Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"The Book" part III

I "must" have your comments on this, as it is probably the most important part of the book. The reason is because it is the one thing in the that nobody in music academia today is going to believe. It only used to be a truism. Now it is as vibrant as...well, I'll let you decide.

This should be sufficient to demonstrate that it is in the nature of music for
there to be a relationship between notes a fifth apart. So what? One could
totally disregard this, as Schonberg did, and the relationship would remain.
This note progression: C-Fsharp-Dsharp-G-Csharp-Gsharp-C, still incorporates
the relationship in a hidden, albeit real, form by its existence as members of a
scale based on the fifth motion. Similarly, the non-usage of the second
relationship does not necessarily deny its existence. One could also use
dissonance to deny the fact that a chord is an ordered arrangement of notes
around a center without actually contradicting the fact that such a thing
exists. How then, can reason compel us to any sort of ordered music?
Here is the answer to the question:

Is it important for music to behave as if
the perfect 5th relationship exists?

Obj. 1 It would seem that it is not necessary for music to behave in a manner which
brings out the perfect fifth relationship, for the musical scale already
contains the relationship implicit in its very makeup.

Obj. 2 One might argue that it is necessary for music to behave in the manner because
it gives the music a sense of direction and a logical method of proceeding. Is
the sense of direction really part of the music or is it merely psychological?
Why is the perfect fifth method the legitimate logical method of proceeding?

Obj. 3 It would even seem that it is good for things to behave in a way that would seem
to contradict their makeup, for example, a Twister ® champion is said to have a
talent, not a defect.

On the contrary: Although during the time of non-harmonic music the second was
given precedence and the fifth was somewhat ignored, as soon as both elements
could be incorporated together with harmony, the Catholic composers made music
behave in a manner that included the perfect fifth.

I answer that: In the making of anything chaos (the absence of order) must
always be avoided. Now in intervallic organization in music, on can organize
according to chaos or according to order. If a composer bases the music on any
intervals he likes, or on intervals according to extra-musical concerns, than
the music itself will most likely be chaotic, unless the composer’s will is not
as random as free will is likely to be. Alternately, the composer may state
that the music is based on a freely chosen interval, say, a tritone or a minor
third. Although the ensuing music will not be chaotic, the reason that it is
the way it is comes from freedom, not from reason, unless the based interval is
a perfect fifth or a major or minor second (the major or minor second are on a
par with the perfect fifth because it is self-evident that notes a second apart
have a relationship). Freedom is freedom to choose the good and the reasonable.
Consequently, it follows that music based on intervals other than fifths or
seconds is less good than music based on fifths or seconds. Such music is not
necessarily unbeautiful, but it is assuredly less beautiful. There is a
possibility that it is actually unbeautiful because it may be that music that
disregards the relationship actually denies it by its very existence, outside of
the perception of the listener.
It can further be demonstrated that the perfect-fifth is not only an essential
element in the finding of pitches (as has already been demonstrated) but is a
sort of aesthetic imperative that is supposed to drive pitched sound and make it
behave, not just exist, as if the relationship existed. The relationships of
fifth and octave are building-block relationships from which the pitch structure
of western music is made.# A human who behaves as if his cells do not exist
dies. A house that behaves as if its pieces do not exist falls down. Music
that behaves as if the perfect fifth does not exist ceases to be musical.
It could be objected that a scale could be constructed with any interval chosen
at random as long as this interval was used consistently. If this were done,
however, the second relationship would be distorted in the scale, destroying it
and making the music unmusical.

Ans. Obj 1: See paragraph two of “I answer that…”

Ans. Obj 2: It is irrelevant whether the sense of direction is merely

Ans. Obj 3: If something behaves in a way that contradicts its makeup, it
ceases to be made of what it is made of and thus ceases to exist. Therefore, it
is impossible for anything to behave in a way that contradicts its makeup,
including a Twister champion.

That was a poor argument. This one is much better.

Obj. It seems that the perfect fifth has no necessary place in the behavior of
music, as, try as a composer might, unaided music cannot contradict the fact
that notes a fifth apart have a special relationship, as the relationship exists
whether it is incorporated into the music or not. Therefore, the perfect fifth
is a crutch that enables the composer to easily make pleasing sounds with less
thought as well as a limitation on the artist’s freedom.

