Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Les Miserables" or "The Phantom of The Opera"? - Introduction

"Les Miserables" or "The Phantom of The Opera"? These two are the
greatest and second greatest musicals of our day (according to public
opinion). So, what do you think? There are so many aspects of each
to discuss. So to make it easier, I will narrow it down to four categories:

I - Musical Qualites
II - Positive Moral Values (how positive is it?)
III - Negative Moral Values (how negative is it?)
IV - Balance of Moral Values
V - Overall Beauty

I will state my objective opinion on both musicals in each category.
Then, you are welcome to give a different opinion (or support the
same opinion) in the comment section.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Music For Comments

I think you've heard this one before, Old Fashioned Liberal, but I'll put
it before your sharp criticism as you asked. Just remember, theory is
not my strongest area (probably because it's related to math).

Let me know if it doesn't work.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Favorite Subject

As you know, Old Fashioned Liberal, the four temperaments are probably
my favorite subject. So, to start the Psychology category, I'll give a brief
overview of the temperaments:


– Quick to react, reaction of long
duration and strong intensity
– Extroverted
– Rational


– Quick to react, reaction of short duration
– Extroverted
– Relationship oriented


– Slow to react, reaction of long duration
with intensity increasing with time
– Introverted
– Rational


– Slow to react, reaction of short duration
with weak intensity
– Introverted
– Relationship oriented

These are the most important characteristics. Now there's a new field of discussion.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

'twixt the Charbidys and Scylla of Emma and Godzilla

Ah, the comic book. That chalk-on-brown paper colored podium where penny-dreadful myth-makers and philosophers zing, boom and pfft morality into little boys. That world where imagination is one step lower than supreme. That state of being that is loved by...well, I think that's enough now. I think you get the picture. In short, just in case you didn't notice, a comic book is where good and evil meet in pure exaggerated melodrama (at least, that would be ideal), and where one encounters, in almost nauseatingly pure form, other things which deeply move humans; things like loyalty and adventure and victory.

There is one problem with it, however. Comic sagas are, by necessity, unpleasantly long. One story gets the idea across, and after that, we can say, with Shakespeare "A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Just because you change the name of the monster and the hero and what they look like and what order the events happen in doesn't really make something new: it makes it look different to the superficial observer. Like a Vivaldi theme and variations, there is no point to the iconic repition of defeating yet another brightly colored monster by some trick of wit or cunning.

What does a certain half-species of sensible person occasionally do to counter this? They find refuge, by reading those sorts of things (and the more finely-crafted and rare (un comic-book like) the better) that take place in the complex world of the combinations of psyches that we call society. These things, which must by necessity be 'real' to have any sort of merit and which pleas the higher and more sophisticated parts of humanity (I am politically correct only as an undesirable by-product of the slight subtle satire that this sentence contains), bear not the mark of ever-greater same throw-ups from the fertile but unvaried and insensitive-to-the-nature-of-thingsish imagination possessed by the comic-book author. Yet, these books do not deal with exactly the most important issues of life. Survival and virtue are necessary prerequisites to the nature of and best techniques of finding a good husband or wife.

Of course, one could read or write things that are midway between these two options. Which is a perfect description of what The Oddessy does.

First of all, the Oddesey doeals with elemental, comic-book issues, particularly survival and the attaining of goals (it is the Adventures of Odesseyus, after all), in a fantastic, magical, incredibly imaginative and sensational fashion. To reach home and live, the hero has to deal with creatures (and yes, the pagan gods count as creatures) that are the equals in power of the villians of the comic-books. How does it do this without falling into the monotone and anti-realistic iconism of these same books? After all, iconism is useful for getting at the essences of things (as Chesterton demonstrates in A Piece of Chalk) but the iconic monster-after-monster, hero-after-hero time-after-time sequence tells us nothing about real monsters, heroes, or stories.

Homer's moderation, attitude toward his situations, and variety in which Odessyus acts in them help to explain this. There are not a numerical great deal of monstrous situations in the Odessy. For the increased attention span of the times, they all seem to fit nicely into one story. It must also be kept in mind that all the super-characters in the story were seen as real by the people of the times, including possibly even Homer. Hence they do not bear the mark of poorly-done imagination-objects, but of either facts or tried-and-true folk tales. Finally, Odesseyus does not act like the superhero who only thinks subtly when he must think his way out. This hero's dialogue with even the stupid Cyclops is not the simple: exchange-of-insults, "You will die" splat-boom-et cetera (obviously, the fact that it is in verse helps). Niether are the situations solved in at all simple manner. At one point, he escapes by strength, another by wit, another by magical aid, another by 'divine' compassion. It still sounds monotonus, but this sort of varied repition bears much more repeating than the modern comic kind.

