The Psychology of Music 3

I want to explore the idea of music as ‘psychical architecture’.  This might sound grand – and perhaps a bit confusing and not easy to understand or to visualise.  But it’s not.  I am going to take a few minutes to unpack the phrase ‘psychical architecture’.

It’s all about drawing likenesses between music as one experiences hearing and enjoying it; and buildings which occupy a space on the street.  I think it’s easiest and so best to start off at a point where most people are able to connect with me on this idea; and so I ask: do you not have the feeling of there being a kind of ‘virtual space’ in which any music you hear is being performed?  And it’s like a different space for different pieces of music; in the way that one is unable to build a building in a space already occupied by another building?

It’s our grasp of that ‘virtual musical space’ that gets created by a certain piece we are hearing that opens up our being grabbed by that piece and being carried along with it (as was the Wedding Guest of The Ancient Mariner who ‘cannot choose but hear’).

If you are with me; and have an inkling of what I mean about ‘musical architecture’ then I can go on and say that some musical architecture is grand and large, spacious and imposing; but that it ranges right down to simple nursery rhyme songs, like ‘Little Boy Blue’, which have their own modest but still very distinctive areas of virtual space that they occupy.

A simple unadorned melody like that of ‘Little Boy Blue’ for instance, has an attractive lilt, and this lilt contributes to opening up for us a ‘large room’ which is occupied by our strong feelings of fanciful wistfulness.  When we hear ‘Little Boy Blue’ being played or sung it is as if we are being placed in that room and that we become aware of that space having appeared in our minds; and of being in it whilst the song or tune lasts.

Towards the complex end of the scale of ‘musical architecture’ might be like, say, JS Bach’s ‘Concerto for Two Violins’; which in its First Movement has going on together something like three or four threads of melody, rhythm, and accompaniment.

There is in it what is called a ground, usually played by a harpsichordist; and it is a theme held below the other themes; and it carries the themes above it like a donkey carries his packs. This ground not only keeps the music moving as if forwards; like a laden donkey; but it appears to keep it on the right path too; and not straying into bushes or fields which obscure the way. So a ground keeps some strong direction for a busy piece of music like this one of Bach’s.

Then there are the two violins which oddly play tunes of their own which compete with one another but nonetheless compete only within a bound or framework of limitations set within the composition by its composer. It’s as if Punch and Judy were placed in a box (the puppet theatre) and allowed to fight it out between themselves; but only within the box and within the sight and hearing of the children watching the show.  (And this of course is more or less what happens at a puppet show like this.)

The two violins though conflict like two cartoon swordfighters who are able to walk up walls and ceilings, as well as on floors; and who as a result are able in an eye-blink to swap places or to move together in symmetries as it seems instantaneously.  The swordfight is long, intense, rapid and wholly absorbing to a person watching (hearing) it. Cartoon because the swordfighters do things which defy natural physical laws and at speeds and variety otherwise not available in actual life.

Lastly, there is in Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins an orchestral accompaniment; which is like a good sauce on one’s lunch; enough to give one’s lunch an added verve and you a whetted appetite; but a sauce which at the same time does not make unpalatable the food itself taste-wise; nor is it so strong as to drown the taste of the actual food; but just right enough to enhance it to an optimum.

All these four threads go working and going along together in the performance of Bach’s Concerto; when you sit and allow the music to absorb you, it creates what I believe is a quite vast ‘musical architecture’.  This piece by Bach evokes or creates psychically an arena, or a hall, like an auditorium; wherein musical events – by which I mean one’s responses, one’s ‘jerkings around by it’ are happening like at a busy intersection where motorways meet and traffic is pouring through.

Bach by way of his music in its performance sustains that ‘virtual space’ in us and sustains it uniformly and constantly; and it is wherein his music’s musical activity, is played out in our minds. Perhaps this ‘virtual space;’ found in music apprehended by us; is there psychologically because the music we hear with engagement has an effect of liberating our spirits?

That might sound real fine and a bit precious for me to have said; but let’s put it in less grandiose terms.  Music creates space and that is the space that a listener’s mind occupies; along with the whole person of listener, for as long as she remains uninterrupted by internal or external jarrings. For this time she is ‘somewhere else’ and that place she is at is a place which is characterised by that sense of freedom and release from restraint that music generates in people.

We have a phrase we use: ‘when the music stops’. We use this phrase to mean; ‘when a good thing comes to an end’ – usually suddenly – and we also mean when we use this phrase that ‘something precious has (suddenly) been lost’ to us – that ‘the party is over’.  When music stops, it is almost as if we are returned to a starker reality and to a reality that has consequences; returned from a place where not only the spirit is able to roam free; but from a place of no consequence, of no pressures nor upshots; other than those ‘make-believe’ ones generated only so long as the music was playing for us.

Now I want to take a different tack here and to match up later this different tack with the theme of ‘musical architecture’.

Men and Women, says The Bible, are creatures made in God’s own image.  They are creatures – that is – they are created – thus implicit in this view is a Creator – and the first of us were breathed into by God with his breath which gave them life and spirit – as we say – inspiration.

Now all this might be Fairytale – like ‘Little Boy Blue’ – or not – whatever.  You don’t have to decide on that for yourself here or now.  You just have to place these Bible claims in that ‘virtual space’ similar to the one ‘Little Boy Blue’ occupies in your mind’s evocations and emotions.

As the great Shakespeare said:

‘….let us, ciphers to this great accompt, 
on your imaginary forces work’

Now it can be imagined – even as merely a figure of speech – that music in its ability to create in us ‘virtual space’ by way of its ‘musical architecture’ affecting and working on our minds – is something close to magical, and that its powers in these respects are not easily able to be understood or explained.  So that in so far as music works a kind of ‘magic’ on us it is a mysterious thing in our lives and in existence.

Just as all our physical person is captivated by certain pieces of music played to us; likewise all our psychical person is enthralled also.  The magic is complete when music is at its best for us.  And this magic lasts only whilst the music is playing and while we are listening to it with all our body and mind. A ‘virtual space’ is opened up and sustained by this playing of and listening to music. The music stops and the ‘virtual space’ is gone – as if it had never been.

