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June 11, 2010, at 6:58 am — Arts and Culture | Blogs | Music / / / / / / /

The Dissonant Truth

Soundtrack to this post: “Idioteque” by Radiohead, from Kid A.

Everything all of the time

Mulling over the topic of truth, I thought it would be interesting to share a story about a piece of music I recently heard. About a month ago, I graduated from college, and then went home to Ortonville, Michigan, for a week long detox that consisted mostly of playing uke in my back yard and diving frequently into the thicket of deep thought. At the beginning of the week, however, I spent some time with my old friend Andy Bird at his house in detroit. Not to be confused with Andrew Bird the whistling violinist genius, Andy is a great guy who carries with him a stark detachment from society, and writes songs/sings/plays guitar for his three piece spacey-surfy-alt-rock band Almost Free. I may have talked about Andy before on this blog but I’m not sure. He’s just one of those people you meet who’s musical perspective is really fascinating; someone who’s songs I can never pull my ears away from.

Anyway, at the end of a night of trying some strange beers and free-form jamming ’til 4 in the morning, Andy sat me down in his living room to play me a piece of music on a surround system. The piece was called “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” composed by Krzysztof Penderecki. To put it simply, when the first chord of this music struck, my only thought was “Oh no…” which was swiftly followed by disbelief that music that foreign and that horrifying can actually exist. We listened to all ten minutes of the piece at full volume with nothing to light the room save for the stagnant “Sony DVD” logo on the screen, which cast a tone of dark blue on us. In other words, I proverbially tried to fight this music off of me as it struggled to destroy my optimism like a persistent murderer. I know that sounds intense, but wait until you hear the piece…

No serenity in threnody

I guess I should get to the point: why this terrifying collection of sounds is relevant to the topic of truth to me is because it exists. After hearing this piece, it proved to me that in music, art, people, and come to think of it, everything, the truth is there is always something beyond. Every concept that any philosopher has ever helmed through the violent waters of persecution is merely scratching the surface when you get down to it, because in the grandest gaze, we literally know nothing. For some reason, it’s a comforting thought to me to know that the universe is so immensely vast and complex that we’ll never be able to compile at a map of it or look it up in a dictionary database, no matter how technologically sci-fi we become.

For me, the truth is that we are the tiniest of tiny organisms caught up in this limitless existence of everything, and that means we can never answer all the biggest questions. To go back to my childhood and quote Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

I think the key here as to how we can benefit from knowing that there truly are no limits to how deep things can go, is to learn to be able to just simply say “I don’t know.” Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of diving violently into an extremist belief system that causes them to kill others to prove that they’re right, if people who started holy wars simply said “I’m not sure… I think the answers are beyond us. We all just may find out when we die, but until then, let’s try to work this out.” I think if human beings had learned to say “I don’t know” at the dawn of year 1 AD, then the “holy land” that’s been fought over for the entire existence of Judeo-Christian theology would be something more like a technologically equipped mega-hub for all the world’s people to worship whatever and however they please. Or, maybe not. I don’t know.

What I do know is, over-analyzing strange and haunting music is really fun, and I feel pretty damn lucky to have such good friends.


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