Monday, March 05, 2007

Ideas of Order

Couperin organized his harpsichord works into Ordres. Medieval color and Schoenbergian twelve-tone techniques were about (among other things) ordered sequences of pitches (recognition of the power of unordered collections came perhaps first with Hauer's hexachordal tropes, or maybe with the Skryabinistes). Ligeti's piano étude, Désordre, was -- reconciling opposites -- nothing of the sort with its neat division of black and white keys between the two hands. John Cage knew all about order, keeping the neatest desk and working methods of any important composer; his methods, including chance operations and the music of contingency, were always ways of getting handles on the disordered, pointing precisely into impenetrably large vector spaces of possibilities. Wallace Stevens, of course: "Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,/ The maker's rage to order words of the sea...", but also -- reconciling opposites -- Morse Peckham: Man's Rage For Chaos. Tenney's idea of an ergodic form, whether realized by chance, statistics, or through the most detailed form of total serialism, distinct in every moment of detail, yet any given moment statistically identical the next, again a reconciliation of opposites.

And then again, no matter how convenient or useful a particular order may be, there is no necessity governing the choice of orders (Bateson, I think). There is more than one way to complete a list: a grey code or a serial order, scalar order, or an alphabetical order (Markus Trunk: Teaching a plant the alphabet, Ron Kuivila: Alphabet, in which the secondary abstraction of the word "alphabet" is simply a rhythmically catchy and harmonically-rich sonic object submitted to the relentless order of the harmonic series itself, a procedure not unlike that in Tenney's Spectral Canon for Conlon Nancarrow).

Orders are given or placed, taken and filled, or left unfilled, in a trial of patience and anticipation. Are you satisfied with your order?

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