Thursday, December 9, 2010

moth's powder (12.thisthursday.04)


dear moth's powder,

it's not that i wanted to possess you, though i certainly did enjoy and envision a future of us where we seized each other. and i never could master you but felt that each new morning occasioned things about you unexplored. is it possible to relate without ownership, to capture your heart while banishing jealousy? well. i am a bit surprised about how upset i got about all of this last night while speaking to someone about some new sorta technology that could perfectly reproduce Art Tatum's playing on the piano. this technology has the ability to "listen" to music and recreate it. it would do something like see what our brains react to in order to infuse that in music performance. and i suppose i don't have a real issue with reproducing something. there's a guy - George Lewis, i think is his name - in new york who has been using computer algorithms for years to improvise, to think about improvisation and subjectivity. and i'm really cool with that because it seems he thinks of computer technology, not as opposed to human subjectivity but as part and parcel of it. you do know, right, that the first meaning of computer was one who computes? dells and macs and gateways are only the newest mode of such an old concept.

the issue i had with last night's conversation was the pressure applied to the word perfectly, that something could be possessed, mastered sonically by machines only in order to reproduce it perfectly. but i wonder, still, i wonder: what if the musician - Art Tatum, for example - was not trying to produce perfectly? what if, following Baraka's listening to and writing about Lady Day, one tries to create failure? or, not even failure, but what if perfection is not part of the sociocultural vocabulary of a world, or not a desired thing? do we even think this is possible? that the norm could be on bending bent notes until even the bends are bent? and what is assumed when it is thought that a new mode of some old thing now, finally, can create perfection? what does it say about ingenuity and emotion and drive?

i began arguing rather forcefully, i supposed. but it seems that there is a desire to possess and master without accounting for the underside of such declaration. it hallucinates the idea that the "original" producers had particular intent that could be fully realizable. rather than asking how does the technology become another occasion to produce failure beautifully, it gets taken up to say that it can reproduce without failure. well. it also seems to think that there is an essence of music performance that can be found, that there is some ground-zero, some foundational claim to production of emotion and thought and drive. and there seems to be, of course, the implication of an articulation of a critique of authenticity because if one could hear Art Tatum "play" without his vivid thereness, then, well, Art Tatum becomes inconsequential to the performance of Art Tatum, the materiality is dismissed. and, if the computer can reproduce perfectly what it has capture and mastered? well, then no one has the ability to be authentic. and i know anti-essentialism is all the rage with its being against any such claims for authenticity but i don't even think the right questions are being posed. like, what is perfection and how is it determined? if i said that Tatum's breath was just as consequence to his performance as his fingered weight on keys? well?

so, i was listening to the sermon let's get it on by Bishop Iona Locke again (for the, how-many-nth time?) this morning and it hit me. you know how we produce something - other than - but close to the concept of failure? she was preaching and in the moment of her whooping when the congregation is just all the way in it, screaming and clapping and providing that necessary background that isn't so backgrounded, she said

god said i will pour out my spirit...upon some flesh

and the congregation screamed back


and then she came right back in

you talkin right. all! he said all flesh!

how would a technology account for that? she literally in her preaching moment opened up a space to allow the congregation to engage with her disarticulation of the scripture. she ruptured its flow, some flesh, knowing that the audience was right there with her production of something other than that which was correct. there is, of course, a world of difference between some and all. but she realized the congregation as part and parcel of her preaching performance. could the technology of such perfection - rather than improvisation - know that she was going to exclaim some for the audience to respond as such? there is incalculability that is part of the performance, some aspect that cannot occur before such sitting down at stools or standing up at pulpits. and if the organ wasn't there? and if the congregation wasn't standing and jumping and screaming? well.

she isn't the only one, though. think. when folks are up exhorting the congregation, or when the organ breaks during shouting music: there are all sorts of gaps and elisions and ruptures of sound, thought, texture, openings and forestallments that go against any such notion of "perfection " and reproduction that could ever be so termed. no. these are the calling forth, not just call and response but call and call, some sort of accretion and accrual, layer upon layer upon layer, each word and phrase and scream and breath engaging and revising that which came previous to it, affecting subsequence. in such performance is the recognition that the congregation has some such knowledge in them that is animated by and likewise animates any such praise leader, devotional singer or preacher.

sorta like how when you'd be up right before the preacher, giving words of encouragement during the momentary space between the dance and the yes lord praise where some folks are still praising and running while others are hunched over and yet others still are bent over with their hands rubbing on their outer thighs and over there is Patty throwing her head back aaaah and over here is Jesse clapping incessantly and you talk while some are trying to take your seat if ya can...hahaha!

you'd say something like i don't know what you came to do but i came to praise the ... you wouldn't, of course, include the lord but would leave the statement, if ever so faintly, still open ended. or how you'd say after all the things i been through, i stillll have jeeyuh... quick, crisp, staccato-like and the congregation knew what that meant. of course, you'd have to be some such one part of this social world to know that jeeyuh' meant joy and that opening was also a space for folks to keep it going. because the words do not necessarily cohere with what is desired. we've got to move on was as much a call for not moving on as it was to say that it was time to turn over the service. these are accents on and off the beat, not just slurred speech and weighted keys, but a way to inhabit a social antiphonal world. this world isn't abou perfection. it's about the power of the lord coming down and i don't think you can account for that with algorithms, though algorithms can help get you there. (i am not, of course you know, against technology. the b-3 for us is quintessentially pentecostal and without it, i wonder what the church world would sound like for black folks. and i'm still waiting on someone to write about First Church of Deliverance in chicago using the first hammond in a black church setting, and how, curiously enough, the pastor was - what would they have said then? queer? a homophile? homosexual? gay? - well. the technological, non-human machine that serves as foundational for the sound of this social world was first recognized as important by a someone very queer. there's gotta be something about dispersal, spirit and sound there. and maybe that purportedimperfection's relation to the sound of pentecost? well.)

it just seems that any desire for such perfection really spins out from a different sorta epistemological center altogether. assumptions of clarity and rigor and rightness seem hella limiting to me. and there is never an accounting of how perfection - when it is achieved - may be merely another form of improv. sometimes, i just wanna say: leave this alone, let it do its own thing, if you wanna join it, cool but if you wanna perfect it? stay back. kinda like how i wanted to join you and you know my chords behind you were hell good. not because i knew where you were going. but because i willing to go with you.



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