Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad Boy!

Bite the Bullet, Billy Boy,
Don't be a bloody, bashful boy,
Bloated with big, unBewailed blunders
Bemoan your badness, though mother thunders.

First Summary of "Placing Aesthetics"

General: Art is of two kinds: representative (it means something) and formal (it has worth by its form alone, without meaning). Purely representative art is usually not considered art: prose, for example is completely representative language, while poetry is representative/formal.

Plato: Believed in dual moralistic and "ascendic" character of the arts. Any art can be conducive to morality, of course. Ascendic art, however, is that art which awakens within us desire for God. It does this in two ways. The first is by allowing us to contemplate form, both as an observer and an artist. This enables us to think more about forms themselves rather than being limited to particulars (material beings). Through this encounter with form, the path is open for us to be able to see Beauty itself.
Some works of art will be so constructed as to evoke in particular observers an intensified desire and awareness for Beauty, and lead us ever closer to union with it.

Aristotle: Believed that the moralistic element of art also included catharsis, the purgation of negative emotions by presenting them as art, such as in tragedy. Developed a test for formfulness: lack of superfluous elements. Believed that music was an imitative art, imitating character.

Kant: Beleived that one determines the value of a work of art through taste, an objective but non-systematic form of judgement. Taste is developed by appreciating classic works of art and by learning creative thinking skills so that one can see worth in unlikely things. Developed two kinds of beauty: beauty and sublimity. Beauty is harmonic. Sublimity results when one reaches a state of turmoil by realizing the greatness of a thing, such as God or themselves (example: contemplation of outerspace leads to a sense of insignificance, which then comes into sublime conflict with the knowledge that we are more important than all the infinite empty spaces).

Hegel: Believed that art was part of the development of human culture, which in turn is an expression of God. For Hegel, God exists in a sort of symbiotic relationship with creation, and history, both natural and human, is part of His process of self-realization. This is heresy. However, God, as Creator, is Creator of both human culture and the natural world; thus art can reveal him in a somewhat Hegelian sense. The form of a work of art is every bit as important as its meaning because the form is an existing being and the means by which we percieve the being.

Schopenhauer: Through art, we can gain a bit of freedom from our desires, desires that cause us pain and suffering.

Niechtzche: Art is part of culture, and culture is the framework that provides intelligibilty for human existence. For example, because of our culture, the thing we call a fork has a human meaning and a purpose that it does not have in, say, chopstick-only China. The meaning of the life a bantu lives is slightly different from the meaning of the life a Swede lives because the Bantu has a culture that encourages personal responsibility but the Swede does not. For the atheistic N, this principle extends even to matters of truth and falsehood. The greatest artists, he says, are religious leaders, who invent "false" but effective systems to cover the whole of life. All artists participate in this meaning-shaping to some extent, whether or not you believe everything N. says.

Dewey: Experience of art unites the formal to the representational, thus providing a holistic experience. Art should prevade all of life, from the home to the factory.

Heidigger: The artist is the person who evokes in people the realization that the fact that things exist is a wonderful mystery that needs to be appreciated by contemplation and action (btw: the way we appreciate it in action includes living a moral life and believing the True Religion). The chapter on Heidigger was very hard.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Definition of Music

A definition is the words that express the limits of the existence of a thing, whether the thing be a concept, a material reality, or a non-conceptual, non-material reality. To define a thing, one can either make one’s own limit (an “arbitrary definition”), or look at linguistic precedent, or find a thing that has a limit in its own nature and make the definition based on this nature.

There are two things that have no limits to their being and thus possess the ultimate state of liberalism in definition (whether you believe in them or not), God, Who is Infinite Existence, and Prime Matter, which has no existence. Music exists, and is not God, so it must have limits to its being.

Concerning music, scientists who study sound have invented a technical definition of music for their purposes, defining music as “Sound with a regular wave pattern,” thus excluding non-pitched phenomena from music. This is a useful definition, as it is possible to construct (whether or not with success is debatable) an objective, mathematical theory of music based on this definition. Although scientists had a perfect right to make such an arbitrary definition, such a definition leaves out percussion instruments (which goes against common usage of the term “music”) and the works of John Cage. Musicians seem to not have come to a consensus on this topic, however, and as the scientific definition does not work because it leaves out some instruments, defining music arbitrarily is not an option.

Defining music based on linguistic precedent is outside the scope of this paper and the abilities of the author.

