Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Relaxin' with Joseph O'Leary

Is there such a thing a Madhyamaka groove? Check out Joseph O'Leary's Time and Emptiness.

posted by Fido the Yak at 9:30 PM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

P says: hmm, "Madhyamaka groove."

Sounds suspiciously like a a kind of self-imposed buddhistic/scholastic hypnotism/wank.
I always liked Gurdjieff's little aphorism (?): 'I teach that when it rains the pavements get whet.'
But I'm not responsible for the 'candidates for a mental asylum' that some of his followers produced.

March 15, 2006 5:20 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

One aspect of what was left unsaid: a jazz poetics of time. A player's "time" is his "sense of time," how he musically relates to the groove, itself a complex musical construct. (Here I'm excluding dysfunctional, inept, confused, square, or other ways of not being in the groove. And I'm assuming that there is a groove, that bass and drums are in the pocket.) A player is commonly identified by his sound, but a player can also be identified by his time.

O'Leary's criticism of Husserl resonated with me, especially the suggestion that what Husserl describes is not a universal constitution of time consciousness, but rather a descriptive elaboration of one form of time consciousness, inseparable from its cultural context. I think this would be clear if one were to critically examine the examples Husserl draws from in laying out his argument. For instance is Husserl's analysis of the melodic tone valid for all instances of music making? Here's a cat that finds some inspiration in Husserl's riff on internal time consciousness, but I can't help but thinking that (a) German free jazz is its own kind of thing (as is Braxtonology, without doubt), and (b) what's being attempted here is very much like a poetics. I've seen some ethnomusicologists take an interest in Husserl's ideas about melodic flow, but I haven't seen any attempt to rigorously test or apply them cross-culturally. Well, I haven't scoured Dissertation Abstracts or anything like that so I may well be wide off the mark, but my sense of it is that musicologists may take a theoretical interest in Husserl's internal time consciousness (often by way of Schutz or Ingarden), but actual phenomenologies of music, esp. improvisational music which is what I know, tend to hew to the descriptive and don't methodically follow Husserl on this point. Bruce Ellis Benson, for instance, in his The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue, totally ignores Husserl's discussion of internal time consciousness. David Sudnow rather steps around it. Here I quote a passage from Sudnow's Ways of the Hand: The Organization of Improvised Conduct:

"But I found over the course of several months of listening to and watching Jimmy Rowles, and starting to play slow ballads myself (which I had previously done chiefly when first learning chord structures at the very beginning), that in order to get the sound of a song to happen like his, his observable bodily idiom, his stule of articulating a beat, served as a guide. In the very act of swaying gently and with elongated movements through the course of playing a song, the lilting, stretching, almost oozing quality of his interpretations could be evoked. It was not that I could imitate his intonation and phrasing with fine success, capture all the richness of his way of moving and pacing and caretaking. His special sense of time was sufficiently distinctive to make him a difficult player to readily imitate. But I found that I could get much of his breathing quality into a song's presentation by trying to copy his ways."

"Listening to him, taking notice for the first time of ways of moving at the keyboard, beginning to play slow music, bringin attention for the first time, peculiar as it was and so much a part of my isolation from the occupation, to a careful regard for the presentation of a song, giving that sort of a care to the beat which his bodily idiom displayed, I began to develop a fundamentally different way of being at the piano."

And later, describing becoming fluent with melody: "What happened, suddenly appearing and then disappearing in these ways, was quite different from what former practices on the terrain had ammounted to. For a brief course of time while playing rapidly along, a line of melody would be generated, interweavingly flowing over the duration of several chords, fluently winding about in ways I had never seen my hands wind about before, a line of melody whose melodicallity was not, at least it seemed, being expressly done as in my reiterative attempts to sustain continuities. An ordering of notes, stating a succession of chords, being melodic in being of that jazz language, a language composed of, better, existing as, the hands' way of seeming to just move about properly--this was somehow achieved. It was quite clear that these ways of interweavingly singing jazz with my fingers, first so difficult to find myself doing as continuously sustained sayings, were the ways of that jazz on the records."

