Music and the Mundane

May 28, 2013

Music, for the sake of this discussion, can be as simple as a clock ticking or as complex as a Beethoven piece. My argument is that every sound that you might put into the rather loose category I just outlined is as mundane and everyday as walking or drinking a glass of water. I’m not trying to just make a case for Nihilism here. What compels me to write this post, mostly, is that many people seem to differentiate the deliberate flicking of a keychain, or the tapping of a pencil on a desk from the flicks and taps of music found on itunes. I don’t see much of a difference. The complexity and degree of cohesiveness of music is only relevant to the degree the culture it expresses itself from declares it. When my 4 y/o niece sings “You Are My Sunshine”, I genuinely have a difficult time measuring that and making distinctions between a Paul McCartney song, other than a few hundred thousand dollars on equipment and production. I suppose it’s obvious that I’m focused on the will of the musician here more than what’s resonating in the ether. The significance of any music is necessarily contingent upon the walls the sound is reverberating against. To talk about about music in any meaningful way (not just a mere discussion about building processes) I think one must talk about the building process as a social expression (as a type of acoustic signage of attitudes). Generally, with the exception of maybe classical music, this is not a contrived metaphor. It is merely a coincidental appearance from the will to make music. Anyone that makes an utterance from the will to be genuine, will (by coincidence) critique something. It doesn’t even need to remotely resemble the rhythmic pulse of a clock (or anything we might consider “music” for that matter). It is here, at the heart of the will to sing – the emotional core of all (emotional) artistic activities – where concepts like “timbre”, “Rhythm”, “Rhyme”, “harmonics” etc… are finally allowed to dissolve. As profound as that might seem, it is a regular human activity.

Working under the aesthetic premise that it is the context of some physical thing that charges it with meaning, I would like to say a few words about music.  It’s actually quite simple and not that profound at all, but frequently looked over by musicians and other artists.  Music is simply a way for cultures to communicate with one another.  Any other discussion about music is merely talking about taste in some ungrounded theoretical way.  The context of a song at a particular venue is what charges the tune with cultural power, similarly to the way the context of a symbol can charge it with meaning, like in natural languages.  It is the language of inter-cultural discourse.  In a phrase, tone or rhythm, musical histories that extend into socio-political histories are summoned to the venue.  It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Metal or Punk-Classical.  You are inevitably continuing the historical inter-cultural dialectic, either through an embrace or rejection of musical sensibilities throughout history.  If you accept the premise and follow it through, as a musician, you are the voice of a people in a vast history of cultural dialectics.  Musical traditionalists that adhere to strict tonal, rhythmic and emotional limitations are as mute to cultural discourse as a Cubist painting hanging on a white wall in a museum. Image

Some thoughts on Cybersemiotics:

“Peirce operates with a triad composed of a sign vehicle (the Representamen), an Object (a certain aspect of reality), and an Interpretant that is a more developed sign in the mind of the perceiver/observer/communicator. These three categories were so basic that he called them Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness… In the sign process, Representamen is first,
Object is second, and Interpretant is third. In Cosmogony, mind is first, matter is second, and evolution is third. In cognitive psychology, perception is first, experience is second, and understanding is third. Ontologically, chance is first, mechanical law is second, and the tendency to make habits is third. Peirce defines his Firstness as a chaos of living feeling with the tendency to assume habits.”

– Soren Brier, Cybersemiotics: Why Information Is not Enough

In Pierces semiotic Triad, the symbol is Primary – the representaion of an object. As one assumes this primacy, the open ontological chaotic “system” becomes a closed system upon evaluative parameters. Within this closed system, a triad can be developed between the representation, what it represents, and the interpretation. Although, the object it represents is in many ways outside of the triad. I think the object must take on a purely denotative (“topographical”) role, and not an ontological role. So, most of the object becomes lost in the system. Also, at another corner, the interpreter takes on another role where certain aspects of it become lost in the evaluative importance of the symbol. The symbol becomes full, where the others become partial. The system already has within it possibilities of other systems, as well as the possibility of merging these systems through cybersemiotics.

The interesting thing about systems, I’ve found, is that they are analagous to different types of lenses – The lense of our eye to the “lense” of an electron microscope.  As with our eyes, when we focus on a single point in space, the point is of primacy as everything else becomes peripheral. Focul Points and periphery seem to be the general problem of all human enterprises. The steroscopic vision is unnatainable. It can only be attained through transrational means, where the focul points merge with the periphery in equilibrium. The only way to eliminate evaluations, isolated systems, high and low probability, plausibility and implausibility is to eliminate the current paradigm of rationality and go beyond it, but not without it. That is, if you’re not shooting at pragmatic targets, but at a chaotic ontological “totality”.

Though, ontology will never be total as it will always be reduced to mnemonic metaphors.

