Identification and singleness

Of course there comes a time when the practical matters need taking care of.   For me, that’s now – I really should get to practical matters now.

But there sometimes is a time amidst the pull of practical matters to think about what might be a larger picture, and I’ll take that time now so I can get back to those matters with clearer head. Hopefully.

The wish to identify everything, to record and analyze everything, in a big sea of data, is dependent at some level on 1) things being identifiable in the first place and 2) representations being useful enough to act upon — especially at that scale.

From a practical standpoint, these are sensible things to do. At some point, one must admit that a city map is a city map, and one must be oriented to it.

However, the certainty of orientation in a city is not quite the same as the certainty of being in the city yourself. And the more virtuality there is in the representation, the more one is likely to feel unstable at root, and a bit lost in the game-like mapping of the world.

And there is a bit of this problem in the on/off basis for digital representation. At a certain level, there is an absolute identification of a single thing at the very bottom, and that must be somewhat false.

You can sense a reaction to this problem in the popular tilt toward ‘non-binary’ living (especially around gender issues). But it seems to lead to atomisation of identity around ever-smaller units.

I suspect that it is one of the jobs of music, which circumvents the possibility of absolute identification by being invisible, to puncture this absoluteness.

Which is why I should get back to the practical matters of my own music work, I suppose.



In recent days, it occurred to me once again how eerily similar fundamentalist readings of the second amendment to the US constitution…

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

… are to fundamentalist readings of the Biblical passage which brought us ‘snake-handling’:

These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will… pick up snakes with their hands.

Read either passage in a  violently literal way, as a command from above —  and then listen for the ambulances.

Of course, the snakes bite only the people lifting them…


And then, as though on cue, comes the president with his story of immigrant ‘snakes’.  The snake biting the (faithful) hand that offers mercy, that’s his story, his ‘poem’.  Evidently it excites the crowd.

It’s a curious trick: something feels true about it – but it feels true because he’s talking about himself.

I think they do know it, these believers, they knew he was a snake when they let him in.

But they also think they can handle it.

The sound of sirens following this experiment would not surprise me.

… and Text

‘Text’ is also an interesting word to pursue. (I realize now that my stated distrust of etymologies must be taken as a mere excuse.)

Where ‘print’ has to do with ‘pressing’, ‘text’ has to do with ‘weaving’. Weaving a story of words, over time. Not necessarily written down, so long as it hangs together.

So as a follow-up question: is expression to print as context is to text? Context is more passive, at the least. Expression (German ‘Ausdruck’) seems to indicate a  source in the print. Context (German ‘Zusammenhang’) is simply what is hanging around the weaving, as it hangs together on its own terms.

So context is a more or less indifferent space, and expression more the hope for a living object in the print – the hope that there may be something in there that might come out.


And on the subject of print: what does ‘press’ mean when nothing is actually ‘pressed’? It doesn’t seem to be the same.

For a long time, the idea of making a mark, making something permanent (or at least long-enough-lasting to allow a moment’s consideration), came from an idea of contact. This is no longer true. Nothing is ‘pressed’ beyond the keyboard, and yet it still appears in ‘print’.  If it were all printed, we’d have no more trees at all, and fast.

You might wonder also, what this has to do with traditions of ‘expression’, which have to do with squeezing meaning in and out of print, at least in part.  A sort of parallel to (and inversion of)  the act of squeezing something onto a page or painting or medium in the first place.

Curiously, the idea of ‘express’ as ‘fast’ comes only later, with the idea that a train (such as the ICE ‘sprinter’ on which I’m currently riding and writing) would only go to certain ‘expressed’ (i.e. named) stations.

In this case, the opposite of ‘express’ is ‘local’ (see: NY subway, A train vs. C train, or 1/9 v. 2/3).

If you have nothing from which meaning can be pressed, I guess you’re left with only rhymes or memes.

What is heard

How can you tell that someone is listening?

There is a saying in improvisation that there are no mistakes. We can take it as an acceptable starting point, because it’s clear that there’s no saying what the rules might be, or how they might change.

This tends to get a lot of traction in improvisation circles, especially when it addresses the rather dangerously prescribed traditions of classical music, and to some extent those of jazz (which may well be at its most doctrinaire when it is at its least pre-determined).

There is the matter, though, of playing as though you are not listening. This may in fact be a mistake.

It is not  mistake because of what gets played under these conditions, though it does have a particular sound.  It has more to do with atmosphere: even when music is at its most traditional, its most familiar, its least mindful, an audience doesn’t just hear what’s played, it hears what could be played, what is probably-to-be-expected… that is, the hearers hear you listening forward, and the composer listening forward, and making choices in a field of possibilities.

So how would you make a machine seem to listen? How would you get it to codify these parameters of calculation and search, and desire for resonance?

And what would be the use?


I wonder about the appearance of -ism in so many contexts. I can’t quite figure out what it means. Capitalism, evangelicalism, racism, pacifism, antidisestablishmentarianism, etc.

It seems to provide some ghost of an idea with the weight of reality — a ghost which then becomes a fact or movement because people act on it.

I suppose we have to identify things, but often -ism seems to bring along with it an excess of concreteness. It is not as though when we talk about ‘Realism’, that we know what we are talking about…

Or terrorism.


There is a problem with having audio in and audio out in the same room.

As we know, the amplification takes from the microphone, the microphone takes from the amplification, and the world collapses. I recently read about what exactly makes that ‘feedback’ sound, but I’ve forgotten what it is, how exactly it works. It is a bad sound.

And of course if you’re devising an environment-aware music system, there’s the problem that the machine will play along with itself, creating its own environment. It’s like the opposite of garbage in the system: there’s no difference between the garbage and the food. The recent past becomes the near future becomes the recent past, and they have to be different in order to move… forward.

And if you’re playing with a person… how is that person understanding his separateness?

The person is not making an echo, and not playing the same ‘thing’ as you, which helps. But he’s not depending only on sound, either. And he’s deciding what features to respond to — not to your sound, necessarily, but to you, through some combination of features and imitations.

Making a machine respond musically to a gesture is not in itself so problematic… but picking out something to play with? In an engaging way? The question is open.

When we listen to each other, we do not necessarily respond to the sound we hear, at least not as a physical sensation. We can store the sound as an idea or shape, remember it, draw from it, vary it, put it on our own terms, and then respond to it (or not).  We actually require ourselves to do something different. We separate ourselves in order to establish our own selves.

And what would you do to have a machine remember itself — its own sound — as different from yours?  Well, first it would have to have ‘a sound’. It’s not clear that it does, if it doesn’t physically resonate across space. But of course, synthesis is plenty successful on the large scale, so why exclude it?