Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Getting To Know You

for Bryan, who only likes questions which are thought provoking and/or interesting.

1. How do you feel about aleatoricism?

2. As far as we know, we humans are barely specks of dust in this vast universe, yet most of us feel that our lives are important and have purpose or feel depressed when we feel that is lacking. Why do you think that is so?

3. Have you read any books by Fyodor Dostoevsky? Are you a fan? Why or why not?

4. How do you feel about western vs. eastern medicine?

(me: 1. I hate random "music". It does not mimic nature at all. Nature has order. I like the idea of John Cage's pieces that were written using maps of constellations, but I don't recall that I actually liked the music.; 2. The force that creates life in the universe, which some call God, gives (encodes) living things (with) a desire to stay alive. I think every living being feels it. Who knows if it makes any sense?; 3. Yes. Huge fan. I am very interested in how he looked at the world. His philosophy is fascinating.; 4. X-Rays, Sonograms, and blood tests, etc. are great tools for helping to diagnose problems. However, looking at the whole person and everything that is going on instead of looking at just one symptom and treating it without regard to other factors makes much more sense. I think an integration of various methods is the best approach. Look at everything that is going on. Where it is useful and helpful and necessary, use western tests, use western medicine. Where it is useful and helpful and necessary, use eastern approaches to wellness.)


Scott said...

1. Like any other musical material, I like it when it's used well, and dislike it when it's used poorly. I find it's a very effective way of creating a unique sound without the interference of regular time, while keeping the performers' individual parts simple.

I've used aleatoric effects a number of times: having each person in a huge choir hum up a major scale at their own tempo was a recent one, and it was AWESOME. This slow, sliding progression of notes that converged on one note as out of a cloud. Very delicate, and lovely, and utterly unlike other things I've heard.

Of course, there's also a lot of music full of random stuff that just sounds random and sloppy. Not usually very effective music, in my opinion. So, depends on the skill with which it's employed, I'd say. Whew!

2. Because we have no significance ascribed to us by anyone else, we create our own meaning, our own goals. For instance, I understand that I am insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe, but every little bit of love counts as a huge plus to the goodness of the world, in my opinion. So I do what I can to be compassionate, understanding, and loving.

It's not about me affecting the meaning of the universe, nor is it about some supernatural "goal" I must achieve. But if I have no given purpose, then making the world around me a better place is a great purpose to take on. I think many would agree with me on that. And if every speck of dust worked to make its immediate environs a beautiful place, then the whole universe would be beautiful.

3. I'm a bit embarrassed to say I haven't. I've always been a little afraid of their heaviness and dense Russian-ness, even though I know if I read them I'd like them a lot.

4. I think both have much to offer. I believe more firmly in Western medicine, simply because I am a lover of the scientific method, and most of that proof is incontrovertible. But I think the doctor/patient relationship in America, at least, is far from productive. And there are some proven, effective things from Eastern medicine that I've incorporated into my life, including the general belief that holistic wellness is key to preventing illness. I think both Eastern and Western medicine could learn many things from each other. And I think it would be foolish of me to depend entirely on one branch of medicine when there's a whole world of other approaches out there.

Pam said...

For some reason people seem to be responding more to this on Facebook than on my blog, even though I put a link to my blog there. Oh well.

Anyway, I LOVE your answers, Scott. They are wonderful. You've reminded me of a lot of things I wasn't thinking of when I wrote my answers and added a lot of depth to the discussion, if there is a discussion...

Steph said...

1. Fairly indifferent. If you had asked me ten years ago, back when I was engaged in such issues, I might have had an opinion. I don't recall ever getting really excited about anything aleatoric, but I didn't really explore it, either.

2. Because within our own immediate realm of experience, our lives do have tremendous meaning. We don't go through life with the lens of the universe; we don't have that capacity.

But when I think about the vastness of the universe and the extreme rarity of conditions that support life, the existence of humanity strikes me as all the more extraordinary. I rarely feel diminished at the thought of being a speck of dust. I like to think of my body being composed of material that was once part of the stars. Not sure if that's relevant to the question, or not. :)

3. Yep, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov. Loved them both. (Scott, find the Larissa Volokhonsky/Richard Pevear translations--they read like mystery novels.) They attempt the sort of absurd heights of moral and religious exploration that are rarely found in contemporary fiction. What modern editor would allow "The Grand Inquisitor" section of Brothers K to survive?

4. I've had experiences with arrogant and thoughtless practitioners of both. I've had good experiences with both as well. I'm sure that in the best of worlds, they can complement each other.

