Thursday, July 30, 2015

Doom, Gloom, and Hyperbolic Pessimism

Hello, people. I'm very sorry, but I can't write about anything amusing or lighthearted today. That means no kittens, puppies, or Mozart. Yes, I know it's the dog days of summer and something funny would certainly cool the mind, but the fact is, I have some very solemn and (literally) earth-shattering news to impart...

The world is fucked, everyone. More so now than ever before in history. Decency has been thrown to the dogs, spring chickens no longer have respect for old geezers, all the musicians, writers, and artists are possessed by demons (including me - stop reading this before I steal your soul!), and all that is moral has been irrevocably destroyed. We're so fucked, in fact, that it's only a matter of time before the gods decide to scrub our dirty, sinful planet right off the face of the universe.

...Just kidding. Sorry about that, too. Carry on peacefully using the Internet, fellow earthlings.

But on a more serious note, why do so many people (especially those who are older) believe that the world is "going to pot"? Nearly every generation throughout the ages has had people who think that the youth of their time were amoral, degenerate creatures hellbent on driving society into the toilet, and that they must do whatever they can to fight back. These people also have constantly sung praises of the era preceding their own - colloquially dubbed, "the good old days". This is quite unusual, considering that every new generation has seen huge advances in science, technology, arts, and overall quality of life. Society has also become increasingly accepting of those who were treated badly or marginalized over the centuries (very proud of America for finally legalizing same-sex marriage), even though we still have a lot of work to do. So why all the misguided nostalgia, flailing arms, and fickle outrage?

When I stepped into the shower (or as I like to call it, my "inspiration cubicle") this morning and performed my usual rite of following my constant stream of thoughts, I found myself randomly chuckling over a hilarious extract from one of my music history books. It was about the development of the ars nova musical style in France in the early 1300s, which led to clearer music notation and experimentation with rhythmic variation. Ars nova also allowed the use of 2-beat note values (known as "imperfections" at the time) for the first time in history, instead of just the traditional 3-beat note values (known as "perfections") of the previous era. Though all these innovations made it much easier to read and write music, a Flemish theorist named Jacques de Liège wasn't quite impressed. He argued that 2-beat note values were borderline blasphemy - a distortion of the "perfection" of 3-beat note values which were used to symbolize and glorify the Holy Trinity. Liège also waxed nostalgic about the older styles of music and panned the newfangled tastes of his contemporaries, writing:

"Let the ancient music and the ancient manner of singing be brought back to their native land...Let the rational art flourish once more...Wherein does this lasciviousness in singing so greatly please, this excessive refinement, by which, as some think, the words are lost, the harmony of consonance is diminished, the value of the notes changed, perfection is brought low, imperfection is exalted, and measure is confused?"

Let's bring this whole thing into perspective for a second: a dude from as far back as the 14th century had claimed that the new musical methods of his time were toilet-bound, and that everyone would be better off sticking to the good old ways of the 11th and 12th centuries instead. How charming.

I guess this shows how the first and foremost reason behind the equation of modernism with permanent ruin is the ever-present fear of change throughout the ages - even if that change is for the better. Some people become so comfortable with convention that it renders them myopic - thoroughly unable to see how their comfort can be improved or extended to others beside themselves - and begin to convince themselves that any innovation would undoubtably be for the worse.

Music, like all of the arts, has long been subject to this conflict. In the 19th century, Germany's musical scene was alive with the so-called "War of the Romantics" - a fight between "conservative" composers (led by Mendelssohn, Brahms, and the Schumanns) and "liberal" composers (led by Liszt and Wagner) about musical philosophies. Strangely enough, both sides idealized Beethoven, but the reasons for which they did varied greatly. The conservatives insisted that no new composer could possibly be worthy enough to surpass Beethoven's genius, therefore they believed that all musicians should spend their time humbly emulating him without ever committing the deadly sins of personal growth and innovation. The liberals, on the other hand, saw Beethoven as a figure of inspiration - the beginning instead of the end of genius. They believed taking his example meant exalting their own creativity and breaking new musical frontiers.

Unsurprisingly, the conservatives insisted that the liberals were narcissistic, hedonistic jerks who wanted nothing more than to drag the music industry down the drain and make Beethoven turn 360s in his grave. Fueled by self-righteous outrage, the conservatives did everything they could to stop this perceived travesty from happening. A manifesto was signed, countless bad concert reviews were written, and many screaming matches happened in saloons. But just as unsurprisingly, none of that stopped composers from either side from pursuing their art the way they saw fit. And I live to confirm that music certainly didn't go down the drain.

