An artistic meeting beyond time

Last Tuesday, the 5 of January the great composer, conductor and pianist Pierre Boulez passed into eternity. As a lifetime explorer of new musical dimensions he has, for me, been a great source of inspiration. The following is an imagined meeting which I personally would have loved to witness and a small tribute to the great and timeless minds of three immaculate artists who, in my view, share the common feature of fearless exploration into Art: Pierre Boulez, Pablo Picasso and Johann Sebastian Bach.

So what if it were possible to create a quiet place beyond the limits of time and allow these three to meet for an amiable chat concerning life and art? To erase the years between them and let them meet as equals, each formed by his own time but also at the same time combined in their mutual love of Art and their own work. What if it were possible to let them meet on neutral ground in a half-fictional setting but at the same time partly real?

The setting of this experience owes its imagery to the books of Lawrence Durrel “The Alexandria Quartet” and Keith Miller “The Book on Fire”. Other sources of inspiration used are: http://www.baroquemusic.org/bqxjsbach.html, an interview with Pierre Boulez by the Magazine Musikblätter (Interview: Wolfgang Schaufler, Transcript: Christopher Roth, Baden-Baden; December 2010) © Universal Edition and a lifetime of quotes, tidbits and remembrances from books, articles and half-heard stories.

Please bear in mind that this is meant as a purely fictional meandering and respectful hommage to three men who have and will continue to have a profound impact on music and art everywhere.

An imagined meeting. Pablo Picasso, Pierre Boulez and johann Sebastian Bach

AlexandriaPablo Picasso, Pierre Boulez and Johann Sebastian Bach are meeting over a pair of Havana cigars and cognac on the terrace of a bar overlooking the harbour in Alexandria. The sky is tall and bright and the three gentlemen are immaculately dressed in white linen suits. Bach has lifted off his wig and placed it on the chair beside him, fanning himself lightly with Boulez´ Panama hat. Picasso squints eagerly into the sun while his hand moves ceaselessly over the drawing pad on his lap. When Boulez urges him to take a short break he excuses himself saying that as he has vowed never to write a diary (to the relief of many of the husbands of his previous mistresses) his pictures will be his only memoires and the pages of his life’s Journal, and this occasion certainly merits to be remembered.

As three friends of old, connected through their creative ideas and passion for their work there is little need to discuss seemingly irrelevant facts like differences in age and language. Instead the conversation invariably turns towards familiar elements like work and life.

Since neither of the three has ever been burdened with unnecessary shyness the conversation flows freely and amiably.

Bach, having finally obtained a position at the Thomas school in Leipzig shares his joy over the new possibilities such a position offers with his friends and the conversation turns towards the subject of artistic freedom.

Boulez: I believe I have finally begun my quest towards my own freedom, friends. I feel as if I have been confined to the crudest building blocks by a hoarding older brother for many years and now he has left home and all of a sudden I found the door to his room ajar and sneaked in and upturned the box under his bed and got creatively drunk on the riches I discovered there!

In many ways you know, Arnold was like a bigger brother to me in creative spirit. Coming home with his bag stuffed full of a strange new language and impressing everyone at the family reunions. I was impressed as well, I admit it. And I learned a lot but at the same time my thoughts were inevitably straying towards the eternal Cain-motif. I needed more, I needed to break free and conquer my own land, my own language, a language with infinitely more freedom than his. And so I began to assemble the blocks in an entirely different way and according to a completely new system, my system.

My system would be a system in which freedom was essential like the totem of the entire country, a freedom like the empty workshop of a mason where only the hammer lies resting on the bench, waiting.

Picasso: But there is always freedom! How else could you create if you have not freedom? If you be a true man your work is bound to be your own and therefore, of course, free.picasso portrett

Bach: But the system is the essence here, Pablo! After all, what is structure and system but a blueprint that shows us the inner structures of existence, no less. No structure, no creation. Of course like all things containing great power it must be mastered…

Picasso: Like with any woman or any blank canvas..

Bach: Never the less it can be mastered but it takes time and hard work, it does not simply fall into one’s lap. Then of course you have to endure the experience of having your beautiful structure completely disintegrated by a third rate musician who cannot even be bothered to play the correct rhythmical ornamentation.

Picasso: For me the system comes with the gut-impulse. I always paint objects as I think them, not as I see them, therefore any system inherent in my thoughts invariably shows itself in my work, I cannot put it there intentionally in order for the art to emerge within it.