Sub-symbolic and pre-logical neural networks – the organic matter of the brain, in other words – in a few fancy terms is, what I think our linguistic and logical (meaningful) faculties emerge from. These neural networks are physical structures in a (cybernetic) autopoietic (automatically produced) feedback loop with perception. They are considered foundational to perception, even. For instance, the nerve endings in the eye (the retina) process light into perceptual information by transforming light into a digestable nerve-compatible material, that the optic nerve sends to nine nuclei that relay this information into the visual cortex which actually makes the initial signals from the optic nerve more complex. This example, I think illustrates how nerve digestion and processing of light is an increasingly complex process that is a pre-logical, sub-symbolic material process. After the additive complexity within the primary visual cortex, it becomes even more complex as the brain, through neural communication and organic mutation, processes the perception with hyper-complex (cannot predict it mathematically) logical and symbolic faculties. This hyper-complex structure of “buzzing” neural networks become meaningful only to the extent that “difference makes a difference”. What this means, I think, is that meaning is not something that nerologists will find in the brain. It is emergent from neural networks – but these neural networks are a historically continual process; meaning that there is never a physical gap in the evolution of bodies (and brains).

Evolution is a continuity that never ceases, in other words. Neg-entropy is an explanatory tool that combines thermodynamic entropy with informational entropy in hopes of creating a new evolutionary theory that combines matter, energy, and information. (Soren Brier) Meaning, then, under this theory is understood to be a methodological combination of Cybernetics, Neurology, thermodynamics, linguistics (particularly Wittegenstein’s language games), and semiotics in a field called, Cybersemiotics.

So where, how, and when perception becomes meaning, can only be answered partially right now, I think.

Anonymous wroteSeriously, it seems like its overall thrust is geared toward the search for enhanced modeling power of reality, toward trying to better define and attain epistemic virtue, toward a reconsideration of the “best practices” to be employed in our normative sciences of logic, aesthetics and ethics. The way you framed the question in the O.P. seems, too, like a search for a Goldilocks epistemology, which is to say, one that has neither too much hubris nor an excessive humility.

I Wrote:   Yes.

Anonymous wrote:  When it comes to humankind’s descriptive enterprises, which are inherently normative, when we encounter paradox, we sort through different scenarios and try our best to determine its origins. To the extent we cannot determine whether any given knowledge advance is being thwarted by, on one hand, methodological constraints, or on the other, some type of in-principle occulting, the proper bias is to assume the former and eschew the latter.

I Wrote:  Yeah. I agree. Ultimately, for now at least, aesthetic paradoxes are my interest. When our rule-following (normative) methodologies fail to resolve a paradoxical conflict, another approah is necessary, I think. Where I’ve found it, is in revising the constraints of a logical containment, by either adding or subtracting something within the category, (say optics and perspective for instance) where upon extraction or immersion (subtraction/addition) the bounds of the containment shifts. This is a normative approach to a problematic paradox. But, interestingly, aesthetically, after the act of manifesting an extrapolated re-arranged logical containment – bringing it to it’s manifested end as a sculpture, painting drawing film, mixed media etc. – it becomes a metaphor that temporarily lifts, if only to a degree, the normative (rule-following) mind, and allows the senses to enhance to a new degree of feeling alive. It is an unconventional language (the art I’m speaking of) that is expressive rather than normative. It is a way of manipulating matter into an expressive entity that surges into the glass body of experience, where the normative is undermined by the power of its expression. To percieve a paradox, or paradoxes is to feel them with the body.

Anonymous wrote:  This is simply a pragmatic approach wherein methods will generally precede systems. Our methods will necessarily assume such things as common sense notions of causation, reality’s intelligibility, certain first principles like identity, noncontradiction and excluded middle, such principles alternately holding or folding in a semantical vagueness that flows naturally from the ontological and epistemic vagueness we ordinarily encounter in reality. Ontological vagueness means we change our modal ontology from the possible, actual and necessary to the possible, actual and probable. Epistemic vagueness is when we don’t know if we are constrained methodologically or ontologically (the in-principle occulting I mentioned above).

I Wrote:  I think we might be in disagreement here. It may just be a misunderstanding of your termonology, or rather a disagreement with it. I don’t think ontology is a logical approach to reality, but rather ontology might be called an “enantientology”, or an “alogos of the experiencing body”. Now, I say this from a very scientifically uninformed perspective. Maybe I’m valueing the arts too much. It is because of these paradoxes found through normative approaches, that give merit to a revision of the means of the approach and the end…

Anonymous wrote:  Even if reality writ large remains incomprehensible, it is also still apprehensible, which is to say intelligible, lending itself to varying degrees of modeling power. Anyone who wants to enhance this modeling power must accept the onus of cashing out their novel methods in practical value-realizations.

I Wrote:  Yes. It lends itself to varying degrees of modeling power. The practical value-realizations need to be re-valued. Is this just another way of saying, “methodological constraints need to be changed”? Or am I missing something here?

Anonymous wrote:  All things being equal, once we’ve exhausted our best descriptive and normative approaches to reality, we remain immersed in paradox vis a vis reality’s intial conditions, boundaries and limits, or with what might be called its primal origin, primal support, primal being, primal goal and primal axioms. This gives rise to different sets of paradoxes, beyond mere godelian-like constraints, that we sometimes try to resolve through a coincidentia oppositorum, sometimes by nurturing tensions creatively, sometimes resolving them dialectically in syntheses, sometimes dissolving them through paradigm shifts, sometimes side-stepping them due to our lack of interest or due to their triviality, or what have you.

