Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Muddle of Materialist Morality A rerun on a day when I'm feeling rundown.

The physicist Steven Weinberg is probably most famous for saying

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

I've pointed out that the utter cluelessness of that statement coming from someone from the branch of science that has done as much as any to give the world nuclear and other weapons,  Many of those physicists avowed atheists working in an area of human scholarship, science, which has enabled us to do massively more evil through its real efficacy to multiply our potency while it undermines moral restraint.

Weinberg was one of the participants in a gathering of elite atheists in October of last year under the headline "Moving Naturalism Forward".    The participants were a number of elite scientists and scholars, including a number of the big names in atheism,  Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, Sean Carroll....   Some of the big thinkers of atheism.   If any group was capable of "moving 'naturalism' - you can safely read 'atheism' - forward, it would seem to be these folks.

Apropos of Weinberg's most famous saying, something that anyone arguing with atheists will certainly encounter, one of the sessions of discussions dealt with "Morality".   It begins with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein asserting an evo-psy basis for morality, pretty much the one that has been fashionable among atheists for some time now.  It's an attempt to make science do what science can't do, to come up with a scientific reason that we should behave morally, generously, kindly, through natural selection.  Something which I hold is an obviously impossible task due to natural selection being based in self-interest and which has required that generosity, kindness and any other expression of moral behavior be tortuously redefined to make them into a covert form of selfishness.  The absurdity reaches a basic level in Dawkins' "gene selfishness" which turns "altruism" into a pantomime of morality in service to selfish molecules.

As an aside, it's remarkable how in rejecting the alleged tyranny of the idea of an almighty God, an idea atheists often assert to be degrading to human dignity, end up asserting an absolute totalitarian rule by molecules and atoms, demoting human beings to being their unconscious, robotic servants.

In the past I've pointed out that materialism isn't capable of generating or sustaining morality that isn't vulnerable to even the most unsophisticated level of debunkery that atheism generally practices.  As an example of that, Goldstein's up to date, evo-psy based, fortress of materially based morality doesn't last more than ten minutes as the second speaker demolishes it.   That second speaker is Mr. "Bad Religion" himself, Steven Weinberg.   Weinberg does exactly what I said any atheist could do if they chose, assert that there is nothing real about any moral concept that is presented to them.  Their materialism has freed them to be as selfish as they want to be.  Weinberg asserts that his "moral preference" prefers the comfort of his family to the happiness of starving people elsewhere.   His response to Goldstein is most interesting because he points out that his thinking not only dispelled traditional morality but also the utilitarianism that he'd previously adopted.  As utilitarianism has been one of the most popular atheist-materialist imitations of morality, it is telling how that enormous intellectual effort is susceptible to the most unsophisticated rejection.

don't think you'll find much else of use in the chatter, which I will address more of later, but you can see how this group of great atheist thinkers is unlikely to do much to lessen the depravity of human societies and governments.   Atheism can't generate a morality that it doesn't wash away in its basic methods and practices.   In the end, an atheist "morality" will always be no more reliable than doing what people figure they can get away with doing, most often, what they want to do, at most.   There is nothing in atheism that will compel most people to act generously, in a kindly way, ... against their selfish interest.  In order to have a decent society many, probably a large majority of people have to be far less selfish than can be effected through any of these materialistic cover jobs.

To listen, click on the link below

Moving Naturalism Forward: Day 2, Morning, 1st Session

 Note: I'm finding that dealing with my mother's death far, far harder than I would have expected.  I don't feel up to writing something new just now.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sheila Jordan and Gildas Boclé 

I listen and watch him playing the bass and think, Ah! to be 45 again!
Gildas Boclé Trio

Jean Baptiste Boclé: Vibes, Keys
Simon Bernier: Drums
Gildas Boclé: Bass



What I Will Be Handing Out To My Students From Now On

I've been looking at The Art of Improvisation by T. Carl Whitmer to get ideas for putting some zing into my playing.  It's been pretty lifeless since the involuntary pause caused by a problem with one of my fingers, the result of an accident, not a repetitive stress problem.  The finger is fine but the pause has left me reflecting on whether or not late middle age is time to finally do something about my lack of improvisatory inspiration.    I'm finding the book is full of excellent advice, most of it, fittingly, spun out of the aphorisms contained in the first chapter.  Here is that, in full.

Every thematic bit of improvisation must be conceived of as a short musical idea which must be adhered to and extended until it has run its course.  An unfolding structure first and last will be the ideal.

The harmonic aspects must be disregarded until all other generating of effects has been accomplished.  In other words, a short rhythmic-melodic entity must become a longer entity by expansion.  This is your problem. 

Invariably think of this basic melody as put together with other melodies in very definite and clear voice parts.  This is the beginning of wisdom.

Always consider that the basic theme - normal and inverted - has hundreds of facets, if one but turn them to varying lights and effects.

Never consider the given tonality of the theme as final,  i.e. as a settled thing.  Rather, consider it as possibly existing in six or seven keys.