As for your talk about Cain-motifs, Pierre: in my opinion every creation starts with destruction. You have to rid yourself of or deliberately destroy any previous notion of what you think you know about something when attempting to describe it. How else can you gain access to its essence, and once you’ve found that: how else can you make an accurate description of it?

Boulez: I believe that is something I can relate to. What finally gave me my stand against my Viennese brothers: I needed to be allowed to describe, to be a painter! You really cannot just be constructive all the time; you have to be descriptive, as well!

Picasso: Perhaps you would like a canvas? But of course when describing something the real question is always “who are you describing for?”

I have been describing the world to so many people and in such an amount of different languages but it was not until I finally started describing it to myself that it really got interesting.

Bach: By “yourself”, you mean the divine core of your own self?

JSBach

Picasso: If there ever is or was a divinity he lives within the perfectly painted line of a woman´s back.. (Smiles)

Bach: Personally I would say that I have never doubted his presence in my music.

After all, gentlemen, did not the great Luther himself one state that it is “when music is sharpened and polished by Art that one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of harmony”

But the problem as I see it seems to be that in order to make a living and to be able to live with yourself while making it, your descriptions needs to be accessible to others as well as to yourself.

Unless of course you are very wealthy and may do as you please.

God knows I tried in my youth, my head bursting with the new ideas from the evening songs, with the new possibilities! All of these new ideas literally pouring from my fingertips! And what do they say?? “Surprising variations and irrelevant ornaments which obliterate the melody and confuse the congregation”. (Mumbles and reaches for his glass) As if three months is such an enormous amount of lost time…

Boulez: In that case I am thankful for our differences in time. At least I had the fortune of being born into a world where creating your own language can be seen as a valid line of work. Although of course merely trying to oppose old structures can easily get you artistically dismissed as an attention-hungry musician.

No, the skill that must be “mastered” has for me always been the skill of balance, the delicate balance between constructivism on the one hand and spontaneity on the other. For me, these are the two elements of a true musician.

Bach: Hah! Spontaneity! a lost art in deed. You know, there were times when I felt myself suffocating underneath all of these innumerable careful souls. People who lived by rules, never venturing outside of what they had been taught were possible. Especially the organ builders! At times I would give them all a good fright just to get back into a happy mood. Pulling out all the stops on the organ and letting the instrument make its loudest sound ever always made them all go quite white. I used to say that I needed to hear whether the organ had a good lung (chuckles) Ah, but that sound, gentlemen, what an experience!

You know, Pierre, I quite envy you your enormous palette of sound. What I could have done with such a palette…

Picasso: It is still just a palette. What use is a palette without the ability to wield the brush? Not that you of all people lack that ability, my friend. (smiles and places his hand briefly on Bach´s shoulder) My point is only that the wielding, or maybe more accurately the will to wield is infinitely more important that what you happen to be wielding at the moment.

Boulez: I must certainly say that your palette has changed considerably during your lifetime, Pablo. But at the same time your brush stays true.

(softly, far away the call from the surrounding muezzins starts weaving random harmonies through the afternoon air)Vindussprosser

Will you listen to that! You know, in spite of all this talk of brushes and personal ways of wielding them; sitting here with this magnificent view I am very glad that we decided to meet here as this journey has given me the possibility to enrich my pallet with new sounds and impulses, to absorb this culture and all of its lovely sounds and to take it all back with me to replenish my “brush”. I almost feel like a thief, hoarding riches into the purse of my imagination..

Bach: I was doing the same! There are some very interesting harmonic progressions happening here (pulls out a feather pen and ink bottle and starts jotting down a figured bass on the napkin)

Picasso: And of course you know, my friends, bad artists copy but good artists steal.

 

 

Everything is connected – entangled senses

syn og hørsel

Music is known as an efficient emotional trigger, but physiologically speaking our auditory senses has the potential for creating multi-sensory experiences and sometimes making it possible for us to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks.

Among the gastronomic diverse experiences on offer in Berlin you will find the restaurant Unsicht-Bar, a place where the guests dine in complete darkness served by blind waiters. The role as a food critic is not to be taken here (something which would incidentally leave the restaurant with little credit). The experience however has relevance for the theme of this blog which is listening, as it highlights the degree of interconnectedness existing between our different senses and how they might, often surprisingly, affect one another.

A sensory network

Our senses cooperate in a system of intricate coordination, the most common example is how the loss of one sense might strengthen another. It is for instance a well-known fact that blind people often have a particularly sharpened sense of hearing (something which makes them eminent piano tuners). However, there is another connection between hearing and seeing which is not equally well-known.