Let’s transfer the magic in music to physical space from ‘virtual space’. There used to be a long time ago a concept in use by and believed in by philosophers that the planets in orbit around the sun along with the earth emitted music; ‘the music of the spheres’.

The Solar System was considered by them an example of Sacred Geometry; and the perfection of this Geometry was akin to the perfection in the abstract idea of a circle or of a sphere or a cone or pyramid shape.

As we can only imagine a perfect circle or sphere etc in our minds; and because we tend to accept that in the physical world no perfection actually exists in spheres and circles etc, and maybe cannot exist; it follows that these old philosophers who considered that the starry heavens above them were works of such perfect – whether or not physically I just do not know – they were maybe misguided.

But yet certainly a place of perfection was envisaged by them to be in place but resident outside the mind; and in addition to what the mind can imagine as perfect.

These conceptions of the old philosophers then might seem quaint and passé to us; but nonetheless the conception in general that a place of perfection is able to exist or does exist outside of the mind is something which remains, as they say in Scotland ‘not proven’. That is to say; the jury is still out on the answer to this riddle.

Now if there were God somewhere, a perfect being outside of (and inside?) the mind; then we having a capacity to envisage, and so create using musical architecture ‘virtual space’ in our minds; then may we not be using in doing this an inheritance of our creational heritage of being creatures made in the image of a God?  After all it is very possible that this God might be upholding the very heavens and earth, space, time and being; absolutely and everywhere; by way of some such similar ‘magic’ to the magic of music’s ‘virtual space’; but likewise unknown to us how it works?

This in turn, were it the case, might mean that the capacities of our minds able to create, play, appreciate, and able to become absorbed by music into a ‘virtual space’ and of our own creation; might this be a pale shadow of God’s power which he breathed into us as spirit at our Creation.  So that it might be He who upholds by his power all things, all creation, all being, everywhere and absolutely; psychologically and physically; and maybe also abstractly (as with mathematical and other autonomous non-physical abstract entities)?

When one looks at life, being, existence, the physical world, and living things in general; and at the life of our minds and those of the minds of animals; when one looks at all these things in this way, even were one to consider what I have said all hogwash, one would be unable to resist the fact pressing hardly and fiercely on you that all is mystery; and so all is wonder and amazement.

If you find yourself unable to press your conceptions of mind out of the regular trough of ordinary sameness and habitual sallow acceptance of thing as they are – saying to yourself – well, life and things are nothing special, they just are, just happen – I hope what I have tried to say to you might lie fallow in you and someday make its small presence readily felt and so grow up in you as an awareness of how massively strangely magical and rare everything really is.

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The Psychology of Music 2

I thought I would follow through with some more music anecdotes and commentary on this present theme of The Psychology of Music.

In regard to ‘understanding’ music; by this I mean; psychologically being moved by it according more or less to learned rules or customs embedded in our minds; rules or customs which also reside in the tunes or melodies themselves; both the mind and the music as it were communing and aligning in a kind of psychic harmony. Yet as far as understanding music in this way goes – that is, with our whole bodies; sometimes music we are unused to can ‘go over our heads’.

But not as it being ‘too hard’ for us; rather more often it is too ‘new’ or ‘of too new a style’ when it is not appreciated or understood by us; and it can even be rejected by us because it makes us angry at its effrontery to have put itself forward as being music.  There is plenty of evidence in music history to support this idea that our responses to ‘too new’ musics are at first anger and rejection; but yet these styles of music can be learned to be appreciated by way of acclimatising oneself over time to their ‘newness’.

In the simplest and most commonplace sense this idea can be illustrated by the experience most of us have in regard to hearing for the first time newly released popular songs. These fledgling songs and melodies, arrangements and harmonies, are able soon to become well known to us and their ‘languages’ understood; by them having ‘grown on a person’; so that a song and melody which passed you by when you first heard it; will gradually ‘educate’ you into its subtleties and its beauties; so that at first you begin to notice it and then soon you start to want to hear more of it.  Maybe nearly everyone has had this kind of experience?

And again, there are some other ‘new ventures’ in music which have been misunderstood and violently rejected at their first outings – big-time.  It is well known that Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ composition at its premier performance provoked rioting and confusion in its first audiences. It was received by them as an affront; a shock to their tastes and to their expectations; and was vilified as ‘primitive cacophony’ and considered a fraud and an utter failure.

Of course, in our day Stravinsky is considered a ground-breaking innovator; one who tapped into new ideas for Classical music; in taking up the new studies as influences; like those of anthropology and psychology. ‘Rite of Spring’ can be said to be the first piece of modern music; music which is inseparable from the society and outlook of post WW1 industrial nations.

It was written and performed first before WW1; but the modern age really begins with the post war years; the leap from genteel Victorianism into a business, technology and industry oriented world was bridged by the rapid rate of invention and ‘progress’ which that War stimulated. Mass society was born therein as a ‘feeling’.

Music like Stravinsky’s was music which at the time was not wanted to be heard. It offended the ear. Stravinsky was in fact retraining the ears of his listeners in new and fruitfuls direction for music; and it took time – years even.

Likewise, still with classical composers, Mahler’s works were not well understood at their first airings. Their textures were singular and disturbingly unfamiliar and ‘new’ or ‘modern’. Only by the insistence and support of a few adherents to his work did Mahler by the end of his lifetime become ‘established’ as a musician composer.

Then there are the examples of Vivaldi and of Bach.  Ezra Pound himself championed Vivaldi and his works at about the same time (around WW1 and thereafter) and that work which seems to be on the end of every call you are left on hold with; Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – was unknown to Victorians and the 19th century in general. That seems to us now hard to believe – that such a work of great accomplishment and so generally pleasing to so many could have been ‘lost; in some Venetian or similar backwater archive for so many centuries.

Bach himself, perhaps the composer of composers, was neglected for many years once his works took a fall in popularity after his death (Such a fall seems to happen to every great artist immediately upon their deaths).  But even when his works were resurrected and played everywhere; there remained some works of his which were considered even by the best critics as ‘teaching exercises’ and no more.

