The Audience Learns Part 4 supplement — Removal

 
Hip-hop poets par excellence, the Digable Planets.

Hip-hop poets par excellence, the Digable Planets.

 

Removal is a particularly effective form of surprise.  When an element has been removed, an audience suddenly learns about its importance and its interaction with everything around it.

 

Hip-hop thrives on removal.  “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” by the Digable Planets removes the bass and drum groove at strategic points to achieve several ends:

  • Removal punctuates the ends of the first two verses.  (1:25-1:27 and 2:14-2:16).  The vocals are briefly exposed against a backdrop of silence.  This creates the sense that the ground has disappeared and that we are suspended in mid-air with the rappers.  We are somehow more acutely aware of the song's forward motion.   Note how this calls attention to the absent parts.  Our ears suddenly miss what we might have taken for granted.  The returning elements give extra emphasis to the downbeats of the choruses.
     
  • These removals set up our expectation that the removal at 2:53-2:55 will also be followed by a chorus, but the verse keeps going until the removal at 3:13-3:15.
     
  • The extended removal at 3:43-3:54 (“We out, we out, we out . . . ”) gives emphasis to the end of the rapping and helps us hear that the track is now in its outro.
     

In all cases, the removals surprise us and also illuminate our understanding of what is happening in the track.


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The Audience Learns Part 4 supplement — Enjambment

Enjambment is a poetic technique where a line extends beyond the point of the line break and wraps around to the next line.  For example, these excerpts from Cole Porter lyrics.

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows, Anything Goes.

Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose, Anything Goes.

 . . .

And though I'm not a great romancer
I know that I'm bound to answer
When you propose, Anything goes

 Cole Porter — "Anything Goes

Enjambment charges a moment with energy by breaking the frame and violating expectations.

 In Design

The moment of enjambment is the shelf's continuation past the frame of the door. Rakatansky's design employed the use of color (the white wood) to emphasize this breaking of the design's rhythmic frame.

The moment of enjambment is the shelf's continuation past the frame of the door. Rakatansky's design employed the use of color (the white wood) to emphasize this breaking of the design's rhythmic frame.

 

These bookshelves by Brooklyn architect Mark Rakatansky can be viewed as a case of enjambment in design.  The bookshelf appears to extend past its frame and onto the adjacent French door by way of a matching box cleverly mounted in one of the door’s panes (or lights, as designers refer to them).  The door can open and close freely.

In Drumming 

 


Drummer Mick Fleetwood makes extensive use of enjambment throughout the song “Dreams.”  Crash cymbals are regularly used by drummers to demark a new section or line.  Here, however, the song's first cymbal crash comes a beat later than expected.  So do many of the downbeats of the choruses, where we expect the crashes to align with the downbeat of the chorus— “Thun-der . . .” The crashes come instead on the second syllable—“Thun-der . . .” 

I once had the chance to talk to Mick Fleetwood for a few seconds and I mentioned my love for those fills.  “You mean all my dyslexic fills?” he quipped.  Yes, the fills disorient, and wonderfully so in a song titled “Dreams.”  His enjambments on the drums lend it a surreal quality.

 

In James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” studio-drumming legend Russ Kunkel employs enjambment at various spots.  The most mind-blowing instance of it comes in the out-chorus around the 2:50 mark. 

 If you count along with the song leading up to this point — one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, etc. — you’ll notice how he begins to break the four-count frame with his crash cymbals.  He turns the measures around, disrupts, and shatters the container, all of which brings home the idea of a world shattered, the song’s theme.

Russ Kunkel, via  drummerworld.com

Russ Kunkel, via drummerworld.com

 

All of this serves as yet another reminder of the centrality of poetry in the arts and its importance as a source of insight for creators in all other fields.


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The Audience Learns Part 4 supplement — Denial and Reward

A fascinating book that you can read in an hour (and then may find yourself revisiting over and over): Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

The 101 things in question are short observations accompanied by illustrations.  Many of Frederick’s insights about architecture have relevance to other fields.  Here is one.

Use “denial and reward” to enrich passage through the built environment. 

As we move through buildings, towns, and cities, we mentally connect visual cues from our surroundings to our needs and expectations.  The satisfaction and richness of our experiences are largely the result of the ways in which these connections are made.

Denial and reward can encourage the formulation of a rich experience.  In designing paths of travel, try presenting users a view of their target—a staircase, building entrance, monument, or other element—then momentarily screen it from view as they continue their approach.  Reveal the target a second time from a different angle or with an interesting new detail.  Divert users onto an unexpected path to create additional intrigue or even momentary lostness; then reward them with other interesting experiences or other views of their target.  This additional “work” will make the journey more interesting, the arrival more rewarding.