American teenager Ben Underwood lost his eyesight to cancer at an early age yet, as a teenager, were able to perform seemingly impossible tasks such as playing basketball, bicycling and zigzagging between parked cars on rollerblades.

In order to perform this Ben made use of human echolocation, a technique where sharp sounds such as tongue clicks or clapping is used to orient oneself. The technique of echolocation is also used by bats hunting in the dark and in the sonar technology of U-boats.

flaggermus

The sound waves from the clicks hits objects close by and reflects them back to the sender. But what is truly remarkable is that the reflected sounds are processed in what is normally the “visual” part of the brain, creating an internal “image” of the object. In other words: an experienced echolocator is actually “seeing” i.e. using the visual parts of his brain but without the eyes being the provider of the sensory input.

Many people, when listening to music, experience a sense of internal imaging triggered by associations to the music but the fact that our brain is able to “re-map” a more direct connection between auditory input and visual imagining is nevertheless quite extraordinary, as is the fact that the human brain is not dependent of the eyes in order to “see”.

You talkin´ to me?

There is however no need to lose a sense in order to experience how sight and hearing are interconnected. The restaurant in Berlin might be used to highlight another interesting connection between hearing and seeing. unsichtbar

The concept of the place worked like this: you order your food out in the bar, were given a designated waiter which then led you, Jenka- style, to your table. Here the food were served and digested, all in complete darkness before you were led back out into the bar and the awaiting bill.

The most interesting part of the experience (which might say something concerning the quality of the food served) was that even though my sense of hearing were sharpened in the pitch black dining hall what quickly became obvious was to what degree my sense of vision was normally aiding my hearing when it came to organising the received auditory information.

The ability to be able to see the origin of surrounding noises turned out to be quite important in arranging the auditory input into an understandable sensory experience. Without this help the surrounding noises quickly became an un-distinct mesh of sensory input, sort of like the difference between a two-dimensional and three-dimensional picture: to the brain everything was equally important and consequentially the result was confusion. (Added to this came the unpleasant experience of tentativly fumbling over a plate of uncertain content and the awareness that half of this content might indeed be outside of the plate or in my lap at the end of the meal without my knowing it).

What was lacking was in other words the ability to filter out the important parts of the surrounding auditory information, a task familiar to anyone who has ever tried to have a conversation with a friend while sitting in a cafe surrounded by the noise of clicking copy cops, background music, traffic and hissing steamers.

It is possible that a somewhat longer exposure would have changed the experience. Whatever the case: the novel sensory experience was worth the unpleasantness of the moment.

Changeable brains

Even though Ben Underwood is far from the only blind person making use of echolocation few have been able to match the ease with which he were able to navigate his surroundings. Using a technique called Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging in which activity in the different areas of the brain are detected scientist were able to show that whereas the brain of an echolocation-expert showed significant activity in the brains “visual” areas when subjected to the reflected sound waves of clicking, a non-blind person subjected to the same sounds showed no activity in these areas. In other words: the connection between the different areas of the brain is due to something called neuroplasticity, an activity in which the brain essentially re-maps itself, creating new connections -and this takes time. Learning to echolocate is therefore not easily done. At the same time there is evidence that the connection between our different senses are initially rather tightly woven in all of us.

Colourful letters and sweet smelling pitches

Synesthesia is the name of a neurological phenomenon where stimulation of one sense (for example hearing) unwillingly triggers other senses creating uncontrollable parallel sensory experiences. The sight of a particular colour might trigger the experience of a taste, certain sounds might create the experience of particular smells and (the most usual variety) different numbers and letters (either spoken or written) are perceived in colours even though they might be written with black ink on white paper. Synaesthesia appears more often in children than in adults and tends to disappear as the child reaches adolescence (some scientists also claims that before the age of three months we are all colour-hearing synesthetes) but in some cases synaesthesia might linger on into adult age.

The musical world is full of synesthetes which with a varying degree of success has made use of this condition and allowed it to affect their music making and creativity. Among the great classical composers several have told of how certain pitches or chords triggers the experience of a certain colour. The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin made an attempt to convey his own inner experiences to the audience by composing works which were to be performed on specifically designed “colour-organ” where each tone simultaneously produced a beam of coloured light projected into the concert hall. Olivier Messiaen and Franz Liszt are among other classical composers who are known synesthetes but in the world of popular music we also find artists such as Duke Ellington and Elvin Jones who has described similar experiences. Scriabin-Color-Circle

Many synesthetes report that they consider this condition as an enriching part of their music making (indeed for many it initially came as a surprise that not everyone shared their experience.)This might not be so strange, after all: when considering a phenomenon like a contemporary rock concert it might seem that the goal is to create something similar to the synesthetes multi-sensory experience with the rock concert’s sensory onslaught of light show, sound, film and pyrotechnics. And this wish for multisensory stimulation is no new phenomenon either.

