matt,
> By 'serial' I meant, of course, 12-tone music, hence Schoenberg,
> Berg Webern, Stravinsky (middle period, e.g. /Abraham and Isaac/), the
> post-war Europeans including Boulez, Berio, Dallapiccola, Lutoslawski,
> Schaffer, Xenakis, earlier Stockhausen, the American School including
> of course Milton Babbitt, Wuorinen, Lewin etc.
> If I introduce people to 12-tone music I usually select Schoenberg's
> /A Survivor from Warsaw/ - a terrifying, gut-wrenching work! The
> all-combinatorial sets that lie at the core of 12-tone composition are
> related to Messiaen's /modes of limited transposition/ and the
> symmetric modes employed by Bartok in his central string quartes (3-5).
> 12-tone composition has expired as a creative force. This is tragic.
> It demands a highly developed level of skill, and most of the
> theoretical advances made before its final demise never became fully
> incorporated into the serial 'canon'. Yet for me it always represented
> the power of transcendence of the human condition. By its very nature,
> 12-tone structures and processes are excellently adapted to
> computer/AI encoding and expression (I did a lot of work on this at
> the CSRG in Toronto during the 80's).

Coincidentally, this week I read _October The First Is Too Late_ by Sir
Fred Hoyle, 1966, because someone said it presented an interesting
theory of time. While I didn't find anything that struck me as
interesting or informative about time, I did find this inspiring passage
about a musical competition between an accomplished human composer and
his opponent, posing as a god but actually a posthuman:

    It still baffled me as to exactly what restrictions were being
    placed on the choice of the notes themselves. This was not
    twelve-tone music, all the tones were not being used. Yet it wasn't
    tonal in the sense of our system of keys. The structure was more
    complicated than anything I had heard before. I had the strong
    impression of rules depending somehow on the form of the work
    itself. It was as if the rules, the restrictions, depended on the
    place in the piece. The rules at the beginning and those at the end
    seemed different, and different again from those in the middle. It
    was as if the large-scale development of the work influenced its
    manner of construction.

    I mention all this to show why it wasn't in any way easy even for a
    trained musician to grasp instantly what was going on. Plainly I had
    to deal with a subtle and complex form. My last thought of the
    people outside was that they could hardly find the music of the god
    easier to comprehend than my own. I think it was at this point, as
    the second of my opponent's sections came to an end, that the first
    chill of apprehension swept over me...

I find it interesting to consider the parallels between aesthetic
appreciation and moral reasoning, each considered within a context of
greater awareness.

- Jef

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