Bach’s solo cello suites in particular were ‘rescued’ from this status of being considered merely ‘teaching exercises’ during the mid 20th century. Nowadays they are prized as some of the finest parts of his oeuvre.

So like Abe Lincoln said; ‘You can’t fool all of the people all of the time’.  Like truth greatness will out.

This is not to say that because greatness and truth win out in the end that no truth and no greatness has been lost to us over the ages.  There are records of a fire at the great library at Alexandria in 2nd century, which destroyed perhaps thousands of ancient works of which no other copies have come down to the world today. Handel himself I believe lost works in a fire at his home; as did the dramatist Ben Jonson.  A painted portrait of Winston Churchill by the eminent artist Graham Sutherland was destroyed by the Churchill family out of dislike for the ambience it appeared to put Churchill in.

And also undoubtedly there are treasures – in music and the other fine arts – to be discovered and unearthed, and also yet to be lost and/or fallen into neglect. In 2016 a copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works was ‘discovered’ which had been unrecorded and not known by its owners to be in their library.

The doyen of 20th century poetry the great TS Eliot has taken a severe mauling from those who judge and assess these things since his death in the 1960s.  Nonetheless his works have begun to work through the dudgeon and dismissal they suffered and are making an approach into their place in a permanent canon.

But back to music.  Like many things in life, music, which we have said ‘jerks you about violently’ and emotionally in particular, but also thought-provokingly too; music and all the other arts and the social mores and customs, expectations and positions, etc, etc; all these things and more are part of ‘the cloud’ our minds subsist together inside (I use the term ‘cloud here in its Information Technology sense).  As such our minds are not only supported by and in the ‘cloud’ but are melted into it and are absorbed from into it, and generally are reactive and responsive with and within it; and reciprocally the ‘cloud’ itself reacts and responds within itself, to our minds.  We are carried along in this ‘cloud’ which moves amorphously and absorbs things and excretes things, as do we.  For instance it was only a few years back that suicide and homosexuality were crimes under British law; yet now it is a crime to persecute homosexuals and suicide is being lobbied for by and in certain quarters and this lobby is quite respected and accepted by many of us among the ‘cloud’.

But like the weather (we even talk of the social and political and economic ‘climates’) the ‘cloud’ is not easily forecastable nor can it be controlled. It is like the Holy Spirit in the way that is ‘goes whither it list’ and we are like those who heed the motions of the Holy Spirit in that we are carried hither and thither by what comes our ways from it. This is true for us all to greater and lesser degrees.

Our ‘cloud’ is like a hive – it is our cultural and psychic home – and I can take this simile yet further and say that for much of our lives and for most of us this hive is a shelter and a barrier between us and what rests outside the hive or the ‘cloud’.

What I mean by this is that we human beings are pretty obsessed with ourselves and with what we, and others we follow, are up to. We get absorbed and involved and so commit to this general flurry of communication and interrogation and engagement with our activities as people and with people. We are an inward-looking species for the most part.  We have our Facebook pals and our Twitter accounts and our coffees with friends; our iPhones and Androids, and our trips abroad or on cruises; all whereabouts we for the most part club or dance or drink and socialise our time away.

Very little of our time or thought is spent in consideration of what might be termed ’externals’ such as nature and learning (disinterested study) or on working on or thinking about problems other than our human relations’ problems.  Hence we are ‘hive’ animals; animals who like to ‘data-mine the cloud’.

So; we are in a cloud; we don’t know where that cloud is heading; nor do we have more than a very little power over steering it. We also indulge that ‘cloud’ by making it our main and almost sole occupation, resource, and place of experience for enjoyment and sadness.  The ‘cloud’ is amorphous and ever-changing unaccountably and without direction or care for quality or tendency for consolidation. It is almost an autonomous entity to which we all subscribe and go along with it.  For the most part – and don’t let them tell you differently – it is like this for top politicians; for big industrialists; for what are called ‘opinion-formers’ and for other top of the tree persons who might claim or believe they make a difference.

Harold Wilson, a late and outstanding Prime Minister of the UK was asked; what was the most difficult thing about being a political leader? – and he answered sagely: ‘Events, dear boy, events’!  How true indeed.

Music then is just one, a powerful one but just one, of many items in our lives which are capable of and do ‘jerk us around’, often violently and without us having control or often even knowledge of what is going on and what might be happening to us.  Music can be pretty innocuous – as a pastime listening to or dancing to or singing it perhaps – but like other ‘jerkers around’ it can creep up and grab you and use you and steer you whilst you are occupied watching Bruce Willis or NCIS, X-Men or Watchmen – and most of the time you don’t even know it.

That travestied poet now rehabilitating, TS Eliot, believed and said that he thought that in the way everything we digest as food becomes us – we are what we eat – a rational and incontrovertible physical fact – everything we watch, hear, say, think, do, read, and use the mind for, or have the mind used by – all these things, he said, are like ‘mental food’ and we become – our minds become – what we digest from amongst it.

So we are back to Plato and Socrates and with their dictum again: ‘Know Thyself’, This is because the only remote chance we have of getting at least a little on top of the ‘cloud effect’ upon us, and so of seeing the wood beyond the trees, or as I have written before – of seeing the view at the front of Plato’s Cave or escaping the toils of The Matrix – is to Know Thyself.

But a word of caution. Knowing Oneself is not navel-gazing; it is not narcissism; it is not an egocentric occupation; nor does it aim to forward the self for the self’s, one’s own, sake.  Here to round-off this piece of writing is for your enjoyment a set of verses by a very great man (not TS Eliot but a priest and a poet called George Herbert, who lived during the first half of the seventeenth century in England and Wales).  It is titled ‘The Pearl’, which title refers to that ‘Pearl of Great Price’ which the Lord Jesus tells us of in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 8). It is a pearl for which a wealthy man sells everything he has to obtain enough money to buy it.  The pearl is an emblem for The Kingdom of Heaven and the wealthy man is that person who like Matthew himself drops everything when:

Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. Matthew 9.9

This poem ‘The Pearl’ is about the attractions for persons of the variety and fun of those things to be found ‘in the cloud’. It is a mediation on these delights and on their attraction, and how they are what commonly occupy a lifetime. The poem is an address to his God; and address in which George Herbert sees beyond the draw and attractive busyness of being ‘in the cloud’ and perceives deeper that a life devoted to  God and to attempting a life in image of God’s righteousness, is not only what is due and fitting before God; but it is also what is also most preferable and most real and fulfilling for himself – indeed the utmost fulfilment and realisation for a human purpose and lifetime.

