Posted by midiguru on February 24, 2014
Prompted by idle curiosity, I read the first part of Inside Scientology, by Janet Reitman. It’s fascinating, in a queasy way. One of the thought-provoking bits is the description of life on L. Ron Hubbard’s yacht, where the inner circle of the “religion” hung out while it cruised the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. By this time, Hubbard had become a strict disciplinarian — a tin pot dictator. Those who failed to meet his expectations were punished by being exiled to a roach-infested compartment in the bowels of the ship, where they slept on pee-stained mattresses.
What’s amazing about this is that everybody who was there put up with it. Nobody (or almost nobody — the book is not specific on this point) said, “Well, fuck this,” and left. This fact gives us a deep insight into the human psyche. Most of us have a deep need to be part of a group, a need to belong. We will put up with almost any sort of treatment, and engage in any sort of bizarre behavior, in order to remain part of the group. Not only that, but our instincts will coerce us into believing that our own group is special. We will feel loyalty to it and affection for it. The thought of not being part of the group will make us nervous.
This is true of people in business settings, in political parties, and indeed in nations. It’s true of the police and the military. It’s true of drug gangs and the Mafia. Being part of the group is more important than being kind. It’s more important than using your intellect to understand what’s going on.
With secular groups, though, there can be a point where the individual says, “Enough. I’m leaving.” When the group is doing bad stuff, the pain of separation eventually becomes Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in random musings, religion, society & culture | 1 Comment »
Posted by midiguru on February 3, 2014
In the opening chapter of his book How Music Works, David Byrne makes a provocative and insightful observation. In a nutshell, he argues that the type of music composers and performers create depends largely on the type of space in which the music is to be played. The social purposes being served also play a role.
The simplest example of this is to imagine what high-energy funk would sound like if played in a cathedral. A cathedral is an extraordinarily reverberant space. As a result, the crisp rhythms of funk would turn into a dull roar. Trying to play funk in a cathedral would be all but pointless, because nobody could hear what you were doing.
Byrne gives lots of other examples. His underlying point is that our usual fantasy, in which the artist creates something based on an inner impulse toward personal expression, is exactly backwards. What the artist creates will be based, consciously or unconsciously, on how the work is to be delivered to audiences. A small jazz club has entirely different acoustics and social rituals than a concert hall, and neither has any resemblance to a pair of earbuds.
Once in a while I think about trying to take a bunch of my electronic music and turn it into a live concert experience so as to be able to share the music with a few people in small local clubs. One of the things that gives me pause, aside from the logistical difficulties of live performance, is that I’d have to rewrite everything. Long before I read Byrne’s exploration of this idea, I understood instinctively that Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in music, random musings, society & culture | 3 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on January 25, 2014
Today’s most memorable quote (though to be fair, it’s only 10:30 in the morning) comes from Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes for Health. This gentleman is a scientist, but also says he believes in God. In a discussion on HuffPost Live, he apparently said this about evolution: “…if you are a believer in God, it’s hard to imagine that God would somehow put this incontrovertible evidence [for the reality of evolution] in front of us about our relationship to other living organisms and expect us to disbelieve it.” You can read the whole article, if you like, here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/25/francis-collins-davos_n_4635338.html?utm_hp_ref=politics&ir=Politics
The point of his statement was, I think, to suggest that folks who reject the idea of evolution are both ignoring evidence and being disrespectful of God’s motives. However, there is certainly a strain of Christian belief that insists we shouldn’t use reason, because reason is a tool used by Satan to tempt us into doubting the word of God. For folks who really believe that, it’s actually quite easy to ignore the evidence, because the evidence was put there by Satan.
Okay, so the head of the NIH doesn’t understand fundamentalist belief systems, or pretends not to. But there’s more to the story than that. The HuffPost article also quotes Collins as follows: “For me, somebody who is a ‘show me the data’ kind of scientist, but also a believer [in God], I don’t see a discordance there.” In other words, he’s a ‘show me the data’ kind of guy when it comes to science, but when Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in random musings, religion | 1 Comment »
Posted by midiguru on January 25, 2014
We have no clear idea about how the universe came into existence. Scientists have some hazy theories, but the theories are packed with assumptions that may be wrong.
