Saturday, December 03, 2011

Composers As Gardeners

What happened in Stafford's work was that he was talking about organization and how things organize themselves in this new way. And there was one sentence in the book which I think I still remember, he said 'instead of trying to organize it in full detail, you organize it only somewhat and you then rely on the dynamics of the system to take you in the direction you want to go.' And this became my sort of motto for how I wanted composition to be. ... So my feeling has been that the whole concept of how things are created and organized has been shifting for the last 40 or 50 years, and as I said, this sequence of science as cybernetics, catastrophe theory, chaos theory and complexity theory, are really all ways of us trying to get used to this idea that we have to stop thinking of top-down control as being the only way in which things could be made. ... And another way I can translate that is to say it's a repositioning of ourselves on the control/surrender spectrum. I'll talk briefly about that, then I'll shut up. We're used to the idea, coming from the industrial and very intelligent post-Enlightenment history that we have, we're used to the idea that the great triumph of humans is their ability to control. And indeed, that must be the case, to some extent. What we're not so used to is the idea that another great gift we have is the talent to surrender and to cooperate. Cooperation and surrender are actually parts of the same skill. To be able to surrender is to be able to know when to stop trying to control. And to know when to go with things, to be taken along by them. And that's a skill that we actually have to start relearning. Our hubris about our success in terms of being controllers has made us overlook that side of our abilities. So we're so used to dignifying controllers that we forget to dignify surrenderers. The reason I have an a cappella group of the kind that John mentioned is because it gives me every Tuesday evening the chance to do some surrendering. Which is, by the way, the reason people go to church, I think, as well. And to art galleries. What you want from those experiences is to be reminded of what it's like to be taken along by something. To be taken. To be lifted up, to be whatever the other words for transcendence are. And I think we find those experiences in at least four areas. Religion, sex, art, and drugs. So I tend to put those all under the umbrella of surrender, and in fact, it's interesting that if you look at the various cultures of the world, those things are either totally dignified or totally taboo. In different mixtures in different cultures. In some cultures some of them are mixed together, like Hindu culture mixes sex and religion. Some cultures mix drugs and religion. I don't know of any culture that mixes all of them, but if any of you do, please tell me about it. But essentially they're all experiments with ourselves in trying to remind ourselves that the controlling talent that we have must be balanced by the surrendering talent that we also have. And so my idea about art as gardening is to sort of revivify that discussion and to say let's accept the role of gardener as being equal in dignity to the role of architect, as in fact, is shown in this lovely pavilion here. Thank you, that's all.
by Brian Eno (

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