My intellectual life has tended to revolve around various specific examples that I examine closely and revisit from time to time. Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” is perhaps the most important literary example but of course there are others, most recently Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
My thinking about music has been strongly influenced by a particular incident that occurred in rehearsal sometime in the 1980s. I was playing bells with three others and “magic” happened: the appearance of high twittering sounds that no one was playing. I used that incident to open the second chapter of Beethoven’s Anvil; I’ve blogged about it; and elaborated it into a 10,000 word working paper: The Magic of the Bell: How Networks of Social Actors Create Cultural Beings (see below).
I’ve now taken part of the working paper and revised it into my most recent post for 3 Quarks Daily: The Magic of the Bell and a Glimpse of Spirits. I’ve listed the working paper below along with its abstract and table of contents.
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The Magic of the Bell: How Networks of Social Actors Create Cultural Beings
Abstract: It is well known that music can engender altered states of consciousness that are difficult to interpret scientifically except as odd malfunctions in the nervous system. In this paper I report a phenomenon known among some musicians as “the magic of the bell”: the emergence of high-pitched twittering sounds when a group is playing interlocking rhythms on different bells. These sounds cannot be attributed to any of the musicians and they emerge only when the group is a group is playing bells with passion and precision. I argue that those sounds arise through interpersonal coupling among the musicians and that the ‘naïve’ temptation to attribute them to a ‘spirit’ or ‘spirits’ can be reconciled with a close description that does not presuppose non-physical entities. Those spirits should be conceived as the embodiment of non-mysterious and physically coherent group process. This argument has ramifications for how we think of time and how we think of longer cycles of group life.
Introduction: Composing Strange Objects
Instrument Matter in the Musician’s Mind
Time and Again, the Curse of Linear Time
How to Compose a Spirit
Explain or Explain Away? Composition and Cultural Beings