The multisensory listening experience

A central term from the time period known as Romanticism is the so-called “Gesamtkunstwerk” where the goal of the composer was to create an art-form in which all of the different art-forms were merged together into a single unity. Richard Wagner is considered as a composer who were consistently striving towards this goal. According to Wagner art had been in a pitifully fragmented state of being ever since its ancient Greek roots and he promptly set forth merging the different forms by revolutionising the opera genre. The result was, as we know, gigantic works in which the music no longer were seen as merely the means to convey text but where melody, chords, harmony and rhythm all were used as conveyors of meaning in themselves, and where the elements of drama and music were integrated in a completely new way.

The 4 operas known as the Ring cycle is one of the great achievements of this thought where every person and important object in the great 4-part saga has its own designated theme or sound-flavour making it possible to a certain extent to follow the story without understanding the text. In 2010 – 2012 at the famous Metropolitan Opera in New York City director Robert Lepage staged a spectacular rendering of the complete Ring cycle in which projected film, a gigantic movable scene -construction, music, colours and drama merged in a way that would make any synesthete nod which recognition. (The entire cycle is available on Blu-ray and is highly recommendable). Ringen boks

Even among the most ardent sceptic’s the staging was an immediate success. Could it be that all of us harbour deep inside an indistinctive longing towards the multi-sensory experience of the synesthete? Especially when considering that this most likely mirrors a way of experiencing the world which we all have had at an early infant age?

That is however not to say that more is always better: the earlier mentioned Alexander Scriabin (the one with the colour-organ) is also famous for having planned an enormous work. Stretching over seven days the intended work was to stimulate not only the visual- and auditory- but the olfactory-senses of the audience as well: at certain points in the score the audience were to be showered with different perfumes which would change according to the music. If the idea originated from a wish to recreate his own synesthetic experiences or merely were the result of a stroke of creative madness one cannot tell. As perfume has a tendency to linger one can only imagine the state of smell inside that concert Hall after only a couple of pages of music, let alone after a stretch of seven days.

Neurology versus perception

In addition to the amazing possibilities for cross connections hidden within our neurology we humans also possess the ability to willingly alter our perception to a certain extent: we have the possibility to mentally organise the auditory experiences we receive, allowing us to experience a work of music in numerous different ways.

Even though our neurological starting point might to a certain extent be given (most synesthetes have at least one relative sharing their condition so scientists strongly believe that genes are involved here) our ability to train our perceptional abilities when it comes to listening is not so limited. As the ability to change focus while listening to a large extent is dependent on knowledge and having listened a lot to music, subjecting oneself to new listening experiences is the first step towards a richer musical experience. In the Blu-ray box with Lepage’s staging of the Ring cycle a whole DVD is given to extra material where the listener is guided into the numerous quirky secrets and meanings hidden in the music; a fascinating roadmap into a complex and multisensory experience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBmDU7RKI_s

Største motstands vei

“Where there is power there is resistance”.  – Michel Foucault

I siste bloggpost dreide det seg om spenning, i musikk så vel som i oss. Begrepene spenning og motstand henger tett sammen, da det ene gjerne er et resultat av det andre. Som begrep er «motstand» fascinerende mangfoldig og kan gi noen interessante vinklinger på dét å lytte til musikk. Men for å kunne si noe om det må vi først ned på grunnplanet: fysikken.

Motstand; en forutsetning for vår biologi

Uten motstand hadde det meste stått stille. Styrt av fysikkens lover beveger gjerne ting og vi oss fremover ved enten å skyve oss fra noe

Roer 

 

 

 

eller å trekk oss mot noe

 

 Bjørn

 

I begge tilfellene er vi avhengige av at det vi enten drar oss mot eller skyver oss fra har en viss fasthet og ubevegelighet, at det øver en motstand.

En av de tingene som de fleste av oss “øver motstand mot” eller skyver oss fra hver eneste dag uten å være nevneverdig klar over det er bakken vi står på. Hvis vi ikke hadde gjort dette hadde vi alle ligget strødd rundt som ubevegelige klumper, trukket ned av tyngdekraftens konstante drag. Innen fysikken er begrepet “Ground Force reaction” eller “ground reaction force” en beskrivelse av resultatet av dette fraskyvet eller denne motstanden: underlaget vi står på reagerer nemlig med en tilsvarende motkraft i motsatt retning: oppover. Dette kraft-skaper-motkraft-fenomenet er beskrevet i Newtons 3 bevegelseslov: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” eller på velklingende norsk:

Enhver virkning har alltid og tilsvarende en motvirkning

Motstand bidrar altså til å skape en kraft som i neste instans kan benyttes som momentum av bl.a idrettsutøvere som ønsker å effektivisere bevegelsene sine.