All improvisation is relatively easy if one has studied the endless possible shapes and migrations of a given melody. 

Regard the basic notes as a spider might its web:
a) as spinning - how long
b) as design - how built.

The differences between paying a set printed phrase and expanding one extempore are essentially different psychological processes.  The first is reproductive, while the second is generative resulting in budding, flowering, unfolding or expansion.

In the reproductive, the player functions more as a mechanism.  In unfolding an idea heis "like unto a god, with the power to create good and evil".

Usually it puzzles the student, who likely has studied Harmony,  first of all to learn that harmonizations, as he knows them, are the least important of his efforts.  The most important of his efforts are listed under the heads of counterpoint  (polyphony) and structure. 

Contrapuntal combinations are not only limitless, but the process gives a forward movement, without having the finality or static character of harmonizations. 

Harmonies, as devices, are fewer in number and - as stated -  more static in tenency.  The chord plan has a fixity of purpose that is sure to stop one before one is well started.  Also, chord progressions are hedged about by rules that will make the student too conscious of right and wrong, instead of inculcating the necessary feeling of forging ahead.

If the improviser "gets stuck"  (his favorite word!)  it is because he sees his theme as a finished and complete entity.  Harmonizing usually produces or assists in producing this result.  The idea, on the contrary must always be kept in a state of flux.

Copy on music paper and place on piano the given melody for improvisation without any harmony attached to it.  Later, omit clefs.
The process of extempore playing is synthetic, but a preliminary analysis plays a big role in developing one's spinning power.

One must get on intimate terms little by little with the form and style of all the different sorts of structures such as Two and Three Part Form, Minuet, Sonata Form, etc.

In conclusion of these generalizations I would say that the theme material must be exhausted by mental processes before one's emotions can be set in to action.

Also, in improvisation, when one has made a note mistake, or rhythmic or harmonic error do not correct it.  Rather, make use of it, repeating that "error" in the following phrases.  In other words, incorporate the error and it becomes part of the pattern or scheme itself.  When skill is attained all will merge very naturally with the plan.  Any error may be only an intentioned rightness;  good, but not what "you meant to do".

Do not get too fussy about how every part of the "thing" sounds.  Go ahead.  All processes are at first awkward and clumsy and "funy".  Polishing is not at all the important thing; instead, strive for a rough go-ahead energy.  Do not be afraid of being wrong;  just be afraid of being uninteresting.

It always is difficult to remember what one has improvised in order that the part may be repeated in essence, ( as in Song Form, etc.).  That, too becomes easy.  It is not necesssary to remember all details,  but it is necessary to recall plan and method and general character.

In general, there are two ways to improvise.  The first is by expansion and the other is by the use of a set form.  Whenever in doubt use some set form, but experiment with expansion until you get this one thought deep down:  In expansion the form is gnerated.  It makes itself, in other words.

Whereas, in the classical sort of mold, the player first decides on a form such as A-B-A and then proceeds more or less mechanically (until he gets his stride) to build each subject;  which is perhaps a shorter and less concentrated and therefore easier way to get the sense of achievement.  However, there need be very little of too regulating a theory but there is an immense  amount of the doing in the most direct of ways.

I am usually asked about technic; i.e. the muscular ability to play.  A technic including the third grade is usually presupposed.  But, it is not essential to work on IMprovisation to expect one person's muscular agility to be the same as another's.  

The way to improvise is to improvise.  Use the technic at hand, much or little;  slow or fast.  If scales are weak, or perchance arpeggios, consult a "method" or a teacher.  But, every improviser will practice some technical exercises daily if he expects his playing smoothness and ease to increase.  But, pieces of great charm may be written or improvised in the early grades:  witness Bach's so-called Anna Magdalena's Clavecin Book.

Rafael Joseffy's Piano Technic* will give excellent training to the fingers.  Or, the exhaustive Alberto Jonas'* work can help on any and every matter that can possibly arise in connect with refractory digits.

There is a charming lithography, by Odile Redon, of a "part of a part" of a tree out a window.  May we not be happy, also, in fragmentary ideas occasionally in improvisation.  Every composer has a few sketches that no one would part with.  Surely not everything we build has to be monumental and the last word on the subject.  [See illustration]

*  Both available in public domain online from the IMSLP.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, whose who have no need even of God — for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God. (December 24, 1978)

St. Oscar Romero
We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed tonight with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways. December 24, 1979

St. Oscar Romero

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Yonder Come Day

It was a pretty bad year, all in all.  Aside from the wars, ongoing destruction of the biosphere, the renewed exposure of the United States as a nation of  latter  day Molochites who are prepared to sacrifice even its upper class children on the alter to the gun god (it having proved that there is no ceiling on poor and minority children it will so sacrifice) ....  I'm glad to see it ending.   

We can't count on the new year being any better but we don't have any choice but to try.   Here's the wonderful Senator Bernie Sanders about why we must try.