Nice Diary - 22 Dec 2011

Clancy went to work, I to the Léger museum. Seeing his big crude pictures whilst I am reading nobel psychology laureate Daniel Kahnemann's book 'Thinking fast, thinking slow' put what I wrote yesterday into perspective. Kahnemann talks about our two ways of seeing: the first glance and the considered reflection, which he calls (irritatingly) ‘system 1 and system 2’, but I would prefer to call 'prima facie' & 'second thought'.

What falls into place for me is that Léger and most subsequent 'art lite' is all prima facie stuff. Hunt as you will in Léger's work that isn't anything else: it's all WYSIWYG – and that has been the baseline for everything afterwards: this is art in the age of moving images, if it doesn't hit you at once, forget explanations– the artist has already lost you.

(In auditions you can tell the moment someone walks in the door if they are right for a part: if so the gig is theirs, tho they don’t yet know that, and all they have to do is be an idiot or so incompetent as to talk themselves out of it: contrariwise, you know just as surely if someone is not right and even the most brilliant auditon won't help them get the part. If only someone would explain this to actors how much grief could be avoided!)

In Léger I see the ideas and shapes as being about a clever manipulation of the semiotics of modernism. In his early work you see him trying for a style, but once he has found it the work becomes both more assured but also lazier and cruder, as if he no longer really needed to bother about meanings, because everyone ‘gets’ him – he has become a brand, as we would say today.

By a misfortune returning from Biot to pick up Clancy at the Diacosmie I got funneled onto the Voie Rapide and so was swept away from the banks of the Var where I'd been due to meet her and deposited on the other side of Nice. Luckily one of the Opéra drivers was available to take her home, so I decided to head onto Cimiez for my third attempt at finding the Musée Matisse. There I found what confirmed the thesis I've been evolving here – which is that Matisse was a key figure in what might be called ‘high concept’ art (to borrow a phrase from the film industry when a movie pitch can be summarised within a single breath). The reduction of high art to a single gesture, by stripping away ornament just as the International Style had stript ornament from architecture. From Matisse one can trace the progressive reduction of moral content, ie ‘intentional meaning’ in art. It’s interesting that dealers played off Picasso against Matise between the wars, to the extent that one of Matisse’s earliest collectors sold all his works to ‘get into’ Picasso ahead of the market.

Of course Picasso /Matisse /Léger had a full range of craft skills: but in subsequent generations these have become progressively attenuated until we reached the present position where Tracey Emin is appointed professor of drawing at the RA, no less – & it's far from certain she even knows how to hold a pencil, let alone use it!

Where this comes back to is the issue that if there is no otherness in art, no duende, nothing intangible that the artist is seeking to transmit, then WYSIWYG. There is only prima facie consciousness and no oppositio compensandum as Jung might have said: nothing with the roots that descend beneath the niveau mental, and correspondingly nothing that rises above it.


Nice Diary - 21 Dec 2011

I suggested we visit MAMAC (Musée d’art moderne & d’art contemporain) as we went by it and I imagined it would have a café for lunch. The museum is in the rear part of the National Theatre of Nice – a 70s complex built over the river Paillion in a style that can most favourably be described as misplaced optimism. Climbing the stairs to get there was as much as Clancy could manage. We sat in the foyer area and looked at the catalog. With a few exceptions it just looked like the biggest pile of tat imaginable. Seeing the American-inspired pop and post-pop artists they had we both thought simultaneously that future ages will look at this ugly rubbish and think “what were they are on?"

Before leaving Id watched Andrew Graham Dixon's series on modern American art and a thought arose from what he said; namely that most of the guys who 'hit' in the 50s & 60s saw themselves as outsiders. However, so long as they were outsiders they had a relationship with an ‘inside’ against which they were rebelling that anchored them a kind of counter balance – but once they themselves with all the dissidence and alienation were hailed as the true inside then there was no longer anything left to counterbalance their innate negativity or inner rebellious anarchy. So with their betes noires overthrown they themselves were in the position not merely of having all their dreams come true but of foisting those dreams on others – which is the unique privilege of the ‘insider’ in the mainstream. But that was a trap for them and society as a whole: for there was no longer any archetypal criteria of beauty. Their own conception of ‘beauty’ (aesthetically desirable) was an anti-beauty that they traced back to Duchamp, and really only existed as an anti-beauty – for it had within it no ‘sustainable’ aesthetic rooted in human psychological archetypes. But once they and their successors who desired to emulate their success began to believe their own publicity they were trapped in a mythography of ‘anti-beauty’.

