Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tuning Slide: Logic vs Emotions

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Music is the shorthand of emotion.
― Leo Tolstoy

Yeah, but what did Tolstoy know? The music that is arguably the most amazing in western history is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach- and it is some of the most logical music ever written. Mathematically precise; ordered in almost uncanny exactness. No wonder that when Wendy Carlos (under her birth name of Walter Carlos) wanted to show the amazing use of the Moog Synthesizer, she used the music of Bach. (Switched on Bach. 1968.) There should be no emotion in a computer-generated song; no human input to play it other than the 1s and 0s of computer/digital coding.

Yet it was an amazing album that touched people deeply, and not just because of the newness and uniqueness of it. For many of us who first heard it in 1968, the album, for example, captured the emotion of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring with amazing clarity.

Logic will get you from A to B.
Imagination will take you everywhere.
- Albert Einstein

As much as mathematical precision, Bach also used imagination that allowed him to place layer upon layer of things never before seen or heard. The imagination of Wendy Carlos added another layer which grabbed us like nothing ever seen or heard before. Yet it was all there in Bach's logic combined with his musical imagination.

Then we have Miles Davis on Kind of Blue or John Coltrane on A Love Supreme. At one moment their solos can sound as precise as Bach's mathematical journeys. The next moment, then, is filled with an emotion that sweeps in and takes over, surrounding us with things that are like nothing ever seen or heard before. All of us who work with music from the rank amateur to the amazing heights of Davis or Coltrane know that everything they do is based on all the logical manipulations of music theory. They may twist those theories and make up a few new ones of their own, but they are acutely aware of the logic behind what they are doing.

A mind all logic is like a knife all blade.
It makes the hand bleed that uses it.
- Rabindranath Tagore

It is no doubt obvious where I am going with this. We are not dealing with an either/or situation when we deal with logic and emotion. It must be a both/and for it to go beyond just the notes on the page or in our heads. In human thinking it used to be that we believed that if only we humans would be "logical," then we would always make the right decisions. When faced with choices, we should be able to use the coolness and precision of logic to make the good choices.

Without going into all the details, science, medicine, and psychology were all shocked when this proved to be an incorrect theory. There were examples where a person, through an injury or surgery, lost the ability to connect emotions to decision making. All their decisions were based on good old-fashioned rational thinking. "Just the facts!" The old theory would say that their decisions post-trauma should have been better decisions- emotions weren't in the picture.

That is not what happened. In essence, they actually lost some of the critical ability to make any decisions in the first place. Neuroscience had to be rewritten. Cold, impersonal logic does not make good decisions alone. To disconnect emotion is to take away what makes us human- and what makes human decision-making human in the first place.

Which is why I think music has played such an essential and foundational role in human culture and development. Daniel Levitan, neuroscientist, session musician, sound engineer, and record producer, captured this idea in his two seminal works, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature. Somewhere in our brain, music, I think, brings together emotion and logic in ways very few things do.

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words
and that which cannot remain silent.
― Victor Hugo

So, let's get back to you and me and how this is important to us. Actually, in some ways it is another way of reminding us of things already discussed and beginning to put them into a "logical", effective, and helpful place.For example, we have talked about being able to be aware of, and able to share, "your story" in your music. How do you know your story? By your feelings, among other things, and then applying logic and thinking to it. We discussed the importance of the "groove" in music. Well, first we have to have the "logical" ability to play the notes correctly. Then we add the feeling, the emotion we are sensing in the notes. That becomes the groove.

That's why we practice. First to find the notes- the specifics of this song in this place. Then we find the groove- the story, the emotions, the nuances. These are built on the logic of knowing the fundamentals as well as how we are feeling. We may be able to play a piece with clockwork precision, but does it "feel?" It is in the feeling that we connect with the music.

Am I just repeating the same thing over and over, driving it into the ground until you say, "Enough already! We get it."? Perhaps, but I have found over the past year that I forget these things on a regular basis. I get bogged down in the notes on the page or the dynamic markings. I forget to listen to the music as I am playing it in my practice room. I rush through the notes instead of listening to them; I try to get the piece down cold in one or two attempts; I don't savor the world found in each note. Or, in performance, I can ignore the other musicians I am playing with. Sometimes I get so emotionally involved in a song that, without me realizing it I get sloppy and the technique can get lost.

I have to be constantly reminded of the interaction of logic and emotion- unless the emotion I want to drag out of the horn, myself, or the listener is disgust. It is in the balance of our logic and emotion that practice turns into performance, that we discover how a particular song can express our own story.

We will look a little more at this in another post in a few weeks on some ways to work with the Inner Game in new ways. For now, don't let your logic close out your emotions- or your feelings dismiss logic. Together they make quite a duet.

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