Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Donut Ramble

It seems that musical and artistic movements that used to take centuries now take months, and they leave very little in the way of a trail once they're discarded. Evolution in the natural world takes a long time. From paleontologists and other scientists we learn that it happens as a result of life forms having to compete for survival, sometimes with other species, and sometimes with natural phenomena. I believe that music "evolves" slowly, and I believe that it "evolves" as a result of personal contact with musicians and, perhaps, the "muse" itself. It takes lifetimes. (Revolution, on the other hand, is probably more effective when sped up by way of tools for instant communication, but revolution and evolution are completely different animals.)

It seems like new forms of sensory stimulation are always competing for our individual and collective attention. I believe that one real danger of having so much visual and aural stimulation instantly available is that, without really being aware of it, we can easily skim over things that are worthwhile, and only see and hear the surface. By experiencing so much of our lives superficially, we are creating a void that makes itself known (or felt) in the form of an insatiable hunger for real experiences. But who has time for real experiences with all this instant stimulation?

It's time to share my donut theory. When we eat a donut we are eating an attractive circle made of refined sugar and refined flour that has been fried in very hot fat. The fat enhances the flavors of the sugar and the dough, and allows for textures that give a momentary sense of pleasure; but that pleasure fades away in a very short time. The body reacts to the event. It has just consumed large numbers of empty calories, has been duped by short-lived pleasure, and it demands nutrition. Hungry for real food, we reach for the most instantly-accessible forms of what might be "real," but we have been blinded (or at least our taste buds have been "blinded") by the donut experience, and our first impulse is to satisfy our resulting high-intensity emptiness with something equally sensually stimulating. Perhaps we then eat too much of some kind of fast food (because it's accessible), or perhaps, if we think about it, we come to our senses and eat some whole grains and a vegetables to fill our nutritional deficit (which takes time to prepare, and time to eat).

The analogy to music is fairly obvious, so I'll let you fill in the blanks.

Most American college students have the tools to listen to almost anything almost anywhere, but I fear that many of them consider all this access an excuse for procrastination. No matter how often I tell my community college students that they need to learn the material of the class slowly, and that the time to begin studying for whatever upcoming exam we have is immediately after they learn the material, inevitably there are people who wait until the last minute to try to cram information into their memories. Music doesn't go "in" that way. Music happens in real time, and superficial listening in the background is almost meaningless. Memorizing is difficult for musicians, and it is impossible for non-musicians.

Why don't they listen?


marjorie Kransberg-Talvi said...

I hear you! One of the things I love about writing is that it offers the cherished opportunity for introspection. Your donut theory is excellent...and, now I can hardly wait for breakfast!

Erik K said...

Great post.

I remember in college being in classes with students who would cram for their music theory and history tests, pulling all-nighters and the whole bit, and would get A's and B's on the test. Ask them about anything from the test two weeks later, and it was gone. Gaining knowledge is only useful if it can be retained.

In a related story, a donut sounds pretty delicious right now.

Jason said...

I think a lot of the reason people have problems listening to music outside their comfort zone is that they let their own personal biases interfere. I remember last semester, while taking your class, I would hear lots of my fellow classmates say that the music was boring BEFORE even listening to it. If you think a work is going to be boring before you listen to it, then it is going to be boring when you listen to it. It's a shame really. I love the donut theory, very nice!