The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Monday, March 23, 2009


Music as Metaphor

In the late 1970's I lived at 35 Harrison Avenue in Northampton. Here's a picture of the house that I took this morning. Like most of the old Victorians in the area, the whole house was broken up into rented rooms. A red arrow points to where my crib was.

Today Harrison Avenue has been tranformed by gentrification into one of the most expensive streets in town, but when I lived there it was a student/hippie ghetto where the rents were so cheap you could actually panhandle for a few days and raise the rent. Personally I was above panhandling, being a good capitalist and paying the bills with my own marijuana dealing business.

Most of us living at 35 Harrison Avenue were former students who dropped out of college to pursue a life of getting high, getting laid and seeking adventure. However there was one person living with us who was a physics major minoring in mathmatics.

Ours was not a household conducive to serious study. On the contrary, there was loud music at all hours of the day and night and lots of drinking and bonging. Yet the physics major was always in his room with weird music playing. It didn't even really sound like music, it was electronic noises and seemingly aimless voices and sounds. One day I asked him about the music, and in doing so found out how he managed to concentrate on his studies. It was also how I discovered Seastones.

Seastones is a Grateful Dead record, sort of. It has Dead people on it, in particular Phil Lesh (above) but also Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart. David Crosby was also a participant, as well as Startrippers Grace Slick and David Freiberg. That sounds like a great musical line-up, except that if you didn't read the liner notes you would have a hard time recognizing any of the artists. The "vocals" often consist of a single spoken word that appears at random, and except for the fact that Slick has a female voice, it is impossible to tell who said what word.

It sounded to me like musical gibberish, but the physics major urged me to read the liner notes by the composer of the music, a man connected with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology named Ned Lagin. When I did so I realized that something very purposeful and intense was behind the sounds on that record:

sea stones
seas tones

Whenever I walk along the beach, at the magical boundary between land and sea, I find myself, like so many others, picking up stones and pebbles cast up or uncovered by the waves. With wide-eyed wonder, I feel each stone calling out and insisting on being picked up, to be held and experienced.

Each one different, with its own shape and color, and surface texture. And each charged with its own mystery and meaning, its own storied experience of the ever changing environmental conditions of the ocean and atmosphere, of rain and heat and cold and wind, of sunlight and darkness, of the passage of individual living beings and of species. Charged, too, with the wildness of billions of nights and days, an immense of "timescape" (time "landscape", time spatialized) under the ocean or buried in the sand (micro-stones) or amongst countless other stones and pebbles.

The stones and pebbles always seem to contain stories I need to read, parables to think about, meanings to absorb; a different story or parable or meaning radiating out of each and every individual stone.

It occurred to Lagin while contemplating these metaphors of nature created by the stones that it might be possible to recreate that kind of multiple time experience with sound arranged in layers, much the way the varying ages and experiences of the seastones are all lying together on the shore.

From the wild seastones I learned some things I thought (and still think) very important. That every moment, including the multiplicity of present moments, belongs to a greater multiplicity of integrally enclosed contexts. And that beauty could come from a collection of carefully selected (or crafted) moments perceived not as a linear sequence or progression alone, in which the present moment is the consequence of the previous one and the prelude to the coming one, but perceived all at once.

That of course is exactly what one sees when one looks at seastones in nature lying on the shore, each stone a representation of the vanished time and place when it was formed, lying among stones formed at other times, all combining to represent a mosaic of varying times and places that are united into one moment.

During the summer of 1970, I started the sketches that would eventually over the next four years become the formal musical score for the varied and alternative "moment-form" realizations of Seastones. Expressible musical materials (rhythms, pitches, notes, melodic fragments, harmonic clusters and chord patterns, sung and spoken words) were composed into a score of self-contained but musically connected "moment-forms" or timescapes, in many ways metaphorically like the wild sea stones on the sea shore.

My housemate explained that while he studied his physics and math he played Seastones and that the music helped him to focus on his difficult schoolwork. I went out and bought a copy of the record for myself and started listening to it. I found myself feeling as though it helped me to focus as well. At the time some of us in the house were into nude yoga. Actually I was into it more for the nudity than the yoga, but found I was able to get into the spiritual dimension of the exercise when Seastones was playing. Maybe I just imagined it, but my housemate was getting A's in all his courses, so it was hard to be completely skeptical.

Anyway, I recently got access to a copy of Seastones and intend to start listening to it again. I've no interest in yoga anymore, nude or otherwise, but I want to experiment and see if Seastones helps me in general with focusing my mind on the things I want to contemplate most seriously. I'll let you know what my verdict is when I've given it a long enough try.

