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O sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His Name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Psalm 96, 1-2

The tones of air, I know not how they flow; where'er they move, all things melodious grow.
Faust PT II, Goethe

Recent
Recordings

Lost World Tango

Two Lonely People

Galaxy

Elysium

Blues for Zarathustra

Wings of the Morning

Cycles

Doloroso

17 Solo Piano Improvisations

Music in Three Parts

House of Counted Days

Voyage to Arcturus

Ron Thomas performances, recordings, teaching, composition and essays.

Entering the Condition of Theatre

“My interest in words is not merely philological. I recognize that words are the very instruments of thought and that a large vocabulary permits the making of distinctions”
Igor Stravinsky 1962

“…..glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?”
-----From Moby Dick p.116 of Signet Classic Paperback edition:

Edgar Allan Poe: A study in Genious Joseph Wood Krutch.
“ From his surroundings he could draw nothing not bathed in the full light of the most commonplace day, and yet in the copy which he handed to the printer there was nothing which bore any relation to the life which he lived. His imagination was fed wholly from within, and from the boarding house issued a series of tales which were to furnish Europe with a new thrill.” (p. 64) Chief influence: Byron.

The hoax: to play at being a logical-genious. The “effects” he purported to deliberately choose [in advance, and work towards] were actually choosing him. “In considering this body of doctrine, one cannot but be struck first of all by the remarkable appearance of logical completeness which it presents, for once its premises are granted the conclusions are drawn with the same elaborate clarity which is characteristic of his Ratiocinative tales: (On Phil. of Comp. and Poetic Principles p.230)

Genre-Mixing: Rembrandt, Shakespeare, and Berlioz. The Technique of it has brought (surprising to me) ‘harmonic’ innovation to my art, while the Concept of it can be justified as nothing less than its foundation in reality. (p.139 Rembrandt’s Portrait)

Discourse of the Few: The Mighty Handful (Gordon Clark-Stanley Fish-Milan Kundera-Jorge Borges)

The composer must know what the difference is between, first, a right note and a wrong note, and second, a good note from a better note. (And eventually that there is often more than one better note upon which occasion random choice plays a part in the design!). I also promote the view that the student should endeavor to discover new realms of musical-being (undiscovered countries).

Supporting this notion, I teach a larger view of western musical tonality than anyone else, this view being rooted in the post-Gregorian and post-Monteverdian western musical mind.
I am not looking for a ”unified theory of all things” whether musical, artistic, philosophical, theological, or otherwise…. all that might be said about “everything’ is that it’s fragmentary nature and its incompleteness are ubiquitous….

I deny the existence of the “education expert”. Teaching happens through primary source materials, I take on a “second story” perspective (i.e. an overview approach not perturbed by the noisy turmoil of “1st Floor” of-the-time/zeitgeist ideas). I lead by example insofar as it is in my ability to do so, I make allowances for everything the student does 70% of the time and I push against them only 30% of the time.

Meter…..Measure….music and poetry share this framework supporting the effects by which they may be known….Displacement as a musical and poetic technique. The relationship of “Jazz” to rhyme-schemes (Song-Structure=rhyme scheme).

In poetry, meaning and the “music” of the word exists in relation to the scaffolding of “meter” whether fixed or not.

In music, patterns are counter patterns to the scaffolding of the underlying features of musical meter (the measure of the pacing)….

I labor to make my music speak through the actions and behaviors proper to the condition of music itself…..like actors on a stage where nothing is being attempted but to enter the conditions of theatre itself….See Frye on Shakespeare…..

Art as Mask and Mirror. It was a happy providence to have no personality (style) of my own (as an artist). Music as richly personal (stylized) as Gershwin’s contains a treasure guarded within a strong fortress which the listener must storm to gain access to…... Schoenberg too. However Stravinsky’s music (like mine too perhaps?) is not personal in this sense. It is approachable easily through its anonymity since it is “stylized” by something outside of itself. John Coltrane is Gershwin, Miles Davis is Stravinsky.

I recreate and refashion my musical past. One might say that my days are measured by the music in my life. My compositions recount those days.