Of what use is this for us on Disciples of Diotima? Well, there's a lot more to beauty than the essence of things (as if that wasn't enough!). All artists can use subtlety of technique to get points of truth and morality across to the uncooperative listener. The Odessey is an excellent example of how that can be done.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Absent-minded me...

Oops, that last post was supposed to be on The Flying-Ins...


Yesterday was the Lincoln City Libraries booksale, and I bought an illustrated history of philosophy for fifty cents. Unfortunately, there is no chapter on Chesterton. In its mixed-blessing pages, however, there is a chapter on Shopenhauer, Chesterton's archtypical enemy, and it paints the philosopher in metaphorical glowing colors. I must find out where this history is in error. You will find out too, do not worry. There is one painting of the philosopher in the book, however, and in its literally glowing colors, I see not only a picture of the evil fatalist, but also a resemblance to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Coincidence? Of course not. Either St. Pio or Fr. Grochel said "There are no coincidences," an observation I subscribe to wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"The Book" part IV

And here we come to the great practical insight of western tonal music. It ought to be obvious by now that music, for maximum musicalness, needs to have a perfect 5th driving behavior and a second driving behavior. With one melody (or a melody and a drone), insofar as the music acknowledges one, it ignores the other. But where accompaniment (the first great part of the insight) is involved, there must be some sort of system that insures that the two are not parts that are randomly thrown together. Arrangements based on consonant intervals allow the whole music, at any one moment, to be arranged around order while the existence of melodies allows the arrangement of the music around the other order (the second great insight). Hence, it is clear that in this regard, western tonal music, which is based in the Catholic culture of Christendom and is a completely unique and different music in all the world, is philosophically superior to all other musical traditions. Of course, there are other parts to music, such as the complexity of the scale, the expressive qualities, et cetera, but we have not considered these yet.
Along with the conventional musical idea of the scale, however, comes the ideas of mode, tonal center, and progression versus retrogression. The definition and making of mode has already been discussed, but the other two related topics have not yet even been defined. The three all revolve around the idea of Tonal Center. We will resort to a Socratic dialogue to explore the questions of tonal center.

Characters of the dialogue:
St. Thomas Aquinas
Oliver Messiane

Aquinas: Welcome to Purgatory, sir composer! May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you!

Messiane: And with you, good sir. I was told that I would be released soon. Already I can feel the pains lessening. But why do you come to visit me?

Aquinas: It is your last purgation. I was sent here to tell you where you succeeded and where you had room for improvement in pleasing God in your music.

Messiane: I always intended to please God when I composed.

Aquinas: Of course. But regardless of your intentions, what did your music actually do?

Messiane: I see. Go on. I am sure that the Angelic Doctor would know about the perfect music much better than I.

Aquinas: Very good. Now, of the things that were musical conventions or traditions in your time, what did you omit?

Messiane: There was very little tradition in my time. Tonal center had been denied, …

Aquinas: Stop. What is Tonal Center?

Messiane: Harmonious music has, at any given moment, one note that it is organized about. If these organizing notes have any particular direction, the Tonal Center is the place towards which they move. I denied the phenomenon in my music.

Aquinas: So tonal center is evil?

Messiane: No.

Aquinas: Then why did you deny it?

Messiane: I did not write harmonious music. Therefore, tonal center was nearly impossible.

(Aquinas proceeds to demonstrate the goodness of harmonious music)

Messiane: The time had passed for tonal center. I would not have used it even if my music were harmonious.

Aquinas: As Catholics, we both know that good, true, and beautiful ideas do not fade away.

Messiane: Not in a theoretical sense. But in art, everything that can be done in one way can be done. The artistic community was no longer so prudish that they would not accept music without a tonal center. I wanted to compose music without a tonal center, and they let me with their money.

Aquinas: I never did enjoy accounting. But I still wonder: lack of tonal center lacks the goodness of tonal center. What virtue does this lack possess that would even make you desire it?

Messiane: A wider variety of music can be composed if a tonal center is not required.