Lost in space

Hvis vi går helt ned på cellenivå blir motstand et livsviktig fenomen. Mennesket består av levende biologisk materiale (les levende celle-vev som stadig fornyer og endrer seg). Selv om vi sett utenifra virker relativt solide formes og forandres kroppen vår hele tiden av at den mer eller mindre ubevisst yter motstand mot tyngdekraften som nevnt over. Interessante ting begynner å skje når vi fjerner eller minimerer denne motstanden.

AstronautAstronauter som svever i rommet i vektløs tilstand har ikke behov for å utøve denne motstanden. Vektløshet kan kanskje i så måte oppfattes som en mer avslappende tilstand. Hvem har ikke en eller annen gang drømt om å kunne fly fri som fuglen. Men det er mulig at prisen ikke hadde vært fullt så spiselig for de fleste.

Svært mange astronauter opplever å utvikle osteoporose eller tap av benvev. Grunnen er at produksjonen av benvev i knoklene våre er avhengig av vekt, av noe som kan by tyngdekraften motstand, for å kunne gå som normalt. Ingen vekt – ingen produksjon av benvev. På et biologisk nivå er altså det å øve motstand en forutsetning for å opprettholde en funksjonell kropp. “Minste motstands vei” vil, i biologisk sammenheng, raskt kunne få mer dramatiske konsekvenser enn vi ville ønske.

Inspirasjon eller provokasjon – motstand på godt og vondt

Vår psykologiske opplevelse av motstand er gjerne svært individuell og situasjonsbetinget. Selve begrepet kan trigge høyst forskjellige assosiasjoner hos ulike personer. Vi kan forbinde det med provokasjon, invadering og tvang, men også like gjerne med utfordring, en oppfordring til innsats som kan inspirere og få oss til å yte mer enn vi trodde var mulig.

Kunst og musikk har i all tid vært nært forbundet med begrepet motstand, noen ganger som en hedersbetegnelse. I sin essayserie Art objects (objects i verb-betydningen) snakker novellist, skribent og kunstkritiker Jeanette Wintersen om utfordringen av å møte kunst kun med vårt nærvær og tilstedeværelse. Dét å skulle være stille tilstede foran et bilde i, la oss si en halv time (uten å tolke det, tenke på hvordan andre har tolket det, uten å fortape seg i tanker om hva det koster, hvem som malte det, hvem som har sagt hva om det og hvilke kjendiser som har replikaer av det hengende på veggen) kan vekke en overraskende høy grad av motstand i enkelte av oss.

art objects

Wintersen hevder at det i vårt mediesamfunn i dag brukes en stor grad av forenklinger og koder i det som skapes av underholdning nettopp for å gjøre den mer tolkbar. mer lett-tilgjengelig; men at disse kodene kun er vage skygger av virkelig kunst og fører til at vi etter hvert begynner å frykte og unngå det som ikke er umiddelbart, tilgjengelige og lettfordøyelig. Nærværet av virkelig kunst, hevder Wintersen (…)demands from us a significant effort (…) med andre ord: den yter motstand, en motstand som oppfordrer oss til å strekke oss litt lenger. Forutsatt at vi er villige.

En av klisjeene om samtidskunst og ikke minst om samtidsmusikk går ofte på at den motstanden den byr på kun dreier seg om et ønske hos kunstneren eller komponisten om å provosere. I slike situasjoner er gjerne reaksjonen vår ” jeg forstår den ikke”. Vi føler motstanden i materien og opplevelsen men det er en opplevelse preget av frustrasjon. Det er tydelig at vi ikke oppfatter alt som byr oss motstand som en ny, spennende og engasjerende utfordring. Noen ganger oppleves det bare som slitsomt.Notebilde

Så hva skiller disse to reaksjonene på motstand? Dreier det seg bare om smak og preferanser? Hva med de gangene vi overrasker oss selv med å like noe, for oss, fullstendig uventet? Temaet for denne bloggen tatt i betraktning er det kanskje ikke uventet at vi igjen skal dreie tilbake til begrepet motstand og denne gangen motstand som grunnlag for noe som er helt essensielt når det kommer til nye opplevelser, både kunstneriske, musikalske eller annet; Det skal dreie seg om fenomenet interesse.