 #11 of Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School
 

Creators in a variety of mediums make use of this technique. 

In Fiction

Consider, for example, the tantalizing withholding of the title character’s entrance into F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

  • We see Gatsby’s name in the title, and in the introduction we hear of his impact on the narrator, Nick.
     
  • Nick moves in nextdoor to Gatsby’s mansion.
     
  • At Daisy and Tom’s, Nick notices Daisy’s reaction to mention of his name. “Gastby?  What Gatsby?”
     
  • Later that night, Nick sees Gatsby’s silhouetted profile, looking at the stars.  As Nick tries to determine what far off light Gatsby might have been looking at, Gatsby disappears.
     
  • From next door, Nick witnesses the spectacle of Gatsby’s lavish parties, the deliveries of liquor, oranges, food, tables, the orchestra musicians, and so forth.
     
  • One day, a chauffeur walks over an invitation referencing a “little party.”
     
  • As Nick weaves his way into the scene, the other party guests are evasive as to Gatsby’s whereabouts.
     
  • Nick overhears rumors from others in the crowd: Gatsby murdered someone?  He was a German spy?
     
  • Nick wanders into the house, peruses the library, talking with a stranger, and then during a lull in the action, another stranger sees Nick in the hall.  “Your face is familiar.  Weren’t you in the Third Division in the war?”  Yes he was.  The two of them talk. Nick’s sort-of girlfriend, Jordan, comes up to the two of them.

    “Having a gay time now?” she asks.


    Nick explains to the stranger, “This is an unusual party for me because I haven’t even met the host.  I live over there and this man Gatsby had his chauffeur walk over the invitation."

    And the stranger replies, “I’m Gatsby.”

     

At this point, we are almost one-third of the way into the novel.  Our denied access to Gatsby and then the sudden reward of encountering him helps to convey a sense of expectation that echoes the long wait Gatsby himself has endured as he plans to win back Daisy.  The book revolves around his hope that his denial will end with reward.

In Music

Musical examples abound,   One form of denial and reward is dissonance resolving into consonance  Bach's Prelude #1 in C Major thrives on this principle.  (This video begins with 15 seconds of silence.)

 

Notice how the dialogue between dissonance and consonance is roughly the length of one breath cycle; we inhale one and exhale the other.  It suggests that this tension between denial and reward is necessary to sustain the music.

Another musical instance of denial and reward would be a song with an introduction that delays the entrance of the band.

 
 

The rollercoaster metaphor, present in the melodic oscillation of the guitar riff,  also applies to the long, suspenseful ascent to the band's entrance. The denial and reward is created by the extended, tiered instrumental introduction.  The guitar starts, then enter the hi-hat and bass drum (playing only on the weak beats to add suspense), then agogo bell . . . 

roller coaster climb via natethiry.wordpress.com.jpg
 

. . . and  finally, with a whiplash drum fill . . . 
 

 

the song plunges down into the verse. 
 


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The Audience Learns Part 4 — Surprise

 
Jo Ann Beard.  Image via  literarymothers.tumblr.com .

Jo Ann Beard.  Image via literarymothers.tumblr.com.

 

Jo Ann Beard, one of the great non-fiction writers of our time, advises her non-fiction writing students to ask four questions of each sentence they write:

1.  Is it grammatical?
2.  Is it true?
3.  Does it contain new information?
4.  Does it include a surprise?

Note the important difference between questions 3 and 4.  A surprise is more than new information; it asks us to make a mental leap.  Those mental leaps are what characterize the insights of the work.

Listen to the opening phrases of “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” performed here by Ella Fitzgerald and the Buddy Bregman Orchestra.

 

Note how each line considers Jo Ann Beard’s questions.

1.  Each line is grammatical (in that we are able to make musical sense of it).

2.  Each line is true (in the sense that the melody feels plainly stated, without deception).

3.  Each line contains new information (in that our understanding continues to deepen).

4.  Each line contains a surprise. 

After one whole quart of brandy

The surprises include the downward leap on the second syllable of after and the up and down leaps on “of brandy.”

Like a daisy, I’m awake.

The second syllable of awake adds a delicious and surprising tweak.

With no Bromo Seltzer handy

The span of the upward leap on the second syllable of Seltzer is a big surprise. 

I don’t even shake. 

