Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Jaron Lanier: "Proof of Consciousness"

Jaron Lanier  (site)  is controversial for his critique of our attitudes toward the Internet in his books (like the Manifesto  “You Are not a Gadget”, reviewed on the Books blog Feb. 22, 2010).  In general, the thinks people are naïve in believing technology can solve all their problems and free them.  Instead, he warns now that the “free stuff” mentality may destroy middle class employment and social media can lead to new demands for social conformity.
Lanier also composers, and I today tried one of his works, “Proof of Consciousness”, an 18-movement suite, lasting 71 minutes, for a variety of stringed instruments , percussion and piano (and harp), with many movements definitely having the flavor of India.  Amazon notes that Mark Deutsch shared in the composition.
Some of the movements indeed have interesting titles.  It starts with an “Appassionata” which does not invoke Beethoven or Schumann for my ear.  But soon there is a movement called “Goodbye Scriabin”, strings with piano playing dense chords, moving up, along a twelve-tone scale, rather like Alban Berg (or a similar passage in Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety”).  Later, Lanier offers a solo piano movement called “Ives Sonata 2: Concord””, with a hymn tune, tender despite the dissonance.  I don’t know the Ives work well enough to determine whether this is a movement from the Sonata literally, or whether Lanier has reworked it (the dreaded “recomposition” process).  Later movements have titles that invoke questions about what happens to the “conscious soul” at the end of life.  "Rapid Descent" has imaginative harp effects (like Britten?)  There are references to the abyss (or core) and “upper atmosphere” – the last piece, the longest (8 minutes) and rather eclectic, centering around the tonality of D, before ending quietly. 

Some of the music does sound self-consciously “new age”; but other movements build on little motives, somewhat the way Timo Andres does. 

The title of the opus is intriguing enough.  What happens to the soul -- which evolves out of nothing as a babt grows to adulthood -- at the end?  Physics tells me it can't just disappear.  I won't argue over religious ideas of Heaven and the afterlife, but it seems likely to me that some souls merge into common entities and then live again on other worlds. maybe in other universes.  To transcend the speed of light barrier, we will have to learn how to experience this.  
I “paid” a fair price for this 70-minute in-home concert, buying (for $8.99) the MP3 on Amazon, and playing it from the Cloud, although it would have allowed me to download a copy.  I did not see a PDF with program notes – or did I just miss it?   

Amazon mentioned an “Autorip CD” and said I had rights to listen to certain other music online free, based on past purchases.  This included Andres and Josh Groban.  I does seem I am “tracked”.

I do think that some items now free on YouTube really should earn their artists something $1 for a single video or audio purchase from Amazon or iTunes (purchase is preferred to rental).  For example, I would think that a few of Reid Ewing’s songs (including those for Modern Family), after licensing workouts with ABC, would lend themselves to this approach – yet Reid is so dedicated to making comic videos on the “It’s free” model.  But as Jaron Lanier warns (it’s an “n” at the end of his first name), we can’t sustain “free” forever and sustain an economy. 

Having bought an MP3 copy, do I now “have” the work, the way I “have” (a CD and an older LP) Mahler’s Sixth?  I think so. Is a Cloud copy more secure?  In Object-Oriented Programming, what I have is an “instance” of a class defined as a performance of a musical work.  But it is the “instance” that is controlled by copyright law.

Just think: All those years of collecting records, I could have lost it all so easily in a tornado.   

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