George Herbert ‘The Pearl’

I know the ways of learning; both the head 

And pipes that feed the press, and make it run; 

What reason hath from nature borrowed, 

Or of itself, like a good huswife, spun 

In laws and policy; what the stars conspire, 

What willing nature speaks, what forced by fire; 

Both th’old discoveries and the new-found seas, 

The stock and surplus, cause and history; 

All these stand open, or I have the keys: 

Yet I love thee. 

 

I know the ways of honour; what maintains 

The quick returns of courtesy and wit; 

In vies of favours whether party gains 

When glory swells the heart and moldeth it 

To all expressions both of hand and eye, 

Which on the world a true-love-knot may tie, 

And bear the bundle wheresoe’er it goes; 

How many drams of spirit there must be 

To sell my life unto my friends or foes: 

Yet I love thee. 

 

I know the ways of pleasure; the sweet strains 

The lullings and the relishes of it; 

The propositions of hot blood and brains; 

What mirth and music mean; what love and wit 

Have done these twenty hundred years and more; 

I know the projects of unbridled store; 

My stuff is flesh, not brass; my senses live, 

And grumble oft that they have more in me 

Than he that curbs them, being but one to five: 

Yet I love thee. 

 

I know all these and have them in my hand; 

Therefore not sealed but with open eyes 

I fly to thee, and fully understand 

Both the main sale and the commodities; 

And at what rate and price I have thy love, 

With all the circumstances that may move. 

Yet through the labyrinths, not my grovelling wit, 

But thy silk twist let down from heaven to me 

Did both conduct and teach me how by it 

To climb to thee 

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The Psychology of Music

I think it was Ezra Pound who considered that all music tended either towards the dance or towards the song. A nice and a pregnant observation

There is also a commonplace which states that music is ‘a language’; some go as far as to call it ‘a universal language’

Of course it has not boundaries in the way that say French or Arabic and other spoken and written languages have; which are bounded by their availability only to speakers and writers and readers of their languages.

All this may be conceded – yet there is indeed a difference between say Indian; Chinese; Arabic; European; Spanish musics; and anyone familiar enough with these differences can usually give a geographical source to any piece she hears played.

Thus the different culturally-based musics are distinctive and differentiable to a modestly trained ear.

Then there are ‘social classes’ of musics, for want of a better name for them. There is ‘pop’ which is an amorphous and wider ranging entity; a very broad church indeed. Within it might be places – Country & Western; Rock; Blues; R&B; soul; rap; rave; house; M.O.R. and so on.

Then there are traditional musics; which can be very interesting. These include folk; gospel; spirituals; mambas; calypsos; possibly reggae and skaa; and indigenous musics of native peoples wherever in the world a tradition exists.

But traditional musics are not always so easy to pin a culture or a geography to. Mediaeval English music is hard sometimes to distinguish from Arabic folk music (because of the influences both ways during the Crusader Wars).  Celtic and Indian folk can ‘overlap’ because the dark skinned dark haired Celts were part of the same indigenous race which occupied India many moons back.  Anthropology has its place here.

Spain and the Moors; South America and Iberia; North America and almost every where; West Indies and African; all reflect musics which involve history and historical shifts; and which concerning the blendings of these musics taken in vaccuo were entirely accidental in resultant effects.

But this all said: and music acknowledged to be a various and multitudinous range of styles and sensitivities; the question remains – can we say anything which is able to help characterise what music is and how it works (universally) upon us?

Here are a few interesting considerations.

Leos Janacek, an Eastern European composer of classical music during the 20th century, claimed with some authenticity I think, that he found inspiration for his Symphonietta and his Glagolitic Mass and his handful of successful operas; in regarding and using as his raw materials the speech patterns and rhythms he heard daily in use around him.  Now this is important; because music does indeed ‘talk’ to us; and I would say that much music has the ability to ‘jerk us around’ emotionally in much the same way as we pick up nuance and intonation; mood and urgency; in what people tell us in their speaking to us.  Maybe there’s a learning curve required for Janacek’s products made out of his raw materials, and maybe there’s a learning curve for us for all musics; but give a listen to Janacek and see whether you agree with him and see whether you can see the speech patterns put to work as music.

I tend to feel Janacek’s speech rhythms when I listen – and I believe his operas are so successful because of these patterns in them – they help immensely with telling a dramatic story in song.

Also I believe Janacek was in no way unique; than many composers and songwriters of all kinds either aware or unawares use spoken language patterns as a basis for what they produce.  The alignment of music with verbal languages is apparent.

Let’s go back to the ability all musics have to ‘jerk us about’ emotionally. What goes on here? Young girls shed tears over a sad song. Commuters take up the hint and march briskly through Waterloo Station to the military music played on the platforms there deliberately so as to get people moving of a morning.  The Spartans allowed themselves only martial stirring tunes in their Peloponnese home; deliberately so as to make their men grow up tough and not susceptible to ‘softness’.  Hard Rock can drive persons to frenzied excitement (which Jack Black comically displays in his movie ‘School of Rock’). Music can stand for things. National Anthems; Church Services; Relaxation; intense pain and grief; love and joy; all kinds of emotions and ideas coalesce around musics and around particular musical styles and pieces.

And we are truly ‘jerked around’ by music; subliminally it is used in shopping malls; in waiting rooms; over the phone; at intermissions; and so on with an intent to encourage us to buy or to be patient or to pay attention.

An interesting musical fact

Mozart wrote what have become to be known as divertimentos. These usually are for small string orchestras to play. Their name gives a clue to their function. They were ‘diversions’ in the old fashioned sense of that word; in the way tennis or card games are ‘diversions’ from the grind of daily toils.  Divertimentos were early ‘spam’; or as it used to be called ‘muzac’.  Except that nothing that a man of the calibre of Mozart wrote was ‘spam’ indeed.