What the conservatives didn't realize was that change is constant. Nothing can stop progress from eventually taking place. Yes, progress can be severely slowed down by close-minded people, but at the end of the day, whatever needs to happen will eventually happen. Therefore, it's our job as an enlightened species to make this process of change move along as quickly and smoothly as possible in order to improve the quality of life, art, and society. Slapping a label of infallibility on any entity (like the conservatives' veneration of Beethoven as an unsurpassable genius) is an automatic damper to progress. Nothing is more depressingly fatalistic than proclaiming that things can never better from one point (or one person) onwards - moreover, nothing could be further from the truth. Humanity is naturally destined to evolve, and carry forward the findings of the brilliant minds before us to make a better world - not to worship those minds with blind devotion while deeming our own minds unworthy.

Another lesson to be learned from this whole War of the Romantics hullabaloo is that there is no single path to advancement. Brahms and Mendelssohn may not have approved of Liszt's approach to musical discovery, but that didn't stop them from creating music of their own that was beautiful, unique, and ultimately, progressive - even though maintaining tradition seemed to be their goal. The Beethoven-centered confinements they imposed upon themselves were part of their chosen path to take music forward, and nobody can judge them as anti-progress based on their personal decisions as artists. However, it was wrong of them to babyishly cry about how paths beside their own lead to doom and destruction. It was this imposing of their personal ideals on other composers which made them anti-progress.

As everyone knows, the desire to impose has always been prevalent throughout history. It is this desire that formed the foundations for dictatorships and theocracies. Motivated by fear of loss of power and control, various religious and political institutions have been instrumental in impeding progress through the centuries. If these oppressive forces had never existed, it is logically presumed that every field in the world would be much, much more advanced today.

The world-is-ruined trope has long been intertwined with religion, as evident in the concept of Hell and "end times prophecies". These "prophecies" have been used as scare tactics to incite fear in the gullible masses and to create an exclusive club that ostracizes anyone who dares to think differently. Evangelicals have long been screaming about "Rapture", warning that anytime now, God will stop taking his anger management meds and wreak havoc on everyone - except on those who insist he would do such a thing. They will get to fly business class to Paradise and maniacally laugh as they watch the rest of us sinners get tormented by bugs and bad weather back on Earth. Anytime now.

These days, end times prophecies have become somewhat of a cash cow, and the close-minded among us are still unable to give up the skewed version of morality that religious extremism instilled in them over the years. They often cite a "slippery slope" as their main cause for concern, spewing rhetoric like, "Feminism will turn women into lesbian witches and make them leave their families!" or "Marriage equality will make people start marrying their dogs and God will zap the world like he zapped Sodom and Gomorrah!". Closed minds also tend to come with profound senses of entitlement. As our ever-transforming world predictably and peacefully challenges their dogmatic mindsets, these people resort to crying persecution, insisting that their "freedom of religion" is being taken away. Well, I wonder if they remember all the freedom from religion they let godless heretics like myself enjoy over the years. Those red-hot iron shoes they made specially for us during the Inquisition were so stylish and sexy. Also, that traitorous little shit Galileo totally deserved being locked up for forty years. Of course the Sun revolves around us and the universe is designed to cater to our every whim - what are we, Pluto?

Recently, I came across a joke that summed it all up pretty well: "How many haters does it take to change a lightbulb?". The answer is, "None, because haters despise change, even if it makes the world a brighter place!". Try as they might, fundamentalists are never a match for the inevitability of progress. Now that they've lost most of the cultural and aesthetic wars, all they can do is lament the degeneration of the world and bitterly wish for its destruction.

But perhaps what surprises me the most about doomsayers is how morally misguided they are. What they consider "immoral" or "destructive for society" never is. It is not the real evil in the world that outrages them, but the evil they create in their preconceived minds. If one wishes to talk about the dark underbelly of humanity, there is already enough material to look to without having to demonize innovators, freethinkers, and good-hearted people fighting for their rights. Gay people getting married won't hasten the end of the world, but climate change certainly could. Empowered women taking control of their bodies and lives don't cause the deaths of children, but starvation, disease, abuse, and slavery certainly do. Atheism isn't tearing apart the Middle East, but religious warfare certainly is. Many parts of the world are still rife with toxic discrimination and violence. As a privileged American girl writing this after having taken a hot shower and eaten a hot meal in a fairly large, safe, temperature-regulated house, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that the world is perfect just because I don't see its horrific flaws directly in front of me. I'm also not going to deny that humanity's bloodlust and desire to exploit and subjugate sicken me to the core.

