Thursday, March 04, 2010

Classic Music and beauty in pottery

In a newly published book, Philip Ball has found out that 'audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope'. To experience pleasure, the brain needs to recognize patterns and rules in what it hears. Classic composers followed traditions and rules much more closely than modern composers. An important function of the brain is to anticipate the future. It can do this easily when there is a melody, but not when the music is fragmented.

I think that the pleasure of watching something of classic beauty is similar. The brain loves to see things that follow patterns, where each detail fits well in the whole object. If you see just one part of it, your mind can easily imagine how the rest will look like.
And like there are certain sounds and tempos the human prefers, there are certain curves, shapes and colors that we like best. That is why some ancient masterpieces are still played in concerts or shown to millions of visitors in museums.

What does it mean for potters? I think they should see themselves like musicians, and I mean classic musicians. Instead of partitions from Mozart or Bach, they have bowls, cups and teapots... from ancient dynasties that they can arrange, interpret according to their skills and sensitivity. (Petr Novak's bowl, in my previous article, is a good example of a very classical Northern Sung dynasty shape and wood fired with a traditional kiln).

The concert of Han Tang Yuefu and Doulce Mémoire in front of the National Palace Museum has sparked this line of thought. This also applies to us, tea brewers. In old times, people already knew how good tea tasted, how to brew it and with which instruments. The closer we follow their steps, the farther we can travel the way. Traditions don't restrict or limit our freedom. They guide us.


Philippe de Bordeaux filipek said...

Cher Stéphane,

Merci de souligner le rapport musique & thé , tradition & modernité .
L'article à propos est fort instructif :

"M. Ball est d'avis que de nombreux compositeurs classiques comme Mozart, Bach et Beethoven ont inconsciemment suivie la formule musicale stricte de produire une musique qui a été facile à l'oreille en veillant à ce qu'elle contienne des modèles qui pourraient être repris par le cerveau."

Il dit: «Beaucoup de ce que fait le cerveau est d'anticiper l'avenir.
Prédire ce qui se passe ensuite a une valeur de survie évidente, et le cerveau est remarquablement habile à devancer les événements.
"Pour les auditeurs, cela signifie que, chaque fois que vous essayer de prédire ce qui se passe ensuite, vous échouez.
Le résultat est un immense sentiment de confusion, et les échecs constants à anticiper ce qui va arriver le moyen le plus proche qu'il n'y a pas de plaisir de la prédiction exacte. "

Je trouve que l'analogie avec notre pratique du Cha sonne comme juste.
Je n'arrive pas à dissocier musique et thé : un gong fu cha et ses préliminaires c'est Musique.
Je voulais à ton image décrire des Thés et voilà que le Monde du Thé me fait revenir sur la Voie de la Musique!

C'est d'autant plus heureux car mon cerveau ne s'y attendait pas .
Ta Zhu Ni est splendide.
Quelle couleur!
Ancienne et pourtant si moderne.

Merci Stéphane.


TeaMasters said...

Merci pour la traduction Philippe, et pour tes remarques judicieuses.

Anonymous said...

I mean this comment most humbly, but I find the assertion about audiences and music very strange and difficult to accept. If this assertion is correct, Western audiences should never have come to enjoy the music of India, China and Japan which use different scales, different senses of time and rhythm, and different harmony and counterpoint -- different rules! When I listen to a Chinese orchestra my brain wrestles mightily to "fit" the music into a Western structure, which cannot be done. I have to learn to let go of the rules, and then the enjoyment comes. I learn to find and accept the new (to me) rules. The same is true for contemporary Western music. There are always rules, they just may only apply to this one composer. The dutiful audience must be willing to let go, and find the new rules to follow along. Most are too striving, and at the same time too lazy, to do this.

The visual arts are similar, but not exactly equal. In music, an apparently broken rule, if repeated regularly, becomes a new rule and can expose a new beauty. But with a visual object, a broken rule just sits there, once, looking broken. For this reason, the classic rules are best.

TeaMasters said...

Thanks for your comment. I think that you misunderstood a little what I wrote. I don't mean Westerners can't enjoy Asian musics. As you said, these musics still follow rules or patterns. Different rules, but still something that is comprehensible and makes sense in their universe.

The problem is more with modern composers who break the rules. This is when our brain doesn't like it (except maybe for those who are in a masochistic mode).

Unknown said...

That was a very weird post in my opinion. If classical and baroque music is so universally good, how come it wasn't invented until the 17th and 18th century? To me it seems that much of the the music from after the middle ages was built around rules to make it separated from earlier music. Music that was accepted by almost everyone for some hundred years. If we always follow old tradition based on the perfect experience, we should only brew our tea according to the rules of the Song dynasty. Traditions can guide us, yes, but we need to try different things. And the new may challenge us. It broadens our horizon. For an example, I find Mozart too predictable and boring. On the other hand: The first time i heard Stravinskij's "Le Sacre du Printemps" it was like an exciting adventure, not knowing what was going to happen next. And when i hear it nowdays i find it so catchy that i hum along with it. We must challenge our minds and experiment. We must listen to different kinds of music and try to understand the theories behind it. Schönberg might be weird, but it's all about the same 12 notes. We must in the same way taste different kinds of tea. Pu'erh might be strange to a beginner, but rewards the brave. We must brew our teas differently. And different designs of objects can prove as much to be a leap forward as a total failure. And about the masochism: even classical music uses dominant chords and some dissonances to build a tension. Without tension relaxation can't be as appriciated. In my ears noiserock is almost orgasmic. Great blog by the way.

TeaMasters said...

Oskar, thanks for your comment.

Tea and music are reflections of the time we live in. In the past, it was mostly about what the powerful liked. Also, limitations of transportation would reduce the diversity in these arts. However, I think they made this up by exploring their possibilities much more deeply than nowadays. That's also why this music and these artefacts are surviving the test of time. The same can't be said of modern music or teas.

Our time is about diversity, but also about making things more affordable. We can choose between so many products at the supermarket! We are rich in choice and availability. The Internet gives access to countless teasets, teapots, teas... The advantage is that this helps make tea more affordable for most people. Choice also means that different teas (or music) will fit our different moods better. We live eclectic times.

However, to continue our progress, we must also recognize the limits of this path. Quantity and availability are not quality. Here, we can learn from the past, when tea was a refinement more than a beverage. Our modern brewing methods are more convenient, but they lack grace and depth.