These divertimentos were played as background music in society salons of Mozart’s times in Vienna. (A ‘salon’ is a large plush room where evening dinner parties with many ‘important’ guests would mingle and take recreation; probably do business and swap gossip. The 18th century Facebook and LinkedIn.  Divertimentos were not meant to be listened to – at least not in the way a classical music buff listens to her music – which is – as Nietzsche said – ‘with one’s feet’.

Divertimentos were subliminal and creative of ‘atmosphere’ like our music for meditation disks we see in boot sales today for 10p each. You were – at such a dinner party – conditioned by the music into a conducive state to enjoy the social frissons.

But Mozart’s divertimentos are preserved – and are preserved because they are durable and great pieces of composition and of music to hear played. Try K271 – that’s a very dry code number give to one of these divertimentos by the cataloguer of Mozart’s works after Mozart’s death.  K271 is delightful and engaging, light but very absorbing – you won’t regret it.

So, as it were, Mozart was ‘talking’ quietly and persuasively to everyone present at these high-society soirees as his music seeped unheeded into the consciousness of the guests; and he settled them and made them feel good and assured and maybe Mozart induced not a few indiscretions (not just concerning ladies, but concerning politicians and businessmen also?) to be offered and maybe accepted?

‘Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast’

‘If music be the food of love; play on’

So here in music resides power – power to persuade to rouse to encourage to sadden – a power like that described by Hamlet concerning one of the players come to act a drama; on whom Hamlet bestows astonishment and honour when he speaks thus of him:

[He] in a fiction, in a dream of passion,

Could force his soul so to his own conceit

That from her working all his visage wann’d,

Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,

A broken voice, and his whole function suiting

With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!

For Hecuba!

What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,

That he should weep for her?

Music has this powerful emotional pressure upon us all – it can ‘jerk us about’ and we cannot stop it sometimes.

Songs get ‘attachments’.  Soccer clubs in UK have fans who adopt a song which becomes the song for that club. Liverpool FC has ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ West Ham United has ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ and so on.  These songs weld clan loyalties; strong and binding; lasting and unbroken down generations and across families.  The weekly match experience would diminish greatly without them.

But music can be understood – I am convinced – and has a psychology of its own. It can be studied and can be investigated and expounded – with the right care and enough diligence.  Even the pauses in music work on us. Has any of you heard the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony, his desperate final ‘swansong’ of deep and impenetrable despair?  In the best recordings there is a silence mid way through and one is left hanging and attentive – waiting – only a couple of seconds but they seem an age of agony – one has been primed emotionally by what had come before the music died out here.

When the notes come; the chord strikes – like a bolt, like a blow to the head – and even though you have heard it seventy times seven times before it remains unexpected, unable to be accommodated and contained by your feelings – and it hits you somewhere low down in the bowels with a deep grievous pity and terror – the chord is vicious and it is soft and melting – and like a blade or saw cuts you open and leaves your heart bare and throbbing in pain – and you wonder – what sort of state was the guy in who wrote those few bars? – How could a guy write them and survive the emotional wrench?  Tchaikovsky was dead a few days later after completing the symphony – probably by his own hand.  There’s nothing more to be said – it seems inevitable – it’s all there in his last cri de coeur. Signposted – Prophesied

Music can make articulate the inarticulate-in-language person. There are stories that arise which bring to light men and women who have been raised – often overnight – to singing stardom – in popular and in classical styles – who have been raised from singing in their kitchens as the wash dishes or prepare meals for their family – maybe along to a recording they enjoy of a song or an aria – or who habitually sing in their baths likewise. These persons often are sweetly unaware of their own abilities or their own senses of rhythm or of a turn of musical phrase or of their virtuosity; until someone prominent who knows and has position and confidence can place them onstage at The Albert Hall or at Carnegie Hall.

Shelley called poets; ‘The unacknowledged legislators of the world’.  Musicians, performers and composers likewise have a majestical gift for directing and guiding our hearts our passions our souls. And like any great power it can be misused by those who wish to misuse it. Just as a madman in the White House can press the nuclear destruct button; so the same guy (or woman) is able to act more subtly with stealths and guile so as to place your dispositions whereabouts s/he wants them; and music remains a powerful weapon in the armoury.

Bob Dylan, one of the greats of 20th century folk and of what was known then as ‘protest song’ who made such a difference to so many lives and probably affected the world as much as did a Nixon or a Johnson; Dylan sang (with feeling):

I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you
Beat or cheat or mistreat you
Simplify you, classify you
Deny, defy or crucify you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

No, and I ain’t lookin’ to fight with you
Frighten you or tighten you
Drag you down or drain you down
Chain you down or bring you down
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

I ain’t lookin’ to block you up
Shock or knock or lock you up
Analyze you, categorize you
Finalize you or advertise you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

I don’t want to straight-face you
Race or chase you, track or trace you
Or disgrace you or displace you
Or define you or confine you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

I don’t want to meet your kin
Make you spin or do you in
Or select you or dissect you
Or inspect you or reject you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

I don’t want to fake you out
Take or shake or forsake you out
I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me
See like me or be like me
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

 

UK Politics: Appearances and Decline

Politicians are the salesmen of policies and statutes; of measures and of government.

Although the maxim ‘The customer is always right’ is not conducive to ‘good politics’.

‘Good politics’ itself as a concept is a misnomer and an oxymoron.  A misnomer because bad behaviour is necessary to do ‘good’ politics; and an oxymoron because in fact ‘bad’ politics are ‘good ‘politics, when taken from the view of any person who attempts a righteous life.

Quite fortuitously for my arguments henceforward, commerce and politics nowadays are twin sisters, and they share in common nowadays a great deal more than I can remember having been shared by them in my lifetime.

The politicians here in the UK have made it a commonplace for them to proclaim that they ‘have much to learn from private industry’ or from ‘the private sector’ about how to run a nation. They speak endlessly on the subjects of how ‘we have to pay our way in the world’ and so ‘make public finance ends meet’. They insist again and again that like Mr Micawber’s miserable man ‘we cannot live beyond our means’ and also that there are certain things ‘we, or the country, or the nation, cannot afford’.

