06 December 2012

The Ratio

CalArts is a place of many paradoxes, contradictions and plain old headscratchers, not the least of which is that a music school with such collective irreverence for academic rigor is also a well-known hotspot for JI/microtonal people, who tend by definition to be among the more academically rigorous musicians you'll ever meet. By "academically rigorous," I suppose I really mean "able and willing to do arithmetic in their heads," which normally isn't saying much, but anyone who's been to polite bourgie music school knows that, in this case, it is.

When I arrived at the U of MN, there still existed something called General College, which was essentially a community college within the university. This served two main purposes: it enabled the athletes to play Division I sports while doing junior college academics, and it enabled the undergraduate music majors to take what was understood to be a high school-level class in order to meet the single such requirement imposed by the College of Liberal Arts. (It was not math or science but the foreign language(!) requirement which was waived for music majors in order to accommodate the boatload of coursework within our major, a stunningly counterintuitive if not downright misguided decision; but then, if I'm allowed to embark on a discussion of the many "paradoxes, contradictions and plain old headscratchers" at the ol' U, Blog Month might spill into next year...so we'll leave it there for now.)

In Genesis of a Music, Harry Partch writes:

An acoustician writes in his book that Just Intonation is impossible of attainment in a practical system of music, a psychologist repeats this in his book, authors of harmony repeat it in their books, and finally a veritable army of theorists, composers, and instrumentalists repeats it verbally–of whom not one in a hundred thousand can speak from personal experience. (p. 424)

Such it is that the rest of the students here aren't always on board with this whole thing, up to and including what I perceive as downright defensive reactions to the notion that the study of tuning systems is actually relevant to people who work within one or more of them. It only seems more essential to me the more I learn about it, but I sometimes wonder if this won't actually be the last place on Earth to require such coursework of its music students, threatening as that requirement would to severely harm their buzz.

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