In praise of the Notebook

I can’t remember who said it, but it was said that the notebook is a wasteland of the mind.

 

I’ve not been posting lately. I had found that I have less and less that was interesting to say. Then I discovered the notebook.I have 3 different kinds of notebook. The ‘prized possession’ notebook is a nice fancy leather-bound thing of beauty where its dog ears are affectionate and the words meaningful. I keep minutes of meetings I go to, and notes from when I am at a discussion group. I also keep a few cuttings from magazines of things that I deem worthy – such as when something of mine gets published on print, which happened a fair bit last year.

 

My other kind of notebook is the newspaper and magazine, flyers and receipts cut out collage. I find anything of the printed word in a physical form (physical defined by ‘can be glued by pritt stick’), and I put things together. Often political messages or things that define the zeitgeist of our day. For example, one thing that I’ve found interesting to keep an eye on is the current borders of control of what we call Ukraine, which seems to change weekly, that would be something very interesting to keep a printed version of to show its change. Like the ‘prized possession’ book, I have some collage notebooks which are very pretty and I am proud of, and then others which are more an experimentation of this collage-newspaper-cutting technique that I am playing with.

 

The final kind of notebook is a true toilet of my mind. I have a few lined books which I use to keep anything that’s on my head in. I keep things like a shopping list; things I need to do to keep the house tidy; maths working out from Khanacademy; playing with maths ideas to try and understand them in my head; playing with logic ideas; pseudocode ideas; doodles of me as an abominable snowman/yeti in various situations (usually sleeping) and sometimes, philosophical analysis.

 

I’ve found a certain kind of freedom of thought to using my notebook. I’ve thought about a lot of philosophical topics that I am hardly an expert on and played with some ideas, such as ‘game’ strategies (one of which is ‘when should I board the train in rush hour’? and ‘how do I decide what to wear during seasonal weather?’). The notebook is my naked thinking, warts and all, not fit for a reading public or an understanding public, and has been my main form of communicating my ideas lately. As such, I have not much to blog about lately. Or better to say, nothing I want to put on this blog.

 

 

The Badminton mind (, or the sui generis-ness of discourses)

I’ve often used the phrase, in my blogging and in my personal conversations, that one has to have a musical mind or must think musically in order to understand some piece or other, or as an instrumentalist to approach performance. I remember studying aesthetics at university and finding the topic different (but learnable). The thing that I found particularly difficult about aesthetics was thinking aesthetically. Often in theoretical philosophy we’d think of examples in physics or mathematics, thought experiments that would never happen and so forth, that would apply in thinking about metaphysics, philosophy of language or epistemology; but not so well at aesthetics. To think aesthetically (I would contend) can involve one’s inner aesthete having a contribution to one’s way of thinking. As far as branches of philosophy go, aesthetics seemed to involve an independent kind of form of querying (perhaps this is just a phenomenological thing to me).

 

Some discourses seem to have an autonomous way of thinking about them which do not merit cognates, analogues or comparisons very easily or if they do, they are clunky. In recent years I have taken up badminton and I have found that in spite of all the drills, techniques I have learned and court hours I’ve racked up, I’m starting to discover a voice of expression within badminton. I discovered this when I was playing with a new partner in a doubles match against two people I know pretty well. I knew that their playing standard was definitely above mine but this new partner was an unknown quantity to all of us.

 

I started to take winning seriously and I began to think things that never had any kind of cognate in the rest of my life. I thought about things such as what the best starting positions would be; where their weaknesses are; how to rally 2-3 shots ahead of the current shot and how to break the opposing team’s sense of resolve.

 

Perhaps it is because I’m unfamiliar with other racket games like say Tennis or Squash. One of my friends chooses not to play Tennis because in his view the technique and approach: gets in the way of his Badminton play. I suppose the point I am making is that it is a nonsense in the same way someone might say that the Organ is 3 piano keyboards on top of each other and therefore a good pianist must be a good organist (or could read organ music transferable); likewise, Badminton strategy has a sui generis quality about it, in the same way.

 

I came to learn the Clarinet after playing the Piano and one of the pitfalls that I had was acknowledging the uniqueness of the Clarinet. Reading the Treble Clef on its own for example didn’t seem to be an issue for me because I have experience of reading 2 clefs as standard (3 if I’m accompanying, 3-4 if playing 20th century music). However reading clarinet music requires thought about phrasing and breathing, especially if breath marks are not included! Thinking about the unity of a phrase in terms of the breath put into it, or the unity of a melody line as a unit of the piece. Then there are the aspects of my poor breath technique that I am constantly working on (that requires a lot of work). I’m pretty bad at badminton, and so too with the Clarinet!

 

Of course, noticing that thinking as a Badminton player, or say, a Judoka (as opposed to another form of fighter like say thai boxer) can have transferrable traits to some other discourse. Perhaps the most obvious one in badminton is deception. Deception is a beautiful tactic whereby you give a tell of what your next move is going to be (and where it will go), but that tell is entirely contrived to throw off the opponent. The beautiful thing about deception in my playing experience is choosing when to do it. Doing it all the time itself is a form of a tell to the other player. Deception in this way sounds like the kind of general skill that one might have in social life, or other game-playing such as Poker. The autonomy of a discourse should have as its defining conditions, continuities (such as deception can apply to other games or social interactions) and discontinuities (shuttlecock aerodynamics).

Thinking about Lent

This week a lot of conversations from various circles of friends and in other places (such as at work and of all places my gym classes) have oriented around the start of Lent. Invariably I have been led to think about this issue. I looked to the origin of where the whole thing about temptation and the role of abstinence came from in Lent which led me to Matthew 4:1-11. What I found interesting about the story is how something about temptation is made to be a personal issue for various Christians and non-Christians around the world; yet for seemingly different reasons to why Jesus was tested. Lent seems to be meaningful to people insofar as they find some personal significance to denying some thing that they are giving up. Perhaps that is smoking or chocolate, alcohol or some other behaviour.

