avant-garde ideas, geometry, Music, philosophy

Agitating the dust: music, text and geometry

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Try doing this. Try describing a musical symphony that is surreal in orchestration. Imagine a composition based on 4 geometric concepts: the line, square, cube and tesseract (a four dimensional hyper-cube).

Go!

Welcome to the world of Dane Yates, gifted composer studying at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAPA).

His work involves a restructuring and manipulation of everyday sounds into surreal musical experiences by way of his classically trained mind. His work is complex, riveting and like nothing I have ever heard. He inhabits the spaces between words and this is what has drawn me to his enigmatic creations and led to this second collaboration with him.

In the same way that the avant-garde impressionists of the late 19th century invited us to see art by closing our eyes, Yates invites us to hear his compostions by experiencing them. His Tesseract Symphony is beautifully paradoxical. It occupies the vast landscape between words, yet uses words and sound to navigate us there. According to Yates Tesseract “cannot be viewed as a piece but rather perceived through experience.” The symphony, like the four dimensional shape, consists of four movements with each movement having a quartile symphonic form. It is “presented” in four separate but parallel rooms where the audience are free to roam between rooms.

Here is the text I wrote, in four parts, for the Tesseract symphony.

Four movements

I speak to you from our past so that I may begin to see beyond it. The line between us seems just here and infinitely distant. Ours is an ebbing, flowing jig: a ghost’s waltz, retroceding still proceeding. Draw back as I advance; go away.

Lines

Einstein described both atoms and people as events. An atom and a policeman were both events to him. Time is the stuff between events. Between any two people there is the thread of time that binds them together. These threads, these lines are the invisible connectors of humankind. There is only one place where time does not matter, does not exist – within a singularity. The singularity is an event where time, space, matter, light and all the stuff of the universe lose their relationship with everything else and become everything. Black holes are singularities. They suck in light and gravity and nothing escapes them. They are a singular event beyond which the great mystery of existence deepens. They are, rather poetically, referred to as Event Horizon. As long as there is one other person in the world beside your self, there will be time and there shall be history and hope and the chance of happiness and the certainty of misery. The line between you and I is the template for all life. Perhaps you are my black hole.

Square

I gather up the lines I crossed with you: your body, your mind, your soul, and your fury. I heave and throw them away and away and away. But, you are heavier than gravity. The force of you re-forms our debris to a flat square containing what’s left of us. I think ‘us’ was not real. We never were such a union. We were lines plummeting in parallel, falling towards hell. Hell is a square; sharp edged containment. A rough mat on which to fight and bleed. The cat sat on the mat. The bat shat on the cat. The mat, the cat and the bat … How absurd everything has become. How silly and how little we really are located against the vastness of nothing in particular. I suspect I hate you. Hate is hurt; love reversed. I exorcise my hurt thus; I compose a singularity of awful proportion. Here fragments of everything collide. I re-enact the Big Bang to start myself anew. I terrify myself, throw all into the void and let it fly. I destroy the square, the little, languid lines.

Cube

I shatter this square. I find now it has six sides and twelve lines, always. I flee Structure. I despair at the geometry of existence. My rage is a mad dance, a furious slight spark in the black void. Two flints clicking feebly. A door slammed against a vacuum. I am spent. Let there be light and night. Creatio ex insania. There were sides of each other we never saw. Why did we expect simplicity?

We are born out of chaos into brine.

Tesseract

There hang the endless loops of words. Those spoken, those locked, restrained and unsaid slide and fall interminably and float suspended, dangling at the edge of now. Condensation from our overheated souls roll forever over infinitely rotating sides. We are interlocked cubes from whose sides we slide, into the abyss.

If there are lines connecting all of humanity, imagine a world wide web. Imagine then that you are my tesseract. Imagine these threads ensnaring you. With you it is all distance with height and depth as well. There are angles and dimensions I have not yet been to, nor intend to visit for that matter. It is the ghost of the thing, the same again in unimaginable space. It is hell or a dance; I will remain put here on this spot. Let the universe spin, I shall settle for the divine illusion of stillness and deny the deception of action. Against the infinite expanse of elegant geometry, what are we? Fleeting arcs of agitated dust. I am entropy, dissolution with consciousness. The great deceit of our species is that any movement in any direction matters.

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philosophy, Teaching

Sod Sisyphus

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I used to have a teaspoon hanging from my classroom ceiling for many years. One winter morning a window was broken by a cricket ball and I placed a masking tape frame around the hole and beneath it a sign reading “where was this hole before the window broke?”

When students asked me why there was a teaspoon hanging from the ceiling I told them that if I had left the teaspoon on the floor no one would have seen it. This answer frustrated them immensely. Sometimes I would direct their attention to another sign I had stuck to the ceiling which read: ‘It takes longest to see what is closest to you.”
This usually generated very interesting discussion and debate that would sometimes find it’s way back to Fitzgerald, Shakespeare or the poem I was teaching at the time. Truthfully I was as eager to understand why the teaspoon hung from the ceiling as much as my students were. I was curious to see what else a simple teaspoon could become. Original ideas and discoveries have been birthed from looking at the ordinary with new eyes. I think it’s why time seems to pass quicker as we age, there seems to be less and less ‘newness’ in the world. Perhaps the world becomes, after a while, not what it is but what we expect it to be. Familiarization renders everything invisible and for us to regain our sight we must learn to see new things with old eyes. e.e.cummings explored this wonderfully in his poetry by ignoring the traditional rules of grammar in order to infuse old words with fresh vitality. During the late twentieth century we experienced the post-modern panic of a world where everything had been said and done. We briefly entered the mind of Sisyphus, that tragic figure of Greek mythology destined to roll a boulder up a hill and once it rolled down, back up again for eternity .His is a bleak world and especially grim when modern life can feel as though we are caught in a surreal nightmare of repetition. Life loses its brilliance, colours fade and days bleed into weeks into years. However, the world is not thus-we have made it so. Consider the possibility that when the world seems mundane, that you are observing it in a state of pause … temporarily frozen. Originality is not a characteristic of the world, it is not innate in any object; rather it is characteristic of thinking, a way of looking. I always encouraged my students not to look for answers because answers are easy; anyone can find an answer. Instead I urged them to find the right question. “But what’s the answer?” someone once shouted in frustration. “Excellent!” I said, “that’s better”.

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