Aquinas: But even the violent musical iconoclast Arnold Schonberg (who I interview as well), admitted that “There is plenty of music to be composed in C major.” You still could compose music with a center. If a tonal center is in fact good, I do not see the point in denying it for purposes of “freedom.” If a tonal center is integral to music, then you cannot deny it anymore than you could deny harmoniousness. Tell me, what determines harmonies if there is no tonal center.

Messiane: The composer, of course. His will is free to write any chord he wishes.

Aquinas: But how does he choose? What are the goods toward which his will can move?

Messiane: There is the tonal center system, of course. But if he wishes to disregard this, then he must look to a not-harmonic thing, such as his whim, the melody, the psychological effect he wishes to produce, et cetera (if there is an et cetera, which I doubt).

Aquinas: I can see the logic of choosing according to the melody. But, being a disembodied spirit, I cannot see the logic behind whim or the psychology. I have no psychology of course, so that reason is out for God and I.

Messiane: So, considered by itself, music without a tonal center provides no opportunity for the composer to make a worthwhile choice. It is like the conviction that all special actions are good that leads to nothing.

Aquinas: Is this an evil?

Messiane: No.

Aquinas: Is this a good?

Messiane: No.

Aquinas: So, would you admit it is preferable to have a tonal center?

Messiane: No.

Aquinas: Why not?

Mesianne: The center must be chosen just as arbitrarily as the chords without a center. And even though (in Pythagorean tuning) the other notes owe their existence to the center, the chord-progression behavior is not a necessary response to this fact. And in equal temperament, there is rarely any owing. A child is not constantly required to be with his parents, nor is it good for him to do so.

Aquinas: But the Lord says “Honor your father and your mother.” Unless the origin is given a special place (and if a key is chosen in equal temperament, this origin is implied) how is this done?

Messiane: One could make that note louder, or accented.

Aquinas: But would not that merely increase its importance in the eyes of the listener? We want something that actually increases its importance regardless of psychology. Loudness would merely make it different. A goal (which is reached by either progressions or retrogressions, in any mode) would fit the bill. Just as if you tried to be like your parents, you would be honoring them, but if you spoke their name louder than all other words, you would merely honor them psychologically.

Messiane: Something else could honor the center as well.

Aquinas: I challenge you to find it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An Addendum to "The Book, part III"

I wasn't planning to put this in. Beware, for if you're not a theoretically-trained musician, you probably won't understand it!

One could even take this argument as far as the musicians of the Renaissance took it: that the second simplest interval deserves second place, third third place, etc. If this is done, one of the possible results is what is called functional tonality. Obviously, the interval of the perfect (major) fifth directs the entire piece through harmonic motion, while the second most similar interval of the major second directs it through melodic motion (the minor second, a far less simple interval, is also used frequently in melodies, but, like the interval of major second, it is self-evident and unnecessary to be proven mathematically that it is good to use this interval in melodies). The intervals of minor and major third, the third and fourth most simple intervals, play the lesser role of determining what notes are used along with the fifth motion through the consonant intervals of harmonies. As inverting all these intervals gives all the possible diatonic and chromatic intervals, except the incredibly distant and very infrequent tritone, the system of functional tonality is an excellent way of acheiveng this element of musical perfection (the inversion of the minor second has no justificaiton whatsoever, but it is rarely used).
However, it is not necessarily the only way. Any form of music in which the intervals of perfect fifth, major second, minor third, and major third, are used in that order as elements of behavioral significance would be just as perfect in this manner. Why the thirds have to be used 'vertically' and the seconds 'horizontally' is beyond me.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Sheldon...Again.

Are any of you epileptic. If you are, do not do what I just did. I went to yet another exhibit at the Sheldon, this time the exhibit that explores the transience of time.

Upon entering an artificially darkened room, I saw a completely lit square pillar and three bright spots on the walls. Upon these surfaces shone pictures of trees and geysers. These pictures, however, were not one, but many, and they constantly changed, so that the room was filled with visual chaos. One might see one tree for half a second, and then see three. Hee Hee.

Of course, all this constant, pointless change echoes the words of Ecclesiastes very well "Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity...the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea is not full." Their randomness and the large number of mental associations and the dark room all contribute to a threatening feeling, appropriate for the contemplation of the transience of time. But as Christians, we hope for God when time is done, and time's passage is a bittersweet flow that leads to ultimate happiness.

Why anyone would look at the exhibit long enough to need a bench (for there was one in the room) is beyond me.