A note to musicians and especially jazz fans: I did Music at undergrad level and have my Grade 7 in Music Theory. I am trying to explain things without resorting to technical or terms implicitly understood by people who make music. (The video eschews them too, which is why its so good).
The first 90 seconds of this video contains some of the best musical communication and education I’ve ever encountered.
Breaking down these 90 seconds has cracked open various thoughts I’ve had over the last few years.
The Aliveness of Swing
We usually think about time time as being about the ticking of a clock, the date, the year etc. The forward momentum of past becoming the future. The present being the name for the bow wave along the flowing river of time that carries us along.
For all intense and purposes let’s call this Machine Time.
I’ve previously written about Clock Time, this sense of machine time, one-thing-after-another-time is known as Chronos.
In the case of the video, Time is described as in musical terms. A time signature, the number of beats in the bar.
At 0Ms 14Secs the bass begins playing and the host then counts of the beats out 1,2,3,4
You can hear the location of the bass notes in relation to the clock/beat.
Chirillo process to play, you begin to feel a bouncy sensation. The rhythm is created by the interplay of bass and guitar.
All four beats are now filled by the two instruments.
The word ‘presides’ in the previous phrase above is a good term.
To Preside means ‘position of authority in a meeting or other gathering’ or ‘be in charge of’. These instruments preside over 1+3 and 2+4 respectively. They don’t own or control them. The musicians are merely stewards over these particular beats in the bar. They preside.
They are the rhythmic anchors of the song. Now that all four beats are filled they create the sensation of ‘Up and Down‘. Literally the Up and Down Beats.
The pianist begins to play.
Ignore the melodic nature of the piano and chords being played by all the instruments. Focus on the rhythm of all three instruments at once.
Listen carefully to how the piano dances around, across, inside of the 1+3, 2+4 rhythmic world established by the Bass and Guitar.
I hope you can still feel the ‘up and down’ sensation, but the piano re-shapes whats going on. All 4 beats of the bar are filled up but the rhythmic emphasis now moves and slides around.
You know what this shuffle is … you’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, we’ve all heard it million times before.
The ’tiss, tiss ta tiss’ on the ride cymbal.
The shuffle, also known as ‘The Spang-A-Lang’. Is the foundation of swing, the heart of Jazz.
Rewind the video and listen again.
The drummers entrance gives me chills every time.
The Spang-a-lang adds a new internal logic to the previous rhythms played by the previous three instruments. The rhythmic interplay between the three instruments is totally transformed.
The music has come alive.
The spang-a-lang introduces the swing. The song is now alive.
This is Kairos, THE TIME, or right timing.
Kairos is the product of resonance between interconnected intangible elements in the present. The feeling of things unfolding.
I hope that you can hear, but more importantly feel whats going on.
The bass and guitar have 1+3, 2+4 covered. The piano dances around.
But the spang-a-lang sits between the up and down motion of the rhythm.
It’s the beating heart, the internal logic of swing.
A set of rhythmic coordinates around which, the rest of the sonic world turns.
What an understated turn of phrase.
“The unlegislated devision of power”
No one playing here has control. No one legislates. Instead the musicians preside over different elements of the rhythm.
Between them there’s unspoken agreement, together the rhythmic interplay is greater than the sum of its parts.
Jazz is often called a social technology.
The use of unlegislated to describe the power dynamics within the ensemble should also bring to mind political relations too. They are free from legislation.
I don’t want to go into much detail here, but Jazz is the creation of an egalitarian worlds.
When jazz musicians talk about their experiences playing and improvising inside of their bands world you have to belive them.
Songs are Worlds
All songs are complete self contained worlds. Some are more alive than others.
The goal of any artist or musician is to bring an idea, feeling, emotion, whatever, to life.
In the video above you can clearly hear the moment that the world comes alive. The moment the spirt of swing arrives.
Swing of course is a style, a vibe. It’s a living intangible thing. It’s hard to describe but you know it when you hear it.
Vibe of course is alive in many other genres of music, Reggae, Blues, Samba whatever.
The spang-a-lang doesn’t even need to be on the drums. Listen to this 1946 recording of Django’s Tiger by Django Reinhardt – you can hear it in the rhythm guitar. The swing nevertheless is alive.
Swing is brought into existence by musicians. Whilst playing, they are all feeling and experiencing that alive thing – the sprit of the music.
It’s mysterious, miraculous even. Swing is conjured somewhere collectively between them.
In turn, that feeling is communicated – or a better – shared with the audience (if there is one). A recording captures and shares it too.