This sort of talk began to be casually habitual in the 1980s when Mrs Margaret Thatcher presided as Prime Minister in Britain and over her ‘shopping bag’ economics.  Previous to this time there were indeed ‘balance of payment deficits’ we were all worried about; and ‘inflation rates’ we were all worried about; but this earlier time was a time when Nationalised (or State Run) industries were common in the UK; particularly with regard to Utilities, Steel and Heavy Industry, Power and Postage.

Nationalised industries were not in those days constrained to make profits; although they were considered albatrosses round a nation’s neck when they showed massive losses on their balance sheets.

And in the main a different and now it seems antiquated political climate held ascendancy before the cultural and political shifts which were introduced by Mrs Thatcher and her government upon their coming into office in 1979.

Upon being elected Mrs Thatcher’s government of 1979 soon tag teamed the UK with the USA; and this occurred suddenly and upon the rise of a Regan/Thatcher accord come into being.  Milton Friedman (of ‘no free lunch’ fame) was the guru of the day for money and spending, economics and theory.  The emphasis of economic policy on both side of the Atlantic shifted rapidly, suddenly, onto controlling the money supply, and onto engaging to cut government to a minimum; which entailed disbursing nearly all of the Nationalised Industries into the Private Sector.

Town Halls were sold off and rented back on long leases by Local Government Boroughs; School playing fields were sold off for quick profits and housing or such built on them.  Council Public Housing stocks were severely depleted by the introduction of a Right-to-Buy Policy. Overnight, it seemed, the onetime clear borderline between what had been financially dubious, even to the point sometimes of being criminal, was pushed back and new space was suddenly created for high level economic transactions to happen in. These began to grow muddied as to whether they were ethical or non-ethical; sometimes mulching up the question whether they were criminal or non-criminal transactions. Especially in The City.

The guys to the far right had it; and the middle ground politicians were dubbed ‘wets’ and trivialised. The Labour movement of the left was more or less cast out of the orthodox political fold as personae non grata.  Great clashes wherein segments of society who previously had enjoyed some level of political power and sway were pitted to the death against a new Right orthodoxy shook the land; and one by one the old time demi-powers, labelled again by the ascendants derogatively as ‘dinosaurs’, were destroyed.

A new outlook and nation was born, created.  It is our heritage today.  It is a nation which has embraced High Capitalism; hedge funds and venture capital, private lending and private spending; all carrying a ruthless calling in of debts when things get too edgy. Other traits of this time were small government, and deregulation of workers protections and employer preventions, whose removals made and continue to make businesses able to profit from reductions in overheads. But with this deregulation came an accompanying job insecurity, and hiring and firing became much more fluid as a consequence.

Instead of Europe being looked by the UK to as one’s economic and cultural homeland; the United States became suddenly and very much so the de facto roots of our present culture (except perhaps for our High Culture, which has nose-dived in popularity the UK). We now watch US TV shows and movies; we consume US music and musical styles; we wear US clothing fashions and embrace US attitudes to sport, to our neighbours and neighbourhoods, and to money and to consumption of goods and services.  I would say with some reserve that more of our lives come from the USA in origin these days than remain British or European, or even Colonial. Even were one to add together all other influences on the British way of life I would say that now our lives are more American than all these other influences are able to muster as a contradistinction.

We now consume more, much more, ‘homeland propaganda’ in our TV shows, on Radio, and in Print.  There exists no indigenous counter-culture of any strength or size in Britain right now which is posed against The Triumph of Capitalism which the media propaganda hypes. Our latest farce, our apostasy from the European Union has only underwritten that decision of the 1980s UK governments to throw our lot in with the USA and not with Europe.

In short, we are presently a charity-close-to-home contented-to–the-point-of-smugness little church of islands, happy to laze drowsily under the shadow of a United States which itself is experiencing strange and convulsive political turmoils, similarly to the UK.

Like the United States whom we sit at the feet of, we too are past our best as a nation and in decline, and like the US we are publicly seen to be in decline.

So what does all this preamble above lead to concerning Appearances?

In the year 1997 and following, a new political phrase was coined. The ‘spin doctor’ was born.  A spin doctor is a political person of some power and standing who is able to package up and to present policy and governmental ideas in such a way as to put the best face on them so that they go down well with the people being governed. Or at least they go down the best they can go down with the public.

A style had thus been given to presentation; to the acts of colouring appearances and of slanting data in such a way as to make them palatable. Of course slanting data and colouring words is not new.  The schools of Rhetoric go back to Classical Athens and before; and the Roman and Medieval schools appointed their Trivium of schools subjects; one of which was rhetoric.  Plato himself talks of the disservice of certain speakers who would aim to make ‘the weaker argument defeat the stronger’.  These fancy speakers were known to history as ‘Sophists’, from which we get our word ‘sophisticated’.

(Interestingly enough the word ‘sophisticated’ had until the 20th century a pejorative aspect about it; it was considered a bad thing to be and to champion, because it made much out of little and gave a person affected airs and so on.  Once the clothing fashion industry and cosmetics and smart set industries took up the word it became something to attain, and to achieve and to celebrate being.  Perhaps this little anecdote tells much of my story for me?)

But again; back in the 1990s here in UK a style was given once again to rhetorical sophistication; which was known again at this time a ‘spin’ and was being applied by ‘spin doctors’.  ‘Doctors’ is a curious word too. Here in the UK a pet is ‘doctored’ when it is spayed or castrated; and a drink is ‘doctored’ when a potion is added to it clandestinely – ‘spiked’ is the current terminology I think.  ‘Doctored’ then in these senses entails adulterating something – like a drink – and again it entails – destroying the potency of something – like a pet.

Both these implied meanings are embedded (another interesting word ‘embedded’ – but not for our topic right now) in the ‘spin doctor’ concept.  He or she is a person who adulterates the plain unvarnished item of news or data; and/or who ‘draws the sting’ of ‘bad news’, making it less strong to digest – lessening its potency.

There was a Briton on trial in Australia in the 1980s (1987) who had published a book (‘Spycatcher’) and who had allegedly breached an Official Secrets Act.  He, (or was it another? – a witness? Sir Nigel Havers?) coined a phrase which went into the folklore here in Britain when he responded to a direct question from the prosecution asking whether he had lied or not. He had replied by saying that he had been ‘economical with the truth’.