I'm all about the scientific method too, though; I get annoyed when people ask me to believe things based on anecdotal evidence. I like my current acupuncturist because he is constantly asking me if things are effective, as opposed to practitioners I've had in the past who essentially order me to believe that they will be.

Pam said...

Thank you, Steph. #2 is amazing.

Anonymous said...

1. First, I don't like the wording of the question - as I tell my writing students, nobody gives a crap what you "feel," it is what you THINK that matters here. So how do I feel about aleatoric music? It makes me sleepy. Not sure why. A painter friend of mine once said that whenever he sees a Jackson Pollack, he wants to rip it off the wall and lie down on the ground and use it as a blanket. Same applies here with music. That's how I feel. Anything without rigid control is a relief to me. This is why I fall asleep some nights listening to Peter Brotzman. (free jazz)

What I think is simple- I agree with Scott. If used well, bingo, if not, say, if it is used in pale imitation of music of another world tradition such as Japanese music (e.g. the improvisation styles of shakuhachi music) well, that bugs me.

2. Just the other day, I drove past a carwash, and in the parking lot, 2 people were fighting- one drew a gun and prepared to fire. He did not. It made me realize, on the spot, that by no choice or fault of my own, the universe could have wiped me out in the form of a stray bullet. My hands were shaking.

I have no idea what this means. Probably that I take things too seriously. And, I need to find a new route to get home...

3. I have not read anything Russian in a decade. I probably should. Thanks for updating my summer reading list.

4. I was in physical therapy for back problems a year ago. I had a super cool PT, and after a while, she simply said "you need acupuncture." Of course my insurance would hear of no such thing.

It's time to embrace any and all things that work. Eating more fish and putting flaxseed oil in my smoothies helps me concentrate. And so on. Nature usually has an answer that drugs simply can't imitate.

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Jake said...

1. Conflicted. Aleatoricism is not true randomness by any stretch. The scale Scott talked about is a perfect example of something aleatoric, as opposed to some of the chicken-scratch randomness that was experimented with particularly in the 60s. But I do tend to think it's often used as a lazy way out for a composer. I once did a premiere of a piece that was fantastically complex and rich in its original form. But when the choir basically couldn't do it, the composer replaced those sections with aleatory. While the effect was similar, it did seem to lose something vital. Only occasionally have I really found it to work, but when it does, there's nothing like it. So, conflicted.

2. Our lives most certainly are important to us - as you say, basic survival! Why shouldn't they be? As far as purpose goes, that gets so wrapped up in beliefs and cultural momenta that I think I shy away from it these days. Too complex an issue.

3. Alas, no.

4. Western medicine prides itself on being more "scientific," but the reality is that its application of the scientific method is remarkably blinkered. Some of that is by necessity, but health and wellness are very complicated, and it just seems unscientific to dismiss anecdotal evidence simply because you can't replicate it clinically. If ten or fifty people swear they've seen an ivory-billed woodpecker but no scientist has seen it, does that mean it's not there?

Pam said...

You make a really great point in #4, Jake. Thank you. :-)

Suze said...

I'm a little late, but I'll comment anyhoo.

1. Meh. I do like modern music, so I should probably like aleatoric stuff more, but if I am to be perfectly honest, it's kind of hard to get excited about it. Most of the time, I think it sounds like a mess.

2. If we feel insignificant, what's the point of living? Of caring about our own lives?

3. Nope. Since I'm being honest here, I'll admit why: I'm afraid reading russian novels will make me feel stupid. And I HATE feeling stupid.

4. I don't know enough about eastern medicine to make an educated call on this...but I think methods that have been working for hundreds or thousands of years in eastern cultures shouldn't be blithely dismissed by a western medical culture that is so tied to chemical companies for information.

Pam said...

Suze, I am super happy to read your comments anytime! Thanks for writing! Re: #3, I honestly can't think of any reason why any of the Russian novels I have read would make you feel stupid at all. I have to say, I was really surprised when I read War & Peace at how easy to read it was. The reason it is so readable is because it was written in daily (or weekly?) installments in a newspaper for the masses. It's kind of like a soap opera. The only problem with reading it really is just that it's so damn long! Re: Dostoevsky, he has some interesting philosophical ideas, but they're not that unlike things you and I have discussed. In fact, your knowledge of labor issues might make some of the Russian novelists appealing. I don't know. I went through a phase a while ago when I read quite a few, but I haven't read anything more for quite some time. I have definitely been in a non-fiction phase for a while.

Suze said...

Scott, I'm playing one of your pieces with chorale this semester (Hower-Glass). Who can say no to Bruce?

Anyway, I should revise my statement about aleatoricism because I think done right, it can be really powerful.