As for defining music by its nature, it is obvious that it is an art of sound. One can appreciate natural unmodified (wild) sounds in much the same way that they appreciate music, but this does not make the sound art or music. In a similar way, one can appreciate unmodified (wild) plants, but this does not make the plants part of the arts of gardening or floral design. The same sounds, once modified and selected by humans, however, become art through this modification. Whether or not this is a final definition is open to debate, but the definition of music by nature includes the dual quality of art of sound. From here, an evaluation of Cage and Babbitt can be made.

Milton Babbitt’s works are known for being highly organized and inaccessible to the common listener. He defended the idea that some composers should compose music so advanced that only subsidies could continue its composition.

Whether or not Babbitt was right or wrong about music is debatable. The fact is, however, that his works are not actually music, for it can be rendered unmusical by even the elementary definition above, without considering its level of advancement or its connection with the listening public. Babbitt composed by inventing an organizational system and then applying it to the staff-notated musical tradition. Unfortunately for music, although such a work may be art, it is not sound. There is an art to inventing such fascinating number-games as Babbitt invented, but such systems are media-independent, able to be applied to music, painting, sculpture, chemistry, poetry, et cetera. There is no regard for the sound to which the system is applied, hence the sound is non-essential to the art. If the sound were better off for the organization, or the organization better off for the sound, then there would be an art of sound, and music would result, but this is not the case. Babbitt has art+sound, not art of sound.

By the above definition, some of John Cage’s ideas would be music, and some would not. The idea of letting “it [presumably the sound] act of its own accord” (p. 12) is quite unmusical, taking the sound, and leaving out the human element of art. Cage’s advocacy of non-traditional techniques and instruments, such as tapes (p. 11), however, can include both sound and art, and thus is possibly music.

Defining music as the art of sound is a concise, useful, and true nature-based definition.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ideas, Anyone?

I am seriously considering writing a Shakespearean drama based on the plot of "The Three Little Pigs."

Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The priestiess, Diotima,
Would have disliked Grima
Beauty draws us to God
Grima to Grave-sod.

Skinny Grima Wormtongue
Never hurted no one.
He just sat and said things
His words did the hurting!

John Cage
Puts us in rage
For composing sonatas
That are so-not-a's.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hamlet...The man, not the tale.

Revenge. It's a common thread in lots of stories, from the Greek Tragedies, to The Count of Monte Cristo, to Wuthering Heights, to True Grit. And, for some reason or other, the revenge-seeker seems to be the one who attracts some of our sympathy, whether (s)he be Electra, Heathcliff, Maddie Ross, or Anakin.

And this does not exactly seem to be a good thing. We all know that revenge is an evil, a pleasure in which it is forbidden to indulge, but we just can't help ourselves. The authors aren't much of a help either, often portraying the avengers as victims of previous wrongs, to be pitied, not condemned. And if this is so, Hamlet, a classic revenge story, would seem to be missing some merit.

Both Because "Hamlet" is such a classic and Hamlet is such a lovable character (despite, indeed, because of, his ambivalent revenge-desires), we ought not just reject the story out of hand as a tale not conducive to morality. If Shakespeare was a moral man, he would have been intelligent enough to be aware both that art has consequences and how to get the good moral consequences across most effectively. If Shakespeare was not a good man, we will never know, will we?

Whatever Mr. S might have been, Hamlet gives many signs of being a good man. At least twice in the play, he affirms his belief in Divine Providence. He is intensely interested in the slavation of his mother. He resists temptations to suicide. He is humble enough to make himself a fool in front of the entire court. He is a pleasant friend, someone we would feel attracted to regardless of his moral state. Most importantly, he is devoted to the commands of his father's ghost.

In fact, the actions of the ghost make one wonder whether or not Hamlet's desire to kill his uncle is actually an act of revenge. The ghost makes it clear that he is not a dammed spirit; the sufferings he describes are the pains of purgatory, land of saints, not hell, a claim that Hamlet later tests to the limits of both his ability and the aesthetic limits of the play (An awkward turtle would fit very well. Tuea Huea!). A purgatorial spirit would be unable to command or even request anyone to commit a sin. God, being the arbiter of life and death, may have (I think this is possible) ordained that Hamlet's uncle would die by assassination, and, through His ordinance give His keys of death and hades to Hamlet temporarily. Regardless of what God did, Hamlet seems convinced of the rightness of his cause, thus removing all moral responsibility of the death from him.

After taking the responsibility upon himself, Hamlet, spurred on by obedience, seems to grow spiritually. He begins to articulate his sufferings, especially his growing rightful disdain of the world, making us think that his sufferings have become more acute but that he knows what they are for. His madness is more true than the sanities of many people. His pledge of obedience has lent purpose to his life.