On the contrary: Usage of the perfect fifth as a very significant musical
factor was frequent in the Age of Faith, while the most violent atheistic
musicians have denied its role. These are both important sighs of the aesthetic
merit of the interval.

I answer that: It would be absurd to suppose that each individual piece of
music did not possess its own essence: that one piece and another were just the
same identical essence of music with accidental qualities added. However, it
would be just as absurd to suppose that each individual piece of music did not
possess the essence of music, to some degree, despite the fact that each piece
has its own essence.
Now in the essence of music, it is clear that the relationship known as a
perfect fifth occupies some primacy of place, as it is the closest of all
relationships except the unison and the octave, intervals which have such
limited use and misuse that we need not consider them here. It is clear that
this relationship is essential to the nature of music because music is pitched
sound, and if the perfect fifth was not this prime relationship in pitched
sound, the nature of pitched sound would be different enough that the essence of
music would be substantially different from what it is.
Therefore, it is clear that each individual composition has two essences: that
of music in general and that of itself in particular. Further, it is clear that
the essence of music includes the primacy of place of the perfect fifth.
Now a perfect fifth can exist in music in two ways: that of melodic or harmonic
existence, and that of existence generally. For example, a C and a G played
simultaneously or consecutively have the first type of existence, while a C and
a G played at two random points in a piece have the second type. If we define
beauty as “The splendor of form (essence) shining upon matter.” (Jacques
Martrain), it is obvious that it is at least practically impossible that the
perfect fifth can not exist in a beautiful manner in the second sense. However,
music that does not incorporate it in the first sense as well, whether it be
thru chordal tonality or other means, has thus ignored a significant way of
letting the form of music in general shine its splendor upon matter. In fact,
one could make a case (although I doubt it could be proven) that one actually
goes so far as to commit an offense against music by composing music that has
behavior that behaves in a way that seems to contradict the relationship. In
summary, it can be proven that music that incorporates the perfect fifth into
its behavior is better than music that does not, although it cannot be proven to
the same degree of certainty that music that does not do so is bad music.

Reply to objection: Music, it is true, cannot contradict the relationship. It
can, however, ignore it, thus preventing beauty from shining through. Though
it may act as a crutch by accident, the true composer will work for beauty, not
accolade, and the pleasure of the audience will be but an accidental result of
his work with the perfect fifth. The last part of the objection is less
answerable, as the form of the individual piece of music is the artist’s
concern. However, the truly rational (and thus, truly free) artist will
consider that the form of music in general is God’s own form, while the form of
the individual piece is the artist’s addition. It is incredibly unlikely that a
form of the artist (indirectly God’s) would be superior to the form designed
directly by God, especially if the two were in conflict. Although the artist
may be right in putting the form he is discovering in the primary place, it
would be incredibly imprudent from an artistic perspective, unless the work had
some purpose it was supposed to fulfill.

Ending note: The second is not implicit in the makeup of the scale. One might
object that the scale is full of seconds, but a scale does not exist as a string
of seconds unless it is played in order. If it is not played in order, it
exists as something else. Here, scale is used to mean “a set of usable notes”
not what is meant by scale when musicians use it.
The merit of the second is self-evident, but it cannot and need not be proven by
the methods above.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How to Enjoy a Trip to the Sheldon

Currently, there are at least two limited-time exhibits at the Sheldon musuem of modern art in Lincoln, NE: The Purpose of Labor by some faculty member whose name i can't remember, and The Sizes of Things in the Mind's Eye by Elizabeth King. Whether you like modern art or not, it is useful, for purposes of this blog, for us to examine it to develop our command of aesthetic thought.

The Purpose of Labor is a collection of artist made Islamic-style painted porcelain. In the center of the room sits a tresure-chest shaped object. On the walls hang a wallfull of golden dishes about two inches in diameter, a wallful of foot-wide identically shaped but differently painted bowls (probably about 100), and six other dishes with highly detailed paint-work.