Stumblingly, I'm trying to talk about Dharma in the arts – the sense of what we sense as truth or authenticity or vertu about and within an aesthetic experience. It is governed by one’s instinctive response/s to what the Japanese call shibui, the aesthetic of perfect economy, and/or GM Hopkins idea of ‘inscape’ – what irreducibly inherent within a work of art. If I call this ‘beauty as truth’ I don’t in any sense mean mere prettiness, I mean ‘what is primordial within a realised form'. The Sanskrit word satya is useful here, for it is used to denote truth but it literally means ‘what is enduring’. How long a thing persists in human experience is probably the best, if not the only, validation.

Ive always seen The Rake’s Progress as representing a comparable turning point in music, and it can be no accident that its 1951 premiere is roughly contemporaneous with what Dixon was describing in art. IMO The Rake’s Progress ushered in a whole sequence of composers who were misled by Stravinsky's brilliant gestures and surfaces but utterly failed to understand that the operatic medium demands the evocation of archetypal emotions as sine qua non and so English composers such as Goehr, Blake, Maw and others composed a kind of anti-opera which, while it may have been ‘good music’ utterly failed in its raison d’être as Opera. The old magician Stravinsky, like Nick Shadow in TRP, pulled off the emotion trick himself, but /and succeded in seducing a whole generation of composers who followed this false dharma and effectively shunted the whole ‘modern opera’ scene off into an art ghetto – as also happened to jazz.

As I write I have been listening to one of Frank Perry's tracks – a guy who really knows everything there is to know about dharma in music. And then on came Django and Stephane. The way Django keeps the sound live through an almost vocal vibrato is the playing of someone who understands that evoking empathy is 90% of entertainment.


Thought as Mass

During the night I had a significant dream – in which I was being interviewed by a couple of journalists in a tiny office crammed with bookshelves. We crowded around a card table which served as a desk. Underneath it there was an awkwardly-shaped box occupying the space where our legs wanted to go.

From this I saw that ideas actually do have mass. This led me to reflect on the relationship between ideas, their generation &/or exposition, and the deevelopment of mass. The ‘mechanism’ by which consciousness us converted into matter is the etherial property of numen – the excitement or ‘magical’ interaction between the stated idea and the response it triggers in others. This in turn is a reflexion of the extent of the probabilities it reflects or expresses in the minds of its audience.

This is most clearly seen in mass market music – whose raison d’être, as the title suggests, is to commodify the articulation by individuals of inchoate feelings arising within the zeitgeist. This process also exemplifies the power of certain ideas to achieve mass. And at the same time illuminates the relationship between intentionality and chance in the reification or concretization of ideas – namely, that ideas arising from predetermined coordinates (ie, traditional ethical or æsthetic perspectives) inherently lack the self-adjusting flexibility to assume dynamic coherence within the greater volatility of transient experience/s offered by today’s electronically-enhanced world.


Franz Liszt as teacher

In general, Liszt was over-indulgent, above all with female students. His kindness and his severity were expressed according to a special system that not all knew. When he saw that a pupil had absolutely no talent, he waived his right to correct the player, because, in truth, it served nothing. He began then to speak French – a bad sign that caused smiles among the initiated. When a female pupil finished her lesson and offered her forehead in order to receive the obligatory kiss if he commented "Trés bien" in a serious voice, she would leave radiantly, but the inner circle knew that the master spoke ironically.

Memoir by José Vianna da Motta


'The Fear'

Recently I finished uploading the last of my second dozen of Bach's 48 Preludes & Fugues which comprise Das Wohltemperierte Clavier. To me it's one of the great holy books of music & I know no better way of starting the day than playing one or two of them. In another two years(?) I hope to complete my project of recording the entire set.
    I started to think of recording them 3 years ago as I've played these pieces informally all my life (my copies are 50 years old next year!) but at that point I saw the colossal gulf that separates playing for personal re-creation & the rigours of recording - where you encounter all your short-comings in pretty brutal close-up!