Again, all art seeks to capture and communicate a feeling, emotion, thought.
A similar thing happens with stories and narratives:
Whats the difference between a story and a tale? Here’s a quote from Huw Lemmey
Tell me a tale. Don’t write me a story. But tell: tell meaning to reveal, to divulge. In story-telling, the stories already exist; the richness, the innovation, is in the manner of their revelation.
Rituals also create worlds- they produce a kind of alive-ness that is felt and experienced. Rituals crate space and deepen our awareness of alive-time or THE TIME – Kairos.
And just as you can resonate with the characters in the sky, the positions of the characters resonate with you. You have agency in the cosmic story itself as you are part of that story in the witnessing. This is story as ritual. Alive in its telling. It has it sacrifice (being alive), meaning and resonance.
This sort of alive time is the measure of experience.
It’s my belief that the Metaverse – the spaces we create there, and the experiences we have there – will be judged by their aliveness.
Any mention of Blurred Lines, at least in my circles always evokes a ‘fuck that song‘ response.
Regardless of what you think about the songs lyrical content, I really do urge people to have an opinion about its vibe – what it brings the song life – and the consequences its wrought.
The Blurred Lines lawsuit resolved back in 2018, was one of the most shocking copyright decisions ever.
Up until 2018, in the eyes of the law: everyone knew what a song was: Chords, Melody, Lyrics.
The Blurred Lines Lawsuit charged that Blurred Lines infringed the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up.
Yet, Pharell and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines has diffrent chords, diffrent lyrics, a diffrent melody AND a diffrent rhythm from Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up
They sound absolutely nothing alike apart from the share sonic pallet:
What they both do however is feel the same.
The Blurred Lines groove, its vibe, its aliveness, communicates the same feeling as Got to Give It Up.
So a case was put to the public, Pharell and Thicke were judged according to a jury of their peers. They lost. This was later upheld in their appeal to 9th circuit judges.
It was established that “Got to Give It Up” is “entitled to broad protection against copyright infringement liability because musical compositions are not confined to a narrow range of expression”
Pharell and Thicke infringed on the Gaye estates copyright because they made something that feels the same.
At university studying Philosophy of Arts, all I ever talked about and wrote about was copyright. If I was still in academia I’d be wondering what is it about the culture of late capitalism, the nature of our ‘reality’ that lead a jury to be convinced that you can copyright the intangible. I blame DnD.
Culture has been totally blown apart by this ruling.
What even am a song now? (As Gordon White would put it).
Ian Cheng describes ‘Worlding’ as
The art of devising a World: by choosing its dysfunctional present, maintaining its habitable past, aiming at its transformative future, and ultimately, letting it outlive your authorial control.
A World Runner(s) job is to steer a world towards more aliveness.
I think the musical demonstration above shows that the ensemble are very vibe rich indeed.
Moving on, writing about DAOs last year Kei Kreutler said:
DAOs are less technical protocols for governance and more high stakes game worlds that interweave.
We should aim for rough consensus and running worlds.
Rough consensus and running worlds.….
It’s interesting. Richard Bartle, the godfather of all online worlds, wrote in his book Designing Virtual Worlds back in 2003 about how one should judge an online world
You can only judge a world in its totality.
I have been on Twitter 14 years and I judge it to have failed in bringing an experience of something alive into this world.
What is brought into being, what is made alive by the component parts of the world? What is experienced by the user.
If the metaverse is a medium…
Can you copyright a world?
Strains of weed make people feel a certain way – Indica vs Sativa etc.
One makes you feel one way, another makes you feel a different way.
Currently you can’t own a strain of weed – or have copyright over the way a drug makes people feel.
But the 2018 Blurred Lines ruling says you can now own the intangible. Which means boy howdy are folks in California trying to change this state of affairs.
Imagine a world where one type of chocolate makes you feel the same way as another brand of chocolate. What sort of lawsuit madness are we going to get ourselves into? Imagine being able to copyright the feeling or difference between Rayon and Silk? No new shared cultural grammars would be possible.
This is a weird post I’ll admit. Going though 90 seconds of musical education brings us though Ritual, Folktales, Pop Songs, DAOs and Virtual Worlds and Weed, but it’s all connected somehow in my mind.
The big battle – the cultural fight that we are all participants in right now – will be about the aliveness of worlds. Both online and offline. We are still in its early stages.
The podcast I’m making this week is going to be about this subject, but the same lens will be on machine learning, image generation, copyright and AI models.
Can you own? copyright? control? a vibe? can you stake a claim on the ‘aliveness’ of a thing?
Can you own how software makes people feel?