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The Spaces In Between June 5, 2006

Posted by thebeam in The Byways.
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I'm back to listening to various versions of the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah" (Thankya Sai, I Say Hallelujah) again, ruminating on what each version has to offer. Since I wrote the original post, I've added another version to my collection, this one by John Cale. Not to disparage him, but truthfully, he missed something when he sang this version. He missed the element of silence.

Way back when, I learned to play violin. With a lot of years of practice under my belt, I got to be somewhere between being good at it, and showing a true gift for it. Along the way, I learned a lot about the elements of music. And one thing that stuck with me was how one of the critical elements to music, especially as it pertains to performance, is that it is designed to add glory to silence. One of my instructors put it this way (as best as I remember) "Good music glorifies the silence that runs through it and surrounds it". I know this is contradictory on its face, but when you think about those songs that span the years, there are lots of clues. It starts most simply with rhythm, and then extends its way into the melody and the harmony.

Rhythm at its most simple is the beat. Take a drum for example. "Bang… Bang… Bang…" In between each beat, there is a period of silence. The beat instantly pierces the silence, filling it with sound, then decays quickly, leaving silence again. Bang it faster, you get less silence. Bang it slower, you get more silence. But the silence remains between the beats.

Enter melody. The 'song' of a piece of music. The first melody was almost certainly singing, the human voice. If nothing else, there are frequent pauses for breath, in musical notation there are indications where the breaths are expected. But in most music, there are also 'rest notes' – these are notes where there is no voice. In a solo piece, we are back to silence, in a piece with multiple 'voices' maybe another voice is highlighted, maybe the silence is the point. But all along, the silences are part of the music. Harmony is best thought of as 'vertical melody' – different voices working to complete the sound of a melody, all the while respecting the structure of the melody.

Done properly, the result of music that follows these simple guidelines is pure pleasure; 'euphony' meaning pleasant and flowing . Ignored, and at its worst, the result is cacophony, dissonant noise that offers no insight and no pleasure to the listener.

Now some digression *G*

Big time digression.

Find a program that produces fractals (Wikipedia article – see which program suites your budget and your platform) , or go to this (javascript required) website that allows you to generate fractals online. Explore them completely, but most especially, explore the boundary. What you are seeing there is to my mind, a glimpse of infinity. On the one side, the function that is being evaluated recursively returns to zero. On the other side, a value just a hairsbreadth away in the space defined, when evaluated recursively, goes to infinity.

It is this region that is most exciting. What makes one set of input values go to zero, and another set of input values only very slightly different go to infinity? My mind boggles, and I find myself drawn back, again and again, attempting to understand the nature of chaos and infinity.

This is the region that describes music. On the one edge of the silences, you have euphony, on the other edge, you have cacophony. Listen to each of those pieces (Leonard Cohen, kd lang, Jeff Buckley, and John Cale) and listen for the silences that each illuminates. Leonard's slow solemnity almost overwhelms with silence, kd lang strokes her silences. Jeff Buckley raises them by strongly punctuating them with his glorious "hallelujahs", and sorry to say, John Cale never takes the time to acknowledge them.

Listen to other music, read other stories. Glory in the words, the melody, the rhythm, the harmony. And respect the silences that each gives glorious praise to.

Life and Hearts is in session. Are you ready to “Hunt the bitch?”

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