Sudnow has a peculiar way of talking about things, but I feel like he's describing something I know, and his desciption of "melodicallity" is truer to my experience than any strictly Husserlian analysis I've seen. So again, that pushes me towards agreeing with O'Leary that "[a]n immense, irreducible plurality of ways of experiencing time seems to be the basic phenomenological datum."

The rap against Madhyamaka Buddhism is that it's strictly negative, a kind of nihilism or extreme skepticism. Or one could argue I suppose that it's only effective as soteriology, and therefore a bit supsect as a way of doing philosophy. I don't know. I'm not put off by talk about nonconceptual knowledge, or the idea that not everything we experience can be conceptualized.

For me, being in the groove is not like going under or losing consciousness, but rather another mode of consciousness. Maybe it's heightened, maybe sublime, but it is definitely active. Yet I know that for some people it's not something they can enjoy or experience properly unless they like shut down their normal brain activity and just let it flow over them.

Groove as technê may be approached through temporal abstractions. At a very rudimentary level a mastery of these abstractions seems to be required. At another level, more advanced, there are rhythmic ideas that function as objective correlatives, and these I think are essential to musical communication between ensemble players and between performers and listeners. At the most advanced level are the skills that enable one to express time. Time, like sound, conforms to an ethos of being oneself or "getting into oneself." That may be worth talking about as an "empty" concept. Concepts like playing behind the beat or ahead of the beat (or on top of the beat) may be thought of as Aristotlean--there is also a related idea of acoustic space that might be conceptualized--, but what really matters is the feeling of being laid back, or the feeling of anticipating, of moving. Phraseology coordinates movement at a higher level, and, at the highest level, movement is coordinated by saying something. I don't believe this way of constituting melodic flow is either universal or anything like perfectly coherent--conceptually. In practice, there is coherence.

That hardly rules out the possibility that a phenomenological constitution of time conciousness could be described, eidetically I guess, but it does indicate that previous attempts to do so have been wanting. I don't know. I've just picked up an edited volume of Husserl's Texte zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeithbewußtseins (1893-1917). I will give this some more thought.

I don't quite understand your quotation of Gurdieff, Paul. I mean, I do and I don't. Here when it rains the wheat turns green. That occured to me when I was sleepyheaded yesterday. Now I think in any case you'd better put your shoes on before you go out walking.

March 16, 2006 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul said: I don't really understand my quotation either (and these comment boxes are a bit small). Just get impatient sometimes...
I also have virtually no knowledge of Husserl. Just not my groove.
The (late) Francisco Varela got v. into Husserl in his later years and wrote a number of essays with some 'serious' French Husserlians on time consc.
The refs. must be out there somewhere - and Varela's group still has a good website (I think). I also have enjoyed Bruno Latour's site (esp. his essay 'Do you believe in reality'). But I digress...(smile). Currently reading 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ' by Margaret Barker. Didn't realize how little I knew about Judaeo-Christianity!

March 17, 2006 5:10 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

In the not too distant future I'll be experimenting with the style template for comments, but I'm not confident I'll be able to do quite what I'd like.

Meanwhile, here you are dropping mad knowledge on me. Bruno Latour has been brought to my attention on previous occasions. It's interesting, pretty much. I enjoyed reading the chapter "Do You Believe in Reality?"

Fransicso Varelo I will definitely have to explore more fully. Wow.

I'm a bit surprised that you would claim to have very little knowledge of Husserl, even if you would dismiss him. Many of my favorite thinkers encountered Husserl in their formative years, though most of them have not cast themselves as Husserlian. My own interest in Husserl waxes and wanes. I'm generally quite sympathetic to Husserlian phenomenology. If I had anything approaching indepth knowledge of Husserl, perhaps I would't be quite so tolerant of the obvious flaws of that school.

March 21, 2006 1:20 AM  

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