Let's face it: humans can be twisted, psychopathic scumbags. But losing faith in the good of the world wouldn't make the evil in it disappear. To work towards solving our problems, we must get past our beliefs and embrace truth to quicken the processes of change, acceptance, and inclusiveness. We do need to be inspired by the good in all historical figures and philosophies, but we also must live in and cherish the moment. As the great philosopher J. Krishnamurti said, "All ideologies are idiotic, whether religious or political, for it is conceptual thinking, the conceptual word, which has so unfortunately divided man."

Disdain for the present isn't always so dangerous and dividing, though. Some people innocently long for the days of typewriters and horse-carriages without an agenda to rule the world and make people's lives miserable. They just naïvely believe life was better in the days of yore, without realizing that the comforts they enjoy in this era far outweigh the beauty and artistry of the time they (and I, too) so deeply adore. Let me just say this: the past was not a bed of roses. It was actually more like a bed of smallpox and cholera. Yes, it was full of brilliant people, transcendent discoveries, and milestones that continue to inspire us to this day, but it was also equally full of blood, vomit, piss, and shit. I greatly respect the visionaries of the past for being so driven and committed to their passions amid such chaos and disease, and could not be more grateful to be alive in the 21st century, pursuing my goals in a free, comfortable, and hygienic environment, thanks to all the scientific discoveries we've made. To be honest, I don't long for the past one bit, even though its music and art deeply inspires me and I aspire to learn as much from it as I can.

Woody Allen shows the realities of nostalgia very wonderfully in one of my favorite films of all time, Midnight in Paris. The hero Gil longs to live in the Roaring Twenties after being confronted by the sheer mundanity of his present-day life. After being magically transported to the 1920s on a midnight, he meets Adriana, a lover of Picasso, and grows closer to her. Much to his surprise, she eventually tells him that she hates living in the '20s, and would much rather be alive in the 1890s. Gil suddenly has an epiphany that members of each and every generation seemed to be disgruntled with their own era and longed for the past, much like himself. He then vows to make his present life more enjoyable, instead of clinging to the conceits of a bygone century.

If the evolution of humanity has taught us anything, it is that nothing is ever absolute besides the laws of nature. Gautama Buddha figured out ages ago that transformation is the very essence of life, and that ignorance and non-acceptance of change lead inexorably towards suffering. No man-made convention is absolute and everlasting - be it morality or a musical style - and to treat it as such is a great disservice to our hopes for the future and the improvement of the present.

So if you happen to think the world is on a path of ruin, please ask yourself why you came to such a depressing conclusion. Is it because you're offended at another's life choices or paths towards innovation? Is it because you're too lazy to Google-search before you form your opinions and instead believe everything you hear from your biased and limited sources? Whatever your reason may be, it would be much more beneficial for all of us if you would look on the bright side for a change and help the rest of us put together all the pieces of this monumental, beautiful puzzle of life we share. The whole world may not be fucked, but there are still plenty of fucked-up parts of it that we need to fix as soon as possible. And I, for one, have a lot of faith in the fact that we certainly can if we all try hard enough together...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!! I decided to take a short break from practicing for my recital next week and draw a lighthearted depiction of our poor planet's resentment towards growing older. Given the worldwide human hatred of aging, why would the very planet we live on feel any different about it? 

The inspiration for this cartoon comes from my dad. Last year, we watched Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey together (which, by the way, was nothing short of awesome), and every time Neil DeGrasse Tyson mentioned a milestone event that took place before 10,000 BCE (example, "dinosaurs walked the earth 65 million years ago"), my dad would without fail sarcastically retort "NOPE 6000!" at the screen, in reference to the claims of those who believe the world we live in was whisked into existence by a regionally customized sky sorcerer just around the time the dog was domesticated. Soon, this evolved into a regular inside joke (as of now, an outside joke), and "NOPE 6000" is now our reflex sentence whenever we hear any mention on TV, books, or the internetz of the *obviously* nonexistent years before the Mesolithic era.

