Friday, December 21, 2007

Hosted from Comments: An Extract from "Art And Cognition"

In comments on the previous thread, Ellen Stuttle very kindly provides us with a lengthy extract from Rand's "Art And Cognition."
"A composition may demand the active alertness needed to resolve complex mathematical relationships -- or it may deaden the brain by means of monotonous simplicity. It may demand a process of building an integrated sum -- or it may break up the process of integration into an arbitrary series of random bits -- or it may obliterate the process by a jumble of sounds mathematically-physiologically impossible to integrate, and thus turn into noise.

[....]

"The deadly monotony of primitive music -- the endless repetition of a few notes and of a rhythmic pattern that beats against the brain with the regularity of the ancient torture of water drops falling on a man's skull -- paralyzes cognitive processes, obliterates awareness and disintegrates the mind. Such music produces a state of sensory deprivation, which -- as modern scientists are beginning to discover -- is caused by the absence or the monotony of sense stimuli.

There is no evidence to support the contention that the differences in the music of various cultures are caused by innate physiological differences among various races. There is a great deal of evidence to support the hypothesis that the cause of the musical differences is psycho-epistemological (and, therefore, ultimately philosophical).

A man's psycho-epistemological method of functioning is developed and automatized in his early childhood; it is influenced by the dominant philosophy of the culture in which he grows up. If, explicitly and implicity (through the general emotional attitude), a child grasps that the pursuit of knowledge, i.e., the independent work of his cognitive faculty, is important and required of him by his nature, he is likely to develop an active, independent mind. If he is taught passivity, blind obedience, fear and the futility of questioning or knowing, he is likely to grow up as a mentally helpless savage, whether in the jungle or in New York City. But -- since one cannot destroy a human mind totally, so long as its possessor remains alive -- his brain's frustrated needs become a restless, incoherent, unintelligible groping that frightens him. Primitive music becomes his narcotic: it wipes out the groping, it reassures him and reinforces his lethargy, it offers him temporarily the sense of a reality to which his stagnant stupor is appropriate."

[skipping paragraph, though my fingers itch to include it, about the supposed motivation for the development of the diatonic scale and the connection to the Renaissance - Ellen]

"Today, when the influence of Western civilization [is breaking up tradition-bound Japanese culture, Japanese composers are writing good Western-syle music].

The products of America's anti-rational, anti-cognitive "Progressive" education, the hippies, are reverting to the noise and the drumbeat of the jungle.

Integration is the key to more than music; it is the key to man's consciousness, to his conceptual faculty, to his basic premises, to his life. And lack of integration will lead to the same existential results in anyone born with a potentially human mind, in any century, in any place on earth.

A brief word about so-called modern music: no further research or scientific discoveries are required to know with full, objective certainty that it is not music. The proof lies in the fact that music is the product of periodic vibrations -- and, therefore, the introduction of nonperiodic vibrations (such as the sounds of street traffic or of machine gears or of coughs and sneezes), i.e., of noise, into an allegedly musical composition eliminates it automatically from the realm of art and of consideration. But a word of warning in regard to the vocabulary of the perpetrators of such "innovations" is in order: they spout a great deal about the necessity of "conditioning" your ear to an appreciation of their "music." Their notion of conditioning is unlimited by reality and by the law of identity; man, in their view, is infinitely conditionable. But, in fact, you can condition a human ear to different types of music (it is not the ear, but the mind that you have to condition in such cases); you cannot condition it to hear noise as if it were music; it is not personal training or social conventions that make it impossible, but the physiological nature, the identity, of the human ear and brain."

14 comments:

Daniel Barnes said...

This is vintage Rand. For example:

"There is a great deal of evidence to support the hypothesis that the cause of the musical differences is psycho-epistemological (and, therefore, ultimately philosophical)."

But whoops! She forgot to include any!

Or:
"The deadly monotony of primitive music -- the endless repetition of a few notes and of a rhythmic pattern that beats against the brain with the regularity of the ancient torture of water drops falling on a man's skull -- paralyzes cognitive processes, obliterates awareness and disintegrates the mind."

But on the other hand:

"A brief word about so-called modern music: no further research or scientific discoveries are required to know with full, objective certainty that it is not music. The proof lies in the fact that music is the product of periodic vibrations --"

Drumbeats, water torture aren't periodic? Surely Phillip Glass is therefore as musical as all get out. So is Uncle Lou, clearly.

Further:
"...and, therefore, the introduction of nonperiodic vibrations (such as the sounds of street traffic or of machine gears or of coughs and sneezes), i.e., of noise, into an allegedly musical composition eliminates it automatically from the realm of art and of consideration."

What is particularly "non-periodic" about traffic noises? Engines have regular, recognisable beats, traffic lights are periodic, traffic itself has predictable ebbs and flows, such as rush hour.

Daniel Barnes said...

Sorry, bad Lou Reed link

Jonathan said...

Ellen quoted Rand:
"A brief word about so-called modern music: no further research or scientific discoveries are required to know with full, objective certainty that it is not music. The proof lies in the fact that music is the product of periodic vibrations -- and, therefore, the introduction of nonperiodic vibrations (such as the sounds of street traffic or of machine gears or of coughs and sneezes), i.e., of noise, into an allegedly musical composition eliminates it automatically from the realm of art and of consideration."


