“When words become unclear, I shall
focus with photographs. When images
become inadequate, I shall be
content with silence.”
Music is not separate from Nature.
Music is not separate from metaphysics.
How we think about Nature, and think about
about thinking itself, conscious or not, in a
tacit yet powerful way, shapes our perception
of music and musical meaning.
The current habit of both Western popular
and intellectual culture is not to give attention
to these things. In music, this means that things—
assumptions, traditions, habits, practices—by
and large go unquestioned. This unquestioning
attitude is really a kind of denial. And denial, in turn,
is a kind of fragmentation or a separation from the
urgencies of reality which makes short-term existence
a bit easier to handle, but has from a broader
perspective potentially devastating and disastrous
Collapse in the most fundamental sense is
caused by contradiction. Contradiction is literally
when two movements ’speak’ or fight against
one another. Contradictions are not a part of
natural movement simply because they are a
tremendous waste of energy.
Contemporary musical culture—classical musical
culture—is now rife with contradictions. Almost
none of these are being addressed.
The key feature of these contradictions in musical
culture is fragmentation. Keep one image in mind:
the form of a fine violin, weighing almost nothing,
yet capable of projecting its vibrant, living sound
and filling amazingly large spaces. If we smash the
violin, however, it is nothing. Just a pile of
That is fragmentation.
This is what at a much larger and more profound
and subtle level has happened to musical culture
as a whole. It has been smashed. What we have
now is shards, all struggling to exist in isolation,
but not adding up to anything sustainable
on the long term.
Yet we continue, unquestioningly, as if everything
where still whole, yet repeating over and over again
the same mistakes. By now, like a piece played
with wrong notes and out of tune that nobody
hears any more, mistakes have become the norm.
They get contracts. Applause. They win prizes.
So now, the AT (Alexander Technique) adage
demonstrates its truth: If you’re wrong, what is
right is bound to seem wrong to you.
My contention is that there is not a single
contradiction in musical culture that is specific
to music. That is why it is necessary to pause
and step back to view carefully and with a certain
sustained seriousness musical culture from the
broadest possible vantage point. [part I]
Damn it: Be simple! Music fills the body,
fills the spirit, like living water,
like pure highcountry air.
In all three: Demand excellence.
Somebody tell me i’m wrong about all this!
I finally broke down and started using my facebook
Like my friend Bert the Butcher says, “If you want
bacon, you gotta go where the pigs are.”
So I ask myself, why do I so dislike facebook &
First, because on its front page, facebook projects
a do-good image of threading all of humanity
peacefully together. Well, what could be wrong
with that? Because it does it—even up front—
with an in-your-face and disgusting ugly American
metaphysics, which I’m quite sure facebook as a
corporation both is unaware of and doesn’t care about—
playing powerfully on one’s worst impulses of fear
and doubt. (Ads for background checks, etc.) (I went
to and suffered an American high school. I thought
the culture in the locker-rooms and hallways and
cafeteria and football games and proms was as
disgusting and repulsive then as I do now.)
But worse is the insidious backside of every page.
The data mining. The tracking. The incessant counting.
And turning what users do in a blissful and innocent way
into obscene amounts of hard cash.
For years, I have witnessed young and old, highly
educated to the just barely literate, use the web
and truly think that the Yahoo start-page their browser
defaults to—the Bill Gates of the world have always
lusted after such complete control of your
machine—is the web and the internet. They have never
seen or known anything else. Good for Yahoo! Bad
And now, the same is happening with facebook.
It has become a gated community. Dominating search.
Dominating content. Dominating what users think is
relevant and important. It is easy to see how soon,
just like the Yahoo homepage people really DO think
is the web, people will never look over the fence
and start to feel facebook IS the web.
My friend Bert the Butcher always likes to repeat
the saw about, “Don’t look at how we make the
Well now it gets serious. I just last week tweeted:
Facebook Fun powered by #DirtyCoal Data in depressed
Prineville OR (380 k west of here) Enviro #ethics not
a part of Zuckerberg’s worldview
Appalling. Stupid. Yet typical for the hi-tech
Ugly American Nouveau.
A company about to go public for $60,000,000,000 can
afford to demonstrate to the world that their server farms
can run entirely sustainably on Sun and Wind and Biochar.
But no. The corporate contradiction of the best return
for investors puts the ethical imperative concerning
energy generation squarely in the backseat of a car
accelerating head-on into collapse.
So facebook, in my book, is not beautiful. Is not progressive.
Is not—Time Magazine notwithstanding—going to save
The problem is that, like it or not, we’re all passengers
in the vehicles of the powerful.
So I want out. But I just said I want in. Good god, I started
using facebook. There’s the contradiction.
Somebody tell me I’m wrong.
