February 23rd, 2010


These men are nihilists; there's nothing to be afraid of.

Had a curious conversation during my morning commute. It was hard not to notice the guy behind me in the turn lane... it looked like Shaft on a motorcycle. I like your style, Dude.

After the turn, he catches up to me at the next red light and pulls up alongside my driver side. I roll down the window and he asks, "How can you not believe in nothing?"

The number of negatives had me feeling a bit out of my element, so I go, "What?" It was really more of a reflex action. I didn't say "what?" -- I went "What?"

He repeats his question, in the parlance of our times. And my brain catches up with reality. My Lebowskifest bumpersticker reads, "We believe in nothing."

The light is now green, so I despair of being able to quickly explain that it's a cinematic allusion, something of a joke, and yet not entirely a lie when viewed from a certain skewed direction. This is a very complicated case. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. I settle for, "I just don't believe in what I can't believe."

Also, my rug was stolen.

Speaking in notes

For some reason, I reread Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain. My opinion is roughly the same -- it starts great, and then gets fuzzier and fuzzier.

Nevertheless, I was struck by a particular sentence enough to mention it. Some music is programmatic in that it literally(?) tries to tell a story, or describe something in the real(?) world. In a strange way, it is music as language. What is the Fourth Movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony describing to you?

Within a particular musical tradition, no one would interpret a theme titled "Grief" as being joyous. Asked to guess the music's intended meaning, we might overlook grief, but would surely settle on something grief-like, something full of internal strife and pain, such as 'agony' or 'dying'. A title seems not so much to define a composition's meaning as to define its meaning more precisely. It tells us what kinds of anticipations will be rewarded by the piece, and so helps us listen to it more successfully, particularly on the first hearing.

Then why not name all compositions? [i.e. Why is not all music programmatic?]

Clearly, because we do not have words for everything music has to say.