Another surprising leap between the first two syllables.  Also, that last pitch provides surprise and intrigue.

My guess is that what sticks in the ears of most listeners are those surprises, especially the big leap in the third line.  The surprises are sticky.

Another example . . .

 

Joni Mitchell's songs are full of surprises.  As you listen to the first verse of "Help Me," hear how each phrase comes in for a landing on a surprising chord.

Help me
I think I'm falling

In love again ⬅︎

When I get that crazy feeling
I know I'm in trouble again ⬅︎

I'm in trouble
'Cause you're a rambler and a gambler
And a sweet talking ladies man

And you love your lovin' ⬅︎

But not like you love your freedom ⬅︎

The constant changing of key creates the sensation of riding along a hilly road where each hill crests with a surprising vista.  Those surprises are what make the song’s sense of discovery so palpable, so that the listeners can hang onto and learn from them.

"Does it include a surprise?"  Thank you, Jo Ann Beard.


Thank you for reading.

The Audience Learns Part 3 supplement — Three-person Jokes

 
Stand-up comic and author  Katie Schreiber  doesn't tell three-person jokes.  All the more reason to catch one of her sets in New York City.  Image via  ktschreib.com .

Stand-up comic and author Katie Schreiber doesn't tell three-person jokes.  All the more reason to catch one of her sets in New York City.  Image via ktschreib.com.

 

“A _____, a ______, and a _______ walk into a bar . . .”

We know this joke format.  Three characters face some common circumstance and deal with it differently.

The first two characters—let’s call them A and B—will establish some pattern that sets up an expectation of what happens to the third character, C. 

  • A does something.
     
  • B does something like it but a little different.
     
  • C does something even more different.  The success of the punch line rests on whether or not what happens to C feels surprising.   

A and B are basically two versions of the same thing, which highlights the contrast of C, the character whose story ignites the laugh.

It's interesting to note the importance of B, squished in the middle and therefore likely to be the hardest to remember.  B’s storyline varies from A’s but in a way that suggests a similarity between A and B and establishes a trajectory that sets our expectations for C.  The trajectory is the crucial bit of misdirection on which the punch line relies.

After A and B, we wonder about C.

After A and B, we wonder about C.

  So we find a progression from A to B and then imagine a trajectory leads to an expectation of C. 

  So we find a progression from A to B and then imagine a trajectory leads to an expectation of C. 

And then C violates our expectations.  Images via  wikipedia.org ,  downtownmcminnville.com ,  organicfacts.net , and  o  utsidethebeltway.com .

And then C violates our expectations.

Images via wikipedia.orgdowntownmcminnville.com, organicfacts.net, and outsidethebeltway.com.

This is yet another illustration of how variation, in this case B, draws us away from what came before it but in a way that serves to deepen our understanding of the original, A.


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The Audience Learns Part 3 supplement — Nina Simone teaching as she sings

 
Nina Simone.  Image via  ebony.com .

Nina Simone.  Image via ebony.com.

 

Nina Simone’s gifts as an interpreter rely heavily on her care for the learning of her audience, and we can hear that care in how she attends to repetition and variation. 

 

Note here how the first iteration of the verse melody (0:23-0:40) is the simplest.  You can hear her teaching us how to listen, and like all great teachers she starts with something simple—something very much like an iconic melody. 

The second iteration (0:41-0:59) is nearly the same, with only one heartbreaking twist on the phrase “your own kin did.”  Even that one twist tells us some things about the simple melody, including the harmonic structure that is its context.

These first two, simpler melodies have prepared us for the breaking apart of that melody that we hear in the third iteration (1:43-2:01).  This breaking away from the original melody helps create the sense of deepening emotions, the sense that the song is driving at some deeper truth.  And the fourth time through the melody (2:01-2:22) is the freest and emotionally crushing of all.  Again, part of why it hits so hard is because we hear it as a bending and twisting of the earlier, simpler melody.  Were we not able to hear the earlier melody in these later iterations, the sense of heartbreak and loss would vanish.


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The Audience Learns Part 3 — Variation

Variation might be thought of as a form of repetition; by restating an idea with slight alteration, it brings us to a deeper knowledge of the original version.

French pianist and teacher Yvonne Lefébure.  Image via  youtube.com . 

French pianist and teacher Yvonne Lefébure.  Image via youtube.com

 

Think of how useful variation is as a teaching tool.  Homework problem sets, for instance, typically focus on one concept by way of a variation.  The individual problems change the surface elements and by doing so invite the students to employ the principle under consideration.  The variance between the surface elements serves to deepen the students’ grasp of that principle.  The greater the variance between problems, the deeper the student’s grasp.  The variation heightens our awareness of what has not changed.