 

Without entering into the language of sin, temptation seems to be about agency. Our agency has dispositions. We have tendencies to like things or dislike things. All too often some of our tendencies are for things not necessarily good for us. I have been thinking about choosing to give something up as I was brought up in the traditions of lent and trying to find some meaning to resisting temptation.

 

I have some dispositions for things that I might consider beneficial. I like walking to places that are short distances and avoiding using other forms of transport. I also like walking to new places to have an experience of the local geography in a different way. There are other things in which I abstain from that I would normally be moderate with and I am rarely immoderate with. I am quite a fan of tea and coffee for example. I choose however to avoid tea and coffee most of the time for something simpler. I know that coffee can make it difficult to sleep but even if that were not the case I would still choose to avoid it. Sometimes the reason to do so is just because I can say no.

 

I am reminded of a story from Melvyn Bragg who once said that there periods of time where he goes completely without alcohol just to prove that he can. Bragg also says that there have been times where he had had a lot of alcohol. There is a certain value to moderation. I make a point of not having alcohol very much and when I do it generally is barely more than around 2 pints. Following the Mitchell and Webb sketch that says ‘around 2 pints’ is the optimal amount of being drunk.

 

Asceticism is something I was brought up to value highly. Asceticism is something that prima facie, the current Pope Francis I values a great deal more than his predecessors. Asceticism can mean different things. In my view the enduring value of lent comes in the ways that people find value in abstinence. I have been thinking about what I might abstain from and instead of anything specific I thought about the issue of food waste and waste in general. I have this week made a decision to try and minimise food waste and non-recyclable waste.

 

One way I’ve been trying to do this is reducing what I am getting in food shopping in general and not only trying to be minimal, but also being less wasteful and using more of what is already at home. Thinking this way is forcing me to be a bit more inventive about how I cook things. Not doing a daily food shop as I usually do has led me to think more about using what I already have at home and not constantly looking for things to buy. Doing this has tempted me to buy a lot of unusual things, they are just minor temptations but they are temptations that I would normally succumb to. I have a thing about getting lots of tinned soups and frozen food and I seem to buy more frozen food and tins than I actually consume. What I am trying to do is less of consuming things that are immediately available, but thinking more about what I already have and avoiding a wasteful attitude about it.

 

P.S. On an unrelated note I‘d like to thank the readers from the Russian Federation who had given me a spike in this website’s visits yesterday (saturday 8th March). I’m not sure what that was about but I always like when more people glance at the blog. Thank you for reading.

K457: Mozart as a metaphor

After my solo performance last month I have been thinking about continuing with my piano practice. I have also thought about picking up exactly at the point where I left off with my late piano teacher. Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C minor. That’s sonata 14 K. 457. The last few pieces that I worked on with my piano teacher in the final few weeks were scary. In some ways the represent something analogous to old relationships, old romances.

 

There is something unresolved about those pieces. Those pieces represent something unresolved in me. There’s a Rachmaninov piece where I just couldn’t get some of the speeds right, or just didn’t put the elements together in a performance worthy way. With the Mozart piece, I am reminded of the fact and semi-insult of my music teacher ‘Bob’, that I work very much on showy vignette short pieces. Could I ever work on an extended piece, such as a whole Sonata? I did perform Coleridge-Taylor’s Petit Suite de la Concert. But I never felt that I had performed or learned a piece that was part of a deeper pianistic canon.

 

So lately I’ve been trying to resolve this. IT feels like an internal journey going through the Mozart piece. There are different movements, a fast one, a slow one and a recapitulation one. Typical Sonata form. There’s something about Mozart that I find terrifying. Most of the other pieces of music I’ve worked on can be often clever, but there’s something continually insightful in the fingerings, the harmonies and the structure of Mozart’s music. There’s something beautiful about it that is not as obvious as the actual sonic experience of the music. I enjoy playing fun stuff like Scott Joplin or jazzing it up with friends, but usually there is not much intellectual depth to it. The pedagogical issues in Mozart are such that one cannot cheat with practicing and good technique.

 

This Mozart sonata is more than a piano piece to me, but reflects a form of philosophising, a form of introspection, a form of therapy. I fear it, therefore I must face it. There are many things in life that we fear that seem to become bigger as a fear object if we avoid it. This is one demon I wish to face.

 

There are other kinds of morals as well when practicing Mozart. The vision of music (and the world) as a variety of nuances: Forte vs. piano, legato vs. staccato, left hand vs. right hand. In music as in life, we can’t be overly one of these things all the time, doing so would be a flaw of character and a lack of depth and diversity. I tend to go for pieces that fulfill certain tendencies, but Mozart reflects and emotionally tempered and varied outlook, much more than say, Beethoven or Chopin after him. Often playing piano or legato can go against one’s present mindset, and so playing Mozart requires one to forcibly summon the mindset for smooth legati or piano volumes when the piece needs it.

 

One the thing I especially like about practicing Mozart is how it stays with me after I play it. It stays with me in the harmonic vocabulary when I’m improvising something else or even in a different style. It stays with me in life, knowing when my behaviour needs a staccato or a forte volume. It stays with me from the very careful passages I go through in a microscopic way, if I see it in another piece that requires say, an arpeggiation. It’s quite intimidating how much level of detail is in the Mozart sonata. Its exactly because it is daunting that I am so drawn to it. That has become an aspect of my outlook, to know that the daunting things often are most rewarding