I Wrote:  I agree with my emboldenments of your words here. However, I think the dialectical doesn’t always resolve itself into a synthesis. Sure, there are convergences in a dialectic, but I think leaving (some) dialectics as disparate entities that are opposed to each other, might benefit the advancement of sensationally experiencing the complex texture (to use your own eloquent description) of reality. For instance, a dialectic between experience and a logically exptrapolated field (like optics), while remaining (for the most part) disparate, incompatable entities, inform one another. The thrusting spirit of the logical extrapolations, and manifestations is , I think, to progress experience away from our tentative normative, biased (evaluative) appraoches to reality.

Anonymous wrote:  Still, this immersion in paradox has deep significance for certain of our evaluative concerns, such ultimate concerns having profound existential import for very urgent and most insistent human yearnings and longings. The interpretive stances that then result from this dance between our descriptive, normative and evaluative approaches, for many people, take on the attributes so well described by William James as representing options that are vital, forced and live.

I Wrote:  That’s a great way to put it. I particularly like “vital, forced, and live”. What would happen if we ended this (maybe futile) attempt at synthesizing these dialectical relationships, in a practical way… and left the descriptive, normative, and evaluative approaches seperate from the “side” of the body of experience – the alogos of experience?

Anonymous wrote:  It is in the going beyond our descriptive and normative value-realizations to a more robust interpretive approach, then, that I can affirm at least some of what I think you are recommending, Rise, as best I can understand your thrust… We can also recall Whitehead saying that creative advance, in fact, takes place only along the borders of chaos.

I Wrote: You understand it very well, and you articulated it nicely. Creative advancement, I would say, is beyond the borders of rationallity.

Anonymous wrote:  Not all of our interactions with reality are formal and can be rendered through formal construction.

I Wrote:  There we have it, folks. This is the value of my current project. Right here, in this succinct sentence contains a bounty of reasons to do what I’m doing, which is to create, beyond our normative biases.

Anonymous wrote:  To be more explicit, I was pretty much implicitly rejecting any application of your critique to humankind’s normative and descriptive endeavors. To be more plain, I have no serious quarrels with the disciplines of philosophy and science vis a vis how far they have come and where they now stand, here, on the threshold of a new millennium. At the same time, I do see value in your approach for aesthetics, as a normative science, and also for humankind’s interpretive endeavors, broadly conceived, to include all the great traditions, both religious and ideological, as we all attempt to tie our normative, descriptive and evaluative stances together, somehow.

I Wrote:  Ok. I understand your position. I also agree with you that Scientific and philosophical endeavors are of great merit. In the OP, this didn’t seem like the case, but now (about a month later) I have come to some vast changes in thought…

Anonymous wrote:  Let me issue a cautionary note here. When we say beyond rationality and speak of the transrational, we are recognizing that, in addition to the empirical, logical, practical and prudential, there are also nonrational and relational aspects to human value-realizations; and it is only because we are finite and fallible that we must necessarily fallback on what are weaker truth-indicative signs (like symmetry, parsimony and usefulness, for example) and cannot otherwise rely solely on the more robustly truth-conducive operations like empirical observation and logical demonstration. We must first exhaust our best truth-conducive efforts before relying on truth-indicative signs (as fallible tie-breakers); and we must keep all of these modeling power attempts very integrally related even as we respect the autonomy of their different methodologies.

I Wrote:   I think you’re misunderstanding me, about my views on art and aesthetics. The arational is only used as a method to manipulate matter into an expressive entity. The arational is a pre-sculptural (pre-material) generator for the artist. These generators may come from epistemic notions, fields such as linguistics, semiotics, optics, perspective, history, Physics etc., and then they are either added to, or subtracted from, making thier rationality, arational. This, however, is only a generative method to make an expressive physical entity. The result of this expressive entity, in some art, is an experience where one loses thier interpretive mind briefly, and to a degree. Now, this is most certainly not all art. For instance, an irrational addition or subtraction of a field in physics might not lend itself to an expressive piece that allows the senses to undermine the mind.

Anonymous wrote:  What I am describing as different aspects of a singular mode and/or act of knowing, he seems to describe as different modes of knowing. He seems to affirm, then, different epistemologies as equally efficacious routes to engaging reality. In my view, epistemology is epistemology is epistemology and we do not approach reality by filling our epistemic platters from a smorgasboard of autonomous modes of engagement. That is not transrational. It is, rather, an arational, gnosticism.

I Wrote:   I’m not sure if I understand you here. I cannot decipher the difference in your post between “transrational” and “arational”. Maybe you can explain, if you have the time. Also, take into consideration the “additive” or “subtractive” (whatever term you want to denote to it) in reference to the generation of expressive physical entities, which are then manifested and susceptible to the “entropies” of normative evaluation. Just look at all the “untitled pieces” of post-modern art…

Anonymous wrote:  Like I said, I’m actually good with your approach as an aesthetic methodology and even to broaden our interpretive horizons. I am saying that it otherwise lacks the same normative impetus for other types of value-realizations, like science, for example