This is not to make an enemy of facebook, mind you.
After all, I get along fine with my friend Bert the Butcher,
and I’m a vegetarian. It is only to cry out in total outrage
that there is no dialogue, no democratic discourse on
matters of such gravamen and concern.
So for the time being, I’ll be eating Zuckerberg’s dirtycoal
dust here in the High Wallowas—how pollution reveals
the wholeness of the world—with everything happy click
and new friend we make.
[For healing balm to Zuckerberg’s vision of the web,
read Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web: I tweeted:
READING: WEAVING THE WEB, by Tim Berners-Lee 1st
webpage 20 years ago http://bit.ly/hr3Nmb Clear.
Brilliant. Ethical. Refreshingly humble.
And also a relief to tweet:
READING: Time for Outrage! / Indignez-Vous! / Empört
Euch! / A manifesto for our time, by Stéphane Hessel
We shape the world and the world shapes us.
The online newspaper with flashing ads today
will report tomorrow about the remarkable yet
seemingly inexplainable rise of eye problems
and attention deficit disorder.
The meta-online newspaper today, like a sly
turkey buzzard, goes straight for the roadkill
of somebody else’s hard-won stories and
photographs, but tomorrow, when all the
easy pickings are gone, what will sustain them?
The clever algorithm that harvests the number
of links to a page today will certainly fail tomorrow
once it is discovered that we link only to the known
universe, and then link in brain-numbing repetition
over and over again, while the best pages remain
undiscovered floating in the nirgendwo of
It is still possible that I.F. Stone’s , van Gogh’s
and Charles Ives’s are out there somewhere.
Let us hope so.
Time to start a NEW ENERGY PARTY—
a question of non-violence, or non-existence
(1) Total commitment to the ethical must
of the Earthrise Path: Follow the Sun: zero War;
100% recycling; zero Waste; 100% renewable.
(2) Complete stop of the Trinity Path of force
and violence: The Earth—the Planet of Peace—
is my/your/our neighborhood. We need rule of law
of the whole, not of contradictory, fragmentary,
self-interested, Nation States. We need police, yes,
to enforce a worldwide web of enlightened, mutually
beneficial laws and rational, legal structure. The very
idea of the military use of violence to resolve conflict
must be necessarily demonstrated to be totally obsolete.
[These are what I see to be the Primary Problems.
Climate Change is dealt with, therefore, indirectly.]
THIS is where I was doing fieldwork, yesterday
afternoon. We’re looking South upstream, in the great
Snake River Canyon, about 20 or 30 k upstream from
the famous Hells Canyon, the deepest in North America.
I come here often. When I’m not up in the still deep
winter Wallowas North of here, only but 20 k as the crow
flies, or doing hour after hour of digital darkroom
and webwork at my little Office in Eagle Valley, I bike
up here to get away from this highly questionable 24/7
timespace of the web and the long and dirty tail
of internet non-stop commerce and self-promotion.
Here, in a space that the culture of the EuroAmerican has
not been able to deal with very well, time moves very
much more slowly. And it is at 1200 m., but the second
or third week of fresh and wonderful canyon spring.
The Lomatiums are out. The Bunchgrasses are greening up.
The Phloxes are at their prime. The Balsamroot leaves are
just appearing, flower buds still tightly closed.
This is country with immense silence and breadth of spirit.
There’s nothing like it, as far as I know, in Europe. (And
I do know and love the European mountains. I in some ways
feel very much more at home there with the indigenous
Mountain Farmers and their highly adapted and rugged
This, it seems to me, is why the European mind, when
it was confronted with the greatness of the spirit of
this space, did not know what to do with it. Except dam it.
Tying the river up in knot after knot. All 1600 k of it,
longer than the Rhein, and yet a part of the greater Columbia
Watershed. And putting up barbed-wire fences that follow
the most insane and arbitrary and fragmented of lines.
This is why I refuse to call it the Snake River.
It is for me the MUTED SNAKE, but an echo of its real
self. Like playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring half tempo
under a blanket of damp wool. Like comparing the fierce
rhetoric of a Socrates or Martin King to the contemporary
disingenuous political oratory of thinly-vieled corporate
obfuscation and self-interest.
On the way back down to my Office, running a bit near
out of control on mile after mile of steep, rough. loose
gravel, I nearly ran over a small rattle snake square in
the middle of the road. They move slow, very slow this
time of year. Lucky for me. And for him. Just missed it.
I love this country. My prayer is only that we
my change course as a culture, and give up the ways
of force and violence which shape and condition all
of our relationships, whether between ourselves, or with
the living Earth. It is, after all, a change
which has the natural energy of logical necessity
And well:—There’s no way in Hell you can build a dam
South Wallowas, Oregon / Idaho Border . . .