Hvorfor interesse?

Interesse er bokstavelig talt interessant for mange. Musikere så vel som alle som tilbyr noe er avhengig av at det er interesse for det de skaper. Det som gjerne viser seg er at interesse er avhengig av (gjett hva!) motstand.

Når vi settes til å utføre en handling som vi oppfatter som kjedelig skjer det ofte at vi legger inn et element av motstand for å gjøre det hele mer interessant. Vi kan sette oss en imaginær tidsfrist eller øke hastigheten i aktiviteten vi utfører, legge til elementer som vanskeliggjør handlingen osv. Vår interesse vekkes gjerne når vi presenteres for materiale som øver litt motstand men graden av motstand er avgjørende: for mye gjør at vi skremmes vekk, for lite at vi ikke engasjeres nok.

forståelse, mestring, interesse

Interesse inngår i et trekantforhold med to andre fenomener: forståelse og mestring: når vi presenteres for noe som yter akkurat passe grad av motstand (altså er akkurat passe utfordrende ved at det bygger på noe vi kjenner men samtidig presenterer noe nytt) opplever vi gjerne en følelse av mestring som gir oss en økt forståelse av fenomenet. En økt forståelse fører gjerne til en økt interesse. Når vi interesserer oss for noe utsetter vi oss for det i større grad; i tilfellet musikk så kan vi oppsøke konserter, streame musikk, abonnere på magasiner, ta kontakt med likesinnede og google oss gjennom natten, dette vil føre til en økt forståelse som fører som fører til en stadig økning av vår mestringsfølelse som øker interessen som… dere skjønner poenget.

 

An aquired taste

Det er ikke alltid opplagt, hverken for oss selv eller de som kjenner eller kjente oss, hva vi kan slumpe til å interessere oss for og ønske å utforske nærmere.

Våre valg av musikkopplevelser er i stor grad basert på vår interesse eller mangel på interesse for bestemte musikalske koder. Enkelte typer musikk er uten tvil hva som på engelsk kalles “an aquired taste”, altså en opplevelse hvis verdi ikke umiddelbart er opplagt for oss og som krever en spesielt skjellsettende opplevelse eller en viss mengde egeninnsats før den åpenbares (eller ikke).

Mozart med filter – behovet for motstand

Noen ganger kan ønsket om og selve behovet for motstand fungere som en døråpner til slike “aquired taste”- fenomener. Som tenåring led jeg på et tidspunkt av store stemmeproblemer og ble i den forbindelse sendt på et treukers langt behandlingsprogram i såkalt “Tomatis-trening”. Denne treningsformen (som definitivt går under merkelappen “alternativ”) har som mål å trene opp ørets evne til å oppfatte bestemte frekvenser for derved å øke stemmens evne til å benytte seg av de samme frekvensene (teorien bak baserer seg på den sterke forbindelsen mellom hørsel og stemme og tanken om at stemmeproblemer kan oppstå som et resultat av at stemmen vår er ute av stand til å produsere bestemte frekvenser fordi øret ikke er i stand til å oppfatte disse.) Behandlingen besto i å sitte to timer i strekk tre dager i uken i en stol og lytte til Mozart filtrert gjennom et bestemt filter som i ørliten grad endret frekvensene. Endringen manifesterte seg kun som en svak skurring over musikken så vidt jeg kan huske og da det var tillatt å sove underveis (siden hørselen vår fungerer like bra om vi er våkne eller sover) var dette i det store og hele kun en behagelig, om enn litt langdryg opplevelse. Den interessante effekten (som dessverre ikke hadde noe med noen bedring av stemmeproblemene å gjøre) kom etter et par uker på kveldstid. Etter flerfoldige timer med massiv lettspiselig tonal harmonikk og jevn rytmikk dukket det opp et uforklarlig sug etter disharmoni, etter auditiv motstand. Jeg bladde febrilsk i CD bunken og kom opp med Cd´en som i all ettertid har stått som min private døråpner inn til den litt nyere musikken: Bartoks strykekvartett nr 4.

Sammenliknet med enkelte eksempler på dagens mer “hardcore” samtidsmusikk er dette muligens ikke det mest utfordrende verket som finnes men på den tiden, for en 18-åring som kun spilte og lyttet til Beethoven, Bach, Rachmaninov og til nød Schostakovic var dette ubetrådt grunn. Takknemlig dyppet jeg ørene i de arge harmoniene og de huggende rytmene og figurene som med ett, på magisk vis, vår gått fra å være “stygge” til å fremstå som noe tilsvarende et glass med friskt, klart vann. Interessen for musikk som ytet litt mer motstand har holdt seg konstant siden den dagen.