This reply caused him some celebrity here in Britain and his phrase was used topically for some years afterwards here.  This topicality of the phrase indicates to me that our ordinary people here in the 1980s were not yet used to or comfortable with such legerdemain being applied to words and their meanings. This in turn means to me that at that time we as a nation were not yet at our present state, far from it in fact, and that had we been in our present state back then, we would have hardly been stirred perhaps by such a flamboyant euphemism as being ‘economical with the truth’.

One of the biggest travesties of ‘spin’ and of its ‘doctors’; and it is one which perhaps paved the way for the now ubiquitous use of sophisticated disguises and distortions in political use of language and presentation of life which we are suffering today; there was the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’ which ‘justified’ the Iraq War (Mark 2) which Britain’s then government foisted by sleights on its people, and in tandem with Bush junior of the might of the US of A, that dossier was the item which had allowed us to go ahead and ‘bomb Iraq back into the Stone Age’.

Those times were times of abundance for Britain and the British – seven fat cows – but a few years passed and then seven thin cows came to eat the seven fat cows – and lo, ‘austerity’ was born, as a blazon and political rallying call to the peoples of Britain.  We were before ‘austerity’ very well off, and our guilt in those years was that we were enjoying so much our oversupply of prosperity, like we had never known before or since, yet we helped bomb Iraq and its national infrastructure, which ensured its prosperity, into oblivion.  How good is that?

But to our theme again.  The everyday political practice nowadays is to use duplicity, outright lies, and to bend statistics, to cover up, and to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, whatever the weather, whenever the occasion.  It is the norm. It is what British people expect now from their politicians and governments.

These days in the UK a political party is able to make and has made recently a set of manifesto promises to its electorate, which, upon that party gaining an election majority and so a return to government, was the whole set completely broken and discarded; and within six months.  Furthermore, this same political party has won victories since, has been elected successfully by the same foolish folks whom it rode roughshod over in its ditching its previous and wholly phoney manifesto.  This is where we are now, here in Britain.

Regularly, as weapons in their ‘spin’ armoury, politicians ‘bury bad news’ by making important announcements on days big live sporting event matches are watched by the nation; the politicians marshal so-called ‘impartial’ or ’neutral’ observers deliberately to proclaim on the side of their policy; they glibly offer bogus reasons, turning arguments inside out, they then present the sufferers of their policies as the villains of the piece. They pick out and proclaim atypical and outrageous examples which they claim as evidence which supports their causes; and they use without blench all manner of low and dirty ruses and tricks, always with an aim to get their way with the least public resistance, and of course with the least real public understanding, of their policies and plans.

All this hereabove stated I name here unambiguously and definitively as CORRUPTION in British public life.  The British kid themselves that their nation and their governors are not corrupt, and that they are absolutely unlike ‘Johnny Foreigner’ whose affairs and officials reek of every kind of backhander and rabid falsehood. Hypocrisy is what we British do best, of all nations, because we believe, even at high places we believe our own propaganda. All this arises out of our lazy and comfortable self-love and out of its coddling ability to fool our reasoning powers.

Of late, and along with the political events here in UK of this momentous year, which has seen us and our nation blatantly vote to do direct harm to ourselves, and maybe these spoilt brat decisions we have made will effectually destroy us; I know that we have reached a point where we have sifted and divided, skewed and contorted, language and ideas, words and deeds, policy and argument so much and so badly, that most persons in our nation are in difficultly when asked to sort fiction from fact.

Partly it is the people’s own faults.  They have not paid due honour to their own consciences; nor have they listened to their better natures; they have sold out their integrities in return for products and services in abundance; too much, too many products and services.  Spoiled and undermined. They have allowed themselves to be removed by way of their complacent ignorant easy nonchalance from that arena of life where subsistence suffering and difficulty occur as everyday problems to be handled.  They have relinquished history and embraced too much bad TV and trash movies.

They have chosen to disconnect from much of the actuality of circumstances.

They don’t listen to arguments any more; they go where their nose leads them – selling themselves and their votes to the highest bidders, the most outrageous personalities.

As a result no official, no government or governing person is now being held to account.  The general dictum for all-comers on a wining side has been to pillage and share the spoils ‘Everyone has won and all must have prizes’.

The day is near, unless some Providential turnaround or lucky event occurs to head such a disaster off at the pass, when our British democracy, with its super-long pedigree and time-hallowed but now little-heeded standing, will possibly go under. What a wreck might be there?!  We shall see.

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Emergent Dislocations

I’ll make no bones – and a few readers right up front here will stop and turn away at this – and I will say that the cause of the UK heading presently more and more towards political and social dislocation – and not amongst naturalised Britons or amongst second and third generation descendants of immigrants – but amongst the proud and stiff-necked Anglo-Saxon race – the reason the UK is heading towards ever-mounting conflicting pressures which will shake it and weaken it and maybe will also have serious retrograde effects on us all here – is because our proud stiff-necked Anglo-Saxons amongst us have lost sight of those sentiments which generate and offer due honour to God.

Laugh you may; this is part of the problem.

The demographic map reproduced on the following page below shows very clearly that the English; and those who in Wales were duped by the English; were the ‘culprits’ who elected us out of the EU.  In England –apart from in London which voted Remain –   the whole country is coloured blue for sorrow.  The comfy and insular well-off, who think they have done well, and who are so comfy and well-off that they have lost any ability to share and to care, and who see their own concerns and their own welfares as trumping in every detail and all aspects any consideration for issues other than those that darken their own doors.

This has been the net effect of the effectual teaching of all our art, media, commerce, education, and recreation for the past thirty or forty years now; there is one single theme in it: it is ok, and good and true ever to vote up oneself; period.  Our sporting heroes are no longer just celebrities; they are ‘role models’; persons whom we are invited, encouraged, to emulate. Likewise it is the same with the successful in show-business, acting, arts, commerce – as if wealth and fame and social success were in some way a Holy Grail, and the key to a fulfilling and a happy life.