On a serious note, it is getting rather tiresome to see so much controversy over pure scientific facts, and I feel that people's priorities are seriously misguided. Why fret over convincing people to believe your made-up versions of science when you can be a useful force and convince people to care deeply about the planet they live on and to coexist harmoniously with all its inhabitants? Why can't everyone agree upon the established facts, and do their best to protect our habitat from the horrifying consequences of environmental disregard stemming from a widespread culture of mass production and rampant consumerism?

It's truly sad when personal views, political correctness, and the delusion of ecumenicalism are given a monopoly over science and reason. It's especially disheartening when people in important positions, such as lawmakers and politicians, are pressurized into embracing pseudoscience to win elections and save their careers' asses. Imagine if these people were zealous about preserving our planet's living environment instead of preserving an illusion of its youth or a personalized distortion of its history. I would be totally cool with street preachers holding up signs saying things like, "IF YOU USE PLASTIC BAGS AT THE GROCERY STORE, THE DEVIL WILL BARBECUE YOU FOR LUNCH!" or "GOD HATES GAS GUZZLERS!"

I've been asked if I believe in evolution, or believe in global warming, or believe that the Earth is not in fact 6000, but 4.5 billion years old. My answer is that I don't believe in any of it - rather, I simply accept it all as established factual information. That's the beauty of science: it doesn't require belief or faith for validation, as its veracity naturally manifests all around us. It simply requires mindful acceptance and understanding in order for humanity to further its progress by discovering more and more. For instance, scientists don't need to join their hands and repeatedly chant "Gravity is real, gravity is good" to affirm the existence of gravity, because its existence has already been affirmed by plenty of observable physical evidence - a part of said evidence being that nobody just randomly floats away from time to time because gravity "works in mysterious ways". 

Ultimately, applying the word "believe" to the laws and facts of nature is akin to a small whine into the vast macrocosm of the universe, and serves no purpose except to aid in the propaganda of human superiority. Let me put this simply: in the expanse of our planet (let alone the whole universe) we are just as significant as dust specks, and despite what you may think, your sanctimonious, truth-allergic butthurt doesn't suddenly make you the center of the universe - it just makes you a rather butthurt dust speck. 

Thus, as a beautiful, insignificantly significant human being - a mere animal, evolutionarily endowed with a brain full of thoughts to think and words to say - it's important to save your convictions for things that matter. Even though not believing in science means absolutely nothing to science's actual existence and renders you a hindrance to progress, believing in the prospect of a clean, peaceful, non-polluted world is an invaluable, much-needed position. 

Just some food for thought on the day dedicated to our planet. Now back to the piano...

Friday, March 13, 2015

On Serialism, Babies, and Arrogant Assholes

Hello, people. As you can see, I'm back at sending words out into the internetz for you to read. Before I start rattling on, here's a recent piece of cool news from my life: my previous post about Charlie Hebdo, along with my original cartoon "Ceci n'est pas Muhammad"were published in the March issue of Humano, Creativamente Humano, a Spanish art and philosophy magazine! This is the first time I've been officially published, so it was quite exciting.

So what I'm about to write about today is based on a series of thoughts I've had over the past few weeks. In one of said weeks, there came a night when I found myself thoroughly unable to get to sleep, and as a result ended up thinking profusely in the wee hours of the morning out of frustration. The whole time, a certain topic discussed in history class simply would not leave my mind - can all music truly be considered music? Let me elaborate. If a composer so chooses to write a piece of such complex atonality and instrumentation to the point it becomes hard to distinguish it from plain noise, is it really music, or just that - plain noise? I'm straight off the bat going to say this before delving any deeper: though I will entertain parts of this discussion from all sides in the coming discourse, I may not come to any solid conclusions because I acknowledge that there simply are too many thin lines, so just chill out and keep an open mind, whether your jam happens to be Mozart or Stockhausen. Don't worry, your brains won't fall out in this case - it's just music, after all (or not).

