Re: Serial music and transhumanist art forms

From: primeradiant (
Date: Sat May 07 2005 - 08:03:37 MDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jef Allbright" <>
To: <>; "ExI chat list" <>
Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2005 7:36 PM
Subject: Re: Serial music and transhumanist art forms

Dear Jef,

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

> 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 think of a musical structure not as being governed by 'rules', but
rather as the emergent product of a specific 'grammar' and we have a sound
idea of what the emergence process is in classical music thanks to the
techniques of layer analysis. By 'grammar' I mean something closer to
Kauffman's 'autocatalytic set' - the elements, combinatorialities and
transformations inherent in diatonic, modal or 12-tone systems. In music
(IMHO) aesthetic appreciation derives from one's ability to perceive and
appreciate the interplay between deep and surface level unfoldings (I speak
of unfoldings since we are talking about the evolution of structure in
time). Musical memory is an essential part of this appreciation. The deep
structures are not consciously perceived during listening, but are directly
active subconscious awareness. IMHO one's level of moral reasoning is
directly proportional to one's level (or depth) of awareness of both
structure and function. It is also crucially dependent on the nature of the
grammar employed (this goes back to Plato of course).

    At the most fundamental level of classical form (the Ursatz) there lies
a splitting function - the Urlinie (I-V-I or I IV-V-I). Mid- and surface
level structure consists of an interplay between the expression and
resolution of this greatly expanded splitting function. The splitting
dynamic is also fundamental to the earliest phases of physical and
psychological development and this accounts for the very deep and complex
character of musical appreciation. Given a complex and subtle grammar,
appreciation of the means by which the conflict engendered by the splitting
dynamic are resolved is an aid to moral reasoning since the latter arises
through an ability to understand, and therefore appreciate, the complexities
of life. Technical mastery of the surface structures is insufficient - hence
the paradox, in 'Schindler's List', of a Nazi officer playing Bach while the
inhabitants of the Krakow Ghetto are being murdered around him. For an
individual like this, the splitting dynamic is deeply repressed
psychologically, hence very active in surface behaviour. The significance of
the deeper structure of what he's actually playing remains inaccessible (the
same goes for Hannibal Lecter!).

    Schoenberg's 'A Survivor from Warsaw' (op.44) is a 12-tone work that
makes one of the most powerful moral statements of all time. The seeming
dissociation of the 12-tone system from the emotive clichés of diatonicism
makes this moral impact all the greater. The basic 12-tone set is
constructed from the intervallic properties of one of the synagogue
cantillations of the 'Shema Yisroel'. The emergence of this hymn from the
surrounding 12-tone chaos of the orchestration is so powerful - you have to
hear it to believe it (it's on a CD of Schoenberg's American works -
Schoenberg in America 1934-1951, CD no. SMK 62022).

> 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:
> 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...

    Two atonal works I find profoundly moving are Ligeti's 'Requiem' and
'Lux Aeterna' (parts of which are heard in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddysey).
You should see the score for the 'Requiem' - it's about three feet long and
six inches wide! IMHO this work expresses a powerful posthuman vision. The
surface texture of the work seems chaotic or aleatoric. It isn't. It's very
precisely notated using various devices such as inverse and retrograde
canons, carefully orchestrated tonal clusters etc. Who is the requiem for? I
think it's for the humanity that the 'transformed' have left behind. Do the
transformed weep or exult? Both, I think. Every time I hear it it gives me
the heebie-jeebies...

Best wishes,


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