Xen Thoughts of the Day

by Jacob Barton 2013-09-27 @ 13:02:42

Every day, I have a thousand or so thoughts, but only a handful of Thoughts, things that jump out at me and shout for a little more attention...as a capital letter does. Here is a report of a few of today's:

I have been thinking heavily on the idea of libraries for over a month now, since returning to Urbana and attempting to revive the Oddmusic Instrument Library. In my efforts to do this, I have noticed the necessity for more libraries: a tool library, a transportation library, a furniture library, a visual art library. My radical tendency is to encourage and facilitate the quick creation (deployment?) of more libraries; my conservative tendency is to try and recognize the ways in which I already have all the access to sharable resources that I need, and to hone my ability to ask the people and systems around me for help. In the meantime, I have three central questions about libraries for any library scientist listening: (1) What are the necessary minimal components to constitute a library? (2) What is a quickest way to turn a resource into a library? (3) What things cannot be turned into libraries?

In the past several weeks I have been more broke than ever in my life, and became a heavy attendee at the local community's potluck dinners. For a period of time I was too ashamed, thinking I was in the negative karma zone for bringing no dish. Then a friend offered, "Bringing music is even better than bringing food to a potluck." I'm still thinking about it. I do agree, provided there is first enough food! For years I have been brainstorming on how to connect music more solidly with potlucks—a musical instrument potluck? A dinner where we literally play with our food, making carrot flutes and pumpkin drums? Or simply a potluck where I'd invite primarily my musician friends?

This combined with an ongoing conversation with a friend about radical diets and food politics: the necessity to avoid processed sugar, processed anything actually, factory farming, any grains (grains? that's bird food!), and most dairy. My friend does not like potlucks, these days mostly because there is nothing she can eat. Our discussion also reminded me of a statement of the World Harmony Project: Natural Harmonic is to Music what Organic is to Food. Today, what ties advocates of healthy eating to advocates of alternative intonational practices (and to many other marginalized groups) is the world we are each up against. A world seemingly indifferent and under-responsive, but welcoming any gesture of surrender or apathy. To me, the challenge is one of expanding (microtonal) perceptivity, especially of proportionality: can these .001% type marginal groups of advocates form inter-discourse alliances strong enough to let an alternative culture grow between us? Where are those thresholds, those tipping points between perceptual categories, on a musical level but also beyond?

Now that I've gotten those pesky Thoughts out of the way, I'll be doing what Jesus always says and renouncing all earthly possessions...or maybe just a few. Sorting Oddmusic's books to donate to the Urbana Free Library (they handle books so much better than us, why fight it?), my own clothes to donate to Goodwill etc., and whatever weird odds and ends continue to plague my physical life.


Aaron K. Johnson 2013-09-27 @ 13:12:29

Jacob--don't renounce too much of the world....the world needs you, and fully clothed, to...at least in the winter.

Also, perhaps...we only marginalize ourselves with labeling ourselves as marginal? And, isn't it also true that there is an explosive interest in organic foods? Europeans were already there (perhaps most especially in Germany), but in America, now we are getting to the point where Whole Foods is becoming too big for their britches...and they aren't always even selling the healthiest foods, either. But, no matter, your mileage may vary, but I see little organic grocery stores in plenty of places these days. At least that's the story in Chicago. Perhaps, as always, the rural so-called 'Middle America' will lag behind the most in this arena.

Margo Paula Schulter 2013-10-01 @ 21:06:34

Aaron and Jacob, one thing I've concluded myself is that a focus on intonation as one important dimension of historical European and other world musics might place us squarely in the mainstream. If I were asked to name the most famous microtonalist in the 20th century, I might nominate Umm Kulthum. Producing music that people in various parts of the world may enjoy, without any special intonational labelling, might be the best strategy. If people like it, they might want to know how we did it -- which can open the conversation to intonational aspects. But Jacob, I trust you to use your spiritual discernment and wisdom in deciding how best to carry out your resolve.
Aaron K. Johnson 2013-10-02 @ 15:30:52

Margo, thanks for taking part in the conversation!

I do think that one thing that might be important in the "broader conversation" is not overly focussing on intonational aspects for their own sake. Music that people relate to and enjoy first and foremost should be the important thing.

When I think what it was that drew me into this world, it was hearing music that was imbued with a "spiritual dimension" I'll call it, that was so tied to the tuning (JI in the case of the piece, Shri Camel by Terry Riley) that it was hard not to notice this "special ingredient". So, my pursuit went naturally from there. Riley integrates this feature so organically, to me, that it's never a gimmick for its own sake, rather, an extension of his compositional mindset, and an outgrowth of the meditative approach to minimalism that he comes from.

Of course, there was also the avenues opened up by authentic historical performance practice, too...which gives new life to the dull 19th and early 20th century approach to so many Baroque and pre-Baroque masterpieces.

Margo Paula Schulter 2013-10-02 @ 23:44:56

Hi, Aaron! Yes, I agree that intonation is best as an outgrowth of a piece or a spiritual worldview that the piece reflects. One thing I would add is that an analogy between JI tuning and organic food might call for some caution. Of course, JI tunings and string divisions are vitally important in various world musics. However, traditional musics for African xylophone or Javanese or Balinese gamelan, for example, seem to be based mainly on approaches other than just intonation, although Lou Harrison, Jacques Dudon, Lydia Ayers, and Bill Alves, among others, have devised beautiful just tunings. The natural interplay between tuning and timbre can be intricate.

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