In class, we studied serialism. Basically, serial music consists of controlling every aspect of the score - rhythm, notes, articulation, dynamics, etc. - in order to represent any natural entities or patterns, like mathematical or biological sequences. Milton Babbitt and Pierre Boulez (B&B, as I like to call them) are now widely considered the poster boys of this composition technique , and I regard the works of both with fascination. Click here to see the actual patterns they conceived. Unlike other composers who wrote music simply inspired by math (a la Ligeti and Xenakis), these two strove for a heightened sense of literalism in his works - an exact translation from mathematical to musical language. Though interesting, their music was never adulterated from its purely mathematical form to be accessible or consequently, timeless - a fate that befell much music of the atonal era. As composer Steve Reich said in In the Ocean: A Film About the Classical Avant-Garde, no postman today will ever whistle the "tunes" of Schoenberg (despite Schoenberg's own insistence of this scenario when he was alive), or any other atonal composer for that matter, partly because there are no tunes

Even today, the works of B&B elicit searingly diverse opinions, some of which are unduly harsh and very obviously uninformed. One anonymous user online had quipped that Boulez' Le Marteau Sans Maître sounded like "someone took a huge shit, smeared it all over musical notes, and then forced a bunch of homeless guys to play it at gunpoint". Others went as far to say that these composers took the entire music industry for a ride by simply scribbling random notes and fooling everyone into thinking they were intelligent innovators in order to collect heaps of sweet, glorious money. Even though there is enough evidence for us to believe that the compositions are much more than just get-rich-quick schemes (and are in fact extremely thorough, erudite and worth studying to see the extent of how far patterns in music can go), it's fair to say that the motives behind these works make their creators come across as little more than pompous old pricks, as I will now explain. 

For obvious reasons, Babbitt is far better known today for his writings, namely a puritanical article titled Who Cares If You Listen? in which he demanded that music be regarded as no different than math and the sciences. He purposefully alienated audiences, and advised musicians to lock themselves up, compose solely for academic purposes and ignore the component of accessibility entirely. Music, to him, was an extremely serious art form, demanding sacrifices from those who so choose to devote themselves to it. According to him, it was your duty as a composer to write studiously and never emotionally, let nobody recognize you your entire life, die alone in misery in your crummy basement, have the police drag your stinking, rotting corpse to the morgue several weeks after your putrid martyrdom, and then reap the honor of having your name plastered all over the walls of exclusive universities in the "True Composers" hall of fame. If you instead chose to write for the public and actually fulfill the purpose of music to emotionally move and unite people, you were little more than a musical prostitute in his eyes, and precisely what was corrupting the American music industry, you communist socialist piece of shit, you.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a big believer in originality, and it should be acknowledged that being a populist composer can sometimes carry the responsibility of feeling constantly indebted to the masses, unable to execute your true visions. If you strip Babbitt's thesis of all its ridiculous, strident fundamentalism, you could see this point quite clearly. Discovery is a beautiful thing of any passionate person in any field, and the fact remains that hours of solitude in the basement are often what lead you to it. Einstein said he wished he weren't famous at times, because he felt it took away his time from his work. But music is a universal language - an art, not a pure science, which is what Babbitt fails to understand. Art, unlike the sciences, needs to communicate something and stir  feelings inside you. All art is a perfect blend of emotion and science: a fundamental, infinitely complex part of nature deserving of detailed study, yet at the same time, a subjective entity with a million different modes of expression through the human mind. It requires activity in both the right and left sides of the brain. Therefore, one has the freedom to express this art through whichever side one pleases, and both are equally necessary for advancement. In this sense, I believe that the water has found its own level over the years: Stravinsky and Copland have contributed to music by filling our concert halls (right-brained music), while Babbitt and Boulez have contributed just as much by filling our university courses and scholarly textbooks (left-brained music). Win win, right?

As one can see, there's really not much room for disagreement on this topic. Everyone with a relatively reasonable mind can be on the same page for three simple facts: 1. New discovery is necessary and fascinating, and beckon those who are compelled by it, yet 2. Those who forsake the emotional aspect of art for discovery can't expect other artists and the general direction of the art world to sway their way, as the true nature of any art is subjective and 3. Unlike what Babbitt wrote, it truly is possible to have the best of both worlds, as many composers, such as Messiaen, have shown and continue to show today. 

Unfortunately, there are (as always) some people who don't quite get it. You know, the jerks who try to make everything a divisive issue? Just take a look at the comments section on a YouTube video of Pierre Boulez talking about his music, and you will find many gems from people of this kind. Here are my favorites, the first of which, a comment written by an intelligent, eloquent person of the username dou40006:

"he is not dead yet? so that we can forget his annoying talks and worse his awful music, or rather this random noise. All that intellectual masturbation of serial music and other related experiments are a total musical failure. Its failure lies in the naive belief that you can just throw away centuries of musical evolution and decide that the music can be whatever the intellect decide it should be."