(Om det av dette skal utledes at en mulig vei frem til å sette pris på det mer moderne tonespråket i samtidsmusikk går gjennom massive, repetitive doser med tonal musikk er et annet tema som ikke skal utforskes her men at bestemte frekvenser har en påvirkning på oss, på godt eller vondt var jeg for så vidt inne på i en tidligere blogg: se: psykoakustikken – våre biologiske lytterinntillinger.

Når vi så legger til kunnskapen om at den varierende motstanden i høytalere har en direkte påvirkning på frekvensene i musikken som spilles gjennom dem er vi på vei inn i et nytt og spennende område som dessverre må vente til en senere blogg, da dette ellers ville gå over fra å være en artikkel til å bli en avhandling.

Interesse, veivalg og en grufull ulykke

Det er ikke sikkert vi tenker så veldig nøye over hvor viktig dét å kunne føle interesse faktisk er i livene våre og hvilken forskjell det ville utgjøre å ikke kunne føle det. En avsluttende liten historie kan bidra til å sette litt perspektiv på tingene.

I sommeren 1848 er anleggsformann Phineas P. Gage, 25 år, sammen med arbeidslaget sitt i gang med å legge skinner på en ny jernbanestrekning gjennom Vermont. Fordi landskapet er kupert går mye av jobben ut på å sprenge vekk små knatter og utspring her og der for å få et jevnt strekk til skinnene.

Sprengning anno 1848 foregår som følger: bor et hull i fjellet, fyll opp halvveis med krutt, sett ned lunte og dekk med sand (avgjørende for at eksplosjonen skal slå inn i fjellet og ikke ut av hullet), “stamp” sanden ned med en jernstang, tenn lunten, søk dekning.

Denne dagen står Gage klar med jernstangen for å stampe sanden ned i hullet men så skjer det avgjørende: han distraheres av et rop bak seg og snur på hodet. Distraksjonen gjør at når han snur seg tilbake begynner han å stampe ned jernet uten at medarbeideren har rukket å helle på sanden. Jernet slår gnister mot steinen og kruttet antennes. Eksplosjonen gjør at jernstangen skytes opp av hullet som et prosjektil. Den går gjennom Gages venstre kinn, passerer gjennom fremre del av hjernen og går ut igjen gjennom skallen før den lander mer enn 30 m borte dekket av hjernemasse og blod.

Gage overlever.

Ikke nok med det, han er våken da mennene bærer ham bort til en kjerre og kjører ham 1 km til nærmeste hotell hvor han selv går ut av kjerren med litt hjelp av mennene. Da doktoren kommer er Gage i stand til å beskrive hendelsen og fremstår på alle måter som en rasjonell mann med alle sanser og evner i behold. Såret renses med de midler som er tilgjengelig og takket være ungdom og sterk fysikk overlever Gage den 2 mnd lange rekonvalesens tiden og fremstår deretter som fullkomment fysisk frisk.Phineas_Gage_

Og det er her det interessante skjer: sett fra utsiden er Gage helt den samme med unntak av arret på kinn og hode men det viste seg snart at den personen som bebodde kroppen til Gage ikke lenger var den samme. Phineas P Gage går fra å være en måteholden og sindig arbeidsleder med et rolig gemytt og gode planleggingsevner til å bli uvøren, brautende, humørsyk, ubehersket og utålmodig. Han bruker et språk så støtende at kvinner oppfordres til å holde seg vekk fra ham. Med tiden går både arbeid, sosialstatus og personlige relasjoner fløyten. Det mest avgjørende trekket virker å være hans manglende evne til å interessere seg for noe lenger. Kultursmak, interesser og glød som hadde vært der tidligere var med ett som blåst bort og som en avgjørende konsekvens av dette var evnen til å treffe valg og planlegge langsiktig også vekk.

Her er vi ved poenget med denne historien: for å kunne ta valg må vi være i stand til å knytte emosjoner eller interesser til de ulike valgalternativene. Hvis du har valget mellom å gå til høyre eller venstre så er det gjerne den interessen du personlig har knyttet til alternativene som avgjør hva du velger.

Veivalg

I Gages tilfelle var evnen til å tenke rasjonelt fullstendig intakt men hva hjalp det så lenge det ikke lenger var mulig for ham å føle interesse og dermed å knytte en emosjon til noen av valgalternativene.