These things are our idols now. These people who ‘star’ in our lives are our heroes – our gods even?  There is alongside this slush of infatuations a lot of talk about ‘excellence’ and ‘achievement’ in commerce and in sport and art and science and technology; there are awards for this and diplomas for that – like for the lion in The Wizard of Oz.

(But that’s a fairy tale and real life is not like that is it) (Is it?)

And what’s the nub of all this? It is this; that principle has wilted and died – in public life and in sport and in etc, etc, etc.  Principle has been surpassed by worship of and desire for money; by concern for welfare of The Economy; by what might be termed a celebrated animalistic vitalism which launches into prominence the knowing, and the slick, and the roguish; the feckless and the callous, sometimes even the violent and the wicked; and this trend day by day

is extending to include the backstabbers and the treacherous and the wholly self-obsessed among us.

But principle has been a last vestige to survive; there have been recent penumbra years in which a public person has had to appeal to principle and to do lip-service to principle because the ‘nation’ had retained an echo of principle; as a lingering ostensible respect for such naïve quaint ideas and their adherents.  Who now halts to let a funeral go by?

But like the east coast of Norfolk this hollow effigy of respect has now been washed away – by the tide of – of what? – what might be the causes of this erosion of civic principle?  Well there’s a series of volumes to be written about that!

But well before principle suffered and fell by the wayside, belief was – was it murdered? – there were certainly people who were out to murder it. Or was it consigned to an attic with Rochester’s wife or Dorian Grey’s old age?  Or maybe God just got so fed up at being laughed at and ridiculed he lit out of town?

Possibly it was all these three reasons and more.  The Hitchinses of the world did their best to undermine in the minds of less securely-based persons the foundations they had thought were solid.  The science buffs have convinced many of us that there are no gaps wherefrom any ‘God of the gaps’ might peep through like Wee Willie Winkie in his nightgown.

Every night and day on Radio and TV the debates ramble on; bearing the premise and the axiom that because The Church and other groups of worshipping people have been less than Christian or whatever – but again the secular persons have been no less badly behaved – then somehow God is responsible for their misconduct. And so they tick God off; and then bin him as a has-been.

Their logic is not good. They seem to argue that all Christians or whatever don’t need God after they have confessed their faith in Him; because they ought thereafter to be perfect and to behave perfectly. God has somehow waved his Phoenix-feather wand over them and dropped some fairy dust on them and bingo! – all’s right with the world for them for ever an ever amen.

Bolstered by this rubbishing of God and by this maligning carte blanche the people of God – who are in some small way striving to try a little bit to emulate the God of their worship and indeed attempting well-doing in their lives – the nation in the past 10 or so years has run riot and roughshod over religious belief.

(Specifically it has been Christian belief attacked to be frank; because other forms of belief in God are in these days less wise to attack and to do so would have fearful consequences. Nonetheless, the Christian God having been put to bed by so many of our Anglo-Saxon wiseacres, it follows that those same Anglo-Saxons consider the job on God in general done and dusted))

In his stead there are seen from time to time soppy sloppy ‘humanist’ type bandwagons – very often offering nothing more than gestures and lip-service – like a sentimental song or a general and Politically-Correct honorific reverence for a civic or social group or an event, or maybe for an individual.

Maybe it’s the case that God did get fed up with being thought a fairytale and a wuss and so walked out on us?

The very mush and blancmange we despise seeing religious persons enthuse over we are happy to indulge in our secular homage to socially and culturally prominent persons, events and groups. This enthusiasm has become our very inferior ‘social cement’; and it has replaced any religious attempting of right conduct; of paying due reverence to God; and to the tenets to strive to adhere to.

To do honour to God has become for us too long a game. It demands patience and resignation, fortitude and acceptance; resilience and bravery; whereas the secular homage is a dazzling passing frieze of new people, new products, new groups, wheezes, novelties, and such.

Yes, we have our own sunshine ‘Happy Gilmours’ and ‘Forrest Gumps’ amongst us, who obtain followings simply by their clownishness or by their attention-seeking antics.

The other side of the coin to this secular sentimentalism is that secular adoration of animal vitalism which I spoke of above; our copying of words that the ‘cool’ say and our replicating the deeds they do.

Well there is a great quantity of material I can add to illustrate what has happened here in the UK and where we appear to be heading.  There is the erosion of value in general; so that almost each small and local social cluster has its abominations and shibboleths – there are no longer any generally-agreed values and their objects. And these abominations and shibboleths change quickly for their revellers; and to no rhyme or reason, excepting that which fashion and novelty throw up.

There is the general absorption of people into a general chatter of conversation; mostly vacuous and tittle-tattle, like a large rolling ocean wave crossing thousands of miles of water without other than winds and currents to give it direction; and to no purpose but to break and dissipate on a distant shore.

There is the general absorption in things and in obtaining/replacing things – and the turnover in things is astounding.  Items once treasured by another generation are found for pennies in recycling outlets; once-treasured not so much for their monetary value as for the attainment of having obtained them and the pleasure and life-enhancement they gave.

All things, buildings, products and goods, services, jobs, fame, usage, quality; are considered temporary and upgradeable from or as quickly to be gone as superseded. Little that people who are not rich obtain these days is durable, solid, tasteful, pleasing to the eye, used to the full, of quality; instead the next replacement is soon on-stream and away go the past’s lesser versions.

In summary it is like an undergraduates’ term-end party going on all day every day – excepting those hours employment robs us of.  No thoughts elsewhere; no thoughts for tomorrows. Sad and miserable indeed

Thus one is experiencing a dislocation in many social institutions and in general expectations beginning to take its effects.  The authority of government is one item. It is being undercut: the idea of The Public Good also.  A wider awareness of the world and of history, of being in-touch with a more grounded understanding of human life, of its basic needs and its best manifestations; all these have been obscured and even obfuscated.

Ours is becoming more like a fortress mentality; as if gated communities of the mind.   Our ideas and ideals are complacent and narrow; they are shallow and unable to stand up without prejudice.  There are groups of people finding a voice who can do little but harm to you and to me and to themselves. The cage has been shaken; and the kind and the cruel awoken. Where this will go? Who knows?

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