More new music

So I had a conversation with my friend about his music.  I started out by asking for help in understanding what was going on and mentioned something about music being accessible. He replied that one of the pieces in his recent symphony was one of his most accesssible, and I wondered why they weren't ALL accessible, since, isn't that the point of the music?

We then discussed art in general and how the audience shapes and influences the art. Throughout history professional artists have struggled with the balancing act of making art for themselves, which expresses exactly what they want to express, and making art for their fans/consumers/patrons. Making a work of art which communicates to different people is challenging. It's like writing about theoretical physics: you can write a paper which communicates an advanced concept so that an expert can understand it, or so that a layman can understand it, but usually those two modes of writing have little overlap. Sometimes, when writing for a layperson, you even have to simplify to the point of being technically wrong in order to get the point across.  The similarity with artists is that they too are making a work that will either be consumed by the masses or by experts and often those groups do not intersect.

My problem with this line of reasoning is that I feel that an artist, like a technical writer, should strive to make the work as accessible as possible despite the limitations.  A physicist who writes something that only the top 10 people in his field can understand is not communicating properly.  His paper can not be peer-reviewed properly if he has no peers.  Part of his duty in writing his findings is to communicate them effectively. Artists, however, are not constrained by duty in the same way scientists are, but the same underlying principle is true: if an artist makes a work of art that nobody understands then its value is purely in its aesthetics (until someone figures it out, I suppose).  The communication part of the artwork has failed.

My friend's position is that some things simply require more experience and knowledge before they can be appreciated. This is true.  I am learning Chinese, but I cannot criticize Chinese literature until I have achieve a certain level of fluency in Chinese and a certain understanding of the history and culture underlying the literature.  The thing is that with music, perhaps alone among all the arts, there has been a long tradition of art that has layers of accessibility; that is, there is something there for everyone.  A baby, with no experience or language or knowledge of history can hear music and feel its emotion and energy.  An untrained person can admire a beautiful painting for the scene it shows even if they don't understand the subtext or subtleties.  But this new form of music my friend is making is so different than the traditional forms I know that it seems to have abandoned the "easy" parts altogether.  As my friend wrote, at this point I can either become a trained musical expert (i.e. learn the language), wait a while to see if insight comes to me on its own, or give up and conclude that I don't understand.  With traditional works I have a fourth option: look at the scenery, or listen to the melody and hum along with the part I do understand.

New Music

A friend of mine is a composer.  He writes modern "classical" music, that is, music played by orchestras.  He is quite talented.  The problem is I don't really understand the music he is writing.  His music is broadly similar to other modern classical pieces I've heard, which seems to do away with many of the long-standing traditions of music, such as a melody.

When I listen to his music, some of which is very odd-sounding (to me) but much of which is very beautiful, I get a feeling of missing something.  The music sounds like the soundtrack to a movie or ballet, only I can't see the film or the dancers.  While listening to the music I feel like it's meant to accompany something, but I can't see what that something is.

It's hard to describe but here is a concrete example of the difference between his music and pieces that are (I feel) more stand-alone.  Consider the opening theme to Star Wars.  It starts loud, has a rolling sound, and carries you along with its melody.  You can hum it.  I don't think it's particularly nuanced or sophisticated but it conveys drama and excitement, and then the movie starts, which you are eager to see because the music has built up your anticipation.  Later on you will hear a sad song about life on Tatooine, and Luke's family's death, and it is sad.  But you won't remember it afterwards because it is meant to underscore the feelings that the story tells. My friend's music has a similar feel to me.  I feel emotion, I feel that there is a story unfolding, but I can't tell what it is and afterwards I can't recall the music.

I was thinking of how this relates to paintings.  A painting is meant to convey a message, or multiple messages, but the message is not explicit; the viewer must find the message for himself. But the most famous paintings are usually also not abstract; they graphically depict a scene, or a person, or something identifiable.  In the last few decades abstract art has become more popular, but many people don't "get" it.  Is my friend composing the musical equivalent to abstract painting?  Perhaps.

When I went to a concert where his music was played along with some other composers' pieces, I remember feeling that I just didn't understand what I had heard, and I wondered if maybe the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes.  Having heard my friend's most recent piece I can say that he IS wearing clothes, but I'm not sure what kind they are.

For a limited time, you can hear my friend's arctic symphony on CBC Radio 2.  Listen to the Arctic Symphony for yourself and see.

Fedora 12 ongoing saga

My HTPC was recently "upgraded" to Fedora 12. The Fedora 10 and 11 installs on that box were almost completely broken and so I opted for a clean install. What I forgot was that Fedora's text mode install leaves you with a system that has
  1. No network connection
  2. No Wi-Fi
  3. In fact, NetworkManager is not installed or is not working
  4. No GUI
  5. No easy way to install software from the CD-ROM media

I wanted to be able to connect this system to my network so that I could install the missing software, but this meant moving the computer to the other room, where the hub is.  This meant that I can't see what I'm typing, because this computer's monitor is my TV, which is a CRT weighing a million trillion pounds*.  So I plug the computer into the hub and turn it on.  But the network isn't starting, for some reason, or it's not connecting properly.  This means I have to log into the computer and try to type random commands blindly until the network card finally connects.

Once the computer is on the network I have to try to figure out WHERE on the network it is so that I can log into it from my notebook.  I wrote a little script to ping various addresses until I found it.  Once I had it I was able to log into the computer using SSH and then (gasp!) actually see what I was typing.  From that point on it was relatively easy to use yum to install whatever software I need, and the copious updates that Fedora had waiting for me.

Once the software was installed it was easy to get livna hooked up and the binary nVidia driver installed, which lets me use the TV as a monitor.  Now if only I could remember the incantation which tells it that my TV is not HD..... stay tuned.

*I'd secretly hoped that something bad would have "accidentally" happened to the TV when we moved, thus giving me an excuse to get a modern TV, but sadly, it arrived without incident.