Interesse skal man ikke kimse av, ei heller verdien i å øve opp vår toleranseterskel for nye og ukjente fenomener, det være seg musikk, kunst, litteratur eller det meste annet i verden. (og hvis nevrovitenskap er et ukjent område for deg kan du starte her og nå med å utforske nye områder for mulig interesse ved å lese mer om Gage i boken “Decartes´ error” eller “Descartes feiltakelse” av Antonio R. Damasio. Nevrovitenskap forkledd som medrivende skjønnlitteratur. Hvorfor skriver ikke flere forskere slik..).

Dalmasio

Artikkelen var publisert i Audiophile.no 01.11.2014

Beauty is in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder

Look closely

Have you ever had the time lately to really look at something or someone? Not the quick glance or the romantic eye-gazing but looking as an act of true curiosity and wonder. As children we often indulged in this activity, becoming completely absorbed by the wings of a shiny, black beetle trudging slowly across the ground, or a drop of rain trailing down the window.

As grownups there are as far as I know only two professions which encourages this kind of activity: the meditation-teacher and the artist. Some meditational techniques uses a visual point of focus, often the flame of a candle, as a means to enter certain states of consciousness. The artist painting a live model enters into a similar state of consciousness but an infinitely more active one.

Several years ago I was an avid amateur painter and attended several courses in figure painting at Olav Mosebekks Tegneskole in Oslo with the great teachers Dang van Ty and Hans Norman Dahl. We  started off with still lives and copies and then moved on to painting live models. After getting over the initial embarrassment of staring openly at a naked complete stranger the process gradually took on a totally different flavour. As my fascination grew the models started to change. What had initially been a mixture of individuals gradually turned into something else and as their personalities seemed to vanish their features and shapes came sharper into my focus. My mind was forced off its usual labelling- activity (fat man, thin girl with no chin, woman with too long arms) by the task of trying to capture what I saw and reproduce it on paper. As my mind craved more and more details in order to accomplish the task the models, without exception, grew more and more beautiful in my eyes.

I do not believe that it was some sense of altruism that was at work here (“see the beauty in every person”) although such a phrase, trite and worn thin as it is, might in its time initially have been created by an experience much like mine.

My experience was rather “colder” in that I felt no bond to the persons who happened to inhabit the bodies I was looking at, nor no wish to get to know them personally or desire to fall in love with them. Rather what I felt was a detached form of wonder and awe at the beauty that was gradually growing before my eyes. And maybe this is the clue to the experience: this kind of focus is solely occupied with observing, by the act of focusing.

sittende,bakfra beskåretThe art of mindful focus

This blog centres around the art of mindful focus, mostly in music although this is far from the only place it exists of course, but no matter the setting or topic; the result of such a focus seems always to be the same: a sense of wonder. We lose ourselves in the experience and at the same time are more present than ever before, maybe because what we are experiencing is our perceptive capacity at its highest potential. Not filtered through layers of expectations or thoughts around how to best put this information to good use but just as a very quite form of perception.

Some years later: I am a student at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, in my second year. Tendinitis in both arms threatens my studies and my student loan is worn thin. As every other Norwegian student I need an extra job to make ends meet but any job involving the use of my hands will be the last drop that tips the tendinitis-scales and shuts the lid on my piano studies. I need a job that doesn´t involve the use of my hands.

Well….

This, admittingly, was not the only reason that I chose to start working as an art model. One very strong reason was my memory of that experience when painting models myself. My thought was: if I am not the only one who has this experience of beauty when looking at and painting a model (which I doubt) then this is something that most models are experiencing, probably without knowing it in some cases.

And I wanted very much to experience what that was like. So I did.

I found out from the other side of the easels that ever so often during a painting session (more often with a professional artist but also quite often in art classes) there would come these long stretches of silence with a very particular form of energy in them. I believe these to be somewhat related to the moments of connection that a performer on stage and an audience sometimes experiences, when the listening involves more than recognising the parts of the music that one “likes” and where the listening on both sides switches to something deeper.

In the last lines of his beautiful poem Allegro, the Swedish poet Thomas Tranströmer describes something that gives me this same experience of ringing, present stillness:

(…)

The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;

rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.

The rocks roll straight through the house

but every pane of glass is still whole.

The painting above was done by the Norwegian painter and artist Roar Kjærnstad. Check out his other Works here: http://www.kjernstad.com/index.htm

Oh, and by the way did you know that Tranströmer also have influenced and inspired several Composers and musicians? This great website tells of some of them: http://wp.me/16OAX