BACH’S MIND: Part 3

Text and Photography by Harvey Lloyd

This blog is part of a series entitled Secrets of Eternal Youth.

Secrets of Eternal Youth

The Blog of Everything
From a Globe Circling Forever Youthful Adventurer, Artist/Photographer
.Who Hangs Out of Helicopters & Flies “The Dead Man[s Curve” Over Every Continent

With Newest Studies On How to Keep Your Brain Young & Healthy

Secrets of Eternal Youth is a Kerouacian road trip through the mental universe with a merry prankster at the wheel. Lloyd is Coyote, the Trickster, who brings us the fire of imagination that is able to see the quantum foam of the universe in the dancing of Jackson Pollack—that allows us to feel the wild excitement of being alive. Secrets is an explosion of metaphor that reprograms our synapses, stretches our minds, and reminds us that we are all youthful poets.

All photographs by Harvey Lloyd, Copyright © 2016

 BACH’S MIND
A Walk To The Stars

1

EPILOGUE

            Sit in reverie and watch the changing color of the waves that break upon the idle seashore of the mind.

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

The power of music derives from the singular fact that you hear music in “isolation.” When you look with your eyes, you encounter a complex field of vision filled with a multitude of objects of different sizes and colors, which I term the “camouflage effect.” When you listen to music, you hear the particular selection that you are listening to and nothing, or almost nothing else. The world around us appears to our eyes as a vast jungle filled with a thousand or a thousand thousand different kinds of trees, vines, creepers, chaos. The world of music is a mountain top, ringing in the clear air above the tempests below, where, alone, and in the dark, you hear the sough of the wind, the slide of glaciers, or the cry of a high flying bird–a crane perhaps.

This singular isolation, this profound meditation, during which sound, sound alone fills your consciousness, makes manifest the power of music. It delights your soul. Music isolates you from a humdrum world. We see many young people walking or running or simply sitting, listening to their Walkmans or other earphone devices, joined to their own particular choice of music, tuned out of the hustle-bustle, tuned in to rock or pop, folk or classical themes. Music creates a cavern of contemplation, a matrix, a womb. Insulated by your profound mmersion in your no-brain, the seat of knowledge and instinct, you are freed from the cacophony of vision and noise of the “real” world. Or, you listen to a cacophony of your own choosing.

. . . O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS-

2

Music may be listened to when you are doing other things. The neural pathways from our ears to our brains is direct. That immediacy may be because listening to sounds, the crunch of a branch or twig, the roar of a predator, signaled danger to early man and to beasts during the aeons of evolution. You heard. You moved, grabbed a club or ran. To see oncoming danger is slower, more difficult work. We must decipher the vast range of visual information that confronts us before we can act–perhaps too late. Instantaneous identification of danger meant survival. We remain barbarians under our thin skins, ready to kill or maim, shoot or slaughter. Music makes us human, or more than human. Why think of ourselves as simply human when the gods laugh at us and kill us for their sport. Do they play music?

Does it matter whether you hate yourself?

At least Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can

Hear the music, the thunder of the wings.

Love the wild swan.

–ROBINSON JEFFERS, Love the Wild Swan

Music seems, somehow, to arise from the way in which our brains work, the rhythm of our nervous systems, the firing patterns of the neurons in our brains. Music soothes us. Music makes us feel good. Music arouse our feelings, our ardor and passion. Think of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the wail of bagpipes when Scotch highlander parade to war, the Nazi marching songs during the Third Reich, the religious exuberance or sadness of Black spirituals and Jazz funeral marches. The church has always known and used the power of music to hosanna to the glory of God from early plain chant and Gregorian Chants, the cantatas of Bach and the organ music of Buxtehude, to the messianic fervor of gospel singing. Rock concerts play on the most primitive and barbaric emotions of teen agers. They are drugged by the music. Consciousness altering drugs amplify the unconscious receptors to distort music. Bad trips.

3


    There’s no music in a “Rest,” Katie, that I know of: but there’s the making of music in it. And people are always missing that part of the life-melody.

–JOHN RUSKIN, Ethics of the Dust

 

Music alters our emotions. And it happens instantaneously. Music plays all day long in my studio in Santa Fe, a welcome and soothing background to busy days. When I go out in the field, into the air on helicopters, abroad and at sea to photograph, I hear nature’s music — wind and wave, the sound of surf, the wail of a storm, the rustle of leaves, the whisper of a brook, the roar of a waterfall, bird cries, all music.