Intellectual masturbation. Who in the world could possibly disagree with that? To be fair, that's precisely the reason why Babbitt's article is so off-putting. Composing music solely for your own pleasure and mental advancement is your own right, and is, moreover, something that needs to be done, but seriously - if that's all you do with your life, nobody's going to give a fuck at the end of the day (no pun intended).

But right after the first few sentences, his point falls flat on its face. The "musical evolution" he talks 
about has always been powered by an "out with the old, in with the new" mentality - not by dogmatically adhering to the conventions of our predecessors. All major composers throughout the ages ended up "throwing away" the previous centuries in order to achieve their potentials. It is not a "naive belief" but rather an innovative one, and a part and parcel of any development. Just because certain music does not fit your personal ideals of what music should consist of, doesn't mean it's a "failure". A particular score's being music or not is, in fact, in the eye of the composer's beholder and depends on his/her intent. Boulez and Babbitt may be coming off as standoffish for trying to pigeonhole the art of music, but this nature doesn't stem from their music - rather, it stems from their opinions. From a purely musical standpoint, it's ultimately their choice to explain whatever they need to through their works.

At the same time, I 
must say there is nothing I hate more than artists who fake depth and degrade their peers for approaching art in a different way than themselves. In some cases, there is no substance in their works, which rely on the premise that "boring, slow, and repetitive = depth". In this case, the composer should be subject to ridicule. But ridicule elicited from misinformation is never good. Some things, like Boulez and Babbitt's pattern music, take time and copious analysis to understand. The unfortunate part is that there is such a thin line between true erudition and its faux counterparts that one could either be too quick to dismiss meaningful art, or become so dogmatically faithful to a work, it leads one to find false meaning that doesn't exist. In simple terms, you want so dearly to find meaning that you start unconsciously making your own without rhyme or reason. 

There's actually a simple way to get around all these crimes of over-generalization: treat all music as it asks to be treated. More specifically, approach music like Boulez' as you would a math equation, but approach music like Chopin's as you would a transcendent work of art, such as Monet's lilies. Even though both types are technically classified as "music", they require very different approaches for acknowledgment, or appreciation. 

Moving on. I scroll and find another commenter of the username grafplaten, who contrary to dou40006, waxes poetic and over-inclusive...

"works such as pierrot lunaire and marteau sans maître are as beautiful as anything composed by bach, mozart, schubert or debussy....those who are too narrow-minded to appreciate them are truly missing for the person who wrote that so-called "atonal" music makes babies cry: many kinds of music would make babies cry, but that says nothing about the quality of the music...i have witnessed that bruckner and wagner also make babies cry, so should we reject late romantic music, too? who cares what a baby thinks!"

Yeah, that's right! Screw you, babies, nobody cares what you think! You just popped into the world and now you're already music critics? Haha, very funny, the only qualifications you have for that job are a bald head and an affinity for pooping on everything.

Jokes aside, what this dude is referring to is an article by Stephen Strauss about a scientific study done in Canada in 1996, in which babies were made to listen to the music of Schoenberg and other atonal composers and scientists studied how they reacted. Click on the red words to read it. The result was just what you would expect: babies were quite disturbed by atonal music, and cried profusely. Now I don't have a problem with the premise of the study and the interesting scientific facts they cited about our ears preferring certain intervals over others (such as the "golden fifth"), but I have a huge problem with the title: "TONALITY FAVORED, STUDY SAYS". Well, no shit, Sherlock, thanks for enlightening me. The idea of atonal music, as championed by the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern) was to declare tonality dead, and not care about what their audiences liked. They were well-aware that tonality was heavily favored, and viewed themselves as renegade reformers who sought to break the music industry by veering as far from tonality as possible. We don't need a study to figure out that tonality is loved by all - we need one to figure out why.