 

Mozart’s 12 Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je Maman,” performed here by French pianist and teacher Yvonne Lefébure, bears out the idea.

By virtue of its ornamentation of the initial theme, the first variation (which begins at the 0:30 mark) seems to ask, “What does this variation have to do with the theme?”  The answer comes by way of our deepened grasp of the theme’s shape and harmonic structure.

Additional variations shift the ornamentation from one hand to the other, change meter, key signature (from major to minor) and make other shifts that illuminate the essential nature of the theme.

Variations therefore add interest, not by drawing our attention away from the original idea but by deepening our understanding of it.


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The Audience Learns Part 2 supplement — The transition states of repetition

When engaged in repetition, singing a short melody over and over for example, it’s interesting to note how our attention engages and releases at certain points. 

The first few repetitions may hold our attention, the next few may lose it, but then we might be surprised to find ourselves reengaging and going deeper. 

I once saw Sun Ra and his band play a concert of songs from Walt Disney films.  They ended the first set with “Forest of No Return” from the 1961 musical Babes In Toyland.

 

A few minutes into the song, the band stopped playing and the musicians all stood up and sang the refrain over and over:

Can’t you read, can’t you see
This is private property,
Aren’t the sign plain and clear,
No one is allowed in here,
But since you’re here you should know,
We will never let you go,
You can cry you can shout,
But you can’t get out.

This is the forest of no return
This is the forest
Those who stumble in,
Those who fumble in,
Never can get out.

They paraded around the stage for a few laps as they sang, and then continued to sing as they marched out into the audience.  My attention went from focused to bored (after ten repetitions) and then to rapt (after twenty), at which point the many possible interpretations of the lyrics (references to a literal forest, comments on the modern world, the interactions between performers and audience in a club) began to resonate.  The repetitions had taken me through the crucial transition state necessary to achieve this resonance of ideas.

An application of this principle is found in rituals where a song or recitation of words is repeated over and over.  Liturgical planners, in my experience, are often too wary of repetition, fearing the first point of disengagement.  They often fail to recognize that the next transition into deeper attention comes a few repetitions later.  They could learn something from Sun Ra (and from traditions such as Sufi whirling).  A repeated action, if given time, takes on a resonant quality.

The incomparable Sun Ra.  Image via  nybooks.com .

The incomparable Sun Ra.  Image via nybooks.com.

 

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The Audience Learns Part 2 supplement — Cumulative songs and tales

We have seen how repetition draws an audience member’s attention inward, to a place where she can begin to manipulate what she has been given and begin her own creative work.  We’ve also seen how repetition helps an audience absorb work that is full of challenging twists and turns.

Another, related use of repetition is accumulation, wherein the audience memorizes one phrase and then adds on to it.  A famous example of this is the nursery rhyme “This Is the House That Jack Built.”

This is the house that Jack built.

This is the cheese that lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the rat that ate the cheese
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cat that chased the rat
That ate the cheese that lay in the house that Jack built.

The verses get longer and longer, starting at greater distance from Jack’s house. 

This is the horse and the hound and the horn
That belonged to the farmer sowing his corn
That kept the rooster that crowed in the morn
That woke the judge all shaven and shorn
That married the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That chased the rat that ate the cheese
That lay in the house that Jack built.

"The House That Jack Built" is what’s known as a cumulative tale.  (Another example might be Green Eggs and Ham.)  There are also cumulative songs, one of the best known being "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  Cumulative tales and songs keep returning to a simple root image by repeating a lengthening set of details.  Part of the thrill for the audience is discovering the surprising capacity of the human memory.  Also, each recitation of the ever-lengthening refrain allows them to observe what happens to their attention.

 

Danish poet Inger Christensen.  Image via  telegraph.com.uk .

Danish poet Inger Christensen.  Image via telegraph.com.uk.

You can see these same principles at work in alphabet, a book-length poem by Danish poet Inger Christensen.  The book proceeds through the letters of the alphabet, and the length of each section follows a pattern know as a Fibonacci sequence, in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers—0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so forth).

Thus it begins . . .

1

apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist

 

2

bracken exists; and blackberries, blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen

 

3

cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum

4

doves exist, dreamers, and dolls;
killers exist, and doves, and doves;
haze, dioxin, and days; days
exist, days and death; and poems
exist; poems, days, death

 

and a little later . . . 