The mask:

making art about art (not about oneself). Allowing music to be music and music alone. That is what Igor meant by “Music means only itself”….. My aesthetic allows me to live freely. It is my music that wears the mask not me. The freedom I preach in my teaching (which I discovered in Berlioz) is achievable because I approach my composing as an actor does a role and I am the kind of actor that seeks roles that are widely different, deep, various, etc. I DO NOT seek to merge with my work. “I” am not my work, I and my work are NOT one. [art as “rhetorical artifact” Edwin Williams in his preface to his biography 2004 of Borges].

The Mirror:

Thus (see above) the listener can enter into the music unobstructed by the wall (baggage?) of the personal.
All art is a return to the past.

Miles Davis’ credo: (Ian Carr)
Look back, move forward.

P.37 of The Empty Stage (Peter Brooks ) [a variant]

…..a note is written on the empty musical page….it has already a mood and a kind of portent. The situation is laden with possible consequences…the world of “what if” has been set into motion and it is already as if there is a wall behind which something is happening…[a variant of a Victor Hugo quote that goes something like, “there is nothing more interesting than a wall behind which something seems to be happening….”]….from then on the composer-author must face at every turn the fundamental problems of musical utterance….

The non-tuneful music (non-music music) (the tune that isn’t a tune) of Stravinsky alternates with tunefulness or….formal references (references to form) “this sounds like something associated with endings”…..etc…….IT IS THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE AUTHORSHIP THAT SHOWS UP “ALONG WITH” THE MUSICAL WORK NOT THE “PERSONALITY OF THE AUTHOR ITSELF”….

Post Beethoven Modernism. The entire vocabulary of post-late-18th century avant garde ideology culminates in the aesthetic-thought-process, the strategic tactics and method of Miles Davis. I take in all of that art and deploy in my own way the approach and the methods I have deduced from my study of Miles Davis (not him as a jazz man or a trumpet man….but as a whole musical creator just as [e.g.] Mahler was…..

Miles jettisoned all the personal-history in his music repeatedly and without reserve in order to move on to other discoveries….with no apparent (or needed) appreciating for the larger history of his work (with a capital H)…..he claims to have done this because he “couldn’t help it”….

My explorations operate on an entirely technical level since the deep things of music (as I understand it) are not expressible in words. Technical as in not only the chemistry of the acrylics and the science of the hues and shades, but the metaphysics of pieces of art standing alone apart from Art with a capital “A”….deploying everything I am able to conjure in search of a freshness that is A) not historical or ideological or B) not connected to the opinionated distractions about “personality”….by which I mean here the fingerprint of style….

There is a continuity between the 19th and 20th century not immediately apparent. The observation of this continuity has been a liberating one for me as I personally face the serious cultural and technical problems assailing serious music today. The relationship of American Jazz to the course of western music is still not clearly understood. I am personally of the opinion that its influence will both increase and continue to be grossly underestimated and misunderstood.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul”
—Simone Weil

“My freedom consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings”.
—Igor Stravinsky

“I shall go even farther: my freedom will be so much greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint; diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
—Igor Stravinsky

At an early age I fixed my sights on the achievements of the greatest heroes I knew…the musicians. And not just any musicians but the ones who through an extraordinary feat of vision purchased for themselves a world of sensibility, an aesthetic idiom gigantic in its newness and comprehensiveness; Dante, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, Flaubert, Stravinsky, Picasso, etc.

As a student my goal was to do as they did….and not a thing less. Whether I have succeeded or not is not for me to say. I have been encouraged by those whose opinions I trust to keep going. It seems I am making progress. This is the center core of my own teaching philosophy. I can consider the study of music nothing other than this.