As for the first point grafplaten made, I wouldn't necessarily use the word "beautiful" to describe Pierrot Lunaire or Le Marteau Sans Maître. Thought-provoking? Yes. Innovative? Unquestionably. But "beautiful" just comes across to me as the wrong adjective to use, if not superficial. Would you describe an exceptionally well-made horror movie as "beautiful"? Or call a well-written book about a dark topic such as child slavery "beautiful"? No, you wouldn't. Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire is based on a collection of poems with extremely morbid thematic material. With its hair-raising harmonies and the slurred singing of the soprano (Sprechstimme in German), it might very well be the soundtrack to your nightmares. To call it "beautiful" is a notch above calling it "cute" - the word simply does not justify the gravitas of this music and other works like it. As for Le Marteau, it is more akin to a scientific treatise.
 To treat it as anything but an organized experiment of sound would do a great disservice to the quest of understanding it. But since when did anyone find depth in a YouTube comment?

Back to the topic of tonality and the human mind, what are the true evolutionary benefits of a preference for tonality? How many millions of years did it take for our ears to become so discerning? Was it to do with the fight-or-flight response - in caveman times, the scary, atonal sounds of a predator approaching, for example, contrasted with the melodious, tonal songs of birds signaling dawn? Is nature or nurture responsible? I was talking to my mom about this very subject, and together we wondered what would've happened if, instead of feeding my ears a diet of Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, and Peter and the Wolf in my baby years, my mom had had Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, and the rest playing constantly on the stereo? Would I have grown up preferring their music over the tonal, mainstream kind? Say I finally grew older and discovered tonal music (much in the same way I discovered the music of Schoenberg just a few years ago). Will I still prefer the Second Viennese School, or simply hate my mom for making me listen to horrible, disfigured "music" for the formative years of my life? We will likely never find out the truth in my case, but as my mom said, it depends both on the baby and the environment the baby is in. She reckons I would've come to love both equally. That would've been great, and even though I was somewhat skeptical about that outcome at first, she does obviously know Baby Me better than I do so I'll take her word for it.

I'm not going to lie. I love some atonal music (a follower of my blog would know I have a special liking for Ligeti), but still have a knee-jerk reaction to music that is seemingly devoid of any structure. Still, being an open-minded person, I'm still aware that my tastes and understanding may change at any point, and there are reasons why I may not exactly grasp this music at first, second, or even third listen. Life in music is a constant journey, not a series of destinations that constantly demand on-the-spot opinions. It's not about pretending to like something when you truly don't either, it's about having the wisdom and patience to see things for what they truly are.

A police siren howls from outside. I'm suddenly briefly distracted, and look at the time on the microwave. An hour has gone by since I sat down to write this entire post, and it's already midnight. A long day came to an end a couple hours ago and another is imminent, but with so many thoughts in my head, the sleep I need isn't likely to come so easily...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I've decided to spare a moment to talk about how much the events in the past week have saddened me, as well as renewed my convictions. Artists have paid the price of death just for exercising a basic human right - freedom of speech.

In the wake of these tragedies, it became apparent that much of the world still doesn't understand a simple fact of life: people have rights, but ideas don't. This is why speaking against religion is NOT akin to racism, sexism, or homophobia. Both religion and politics are man-created (and sadly, man-defended) ideologies, and are nothing to do with the fundamental identities of people themselves. One can't help being one's gender, sexual orientation, or race, but one chooses (or is indoctrinated into) one's religious or political views. When a person has embodied their faith as a part of who they are, they need to remember that not everyone has done or will do the same. They can't force people to, either. Diversity of thought is the beauty of humanity. If you think your ideology is so fragile it can't withstand some drawings or a few critical words, the problem is probably not the drawings or the w

Ultimately, those who deem Charlie Hebdo "offensive" for satirizing religion come across like a kid throwing a tantrum because his real friend called his imaginary friend stupid. Those who deem it "racist" don't understand the word (or satire, for that matter), and draw attention away from the true injustices faced by actual living, breathing people. At the very worst, those who condemn this brutal attack, yet somehow view it as a "consequence" of CH's artistic actions, suppress and negate the necessity of free speech by means of outright hypocrisy and toxic victim-blaming.

CH's first publication after the attack, which came out today, is pure gold - an emotional act of defiance in the face of barbaric intolerance. Above is my own cartoon, as I stand in solidarity with them and the countless innocent people over the world persecuted by religion, among them blogger Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, as well as thousands of massacred civilians in Nigeria. 

If offended, just know that Rene Magritte's painting of a pipe is not really a pipe, and that this, for the same reasons, is really not Muhammad.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Magritte. Vive la liberté d'expression.