In the meantime, if you're curious to get your own copy of Seastones click here.

Dump Dodd Rally

I regret that I wasn't aware in advance that a rally was being held in Connecticut this weekend to urge their dangerously incompetent U.S. Senator Chris Dodd to resign over his disgraceful role in creating and worsening the current economic crisis. If I'd known, I would have gladly used this blog to help promote the rally. Libertarian Republican has this report:

....300 rallied in the small town of Ridgefield. And they were not happy with their current US Senator.

From the

“Dump Dodd now!” and “We’re not Europe!” and “It’s not your money!” they chanted.

Passing drivers honked, waved or gave them the thumbs up sign.

“I want to dump Dodd and I want to dump Dodd and get rid of Obama as soon as it’s legally possible,” said Jamie Shafer of Wilton Road West. “I’m very worried about my country -- it’s an outrage a day.”

Others waved signs with messages even more hardcore anti-big government:

They came from Ridgefield, Fairfield, Bridgeport, Bethel, and other towns for what had been billed as a modern “tea party.” They carried signs: “Give me liberty, not Europe,” “Obama lies and America dies,” “Socialism is trickle-up poverty,” “Wanted: Loving families for released GITMO terrorists -- Call 1-800-I-Voted-For-Obama,” and “Support Our Troops.”

Today's Video

It's an American dream, includes Indians too....


Arty said...

The musical theories behind seastones are fascinating!

Don Schneier said...

Also, in the summer and fall of 1974, Ned and Phil provided the between sets entertainment with some Seastones improvisations. An example in official release can be found on Dick's Picks #12.

The Arizonian said...

Say what you want about Wal-Mart, but they are the biggest Retailer in the World. If Wal-Mart were to collapse, we would see the fall or the United states as we know it. Millions would be thrown out of work instantly. The Economic system would collapse not just in China, but all over the world.

Wal-Mart (With our help) supports many 3rd world countries with purchases from just about anything you can name or think of. What is made in the U.S.A.? Soon, the American Flag will be about it. A new Law is being passed, and already has been in Minnesota, that all U.S. Flags sold in the U.S. must be made in the United States!

If Wal-Mart has been so sucessful in a relatively short period of time, why not let them handle the finances of the U.S.? All our Government is famous for is screwing up the works. Do you think Wal-Mart got so big buying $118.00 Hammers like our Government did? How about all the other waste? I don't hear Wal-Mart paying their Exucutives Millions of Dollars in Bonuses, or purchasing new Multi-million dollar Jets. Or flying their Excutives back and forth in a Company Jet like we do Nancy Pelosi every weekend!

So maybe it's time to let Wal-Mart run the U.S. Government. At least for a couple of years until things get straightened out. I'll bet they don't hire "Tax Cheats"! They don't hire Criminals! They do Drug testing. Does Congress? LOL!

Wal-Mart makes money. Our Government wastes money. Wal-Mart doesn't raise their prices like our Government raises our Taxes. Sound good to you?

Or at least hire some of Wal-Marts management? Now in the United States it seems that we only hire Staff with questionable backgrounds, or bonafide Criminal Backgrounds. Our Government has never lacked more credibility than it is at the present time.

We all go to Wal-Mart anyway. Instead of having a "Bank Branch" inside their store, they can have the National Bank of Wal-Mart! Maybe they can issue their own currency someday too. Probably be worth more than what U.S. Currency will be worth by the end of the Obama Administration.

Anonymous said...


Zoooma!! said...

Gasp... you criticize an elected Congressman? I don't think they like you now. You're on their list. And the hope some people have that he'd actually step down? HA!! I'll bet Charlie Rangel supports Dodd with his entire corrupt soul, err, I mean, with his entire unconvicted in a court of law of the crimes he's accused of soul.

(I didn't wanna get political. Damn me. Sometimes I wish my greatest concern in life is who's going to win on American Idol.)

Anyway, I've never thought of music as something to help me focus. Except for when I'm running, music for me is always on for the fun of listening! I haven't played Seastones in awhile (years and years though I have heard a GD show or two with it in that time) but hmmmmmm, after your cool post here I just might have to give it a play again. I'll just sit and think, not about the music, but about things on me mind and I'll see if what Phil & Ned did for the physics major can work for me and help me focus.

After all, whenever you can't focus, and especially if you get confused -- listen to the music play!

Anonymous said...

fyi - there is a newly remastered two CD version of 'seastones'. the album notes for the two CD seastones are here: SEASTONES

p.s. it sounds great!!!

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