Riches beyond compare, that we may listen to the minds and works of composers from all ages, to classical music, to folk music, to so called primitive music, chants and drum beats; we human beings are musical creatures. Music is in our blood. Vision, the window to our rational minds, depicts and reveals our own immediate time, our own, singular place in the long dance of life. We see beauty and we see drudgery. Vision is the hard working tool of our daily existences. Music is the wine.

4

        Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms

for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.

–FLAUBERT, Madame Bovary

Music reveals the order and symmetry that underlies the random chaos of a universe that often seems to border on nihilism. Music counters the view that existence is senseless, random, chaotic and cruel. Those who live without music are as blind men on a crevassed desert. They wander a-thirst for that elixer that will give their desperate lives meaning. They stumble, fall and die. If there is music in heaven, I will willingly seek that place. If not, hell is fine.

        “Karpove and Korchnoi are the two best living chess players. But what makes a great chess player? Obviously, creation plays a part. The great ones in any field of intellectual endeavor are able to synthesize things in a way less gifted people cannot approach doing. The geniuses make the quantum leap, then everybody says, “It’s so easy! Why didn’t we see that?” The great ones also have tremendous technique. But technique must be supplemented by some kind of vision, intuition, imagination, or else that quantum leap never will be made.

In music, genius has the ability to create a series of beautifully linked thoughts in a manner that nobody before had imagined. In chess, it is the equivalent ability to find the one combination or the one breathless move that suddenly illuminates man’s horizon. The results, in chess as in music or science, ring through the centuries, and today those who love chess will play a Morphy game from the 1850’s with as much enjoyment as a music lover listening to a Mozart quartet.”

(Source unknown)

 

5

Music permeates mathematics and science. We have heard of “The music of the spheres,” an ethereal music, thought by Pythagoreans to have been produced by the movements of heavenly bodies. Conductors of music often live to ripe old ages. The plants in my NYC studio thrive and grow enormous, despite common knowledge that plants languish indoors in the city. Two large plants have created an arch, a bower of green over me, shading the large windows. They must love the daily diet of music. What is music? The music of India, China or Japan often seems raucous, dissonant, crude. In truth, it is a matter of time and custom. I can think of no more restful, peaceful music than the deep moan and wail of the shakuhachi flute, a pipe about
22 inches long with five finger holes.

6

In his album notes to the Nonesuch record A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky, Fumio Koizumi says that the flute was brought to Japan from China as early as the 7th or 8th century and played in the Japanese court for T’ang music. The music only lasted until the 10th century. In the beginning of the 17th century, the shakuhachi was revived by a sect of Zen Buddhists known as the Fuke. Sôkaku-Reibo (“Depicting the Cranes in Their Nest”) is one of the Thirty-Six Classics of Kinko Kurosawa, a samurai turned monk who collected the ascetic bamboo flute-arts of the Fuke priests and arranged them into self-contained musical pieces. We hear the crane calling to its young, a plaintive and soothing series of cries, nature wedded to art, bird calls made into music, the same.

7

The contemporary French composer Messiaen bases much of his music on bird sounds. His piano work, Catalogue d’Oiseaux, or catalogue of the birds lasts well over two hours. Bird calls are music. The flight of birds is heavenly music, the beating of wings the rhythms of paradise, the flight itself a divine choreography of asymmetric patterns that delight the eye with their invisible lines, just as flight delights our earthbound souls that would be free to soar to heaven on wings of unheard melody.

Native American music with drums and chants has become somewhat familiar to our Western or European ears. But we, here in the United States are not so westernized anymore. Black music, Cuban music, South American music, even Australian music, the sounds of the five foot long Bushmen’s flute called the digiridoo, become commonplace in our wired culture. United States born and sold, rock music permeates the world. I hear it in every country, in the cities, a raucous growl of cynical lyrics and tub thumping bass that overpowers the ethnic music, the living music of the indigenous peoples, the folk and native music that speaks to us of diversity, of the family of earth, of the beauty of different and unique and often vanishing cultures.

8

Under the satellite umbrella of wired technology, the Global Village need not, should not become part of the United States hegemony. Too much that is precious is lost. Ethnic diversity, as we have learned in the United States, is the spice of life. Ethnic music plays the heartfelt feelings, the deepest emotions of the human race. If we are all musicians, then let the music play!

9


Sometimes within the brain’s old ghostly house,

I hear, far off, at some forgotten door,

A music and an eerie faint carouse,

And stir of echoes down the creaking floor.

— ARCHIBALD MACLEISH, Chambers of Imagery

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