A composer needs to know two things, the difference between a right note and a wrong note and then the difference between a good note and a better note….some time later (long after perhaps but not necessarily), a third thing, that there are often more than one “better-notes” in the case of which one simply makes a choice and that choice has nothing to do with their talent, their genius, their gift, their heart, their broken dreams, their losses, their triumphs, their place in history or their influences, …..it is simply a choice and nothing more. That’s about how I approach the teaching of composition. I tell them very little as far as what one must or must not do to foster their abilities although they hear many a spirited improvised outpouring of speculations. Nurturing originality requires the abandonment of the philosophy of the avant garde which has paralyzed European and American culture since the early 19th century. Do not confuse the experimental musical tradition (which is not political) with the avant-garde-philosophy which is political. I labor the hardest with my students to de-politicize them as far as art is concerned……

Composing: don’t worry about whether it is “music” or not. Think instead of a flow of ideas and thoughts musical or not. Bundles of events, connections, gestalts, chunks, fragments, gestures, shapes……

The “avant garde” has always been a political-cultural historical movement…it is a world view of the present and a prediction and a viewpoint about the future. The art it produces is an overly-stylized object from the moment it is completed…(e.g. chance poems)….My “house” (as Kundera speaks of the total-artistic-world of the individual artist) is the “Experimental tradition”…NOT the avant-garde…..

Schoenberg remained the quintessential expressionist….his later works just tightened up the nuts and bolts….

The waves and billows of “history”
May overwhelm me at the last, but
If I go down,
It is upon the right sea and
To the right graveyard….

Debussy……He [his artistic vision] is a fully furnished secondary world crowded with dreams, magic, dimensions, simultaneities, juxtapositions, adjacencies….the model for my aspirations for my own art and I attached myself to all art like unto it…

Debussy…….it is as if all is happening in more than one place at the same time…please note: this is not “simultaneities” (which is more than one thing happening in the same place)…but ONE thing happening at the same time on more than one place and time….THAT is the Debussyan difference, an ontological difference, even a mythological difference (in the sense of …) the Secondary World….(see W.H. Auden and J.R.R. Tolkien)….a secondary-created reality (the piece of music) fashioned so that there is a superimposition of several “systems of meaning” in the “one space and the one time” of the work….a true PLURALITY [and Not a “Unity”!]….Mallarme and Debussy: the one a key to unlocking the other…. “background-foreground” : a sub-category [ a single particular technique] of this larger technique of “POLY-SYSTEM”….

Dramatic Events (Pictures)
Sensibilities( terror, distress, longing…sensual delight, the transient moment, fate, the ineffable, silence, etc.) [liner notes from Munch’s recorded performance of “The Martydom of St Sebastien]
Self-referential events (?)
Music acting like creatures and machines….
Music that is “like” “musical-formal-things” e.g. a passage that takes on the likeness of an “opening” or a ”developing moment” or as if the musical event were an “actor” whose role necessitates being disguised…as in e.g. the Mozartian Comedy……[here is where Stravinsky is the master…for him the musical forms themselves are the “themes and heroes” of the music….]

Every Debussyan idea unfolds under the power of it’s individual and specifically measured portion of tension and energy ….everything outfitted with its own carefully measured power and force…not a note too long or too short…not a dynamic too loud or too soft….nothing out of place…..[The invention of the world by God as a “fantastic creation”; the literature [and the music, etc.] of the fantastic in this sense may be defined as a likeness of God’s creative work……]

FORWORD: Prolegomena

When I was only a very young boy I surprised my parents with two questions, why am I me? And where was I before I was born? As soon as I could form the question into words I asked also “What is the meaning of all this?” My life began and continued it seems as a search-quest for answers to these questions. There was something profoundly and immediately painful about not having satisfactory answers to these questions but I soon found solace and relief in musical listening [musical matters] where substantially the urgency and the pain of these unanswered questions subsided. I came to believe later that music clearly suggested hope that explanations of the-meaning-of all-this question could one day be discovered. Therefore, my journey and vocation has all along been not artistic primarily, but ….one of philosophical inquiry…..Even in Artistic Matters the pervasive question always arose not only “How is this done” (The realization of master-works) but (see Poe’s Essay on Poetics)”How is it THAT this can be done”……I needed to know not only how to do something but also how it is that such a thing as this can be done…..