With Rand's insistence that "real art" must present "recognizable physical objects" and must "communicate," I think that the Objectivist theory of music should enthusiastically ~embrace~ the idea of using the types of sounds that Rand mentioned in the quote above (sounds of street traffic, machine gears, coughs and sneezes, etc.), or at least imitations of them created on musical instruments.

Back when I used to play trumpet, I got pretty good at using a plunger-mute to mimic the sound of a child whining "I want my mama" and other phrases. I've heard various other instruments played so that they sounded very much like birds and other small animals. Steve Vai can make his guitar talk, laugh and wolf whistle (without using a TalkBox). I once heard Eddie Van Halen make his guitar sound exactly like a charging elephant (via some squealing feedback harmonics and a whammy bar), and Eddie's brother Alex can make his drums sound like an engine revving.

So, since instruments CAN realistically mimic reality, I think Objectivist consistency demands that they MUST do so in order to be considered art: if abstract colors on a canvas are meaningless "blobs of color" in comparison to "real art," which is defined by the fact that it contains realistic likenesses of physical objects, then regular music is just meaningless "blobs of sound" in comparison to realistic likenesses of the sounds of objects.

The "noises" that Rand finds objectionable are actually the solution that will make music fit her aesthetic requirements of objective intelligibility and communication!

J

Ellen Stuttle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellen Stuttle said...

Since the extract has been turned into a new thread start, I'll repeat this remark I added on the initial thread:

'A comment about the above excerpt. It's so illustrative of Rand's methods of "arguing." She isn't saying much of substance, and most of that is assertions. But the whole way she goes about it has a dramatic force that can leave a reader already "turned onto" Rand afraid of liking the "wrong" music (even though what that is isn't clearly specified).'

Ellen

___

Daniel Barnes said...

Tis done.

Moony said...

"The products of America's anti-rational, anti-cognitive "Progressive" education, the hippies, are reverting to the noise and the drumbeat of the jungle."

In this whole farrago of prejudices dressed up as rational analysis this is the statement that makes me seethe the most! I'm going to go and listen to Captain Beefheart until I've cooled down a little, but how fair would it be to say that most of Rand's philosophy is infected by personal prejudice?

Daniel Barnes said...

Moony:
>I'm going to go and listen to Captain Beefheart until I've cooled down a little, but how fair would it be to say that most of Rand's philosophy is infected by personal prejudice?

Moony, you need to have a read of Greg's book, the central theme of which is that Objectivism is mostly a rationalisation of Ayn Rand's vision of an "ideal man". That is to say, a rationalisation of her personal prejudices.

Then give "The Dust Blows Forward" a spin one time for me...;-)

Daniel Barnes said...

Incidentally, you can read ARCHN free online - see the link in the sidebar.

Ellen Stuttle said...

I think the infection by "personal prejudice" is most obvious in Rand's asthetics theory, that it more or less "sticks out like a sore thumb" there. Although I think she kind of hints at a right ballpark in some aspects of what she says, the argumentative thrust is an attempt to prove the objective moral superiority of Rand's own tastes.

The aspects where I think she "kind of hints at a right ballpark" pertain to :

1) art being an important psychological need, not a frippery;

2) the artwork's showing instead of telling -- Susanne Langer, who I think truly understood the nature of art, called this the difference between "presentational" and "discursive" form; i.e., Rand is in kind of a right direction on the nature of the art symbol; however, she doesn't get very far because of her insistence on art having to "re-create" (an extremely problematic term) Reality (the capitalized "R" is deliberate);

3) the "feltness" of life -- "what life is like," as Langer described it -- being the dimension expressed; Rand, however, brings in her notion "sense of life," an already morality-laden idea, and -- when the details are examined -- an incoherent idea, to cover the "feltness" dimension; thus, along with rapidly heading her theories toward moral judgment, she loses vast features and complexities of the unending richness of experience explored in the artistic quest. (One result, I feel, is that even those artists she praises are demeaned by the narrowness of the praise compared to the scope of the achievement; I'd say, even, that she demeaned her own artistic achievement when -- after the fact -- she descriptively constrained its bounds to the specifications of her explanatory theory.)

Ellen

Robert Campbell said...

Rand said:

"A composition may demand the active alertness needed to resolve complex mathematical relationships -- or it may deaden the brain by means of monotonous simplicity."

Hmm... The counterpoint in Captain Beefheart's "When I See Mommy, I Feel like a Mummy" calls for some "active alertness."

So why do I get the feeling that Rand wouldn't have like my example?

Robert Campbell

Dragonfly said...

About the "non-periodic vibrations": if we use the principle of charity, we may assume that Rand meant "non-periodic" in the sense that we perceive or don't perceive the sound as a musical tone, i.e. with a well-defined main frequency larger than about 20 Hz. Her formulation may be a bit sloppy, but I think her meaning is clear.

Robert Campbell said...

Dragonfly,

Rand may have meant "nonperiodic" as "not perceivable as a musical tone," but she wasn't careful or conistent in her usage.

I recall that in one of his Modern Philosophy lectures, Leonard Peikoff made a passing reference to Arnold Schoenberg and the "liberation of the dissonance." Thinking he was being funny, Dr. Peikoff said that Schoenberg was an advocate of "Noise Lib."

Robert Campbell

Kaz Maslanka said...

Everything is periodic once you listen to it twice.

Aesthetic conformity is death aesthetic heresy is life.

Rand’s aesthetic is pungent and decaying.