Friday, April 29, 2011

The World is B Flat

The word 'Ecotone' is a real word, and although it incorporates the syllable 'tone', it has nothing to do with music. If we examine the etymology of the word, the 'tone' in this case is derived from 'tonos', meaning 'tension', and an ecotone represents a place where ecologies are in tension, such as transition areas between two adjacent but different plant communities.

It strikes me that global culture in its entirety represents an ecotone of some great magnitude, where communities are not simply in tension, but actively colliding and combining, –sometimes resulting in homogenization, and sometimes resulting in evolution of another sort.

Writer Thomas L. Friedman has famously suggested that as a result of both globalization and technology, 'The World is Flat'.  If it is, then the map is drawn with many overlapping Venn Diagrams, and you and I sit at the very center where all circles overlap around a power outlet, and where we can plug in the plethora of devices we carry with us use to navigate this new turbulent terrain.

It is turbulent because we have not quite fully moved from one century to another, nor have have  yet fully adapted to these new tools at our disposal. But as such, we stand at the cusp of another great adventure, and all we need to do is not let ourselves get bogged down in remixing past works when absolutely original things are still to be conceived, whether with rubber bands and paperclips, or HTML, CSS and Object Oriented Programming.

And it may very well be that new forms will yet emerge from traditional methods and old, well worn tools.

In this regard, I like to think the world is actually Bb.

What I mean by this is that despite tectonic technological shifts, I like to think that there are still many new and innovative works to be composed on piano, kalimba or yanqin, and novel gestures to be communicated by ballet or tap dance, for instance. A healthy human body does not require an upgrade. The violin can't be improved upon, nor the paint brush, and there is not a single machine on the planet that will ever weave the kind of magic that a mere child can conjure with smile.

The complexity and depth we feel or acquire from imperfect artistic works and executions can not be improved upon by computer assisted creation and precision processes. You can fix and remix, but none of those tricks give you quite same kick as human expression, although to be fair, a mouse click is also a form of human expression, and indeed, it may be the defining gesture of our time.

Either way, whether made from twigs or pixels, clay or light, or our own bodies and voices, that regardless of result, Process will always be exciting to us. As artists we revel in the act of creation; as spectators we enjoy learning how our favorite artists work.

It's wonderful, too, that Technology now allows those without training or technique to express themselves in ways that once required a high degree of skill. The only danger here is that a young person might think that just because they don't need to master a craft in order to express themselves, that they shouldn't. Not all value derived from making music, however, comes from making music. If that's all you do, then you miss out on something absolutely necessary to real artistry – how making music makes you.

Speaking or spectators, if audiences appear collectively blasé, and they frequently do, then maybe we might use the new communication tools at our disposal to 'mashup' the audience with our own lives. In this way we invite them into a mutually shared experience. We witness a fair bit of that already, and naturally I think that is a good way to go.

In the meantime, it is also fair to ask if it is art that is boring or the audience that is bored? Is someone disinterested because of external or internal factors?

Boredom, however, is relative to exposure to repeated stimulus.

I recall how as a little boy arriving in the United States after having spent great swaths of my childhood without television. While others complained about Television commercials, I found even the most poorly made advertisements deeply entertaining. Similarly, we have, in the last twenty years, all assimilated so many new technologies that our brains now apparently demand an accelerated diet of novel stimuli on a regular basis, lest life, for a moment, feels dull. Is there a day when some years from now we say, 'there's nothing interesting on the Internet?'

But hasn't that happened already?

For all the positives, it also strikes me as a kind of sad atrophy of our cognitive ability to appreciate the single frame, a single object, a still life, a captured moment, whether in Tempera, stone, vinyl, sand, glass, clay or even as a digital media file.

Racing through an online gallery so that a thousand images dance by like a single work of stop motion animation may seem an increasingly comfortable way to absorb visual information, but I think in order to deeply appreciate a single, static work of art, one must pause and linger, for there is another dimension at play in the sensory reception of art.

And that is the notion of Time. Giving a single work our attention and our time can mean the difference between real experience and mere observation, not to mention depth of experience is measured in both Time and Feeling.

So, it may be that if we still hope to sustain an interest in what it means to be human, then one might actually have to stop the feed, break the screen and step back through the shattered shards of so-called social media, if only to revel for a faintly reminiscent moment of what it means to be present in the proximity of visceral, physical, human expression –and to feel again how thrilling Art is, that it might even transform your life, –not if you simply let it, but if you actively engage in the acquisition of knowledge and skills necessary to your own creative understanding and expression.

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