Saturday, June 04, 2011
Plate of Shrimp
Although my own reserve of faith is modest and my religious interests mostly ethnographic, I do have a special pocket of conviction in the power of the lattice of coincidence. (Don't know about the lattice of coincidence? See Miller in Alex Cox's film Repo Man: "A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, "plate," or "shrimp," or "plate o' shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.") On the one hand, this is mostly surprising but ultimately trivial connections that are, statistically seen, bound to happen, like those six degrees of separation games. For example, I would eventually study with La Monte Young, but as a kid, without any knowledge of Young's music, I had already encountered a number of people with non-trivial connections to him: a neighbor in tiny Mt Baldy Village who had been La Monte's housemate and best friend in the 1950s, who was then living with composer Terry Jennings and happened to have the most beautiful singing voice I have ever heard, and when we moved down the hill to our rock house astride the border between tweedy Claremont and working class Montclair, one of our neighbors would turn out to have been composer Richard Maxfield's partner during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Maxfield has been another close friend of Young's. But more important to me are the kinds of coincidence that can help kick a musical work into the realm of the astounding. John Cage's Winter Music is a piece that seems to do this unreasonably well, with unpredictable continuities between those cold and brittle aggregates continuously shattering the expected discontinuity. Or this: Berlioz's "intermittent sounds" which seem to be scattered across the surface of the music like salt on snow, unpredictable in pattern, but so right in coincidence. The ostensible non-sequitur is all too often the most convincing, if surprising, sequitur.