When true revenge begins to creep in upon his obedience, however, his plans begin to go astray. His not killing his uncle while his uncle is repentant of his sins opens up the possibility of the tragedies that follow. His giving into passion kills the wrong person. Though afterwards, he seems to desire to be merely obedient, the damage has been done, and the two moments of revenge and blindness end up being the death of nearly all the characters in the play.

In short, Hamlet is not a character constructed so that we sympathize with the vengeful. Rather, he is constructed so that we sympathize with obedience and see the evil consequences of revenge.

4'33 as an Analog for Prime Matter

What would a thing with no properties but the potential to become anything be like? How about the music of John Cage, where the performer is given no instructions? The performer could do anything in that time, yet the piece considered by itself is...what?

By the way, this post is not labeled music because it is unclear whether or not it is about music.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chastity as a Having, not a Lacking

Conceive I had a crystal, clear and clean
Hev'n-hard and bright and inn'cent like a child
Along a simple sidewalk, all unknowing
Soul-secret secrets of her or'gin wild.
Take I this treasure, fragile like a maid,
Into the deepest ice-caves of my cloak
To guard it from the dirt and from the trade.
Yen dirties pure things, and by these they're broke.
How then shall I percieve those nearest me
Who know not of the treasure that I claw.
Which of these two the greater secret be
That when they're told, the hearer shakes with awe:
The one before them drops, in mud, jewelry,
Or that the same conceals them secretly?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

For your Easter Week Meditiations...

You MUST listen to "Mass" by Leonard Bernstien!

Explanation of the Previous Post

8 purposes of art.

> 1. Moralization (Plato)
Art can be used to encourage good behaviour by being about good behaviour. Move along. Nothing to see here that you didn't know before.

> 2. Indoctrination (Plato)
Art can be used to encourage good behaviour when the artist, in imitating something good, internalizes its goodness. For example, the dancer internalizes gracefulness when they dance.

> 2. Preparation for mathematics (Plato)
Mathematics is the form of abstract thought that humans first expose themselves to. Through mathematics, we can free ourselves from the limitation of thinking in images and begin to think about real things in terms of something that is itself real. Art prepares us for mathematics by guiding our imagination in the perception and liking of proportions (ratios).

> 3. Moving into the transcendent world by imitation/discovery (Plato/Aquinas)
Everything material is divided into two parts: the form of the thing, which is what it is, and its matter, which is what it is made of. Omnisciently, God knows the form of every thing that exists, and because His knowledge is not different from Himself, by knowing about the forms of things, we learn about Him. The artist, by imitating a pre-existing form or discovering a new one, learns about the form he works with, as do the observers of his art.
To the extent which a thing has a form, it is more perfect and more coherent. Hence, the more coherent a work of art is, the better it is.

> 4. Moving into the transcendent world by moving from referential to abstract (Plato)
Some forms of art are based on the expression of ideas other than themselves through words and images. In other arts, however, the idea being expressed is the work itself, leaving the observer quite imageless. Hence, art can perform funciton #2 not only by introducing us to mathematics, but by itself containing the qualities which the study of mathematics is supposed to impart.

> 5. Training our desire for the Infinite, God. (Plato)
We all have either a latent or an active desire for the Infinite. According to Diotima, this expresses itself at the lowest level through physical satisfaction, especially the conception of children (children make the parent "immortal"). The lifestyle that desires the Infinite and expresses it in a lifeful and extravagant manner is called "Dionisian." Art can perform the function of calming the passions so that one can achieve a rational and ethical lifestyle where desire is calmed, calld "Apollonian".
Once one acheves this lifestyle, however, art (and thought as well) can awaken the person to the fact that the object of the Infinity-desire is not physical satisfaction, but a sort of spiritual satisfaction that is itself more than rational, and thus again Dionisian. Art does this by awakening the desire for spiritual goods; for example, a work of good art might inspire a rational (or even an irrational) person to, out of desire for God, to take the very Dionisian step of becoming a Franciscan.

> 6. Being part of a culture (Aristotle)
Move along. You know how this works already I think.

> 7. Learning about a form. (Aristotle)
Same as #3, except that the object of the knowledge sought is the form, not God.

> 8. Being yet another of the creative Self-Revelations of God. (Bonaventure)
In the final analysis, God is unknowable to us on earth. Yet every one of His creations reveals something about Him in some way. Every work of good art does so as well.