It is obivious that this exhibit is a work of talent and skill, as is apparent by the high level of detail in the paint-work. The meda, porcelain and paint, is fulfilled, not contradicted (how one would contradict porcelain is beyond me, but I know it was not done here, for if it was, it would be unbeautiful to have or to make fine china, which is so non-commonsensical that I will not even think about why it is so). The one possible complaint with the exhibit is the wall full of dishes. One might become bored with such a thing. The title of the exhibit, however, explains why this is not something to worry about: the more dishes, the more labor, and as all the dishes are good dishes, and as the way they are made and displayed showcases this, one sees and wants to accept that the purpose of labor, in all its drudgery, is to make good things. Which is, of course, a true statement.

The Sizes of Things in the Mind's Eye consists of a collection of artist-made hairless mannequins (one has the potential to be very inappropriate, but I do not know enough about such things to tell you yes or no) and mannequin parts displayed in unusual ways. For example, one exhibit has two hands inside a black box, one of which is attached to a rod that is near a spinning magnet. The vast majority of the pieces, however, are mannequin heads (and sometimes shoulders) in glass cases. They all look like the artist herself, to some extent (one also looks like Fr. Kipper, but as the artist is from Virginia, this is probably a conicidence).

It is somewhat difficult to interpret the message of this exhibit (the medium itself is fulfilled very well, as one gets to see very lifelife mannequins in about as close to their pure essence as you can get). However, given the fundamentally morally neutral modern prevalent cult of self-expression, the complete lack of distraction from the faces of the mannequins in many of the very austere and highly detailed exhibits and the fact that the faces are all of the artist, it would seem that she is trying to explore and express the esssence of herself through her main soul-window, her face. Whether she succeeds in her well-intentioned, aesthetically valid endevaour is open to debate. Some of the exhibits, especially the ones with machinery showing, appear to reduce the human represented to an intelligent machine, while others appear to be the faces of those who have seen free thought commit its suicide (read The Maniac in Chesterton's Orthodoxy to find out more about this). Other faces, however, seemto be looking very intently at something, like the pictures of Christian saints that Chesterton says somewhere else are very different from the closed-eye Buddhist pictures, for the saints look at God Himself, as some of these mannequin faces almost seem to do.

One final note: for those of you who live in Pennsylvania or South Dakota or wherever, neither of these exhibits are worth making a special trip here to see.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Book, part II

Even if beauty exists in things only as a reflection, not as an actual quality, there is only one way it can be: by the thing being like God to some extent.
How does something become more or less like God? God makes us like Himself through His process of redemption. The end result of this process is that we not only become like God, but we also become more like ourselves. This process of redemption requires our cooperation: we make ourselves like God by making ourselves more human through the liberating and humanizing acts of conforming to the Moral Law. God makes each thing to be itself, not something other than itself. The more of something there is, the more like God it is, but if something tries to be something other than itself, even if this thing is greater than itself, it becomes less like God, and therefore, less beautiful. All things are like God to the extent that they exist, so nothing can be completely unbeautiful. Something is unbeautiful (not ugly, see Chesterton's The Everlasting Man) to the extent that it does not possess the beauty proper to it, just as something is evil insofar as it does not possess the goods proper to it
For our purposes, then, it is clear that the most beautiful music is that which is the most musical. What, therefore, is music? Music is defined by scientists (and until recently, by musicians) to be those sounds which have a regular wave pattern. This includes the totality of those sounds: all pitches, speeds, timbres, styles, lengths, tempos, and combinations thereof. It is possible, however, for some combinations to be better than others, and for some to be insufficiently musical to be beautiful.
Here comes a unique situation. Here, Aquinas can mislead us without being false. Aquinas says that beauty is seen intuitively through the senses. Whether or not this is true is one matter, but the fact is self-evident that it is a very unreliable phenomenon. Unfortunately (for our purposes, that is), people cannot agree on what is beautiful and what is not. My mother dared to contradict the entire population of India. My piano teacher, who has a doctorate in music, contradicts nearly all composers who composed before 1900. I can see my own tastes changing before my ears. Both contradictory conditions cannot be right. To find that music that is musical, and thus beautiful, may very well sometimes contradict our beauty sense even while it satisfies the sense of others. The only reliable judgment is that which uses methods more reliable than the beauty sense.
The first person in the Western World to systematically investigate the nature of music was the Greek mathematician Pythagoras. He discovered that by halving or doubling the length of a vibrating object or a sound wave, the sound produced is one octave above or below the original sound. This establishes a relationship of simplicity between notes an octave apart. He also discovered that by multiplying the length by two-thirds, the sound produced was a perfect fifth above the original sound. Proceeding by fifths and octaves up and down, Pythagoras constructed what is now known as a scale. The number of fifths and octaves up or down determines the mode.
To construct a major scale:
Start at a note ( C )
Go down a fifth and up an octave (F)
Go back to C and up a fifth (G)
Go up a fifth and down an octave (D)
Go up a fifth (A)
Go up a fifth and down an octave (E)
Go up a fifth (B)