7

given limits exist, streets, oblivion

and grass and gourds and goats and gorse,
eagerness exists, given limits

branches exist, wind lifting them exists,
and the lone drawing made by the branches

of the tree called an oak tree exists,
of the tree called an ash tree, a birch tree,
a cedar tree, the drawing repeated

in the gravel garden path; weeping
exists as well, fireweed and mugwort,
hostages, greylag geese, greylags and their young;

and guns exist, an enigmatic back yard;
overgrown, sere, gemmed just with red currants,
guns exist; in the midst of the lit-up
chemical ghetto guns exist
with their old-fashioned, peaceable precision

guns and wailing women, full as
greedy owls exist; the scene of the crime exists;
the scene of the crime, drowsy, normal, abstract,
bathed in a whitewashed, godforsaken light,
this poisonous, white, crumbling poem

alphabet by Inger Christensen.  Translated by Susanna Nied.

 

Note here the cumulative feel of the lengthening sections and role played by repetition.  As we encounter the poem’s recursions, we feel we are learning something about the workings of our minds, much as we do when presented with a cumulative tale or song.  Though each section is different, the repeating language, tropes, and sense that the line-length of the sections point back to their predecessors yields a particular form of insight that would be lost without the repetition.  Through the repetition, we discover connections and resonances between disparate elements and enter into the deeper learning of the poem.

 

Thank you for reading.

The Audience Learns Part 2 supplement — John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”

 
Jazz legend John Coltrane.  Image via  theguardian.com .

Jazz legend John Coltrane.  Image via theguardian.com.

 

Imagine sitting in a classroom as the teacher explains a complicated mathematical proof.  She walks you through it, but the proof contains mind-blowing twists and turns at each step.  Knowing this, the teacher repeats the process several times, pausing to explain what is happening at each step so that her students gain a deep grasp of the material.

So it is with John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” one of the landmark compositions of modern jazz. 

 

One might identify the eponymous giant steps as residing in the melody (0:00-0:27), but the chord changes make giant steps, too. Though the song form is a repeating structure (16 bars long), the melody leaps from one tonal plane to another, so that it might take several times through the pattern before someone hearing it for the first time can begin to identify even the basic lay of the musical landscape. 

So new were the ideas in the chord changes that you can hear jazz legend Tommy Flanagan try to navigate their crazy twists and turns during his piano solo (starting at 2:55).  He may have had scant minutes to digest the changes before the recording was made.  Coltrane, by contrast, had spent significant time with the changes to get inside and explore them.  Much like the imagined math teacher above, his soloing teaches us how to hear the workings of the chord changes, revealing them from this angle and then that one.

Consider how challenging a B-section might be in a song whose structure challenges our hearing as much as “Giant Steps.”  It might prove overwhelming, and by omitting such a section, the repetition of the sixteen-bar song-form reduces the cognitive load on listeners, which is already considerable.  The repetition allows us to take these strange chord changes inside of us, unfold and examine them, and arrive at some deeper understanding. 

The recording is a great reminder of how, within the context of their art, great artists are great teachers.  And when they are teaching us about something as radically different as the harmonic landscape of "Giant Steps," repetition is one of their most important tools.


Thank you for reading.

The Audience Learns Part 2 — Repetition

 
Jazz harpist and pianist Alice Coltrane.  Image via  foundmichigan.org .

Jazz harpist and pianist Alice Coltrane.  Image via foundmichigan.org.

 

Repetition is often associated with boredom (“He kept repeating himself”), but note how some of our best insights arrive when we are engaged in some repetitive activity—walking, listening to the repeating rhythm of waves on the beach, and so forth.  Those insights are less available to us when we are crossing the street against heavy traffic or greeting strangers in a crowded room, situations in which things keep changing.  Repetition has the power to clear mental space, which we need in order to process things and enter more deeply into a work of art.

 

The short chord progression in Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda” repeats for the full length of the track.  Notice how easily one can get a grip on what is happening and begin to think about it.  Notice how repetition of the chord changes and of Cecil McBee’s bass line and Rashid Ali’s drum groove invite us to enter a trance-like listening, where our thoughts are given freedom to begin forming ideas.  This repetition provides a backdrop to Alice Coltrane’s harp arpeggios.  We are quickly able to put a framework around Pharoah Sanders’s solo; even his fastest runs feel easily understood as a result of the repetition behind it.  The longer the track goes, the deeper our insights.