    I believe that teachers should be forced to perform because it helps them to remain in touch with 'the fear'. From the comfort of a teacher's chair it's all too easy to forget this; and thus to lose contact with the core experience of a young learner.
    By 'fear' I mean the sense of uncertainty /anxiety that discovery of a new world always involves. If people wonder why teenagers become so bolshy, may not a lot be to do with the fact that they're herded like cattle throu all sorts of experiences they're not given time to assimilate, by an industrialised process of education that allows no variation for individual need/s?
    In music you see the downside of the current obsession with exam-mania & winning competitions at ever younger ages in the rising epidemic of stage fright which brings the hopes far too many high-fliers to a bitter end.  
    My system of using performances for motivation rather than exams is based on the belief that children benefit from developing a positive relationship with this 'fear'. In other words, of learning to respect 'the fear' & harnessing it, instead of just dismissing it so that it recurs in aberrant way. This means creating an environment where it's OK to fail - people gain the courage to jump higher if it doesn’t hurt to fall. 
    I've said elsewhere that I hold the educational system's drive to colonise & formulate every aspect of learning responsible for punk & the manifestations of underground music. If you were a young person confronted by people who were attempting to control & examine every aspect of an activity like music - which is pointless if not pleasurable - why would you not invent an anti-music that teachers & adults couldn’t 'invade & rule' as your own kind of tribal identity for oppressed youth?
    IMO teenagers need music as a 'rumpus room' where they can experiment with the subtle feelings it has the power to evoke, and become comfortable with the immense range of experiences it offers, at a pace and in a musical language they can relate to and, to a degree, control.
   That, even on paper, is likely to produce better balanced adults than the current system where those who can adapt to being pulled backwards throu hedges are given prizes and everyonelse has to fight their way past the thorns as best they may.

    After nearly 15 years of empirical experimentation with what leads youngsters to enjoy & gain value from piano my observation is that concerts provide youngsters with a controlable amount of 'fear', surmounting which builds their self-esteem, so encouraging an optimal learning pattern - which the young pianist can take as far & as fast as s/he wants. I take as much pleasure from the ex-pupil who is now a Porsche mechanic and, according to his mother, still plays (whose uTube 2006 video of Einaudi has now received 24,750 hits!) as the two who are now professional musicians.
    Don’t exams also do this? Maybe & no. Whatever you encounter within yourself in a performance motivated by communicating with an audience (& our parents are the only audience that ever really matters to us) is truly your own & remains with you. It is a nascent version the self-awareness you get from 'battle conditions', with the benefit that in an environment nurtured by a parental response you acquire confidence to extend your comfort zone. In exams you reach you peak nervous excitement by going into a room with a stranger in order to be judged. I just don’t think that is the experience that music exists for - & if you want to know what's at the heart of the central problem of why so many young learners just give up and the more ambitious suffer from nerves, then this partly explains it. And it also explains why so many young musicians have a kind of nervous breakdown after leaving college adapting to a world where the structures offered by this kind 'cruel cradling' fall away & they have to construct their own raisons d’être from scratch.
    In any education system worth the name, its ultimate purpose should be to encourage pupils to be present in their own learning process. The bigger issues are of course much more complex, but this underlying simplicity is often lost sight of; and I feel that it lies within the power of the arts to keep it alive when often elsewhere it is crushed by the dynamics of political control.
    (I should clarify that I don’t oppose all musical exams, I just don’t think they're relevant for most people in the early stages. I was interested to learn that as a general policy Eton no longer enters instrumentalists into the exams below Grade 5. This is the first institution I've heard of taking such an enlightened approach.) 
    So my way of keeping in touch with the creative uncertainties which my pupils necessarily experience is by such projects as recording Bach. Keeping such timeless beauty alive for its own sake is also how cultural memory is preserved.


Four Poems

Where you belong
may be a thousand miles away
or a millimetre.
The journey there
takes an instant
or a lifetime –
With the password allow
it’s short and tough:
without it, tough and endless.

Certain things cannot be said.
Certain things are.
Discovering silences within the babble
is like viewing the whole valley from a tower.

I see people
who have all life’s possesssions
yet know nothing.
Having nothing
yet possessing the pearl
I know which I prefer.

I battle to be heard;
yet to tell the truth
is to be heard.
Not yet, but forever.