I found that in order to finally and convincingly understand the “masterwork” (which was my primary goal) I had to be able to make one myself.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Finding myself here too…. Borges and His Fiction P.44 “crisp understatement, rigorous compression, and disciplined attention to expressive nuance”.

The Artwork
an enhanced,
heightened model of the known world
by virtue of its incompleteness
(a good starting place).
The Artwork
Like the known world
The hint of a world-beyond……

THE TRUTH QUEST

Music opens up the invisible world of the fantasy aspect of reality, literature (in particular) confirms this…the “living theatre of the mind” came forth for me in musical listening and my quest and vision began in earnest there…Some Bible Exegetes assert that God created as He pleased for the purpose of creating an exhibit…a manifestation of Himself….as Mr. Deasey tells Stephen Daedalus in Ulysees (who rejects it) All history moves to the point of God’s manifestation of Himself…..Joyce, of course, is recounting his own personal history here. If Mr. Deasey’s statement is true than all of Joyce’s contortions and creations to establish his contrary-statement is bound to lead precisely no where…..The world we see around us, according to some Biblical Theology, is exactly as God intends it to be….It is orderly, oh yes! But….Oh my! Floating Axheads! Talking Donkeys!!!
The quest for truth was my set of mind….[much] more the philosopher than the artist because….art was “merely” the launch point for…the truth I was obsessed to find….which was to come… culminating in the realization of the failure of the Cognitive-Scientific-Rational Model for “knowledge” and that “the Fantasticis much more likely to be the operating model for the truth of the [known] world …..The answer to the questions I had from the beginning (“What’s the meaning of all this”)?

Harold Bloom: Foreword to the 2000 edition of Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism.

“…He had formulated a Myth of Concern, his version of Shelley’s notion that imaginative literature was one vast poem with many authors, and so the matter was settled. Borges, going beyond Shelley [and following Berkely, rt] suggested that all authors were one anyway, and all named….Shakespeare…”

Reading Northrop Frye back in 1980 was my first glimpse at an argument against the “chronological fetish” of “historical necessity”….it was his “spatial” concept (all literature=one author) that ultimately led me to the idea of simultaneity-of- events somewhat like the idealism Jorge Borges found in Berkely (through his fathers influence) and admired and utilized so effectively ……

From the early 80’s also, an item that appeared in the earliest versions of these documents of mine, a quote from Edgar Poe’s Marginalia:

“It is the curse of a certain order of mind, that it can never rest satisfied with the consciousness of its ability to do a thing. Still less is it content with doing it. It must know and show how it is done”.

I recognize now that my interest in “knowing and showing how this thing is done”, i.e. the theory and practice of artistic master-work-craftsmanship, was (more important even than the artistic and pedagogical achievement) a transitional necessity towards the achieving of the much deeper desire to discover the knowledge of the truth. This deeper interest in art on my part explains my attraction to Donald Tovey’s concept “no such thing as art with a capital ‘A’”.

Music (and all art, really) is a snapshot of the known world and “discovering a truthful knowledge of the known world” was ALWAYS the underlying basis for all my decisions and activities . Music portrays the nature of the world and is both “its own sound track” and also the “worlds soundtrack”…..it is ‘soundtrack to itself’ [its own soundtrack] and to the world it so perfectly portrays…..all this suggests to me the idea that not than just an artist primarily, it would seem, but more like an investigative metaphysician-ontologist-epistemologist……

Borges and Kundera: The Fantastic

The Fantastic-in-Art adequately mirror-reflects “God’s Drama”. He, as Author, Casting Director, jumps in to make Personal Appearances….. Early in my “career” I expected to claim glory and fame through my labors in art but when I saw that this required my participation in a real-life battle for which I was not prepared, I quickly withdrew from the field of action lest (as I saw so clearly) my vision [investigative metaphysics through the investigation and creation of master-art-works] would surely, in the process, perish…..and me with it….I retreated to protect my vision which I realize now was not something external but something internal and private……[Looking for the Truth about the Known World…..]

If everyday life is a configuration [in some sense] of time and space, then music is a parallel configuration [in some sense] related but different….this parallel configuration of space and time [music] (as also the everyday configuration) has it’s distinct characters, events, relationships, situations, mysteries and confusions…..