Monday, April 13, 2009

8 purposes of far.

> 1. Moralization (Plato)
> 2. Indoctrination (Plato)
> 2. Preparation for mathematics (Plato)
> 3. Moving into the transcendent world by imitation/discovery (Plato/Aquinas)
> 4. Moving into the transcendent world by moving from referential to abstract (Plato)
> 5. Training our desire for the Infinite, God. (Plato)
> 6. Being part of a culture (Aristotle)
> 7. Learning about a form. (Aristotle)
> 8. Being yet another of the creative Self-Revelations of God. (Bonaventure)

If you want explanations, just ask. I got these 8 purposes from the book "placing Aesthetics" by Robert H Wood of The University of Dallas.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Tonality" revisited, Part II

> > A short interlude on the definition of the word "Tonality"
> >
> > In the previous article concerning this, Tonality was used improperly. Properly, it means a system of organizing music according to specific rules of consonance, dissonance, and chord progression. That this system is superior to others is unprovable.
> > The improper way I used it, it meant the ordering of pitches according to a specific method that is much broader than and includes tonality, yet does not include all pitched music, such as some, but not all, serial and set-class pieces.
> >
> > On the mathematics
> >
> > Two vibrations at the unison have a ratio of 1:1
> > Two vibrations at the octave have a ratio of 1:2
> > Two vibrations at the octave+perfect fifth have a ratio of 1:3
> > Two vibrations at the perfect fifth have a ratio of 2:3
> >
> > Assuming that two notes an octave apart are equivalent notes, which seems a self-evident assumption, though it might not be, the next notes in the series are
> >
> > Two vibrations at the major second have a ratio of 8:9
> > Two vibrations at the major sixth have a ratio of 16:27
> > Two vibrations at the major third have a ratio of 64:81
> > Two vibrations at the major seventh have a ratio of 128:243
> > Two vibrations at the tritone have a ratio figure it out.
> >
> > Invert using octave equivalence, and you now have all the possible relationships between notes in the order of simplest ratio to most complex ratio. According to me and many other theorists who I follow, the music ought to incorporate these into its composition as per above. The closer the relathionship
> >
> > On the answering of objections
> >
> > Obj. Saying that if two objects have one mathematical ratio as the relationship between them and two other objects have a different one, then one set is more closely related than the other is arbitrary or determined by biological or cultural factors, for mathematics does not decree one relationship as better than another.
> > Ans. It is true that many things are related merely arbitrarily, culturally, or because of biology, but non-arbitrary relationships can exist. For example, the relationship between me and my parents is necessarily a closer relationship than the relationship between me and my cousins, because if I would have had different parents, I would be a different person, but if I had a different cousin, I would remain the same person; thus the relationship of parent is essential, while the relationship of cousin is not.
> > Into what category do ratios fall? It seems that it is self evident, independent of biology or culture, that the closer the relationship approaches 1 (or the closer the notes approach to a unison), the closer (and thus, more relational) the relationship between them; a yardstick is more closely related to a meterstick than it is to a 2.5-meterstick because it is more close to it in length.
> > The other sort of self-evident, culturally and biologically independent relationship is a bit more complicated. Consider the intervals of perfect fifth and major sixth, with the ratios of 2/3 and 16/27 respectively. In regards to choosing between them, the composer can say "I choose ____" or "I choose ____ because of ____" If they are trying to be completely objective and independent from biology and culture and they choose to have the second option, what is left to them is to choose on the basis of the ratios. And which makes more sense: to say "I choose the fifth because it has the relationship of the ratio of 2/3, not 16/27," or "I choose the sixth because it has the relationship of the ratio of 16/27, not 2/3?" The second statement is hilarious and ludicrous and unbelieveable and seems to be self-evidently less valid than the first. One could, of course, simply say "I choose ____" or even "I aleotorate ___," but then, they are choosing, and, considered in the abstract, their choice has no basis. It would be better to choose with an abstract basis in the way outlined above.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Artistic Temperament...NOT!

Since I haven't posted anything in a relatively long time, you might be inspired to recall G.K. Chesterton's magnificent essay "On the Wit of Whistler." What is happening to the poster during his absence of posts? Is he fairly exploding with unexpressible artistic impulses, just like the minor poet? Or is he simply not being visited by his muse and is being an ordinary person?

The answer is neither. I am being visited by the muse, but the idea is so big that it is takes a long sitting to get out, and time is going through a recession for me right now. This one will be only temporary, as I do not practice inflation or bailouts.