Our Labrador died on Monday at the ripe old age of 16. I was struck by how Clancy & I acted to suppress the great emotions aroused by the death of a much-loved friend with a 'keep calm & carry on' response. She was, as Clancy said, one of the truly good people who brought blessings into the lives of all who knew her.
But this experience made me think how rare death and incurable illness are these days, and how we've built up such protections against what 'undermines' our conscious control of our lives. When you couple that with the fact that so many one-time miracles are now part of everyday life, it's very hard for people to find numen or 'true magic' in their lives. Possibly the only easily-accessed route is sex, but the problem is that if you overload that with expectations you often bury the very thing you're hoping to find.


Rock of Ages

My composition starts as a private engagement, an act of listening to the otherness within, a kind of peering into the darkness /silence to encounter what might be there apart from one's own ego. Of course, objectively, there is nothing 'there' - for it is all within you: but subjectively one is looking for or responding to subconscious ideas, inklings, that have some kind of hook to them, like the end of a riddle of string that one can grasp and slowly tease out. It is then pure chance whether one can keep that original emotional reality alive during the time it takes to unravel the knot into a single piece of string. The demands of everyday life can bring distractions that sever one's connexion to the original emotional reality and cause one literally to lose the thread: tho paradoxically it can work the other way, for if the distractions are destructive, fighting (/surrendering) to retain an inviolate inner world can nourish both.

Some composers are fortunate: paid commissions and royalties buy time. But I have neither, and from experience of the way my subconscious works it seems that substantive ideas don’t come to me until I'm overloaded with obligations: THEN my psyche adds a straw to the burden which feels like my 'next step' that is imperative that I honour if more are to follow (in other words it's my Live Channel) even if this involves the wrestling of a 25th hour from the day.

For most people ideas come in response to their social milieu. But that is never how it's been for me. When I first became conscious of having an autonomous inner world when I was about 13 (I see now it had begun about 4 years earlier with disturbing dreams) I had no idea that everyonelse didn’t. Gradually it dawned on me that I was immersed in an educational system that had only one purpose: not to encourage personal discovery but to manufacture conformity. My failure to find a composition teacher then or subsequently has meant that I had to evolve into the kind of teacher I needed to find, but couldn’t manifest. This process has a) taken all my life & b) involved so many blind alleys filled with broken glass, so many seductions by the lazy blandishments of normality or cheap acceptance, so much weighing of honour with need, and so much sheer lostness that I've learnt to function as a sociopath.

After 25 years of furiously refusing to fit into anyonelse's box I realised I was never going to capture the castle from outside. By my social deviation the front door was permanently barred to me: but who needs front doors when you're a sociopath & can just as easily enter by a rear window? So I spent the next 25 observing & copying 'normal' people (with the cover offered by the supreme grace of a loving wife & family). At first I had no rapport with my inner world, and what little understanding I did have came throu my involvement with evangelical Christianity. Whereas in professional music my versatility was viewed with suspicion, in drama it was greeted with open arms: in 1976 alone I had 34 drama commissions, and I loved the technical challenges of broadcast music.

After about 10 years, what triggered a change was awaiting my turn to edit a commercial at Moving Picture Company. Behind the smoked glass of each cubicle the cream of Britain's film-making talent were all involved in fine tuning ecstatic hymns to consumerism. I thought: humanity has created the greatest information medium of all time & all the smart money is on prostituting it in order to corrupt people for profit. I as much as anyonelse was involved because I couldn’t make anything else work for me; but OTOH I knew by then that what I had been given was, if not unique, at least rare: and none of what I was then doing was bringing me closer to what was authentic to the inner world I occasionally glimpsed.

It was not longer after, 12 Dec 1989 to be precise, that I had an overwhelming dream which empowered me to take the first tottering steps towards walking off the edge of that world. I rationalised the hazard to which I was exposing my family by my feeling that I was useless to them as much as anyonelse unless I could discover who I truly was. The dream involved the classic alchemical symbol of the midnight sun, a blazing numinous darkness, in which I was given the name of Sai Baba. It, & he when I discovered who he was, gave me light that guided me in a dark period that lasted nearly 20 years. Gradually in that dark wilderness (tho I always had dreams & schemes that generally failed) little nuggets of gold began to cohere; little clusters of gases that swirled around in my mind, slowly giving rise to solid matter: some formed into coherent ideas, some evaporated. One of the first of the former was what I now call Canticle 1, Easter Dawn in 2004.