The early investigative obsessions: why am I me? Where was I before I was born? Where did yesterday go and how does tomorrow get here and what, then, is now? Sleeping. When does it start? [experimenting unsuccessfully trying to stay awake enough to be conscious of the threshold of sleep]…. Dreams. What are they?

Art (and especially music)= a parallel configuration of space and time adjacent to the everyday configurations. This is the foundation of my involvement with art….an art that is a meta-metaphor, so to speak, an art that means more than it says, a phenomenon that is a metaphor for itself as well as reality, i.e. it represents itself just as it also represents the known world….therefore all art of this persuasion is a play-within-a-play…..a labyrinth of magic boxes….

The condition of incompleteness invokes in the thoughtful curious mind the hope of completion….the kinds of very youthful questions I had are in-themselves-already a form-of-incompleteness awaiting and propelling expeditions in search of the completion of answers…..[see Godels Theory of incompleteness, Charles Rosen’s chapter on Fragments from The Romantic Generation….]
And here a quote from the biblical documents comes to mind “He will perfect (complete) that which concerns you”…..

It would seem that the effort to attain knowledge and understanding is best conducted in the arena of the imagination rather than (as has been for so long presumed) along the lines of deductive-science (so-called)…..[cognitive science]. The aesthetic-model [as the governing dynamic] as opposed to the engineer-model.

The concept of incompleteness is itself the key to knowledge and understanding from the standpoint of the absence of omniscience in man and this admission itself necessitates and happily leads to the welcome relief this conclusion brings ……

Little systems with axioms (like Borges’ little Buddhas with umbrellas…. See Seven Nights) abound but the absence of omniscience excludes the possibility of a single-total-unified-system built on one central axiom.

What is the nature of the “masterwork of art”? The answer to this question seemed to require learning the “how” part of the masterwork’s making. I compared and correlated information (biographical and analytical) about how others found their way to the knowledge of this “master piece building” activity . Underlying all this (I found later) was an unsolvable problem (more incompleteness!). I was working with a concept of the masterwork for which I could formulate no clear definition ….…..a problem demonstrated by the Brief Catalog of Contradictions (A Breviary of Inconsistencies) that follows…..

Fragments, Unexpected Protocols; a metaphor for the discovery that comes from the “discipline of the imagination”…..

Both Art [a space time configuration phenomenon] and Everyday Reality [another space time configuration phenomenon] I call (borrowing this phrase from a book title) THE MUSIC OF WHAT IS [from Seamus Haney’s poem Song].

The art of translation represents a concept of art itself.

In the known world everything is partial and incomplete. Therefore since my goal is to create art which reflects accurately and sympathetically the “space time configuration” of everyday reality in the known world. My constructive process itself necessarily is built up upon this foundation of the Fragmentary and the Incomplete. The problem of translation demonstrates a picture of the general problem of making art. Art IS translation ”from” the imaginative world “to” the actual world (the composition, the painting, etc, even the quasi-improvisational arts, jazz, pottery, acting (!) etc.

Similarly, the inadequate translation of the words of the original language into the words of the new language….pictures the inadequacy of the art-object seen as a “translation” from the imaginary-world into the actual world [the two different but connected space-time-configurations: Art and Reality]….the art work then is a kind of ancient ruin, an antiquity that could even be considered a forgery-counterfeit )….i.e the art work is what is left of what has been originally imagined (and I do not mean by this just the “whole-work-flashing on the mind” , but also the more common ongoing process of construction, editing, changing….) One cannot “photograph” with clarity and completeness the imagined-art-work largely because the original itself in this case, as opposed to the actual translation process where there is a fixed original, is itself in turmoil, unsettled and incomplete and so the result is…..incomplete, inadequate, imperfect, etc.

From Wei Tai:

(adapted from liner notes for Music in Three Parts) I discipline my thoughts precisely and exclusively with musical materials because I want the mind of the listener to connect with these materials. If I am successful, the deeper significance of the musical-materials-(sounds) will follow and then the music will enter into the listener deeply.

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