People who are inclined toward religious belief tend to assume that some enormously wise and powerful entity called “God” created the universe. This idea explains nothing, but I guess it’s comforting.
It explains nothing because, as Richard Dawkins has pointed out, in order to create a complex universe — one with finely tuned physical laws — God would have to be complex. A simple God (a God with no internal features) couldn’t do the necessary equations. If God is complex, then we can’t dodge the question of where God came from. It’s an infinite regress. If you’re going to assume that a complex God “just is” and doesn’t need explanation, you might just as well assume that the universe “just is” and doesn’t need explanation.
Still, it’s a fun idea to think about. Let’s assume for a moment that the universe was created (13.8 billion years or so ago) by an unimaginably vast and powerful entity that we may as well call “God.” Sadly, nothing in the physical universe gives us any clue about the nature of this God. We might entertain any number of hypotheses, all of them equally Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in random musings, religion | 2 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on January 10, 2014
Most of us have our low-class, guilty pleasures. My friend Bob is a fan of pro wrestling (or used to be), for no reason that I could ever fathom. Me, I have a large collection of paperbacks by Erle Stanley Gardner.
I’ve written about Gardner a couple of times before in this blog. He was a terrible writer, but very consistent and hugely successful. Now that I’ve seen all of the Law & Order reruns that I can stomach, I’ve started re-reading Gardner’s Perry Mason and Donald Lam mysteries.
Having nothing better to do this afternoon, I whipped up a database of titles, and discovered that I’m still missing quite a few. They’re all out of print, of course, although a few are still available as Kindle downloads. But sellers of used books list their wares on Amazon, so with a little luck, in a week or so I’ll have more than a dozen “new” ones, some of which I expect I’ve never read.
There were better writers of mysteries in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. Rex Stout was better. Agatha Christie was better. In the earlier period, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were better. Later on, Ross MacDonald was better, as was John D. MacDonald. But none of them ever sold as many books as Gardner. He was prolific and reliable — the Doritos of mystery paperbacks.
I’m not quite sure why I find his cheesy stories enjoyable, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter. Some people like Vivaldi; some like Jeopardy; some like Doritos.
Posted in fiction, random musings | Leave a Comment »
Posted by midiguru on December 11, 2013
A friend on Facebook posted a link to a HuffPost blog piece on religion. My friend introduced the link by saying, “I have been arguing for years that it is not religion, but the misuse of religion, that causes evil….” After a preliminary salvo in reply to his introduction, I had a look at the article. (You’ll find it at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-mcelwee/stop-blaming-religion-for_b_4416137.html). It was written by someone named Sean McElwee, whose only stated qualification as an authority on this subject is that he’s a writer. Well, so am I, so I guess Sean and I are on equal footing. Let’s see how we fare.
My preliminary comment to my friend began, “…but what is the proper use of religion? Does it have one? I’d appreciate an honest and sensible answer to this question.” To my way of thinking, the utility of religion is that it provides social solidarity for a group of people. But then, so does a bowling league. Is religion different in any essential way from a bowling league?
I went on to say, “Beyond this, I would strongly suggest that any attempt to get religion off the hook on all the evil that is done by religious people is doomed to failure, and for a specific reason: Religious doctrine of any kind produces cognitive blindness. Religious doctrine by its very nature renders the believer unable to separate truth from falsehood. This is the essence of religion! Without blind belief, religion would cease (since, of course, there is nothing there to actually believe in). Thus it is inevitable that religious people will, sooner or later, do evil things.” Why? Because when called upon by the leaders of their sect to do evil things, they won’t be able to acknowledge to themselves that they’re doing evil.
“You’re welcome to try to dispute this,” I told my friend, “but I doubt you’ll be able to do anything other than Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in random musings, religion, society & culture | 1 Comment »
Posted by midiguru on October 24, 2013
Musicians and listeners alike have individual tastes in musical style. One person loves classical and can’t abide jazz — another digs jazz and falls asleep at classical concerts. One person is committed to death metal, another detests it but loves Celtic folk.
That much is obvious. What’s less obvious is the extent to which each musical preference is the expression of certain social values.