Easter is always a spontaneously significant time in my inner calendar. Nearly all my big changes seem to crystalise around that time. If I imagined that this piece would easily find an audience, I couldnt've been more wrong! Gradually I became aware that just as I had had to find my-self without a teacher so I would have to validate my inner hearing without the 'luxury' of outer hearing. (This is somewhat akin to learning to love yourself without a partner: tough, but it can be done.)

Whereas I couldn’t do much about making my choral music heard, because it's too difficult for amateurs & I can't command professional resources; when I'd composed Fortress of Illusion in 2009, after an epic battle with my 'Nessies', my personal demons of lostness, hopelessness & pointlessness, I realised that here at least I could endeavour to give my child a voice. When composing, if Id thought of my own limited pianistic abilities Id've self-censored what I wrote. And the final result was so far beyond what Id ever tackled that learning it took me a year (it took my final duo partner just 10 days, but that's the difference between our skill levels!). I imagine many composers find the journey from a work's silent & eternal perfection in their mind to its squawking imperfections during preparation & real-isation involves both exciting and painful experiences.

Prophets has yet to make that journey, and I don’t know if it ever will. But that’s cool. What is important to me is to improve my inner hearing and amanuensiary capacities. Here is where I stand before that inner otherness (that some people choose, and other people choose not, to call God) in a meaningful relationship in which I both hear and feel heard. And from this, as slowly as water drips from rock, emerge these little piddles of spring water. This nourishes me, regardless of what it does for anyonelse, and that reflects how karma works: we are only required to do what is constructive, then leave the outcome open.


Sonnet: Seasons

So great to have the gift of words return!

For like virility, it comes unearned,

indeed if sought more likely stays away

leading to greater alienation. Pray
tho you may, or pay what you will,

when winter comes you must endure until

your spring returns.
                            While summer is less than half
the year, we still expect a sunny life path
all year long; and quickly run for pills

when autumn mists enfold us with their ills.

Each winter tries what use we make of sun:

whether we nurture gifts, or allow fun
to seduce our better selves with pointless thrills.

A harvest rich in words … or unmet bills?


Sonnet: Pœtry

Pœtry is a season of the soul,

elusive as the autumn mist; whose role

is in contrast to the summer heat

when all is out of doors and plain to see –

and so for me tonight as words return

unexpectedly. From which I learn
my soul’s once more in reflective mood
after nine months’ stürm und drang, with time for soul food

and relaxation after work well done.

Time now for pause and thought and new beginnings,
a time to listen more than speak; once more 

to go within, and start anew to explore

being not doing, heedless of gaining and winning …

re-formed from many atoms into one.


Brhadaranyaka Upanishad

Book 4. Chapter 3

2] Yajñavalkya, what is the light which everyone sees?

The sun, your majesty. By sunlight everyone sees whatever they need.

3] But when the sun has set, Yajñavalkya, what guides them then?
They have the moon your majesty. By moonlight everyone finds what they need to.

4] When both Sun and Moon are covered by clouds, then what guides them?

Fire. By firelight everyone is led to what they need.

5] And when there is no fire?

The voice is their guide. Even when you cannot see your own hand before your face, you can still go towards the sound of voices.

6] And if there is no voice?

One’s inner self becomes one’s light. By it you guide your steps.

7] What is the self, Yajñavalkya?
Among all the senses there is an inner consciousness which consists of intelligent understanding, like a light within the heart: this is the self. A constant presence, this consciousness, which ultimately transcends death, moves freely between the two worlds in sleep, transcending our physical constraints by appearing to contain both the power of thought and movement.

8] At birth this consciousness is formed within temporal reality. At death it relinquishes it. 

9] This consciousness has two states: that of this world and that of the other world. Yet there is also an intermediate state, the twilight world of sleep. From it we see the other two, this world in which we live now, and the other world that is beyond it. Entering the intermediate /dream state we see into the other world and encounter both positive and negative messages.
When you fall asleep, you carry with you all the matter of your waking experience. (But within dream) it is actually your own self which creates and destroys whatever appears. And here the light of your own consciousness is your guide.
10] There are no chariots, no distances, no roads; yet within there appear chariots, distances and roads. There are no joys, no pleasures, no delights (yet you experience them nonetheless). There are no baths, no lotus-pools, no rivers; yet you find baths, lotus-pools and rivers - for your self is the creator.

