Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Erring on the Side of the Angels

At the end of his recent blogged series, The Anosognosic’s Dilemma, Errol Morris quotes Noam Chomsky on the limits of human cognition: 

“We are after all biological organisms not angels . . . If humans are part of the natural world, not supernatural beings, then human intelligence has its scope and limits, determined by initial design. We can thus anticipate certain questions will not fall within [our] cognitive reach, just as rats are unable to run mazes with numerical properties, lacking the appropriate concepts. Such questions, we might call ‘mysteries-for-humans’ just as some questions pose ‘mysteries-for-rats.’ Among these mysteries may be questions we raise, and others we do not know how to formulate properly or at all.” 

It strikes me that musical experiment, the radical music, is always going to tease out such questions, such mysteries, sometimes with success but often courting failure (i.e. music which doesn't "work" or makes no "sense").  In doing so, particularly in accepting the possibility of failure, experimental music distinguishes itself from conventional music-making which more safely plans its effects and affects, using known materials and methods.  Yet, more than that, the radical music errs, when it errs, — and err it does — on the side of the optimistic assumption that the extents and limits of our human musical perception and cognition are just a little bit closer to those of the angels.   

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