Before I get to the point I’m aiming at, let’s look at one or two familiar examples. Classical symphonic music relies on a high degree of regimentation. The musicians have, basically, no opportunity at all to be spontaneous. This type of music arose to its pinnacle of success and respectability during a historical era (the 19th century) when society at large embraced those same values.
Today, society has changed, but symphonic music hasn’t. At concerts, the musicians still wear the type of evening clothes that were worn by the upper classes at the end of the 19th century. Audiences, of course, can wear whatever they like. This social disconnect probably tells us everything we need to know about the declining popularity of classical music.
Jazz has gone through various stylistic periods. The big bands of the swing era Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in music, random musings, society & culture | 2 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on September 20, 2013
For the past week I’ve been on a Reply All email list in which experimental musicians are being loudly abusive of those who don’t like their music. (I’m one of the latter, which is how I got on the list — the exchange started with a concerted attack on me, but it has now broadened its scope, and I’m mentioned only occasionally.)
I don’t mind the bashing too much, but it does strike me as a curious pastime. Today’s crop included an email (I won’t say from whom) that included this gem: “These hateful assholes should ultimately be ignored – after they’ve had their legs broken….;)”
The question that needs to be asked is not, I think, “Why are these people so angry?” Some people are angry at the world, for one reason or another. Some of the angry people make music. This is not surprising. Their anger does seem to spill over into their music; it quite often sounds angry. That’s okay too.
A more appropriate question might be, “Why do angry musicians insist that their music should be admired?” If you’re going to make angry music, shouldn’t you just sort of take it for granted Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in microtonal, music, random musings, society & culture | 7 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on September 7, 2013
Toward the end of last year I posted a little essay (“Bent or Broken”) in which I expressed dismay at some of the music being composed, performed, and uploaded by avant-garde microtonalists. I was careful to suggest that my own tastes in music are somewhat conservative. This disclaimer was, of course, an invitation to those who might disagree with me to simply shrug and ignore what I had to say.
Unfortunately, one of the artists whose work I criticized has taken rather extreme exception to what I wrote. I have now removed his name from that post, though I left my unflattering characterization of his recording intact. Nor will I mention his name here. Not content to email me privately, he has now taken the step of sharing his opinions of what I wrote with others in the microtonal community.
This is his right, of course. I feel very bad about upsetting him, and I have apologized for it, but that doesn’t seem to have mollified him. I suggested to him, in an email, that different people have different tastes in music, and that both he and I are entitled to our own disparate tastes. As well as I can figure out, however, he seems to be taking the position that I’m an idiot because my tastes don’t agree with his.
He hasn’t used the word “idiot.” He has, however, referred to me as “lazy” and “an empty shirt,” and to my opinions as “sadistic” and “comical.” In an email that was apparently sent to at least one other person and cc’d to me, he said this: “…until we purge this bullshit out of our Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in microtonal, music, random musings, society & culture | 2 Comments »
Posted by midiguru on June 18, 2013
What if you had a piece that was a rook sometimes and a knight sometimes? Ooh, that could be good.
As I continue my leisurely stroll through the fallow, yet fertile fields of chess variants, I’m finding a few fascinating oddities. For one thing, the field seems to be a lot less active than it was ten years ago. The Chess Variant Pages is still on the Web, but if you click through to their “Variant of the Month” page, you discover that nobody has even bothered to nominate a variant of the month since 2006.
My guess: smartphones. The kind of geeky guys who think chess variants are cool are mostly the kind of geeky guys who like downloading apps to their smartphones. I guess I’m the exception. The only app I’ve ever downloaded was Pandora, and that’s so I can listen to music while I’m at the gym.
But then, I lost interest in chess variants ten years ago too. Here’s another theory: Inventing variants is easy. Playing them well is a lot harder. And the more variants there are, the less likely you are to master any of them.
Even so, the possibilities are endlessly intriguing. Using a standard chess board — or maybe one that’s 8×10 or 10×10 at most — you can staff the players’ armies with a huge variety of dynamic and mind-boggling pieces. And if you want to try out these pieces in actual game-play, it’s easy — Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in chess, random musings | Leave a Comment »