A key assumption of the current dominant metaphysics
is that new is better.
This is easy to believe as long as we remained isolated
from the negative side-effects of, say, the digital
technology revolution. Given all the happy talk on
the diversity of the long tail of digital commerce, it
is hard not to be swept up in one big glorious wave
of excitement and energy. Without wanting to pull
the plug on the party lights, I would only say that
it is important to regularly pause and consider things
from a wider perspective. Consider the beautifully
illuminated manuscript (from the Latin manus,
‘that which can be held in the hand,’ or ‘is made by
hand.’). It’s about 500 years old. So in Bach’s time,
it would have already been ancient.
I think we need to remember that this was a time
when Aristotle’s idea from the POLITICS, that
interest on loaned money was unethical. “Money
parenting money,” as he put it. (A comparison to our
own way of seeing things might better be made with
incest, or literally, non-chaste relations.) As I’ve
written elsewhere, I agree. [see my essays, WHEN
GROWTH IF ‘FALSE COMPARE.’and OUT OF CONTROL—
the runaway economies of systemic imbalance ]
The Chigi Codex era of 500 years ago is also a time
when Music, literally, ‘that which is given to us by
the Muses,’ still stood at the very center of culture.
Hamonia mundi. Harmony of the spheres. (For me,
this is still the case, or how I experience the world.)
So, if conservation is about dealing rightly with Nature
and Culture’s fundamental asymmetry—that creation
is slow, and destruction fast—then we might do well
to be mindful of what is being lost of what is best of
creative traditions around the world. Like languages.
Like the the traditional knowledge of the healing plants.
Or like a sense of real, living, acoustic sound, and not
the noise and merely 2nd-hand synthetic artifacts with
which we have surrounded ourselves.
Music, like peace, is its own end, its own reward.
Don’t take my word for it. Find out yourself. Learn to play
an instrument. Like learning to simply walk again in
the wilds of the beautiful land, there’s no better
way to protect what is best, and what is sacred,
of cultures that are, when you really think about it,
not merely a means to some other end, but rather
true gifts of the gods.
Like I like to say:
The one thing we humans do
that makes the rest of Nature jealous.”
View a page of the Chigi Codex at:
We citizens of a-rhythmic 24/7 PLANET HI-TECH &
CAR-CULTURE do not know the world of snow.
Mountain Spring is a world unto itself, witnessed by few.
Springs and streams disappear under two or three meters
of snow, continuing their life and flow deep under the
snowpack. (If you listen closely, you can still hear
the water moving under the layer of whiteness.) Come
April, however, the streams and creeks begin very,
very slowly to re-emerge.
Slow change does not feature prominently on the worldmap
of cultures running on sugar and fat. But not so fast.
Slow change is not just some straight line the highway
engineer draws from Bend to Burns; it is a highly
non-linear world, with myriad invisible thresholds
which can suddenly flip, like a light switch, from
one state to another. One morning, unexpectedly, the
whole snowpack collapses, and there is one’s happy
meadow stream again, open to the clear air of bright
sunlight and the cold nights of distant stars.
The prose poem below, THE WINTER MOOR, moves about
freely in this enchanted world of deep snow. It’s a
poem about natural form, about the forms which emerge
out of movement. And it’s about the miracle of natural
sound. We think of sound, by and large, in an abstract
way, extracted, as it were, from its natural organic
spatiotemporal context. But this is to ignore how sound
resonates out into the world, like the waves that spread
out on a quiet pond. This is where I’ll stop for now,
but the sound? It in some way keeps going—who is to
say—perhaps without end.
The world’s worst bad ideas have two key features
which refer both to truth of function, and to truth
of content, in equal measure:
First, they not only prevent us from clearly seeing
some important, relevant aspect of the world, but
actually distort it beyond all recognition;
Second, they strengthen their hold on thought
and perception with self-reinforcing, equally
Thus, this essentially closed devil’s loop easily
hardens into the mo- tionless, self-destructive,
rigidity of fundamentalism and absolute
belief. Why would we allow this to happen?
One word: security. We take refuge in delusional,
bad ideas, because they offer us a kind of
comforting—albeit false—sense of security.
Education, in the view being outlined here, has
a vital role to play in an open society. In a
democratic republic where the freedom of ideas
and their expression is guaranteed, centers of
learning ought to be places where these intellectual
freedoms are both exercised and dem-
onstrated at the very highest possible
standard of excellence. To fail
at this task is to risk the failure and
loss of these hard-won privileges
of democracy itself.
Some Art centers itself about the selfish desire
for outward gain;
See Fame and Fortune looping round themselves,
a knot pulled tight by the need to entertain;
Other Art simply serves, like a refreshing
mountain spring:—its source unknown,
its flow constant, indifferent,