To construct a Lydian Mode scale, skip the down a fifth and add an up a fifth and down an octave after the B. This gives an F-sharp instead of F.
To construct a Mixolydian scale, add another down a fifth and up an octave at the beginning and skip the last fifth. This gives a B-flat instead of a B.
The minor, Dorian, and Phrygian scales can be constructed in similar manners.
Much later, musicians continued the process, constructing the modern chromatic scale. This led to the development of what we call temperament: namely, different ways of tweaking the scale so that it ’fit.’ This came about because it is possible to progress by fifths and octaves to a fraction of a half-step from where you started (or an octave above). Tuners would tweak the tuning slightly so that octaves would come out even. Other cultures have scales with still more notes. I don’t know if these are constructed by taking the process still further and taking advantage of the slight unevenness. Due to the mathematics of the scale, it is possible to carry on this process an indefinite number of times, resulting in a scale of unlimited numbers of notes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Aristotle vs. Tolkien

Here is an excerpt from the 'Poetics' of Aristotle.

A story or Plot must be of some length, but of a length to be taken in by the memory. As for the limit of its length,so far as that is relative to public performances and spectators, itdoes not fall within the theory of poetry. If they had to perform ahundred tragedies, they would be timed by water-clocks, as they aresaid to have been at one period. The limit, however, set by the actualnature of the thing is this: the longer the story, consistently withits being comprehensible as a whole, the finer it is by reason of itsmagnitude. As a rough general formula, 'a length which allows of thehero passing by a series of probable or necessary stages frommisfortune to happiness, or from happiness to misfortune', may sufficeas a limit for the magnitude of the story.

By the way, the reason for this length to be taken in by the memory is this: one cannot see the pleasant proportions of a thing unless it can be comprehended as a whole.

Now we have a puzzle. Aristotle says this, yet The Lord of the Rings seems much too long to fit into this category of proper length. How do we resolve this difficulty?

It is my personal opinion (I would like you to contest it, if you have such a desire) that:
1. Aristotle (and many other philosophers and artists) place too great of an importance on the numerical proportions of things. (Think "Golden ratio" (3/5) etc.) I will not deny that some ratios cause more pleasure than others, but unless it can be proven to me that this pleasure is in some place other than just our heads, I believe that a skillful person may disregard it and still produce pleasure through other elements, perhaps even more effectively than if he did obey the numbers.
2. The Lord of the Rings is such a large undertaking, both in terms of raw size and thematic and character profundity, that its plot cannot fit into Aristotle's proportions without significant damage to these other elements. Hence, we neither care nor notice.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Insights from Jaques Martrain

I was going to wait until I finished the book to write my commentary on Martrain's "Art and Scholasticism," but the essay "The Froitiers of Poetry" was so good that I'm not even going to wait to finish the essay. I might forget, you know.

In this essay, Martrain explores the idea of Abstract Art. The object of art is making, and the object of abstraction is motion from the material into the spiritual. The proud abstract artist tries to "play God" and make from the ideas in his head alone, without any reference to matter. The humble one, however, tries to make his art spiritual just as the saint tries to make themselves spiritual.

But, says Martrain, it is impossible to completely remove the matter from art, for all art is made by man for man, and man is partly material. Such removal will lead to decay.

This statement needs some clarifications, some of which may be from him, and some of which, for better or for worse, are from me.

