THE SIMPLICITY / COMPLEXITY CYCLE . . . [ click photo for next . . . ] 
On the road in the American West.

[tweet no. 7,321]

We don't hear Music.

We hear our MAP of music;

It has many distortions

which lead us astray. NEW MUSIC

begins in awareness of the map.

from 100 MINIATURES—

We shape the world and the world shapes us.

In Music, to be confused about tonality is to be
confused about everything.

(44) What we think of as tonality in Music is perhaps
nothing more than a confused concept about
how sounds are centered in Space. Like a tree which
reaches from root to crown, suspended between earth
and open sky, sounds move to naturally center them-
selves in a dynamic web of relationships.

Implied in this is that what has been called a-tonal
music simply cannot or does not exist. At the same
time, it must be said that much music has indeed
been written that lacks strong, clear, articulate centers.

Trying to find one’s way in such music is much like
the exasperating experience of trying to navigate on
foot through prototypically featureless urban landscapes.

Who does not know this feeling, when offered no
center, of being lost before the very beginning?


With dialogue, as we become aware of the divisive, destructive, fragmentary nature of our thought and thinking, how we write down music or poetry becomes a meditation on the key insight about the relationship between truth and actuality, on the one hand, and reality as purely a projection of thought, on the other: that is, that all measure is, indeed, somehow illusion. In other words, the truth or actuality of sound is infinitely beyond any limited concept or idea we may have about it. It is this awareness that allows our thinking about sound and music to become self-correcting. At present, our thought in the Arts is not only NOT self-correcting, but worse, we hold up to especially the young the worst of our mistakes and call it excellence. Clearly, if this is so, it can only be accurately described as a kind of corrupt and corrupting cult of collusion, which I think it is.

The idea that a-tonality is not possible, is at first, I admit, a bit hard to grasp. This is especially true for musicians who have been, starting about 1913 onwards, deeply conditioned to think this way.

This does not mean I wish to return to pre-1913 thinking, or to the dogmatic, dry and rigid way of thinking of the great harmonic past of Western classical music, as represented by, say, a Walter Piston. Not at all. Instead, I'd like to suggest that it is vastly more powerful to think not at all in terms of tonality, but rather in terms of a much more generalized concept of sound, and more especially, the MOVEMENT of sound.

So we begin with natural sound. The whole of it. Consonants and vowels. The noise of a siren or drum. The simple centered sound of a flute or boy soprano.

And then, we add the essential concept of movement, a cyclical movement of simple to complex and back again, as in textural terms embodied beautifully in a Bach cantata, going from the unison simplicity of hymn, to the baroque complexity of the contrapuntal writing of a fugue. Or to the complex sound being generated as composites, or centers within centers within centers, we hear and sense in the early Stravinsky, or the whole of Varèse. So the key is not tonality and some hypothetical non-existent opposite, but rather what we might think of as an universal simplicity / complexity cycle.

Perhaps an example of living complexity in sound will help us here. Where better to find an appropriate passage than in Edgard Varèse. The moment I have in mind here is from INTEGRALES. I can remember vividly working on these bars with the ASKO Ensemble, in the dead of winter, rehearsing in a sub-freezing AMSTELKERK, and putting this sound together, much to the annoyance of other members of the collective, voice by voice, over and over again. And, suddenly, there was something of a share epiphany. We all sensed the extraordinary richness of the sound. It filled the entire space, including our own deeply resonant bodies. I remember thinking, "Yes," this is what he meant, "the liberation of sound," not as mere idea, but actual, right there, all around us. Here it is. Listen to how the orchestra modulates from complexity to simplicity of composite, in this case, triads: [see recording above...]

Much could be said about this passage, but just let me bring out two things here: (1) This music cannot be played on a piano; (2) Instead of order projected from without, this order emerges from within. That is why it is so inherently natural, balanced, organic, and, most especially, vocal.

It is this sense of centered movement back and forth, from simple to complex that we loose in, for example, much new music after the Schönberg of 1913. In my view, this continues to take many young musicians, so otherwise full of talent and great promise, down a radically wrong, or false, or ultimately self-destructive, path.

The wrong path is not just the music itself. That will I think pass and be soon forgotten. The wrong path is the way of thinking about sound and pitch which lingers on, and shapes and conditions in a tacit way our thought and perception. For instance, if any one tells you, as I've heard as a conductor many times, that one must be blessed, or cursed, -- depending on your point of view -- —with so-called 'perfect pitch' in order to sing a particular music, I would say that is absolute -- no pun intended -- rubbish. Rubbish, in the sense that if that were indeed the case, it is in my view a sure and certain sign that there's something wrong with the music. Quite simply, that the music lacks, in the new map or descriptive language outlined here, not so much tonality, but clear, complementary, centers, centers which easily modulate from simple to complex, and back again.

One additional new concept we need in order to understand this problem is what I call complicatedness, in contrast to true complexity.

Complicatedness is simply unnecessary difficulty, difficulty that serves no purpose, that is essentially entirely without meaning.

It can be argued that mistaking complicatedness or unnecessary difficulty for real complexity has become almost universal. In my view, this tacit confusion about the nature of sound has a kind of strangle hold on our thinking about the Arts and Western culture generally, and new music specifically. It is everywhere:--not just in Schönberg, but also in the frequently over-notated scores of Boulez, Berio, Ligeti, Carter and Xenakis, or even worse, in the merely mechanical reaction to this complicatedness of a simple-minded, dehumanized minimalism.

It's clear, that in order to accept complicatedness, we must first have fragmentation. And this fragmentation is everywhere, like the fragmentation of a vast majority of composers from the intensely somatic experience of performance and the richness of how sounds mix together in actual living, acoustic space.

In closing here, it is interesting to note that the unnecessary difficulty of complicatedness -- again, in contrast to true complexity, which is natural, is diversity and richness, and is always good as long as it is balanced by simplicity -- has become a kind of cult in new music. It is, I think, a clear sign of the final-stage hyper-extension of our obsession in the West with notation and number and measure generally.

100 MINIATURES please preview
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Featured gallery, mountain water . . . .
If you're a picture-poems fan, please visit my Living Water Gallery—some of
the best of my flowform photography w/ a selection of the highest quality
prints & frames . . . [ mouse over for controls / lower right fro full-screen ]

All Photographs & texts by Cliff Crego © 2012
(created: II.29.2012)

Featured gallery, mountain water . . . .
If you're a picture-poems fan, please visit my Living Water Gallery—some of
the best of my flowform photography w/ a selection of the highest quality
prints & frames . . . [ mouse over for controls / lower right fro full-screen ]

All Photographs & texts by Cliff Crego © 1998-2014
(created: II.29.2012)