Friday, March 11, 2011

Diderot's Clock Man (new release)

Electronic Musik, the UK-based net label run by Ian Simpson has released my new pieces (free download here).

1. Beating an Un-dead Horse (6'07")/2. From the Ridgeline (4'39")/3. Interlude (1'37")/4. Diderot's Clock Man (1'58")/5. Slow Blues (8'44")

Here is an excerpt from Denis Diderot's 1751 essay Lettre sur les sourds et muets, which is translated into English by Margaret Jourdain, the title's reference.

If I had to explain this system of the human understanding to one who found it difficult to grasp abstract ideas, I should say, "Consider man as a walking clock; the heart as its mainspring, the contents of the thorax as the principal parts of the works; look on the head as a bell furnished with little hammers attached to an infinite number of threads which are carried to all corners of the clock-case. Fix upon the bell one of those little figures with which we ornament the top of our clocks, and let it listen, like a musician who listens to see if his instrument is in tune: this little figure is the soul. If many of these little threads are pulled at once, the bell will be struck several times, and the little figure will hear several notes simultaneously. Imagine that there are some of these threads that are always being pulled; and just as we only notice the noise of Paris by day when it ceases at night, we shall be unconscious of some sensations which are continuous, such as of our existence. The mind, especially in health, is unconscious of its own existence, unless it deliberately examines itself. When we are well, we are unconscious of any part of our body; and if any part draws attention to itself by pain, we are certainly not well; and if it is by a pleasurable sensation, it is by no means certain that we are the better for it."

I could pursue my analogy still further, and add that the sounds produced by the bell do not die away at once, but have some duration; that they produce chords with the sounds that follow, and the little figure that listens compares them, and pronounces them harmonious or dissonant; that memory, which we need to form opinions and to speak, is the resonance of the bell; the judgement, the formation of chords; and speech, a succession of chords. It is not without reason that some brains are said to be "cracked," like a bell. And is not the law, which is so necessary in a series of harmonies, of having at least one note common to the chord and that following it, also applicable? Does not this common note resemble the middle term of a syllogism? And what else is the likeness we observe in certain minds but the result of some freak of nature by which two intervals are marked, one a fifth and the other a third, in relation to another note? By this fertile analogy, and with all the madness of Pythagoras, I might demonstrate the wisdom of that Scythian law which prescribed one friend as a necessity, permitted two, and forbade three. Among the Scythians, I might say, a man was "out of tune" if the note which he gave forth found no harmonic among his fellow-men three friends would make a perfect accord; while a fourth superadded would be but a repetition of one of the former three, or would introduce a discordant note.

-Denis Diderot, Diderot's Early Philosophical Work, Ayer Publishing, 1972, p.p. 185-6

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