First, there is another reason that matter cannot be removed from art. The first is that most arts exist in a material medium, and hence all good arts must follow the medium's rules whether or not they follow human rules. (Music exists as both a spiritual medium, as the liberal art of pure mathematical proportion, and as the servile art of these proportions made manifest in sound. These sounds provide the concreteness that we require to understand teh abstract concept.) Theoretically, the artist cound use only these rules and disregard the rules of psychology (what I see as being the human element in artistic creation and perception). This could lead to decay, however, because then when humans interpret the meaning of the work, they may not percieve that their system of perception adn the psychological elements in analysis were not included in the artist's system. This perception, although it does not ruin the art itself, as it is (appears to be) neither in the intent of the artist nor teh work itself, could very well ruin the lives of the observers, thus degrading the purpose of art as a conducer of goodness.

But all these rules should not be followed servilely, he says. Hence the conflict between rules and freedom. In my opinion, as long as it is clear that it is intentional, psychological and traditional rules can be broken. Not, however, the rules of the medium, which is what "The Book" posts will explore.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"The Book" Part One

It just so happens that I am in the process of writing a (as I call it) 'book' on Musical Aesthetics (by no means the only subject of this blog, by the way). I shall present it in parts. If there is anything that you do not understand or that you think is a fallacy, a falsehood, or anything you just disagree with, please let me know by posting a comment. We can have all sorts of friendly arguments in the comments box.

p.s. It's very boring, becasue I wrote it in Aristotle's style, which is very efficient but rhetorically flawed.

The Incompleat Book of Musical Aesthetics

Did you know that the phenomenon called language can actually get ideas from one mind to another? I am no linguist, I will not bore you with amateur accounts of how it is done. One thing is certain, however. To carry meaning, the words of the language must carry the same ideas to both minds. Only a politician would try to talk about something without first finding out what that something really was!
As Christians, we know that God, as the Infinite Being, has all perfections without limit, except those material perfections that are not proper to spiritual beings, such as color, size, or taste. Beauty cannot be merely a material perfection. Aquinas lists Beauty, along with Truth and Goodness, to be one of the three Divine Transcendental Attributes. God has no size, color, or taste because he is beyond and better than size, color or taste. Size, color, and taste are limitations; if something has color, for example, it cannot have the other colors in the same place at the same time. Matter is limitation, but the only thing that beauty limits is a thing’s capacity to have no beauty, which is not really a limitation. Therefore, beauty is a spiritual attribute and God can have it without limit. Because God is good, His Beauty must also be good, for God cannot have any evil in Him.
Aquinas also states that God is utterly simple, having no parts or divisions. In God, Beauty, Truth, Goodness, and Divine Life are one and the same. This is very difficult for us to visualize. The beauty of simplicity, called elegance, seems opposed to the complex and part-filled beauty of life, called fecundity. A Japanese crystal sphere, which exists to be simple, cannot exist also as a Charles Dickens novel, which, like physical and spiritual creation, has so many pieces that it could only come from the “life-giving” powers of an author who was so enchanted with the process of creating that he simply would not stop. In God, Who is Life Itself, there is no contradiction between Life and Simplicity, but creation is not large enough to transcend both options.
God’s beauty, therefore, can be demonstrated to be one way of referring to the Totality of His Divine Nature. Because He is utterly simple, His Beauty is His Whole Self. As nothing can be more beautiful than God, He, not anything else, whether concrete or abstract, is the Ideal of Beauty for all art and life. While we know relatively little about God and almost nothing about beauty, this is the first step in our learning.
The second step ought to be rather simple. We know what beauty is: God. This does not prevent beauty from existing in lower things. It is obvious that goodness and truth, other Divine Attributes, exist in things not merely as imitations, but as actual qualities. Food is good, not merely like good. 2+2=4 is true, not merely like truth.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Singing about Dancing and the like...

Ok, so as a Latinophile, I love dance music insanely. I noticed that a lot of dance songs are about dancing itself (e.g. Music of the Sun, Pon de Replay, etc..). Now how much artistic value do these songs have. Essentially, does attempting to explain the inexplicable count as artistic or is it just a cop out?

Friday, September 5, 2008

A small side note....

In case you don't know what Autumn rhythm is, it's a painting. To see it, look in the book about that bratty pig Olivia.