11] On this there are these verses:
In sleep you sift and blend physical sensations: 

and conscious in the world of dreams you see all.
Like a lonely crane on a long flight you absorb 
this pure energy
and so return to your body transformed.
12] Having placed protection around your earthly nest (your sleeping body) 

you are free to soar to the realm of the immortals. 

Wherever you choose to go you are that high-flying bird 

searching for transcendence and transformation.
13] In dream you visit both heavens and hells with the powers of a god – 

amazing the manifold forms of which you’re creator. 

You take your pleasure with partners, laugh – 

or else encounter nightmares: everything appears real.
People you know may appear in this world at your will:
but you they never see.

14] They say you should not waken a deep sleeper - for someone whose spirit doesn’t reunite with hir body can become deranged. Some claim there’s no difference between sleep and waking – for one sees similar things whether awake or asleep – yet everything you see in sleep is created by your own imagination.
Worthy sir, continue! said King Janaka. I will give you a thousand cows for guiding me toward liberation.

15] Serene in sleep, you follow your bliss and encounter many experiences, both good and bad, yet before returning to your body you will have encountered truth (whether you recognise it or not). Here whatever you see does not imprison your soul, for this state is free from all attachments. 17] Awake, you (also) follow your bliss and encounter many experiences, both good and bad, before returning to your dreamworld. 18] So as a great fish swimming freely hither and thither between the banks, in sleep your consciousness swims freely between the other world and everyday life.
19] Eventually, as an eagle tired after a high flight folds its wings and swoops back down onto its nest, so too this inner self hastens back to your sleeping form, desiring nothing further and forgetting what it has seen.
20] A 1000 times smaller than the arteries (hita) of the heart are the meridians down which the body’s energies run – (which we call) white, blue, yellow, green, and red.

Now when it seems you’re about to be killed, or captured, or chased by an elephant or that you fall into a pit, this is only the ignorant mind reliving waking fears – but when, like a god or king, you experience wholeness then that is the highest state of being. 21] This is a person’s deepest place, beyond desire, free from evil, free from fear.
Just as someone making love to their partner is oblivious of everything else, so in this inner embrace of self and soul humans experience the fullest wisdom of which they're capable. Here all wishes are fulfilled, for one is preoccupied with the transcendent self alone, and thus without material desire there is no consequential sorrow.

22] Here the father is no longer a father, mother no longer a mother, ecstasy no longer ecstasy, the Vedas no longer Vedas. Here a thief is no longer a thief, an abortionist no longer an abortionist, an outcast no longer an outcast, a mendicant no longer a mendicant, an ascetic no longer an ascetic. Each one now attracts good not misfortune, for all are beyond heart-sadness.
23] Tho in this state your eyes cannot see, yet in your inner vision there is no distinction between seer & sight since both are part of one integrated being. For there is nothing else, nor can anyonelse see what you see.
25] Tho in this state your cannot taste, yet in your inner world there is no distinction between taster & what is tasted, since both are part of one integrated being. There is noonelse to taste anything.
27] Tho in this state you cannot hear or speak, yet in your inner world there is no distinction between what is heard & what is spoken, since both are integrated. Noonelse can know what has been uttered.
28] Tho in this state you cannot think or touch, yet in your inner world there is no distinction between thinker & thought, or toucher & what is touched, since both are one integrated being. Noonelse’s senses or understanding are involved. 30] Similarly, encountering wisdom within oneself is an indivisible experience.

31] When someonelse is present you can compare your comprehension of what you’ve experienced. 32] But in great ocean of dreams you become one unified being, without duality: this is the world of Brahman (universe /universal consciousness). This is at once the highest path, the highest attainment, the highest reward and greatest satisfaction a human being can know. It is this bliss from which all other activities borrow: yet in those, people declare themselves thrilled by the merest fraction of what can be encountered within.



Don't play poker with a snake – the snake always wins.



You either embrace change, & can influence the outcome – or change (which will happen anyway) 'embraces' you & you can't!