As you listen, consider this observation about repetition from producer and composer Brian Eno: 

"Repetition doesn’t really exist.  As far as your mind is concerned, nothing happens the same twice, even if in every technical sense, the thing is identical. Your perception is constantly shifting. It doesn’t stay in one place."

This is the magic of repetition, which can be the opposite of boring.  Indeed, it can free us into reflection and insight.


Thank you for reading.

The Audience Learns Part 1 supplement — Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”

 
Martin Sheen in Terrence Malick's film  Badlands , which tells the story of serial-killer and is said to be part of the inspiration for Bruce Springsteen's album  Nebraska .  Image via  bloomberg.com .

Martin Sheen in Terrence Malick's film Badlands, which tells the story of serial-killer and is said to be part of the inspiration for Bruce Springsteen's album Nebraska.  Image via bloomberg.com.

 

Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska was originally created as a series of song demos for the E Street Band.  At some point, Springsteen decided that he preferred the sparse demos to full-band versions.

The spare arrangements on the album suit the lonely mood of the songs.  As you listen to the following, however, note how important the ambient space is to how you hear and process the song.  

 

The absence of other instrumentation leaves room for us to turn over the music and lyrics.  The sense of spaciousness also evokes the wide open landscape that stretches out behind the story.  Nothing occludes our view of distant horizons.  This helps us feel as if we are looking back on the killer's life and watching him approach his final horizon and perhaps the "great void" of which he has been told.

This song invites considerable reflection, and Springsteen was wise to recognize that his audience needed some room in which to do the creative work of listening. 


Thank you for reading.

The Audience Learns Part 1 supplement — Ringo and “A Day in the Life”

One of the most deeply musical drummers ever, Ringo Starr.  Image via  techcrunch.com .

One of the most deeply musical drummers ever, Ringo Starr.  Image via techcrunch.com.

 

Claude Debussy observed, “Music is the space between the notes.”  Debussy’s formulation is a key to understanding the deep (and inadequately appreciated) musicality of Ringo Starr.

 

Note here how Ringo is painting the space by way of his minimalism.  The only percussion element heard in the first 45 seconds of the song is a shaker. 

His fills (at 0:48, 0:54, 1:01, and so on) seem to paint the dimensions of the sonic space for us.  Our consideration of the song requires space in which our thoughts can resonate, and Ringo knows this.  His fills are exercised judiciously, as if he is typesetting John Lennon’s vocals with ellipses and carriage returns, creating white space and organizing it on the page so that we know how to group things together.  His drumming not only brings the song gently to life, it teaches us how to listen.

Leaving space is a sign of attention to the listener and a wise and generous musicality.  More than playing the drums, Ringo always played the song. 


Thank you for reading.

The Audience Learns Part 1 — Space

"Don't speak unless your words are more beautiful than the silence."

This Arabic proverb contains an important lesson for creators.  We might valorize silence, and not only for its beauty.  An audience requires space in order to consider and process an artist's work.   

Sitting on the beach and looking out across the horizon, or sitting in large and otherwise unoccupied space such as an empty church or concert hall—such environments invite reflection precisely because they offer the sense that our thoughts have some space in which to work.  Though the trail through a forest may be narrow and confining, the hiker’s sense of the forest’s vast dimensions explain why this is another likely place to go think things over.  It's as if our thoughts actually require physical space in which they can be unpacked and turned over. 

The aesthetic appeal of space may be more immediately grasped than the cognitive role that space plays in learning.  That so many pop songs start with a guitar riff and then build up into full instrumentation (a move found in countless orchestral works) reflects more than a concern with drama.  It reveals an appreciation for the value of space—in the case of music, aural space.  The listener makes use of the space around a riff or sparely presented melodic motif to examine it.  The greater the space, the more extensive the listener’s examination.

These landscapes by French Baroque painter Claude Lorrain are filled with detail, but note how important the sense of space is. 

Claude Lorraine, "Embarkation of the Queen of Sheeba"(1648).  Image via  wikipedia.org .

Claude Lorraine, "Embarkation of the Queen of Sheeba"(1648).  Image via wikipedia.org.

Claude Lorrain, "Landscape with Apollo Guarding the Herds of Admetus and Mercury Stealing Them," (1645).  Image via  wikipedia.org .

Claude Lorrain, "Landscape with Apollo Guarding the Herds of Admetus and Mercury Stealing Them," (1645).  Image via wikipedia.org.

A viewer has the sense that she can take in the details and also step back from them, turn them over.  Indeed, that space is invaluable to her learning and creative work as a viewer.  So it is for audiences of all creative forms.


Thank you for reading.