Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Commonplace: Atonality


This is the second post for commonplace. The features in this section are different from that of my usual features. Click here to read what the various posts filed under this section are about.
On 19th September of this year, I was fortunate enough to attend a concert entitled "La Noche" (the night in Spanish) which is a collaboration between Roberto Alvarex (Flute) and Katryna Tan (Harp). The duo premiered eight pieces by various composers comissioned to compose a duet for Flute and Harp based on their perceptions of the night. As all the pieces are written by composers that are still alive, most of them were atonal (ie. the piece of music is not written in any key).

Before playing one of the songs, Katryna Tan mentioned that most people would view atonal music as a piece of music that is composed of random notes. But to the composer of that particular piece, atonality means that every single note that is written is just as important as the other. That got me thinking...

If one were to extrapolate this idea to society as a whole, isn't this a statement about embracing diversity? It is definitely a good thing to embrace a difference in culture and opinion and accord the same importance to every single member of society. The more important question is, how do we harness this diversity to produce something productive and beautiful such as the duet I heard in the recital hall? In writing music, there is a science to it but is there one in a societal construct?

If we were to water down the construct to a mundane one such as a project group, another question pops up: where do we draw a line in embracing a difference of opinion and decide on the way forward? It is easy to say that the leader should take charge and decide. But in doing so, it negates the diversity that we are embracing in the first place.

While I do not have an answer, I love how the concept of atonality triggers off such thoughts. A beautiful metaphor too!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Communication: It gets worse as it becomes easier


Being the semi-Luddite that I am, the number of social media networks that I am on often amazes me. In fact, the medium I am engaging in now can also be considered a form of social media. Such a technological trend is often paradoxical. While it makes communication and socialising with others easier, we become increasingly anti-social and often take the ease of communication for granted; a backlash. To prove a point, this post is composed through the Blogger app on my iPhone. While I will eventually communicate to you my thoughts and ideas on the go, I have switched off from my surroundings and people around me in the process; becoming anti-social.

Due to the ease of communication, we become slack in our attitudes towards punctuality, etiquette and sincerity. Running late? No problem! A text to your friend and you know that your friend won't worry and would bother himself with something else while waiting for you to arrive. Thus, one finds oneself never being able to be punctual for anything. This differs from the pre-cellular network era in which the embarrassment of having someone wait for you meant that one would leave the house extra early to give a buffer time for any delays or problems with transportation.

Aside from punctuality, the ease of writing this post or an email through my iPhone meant that I can easily type out my thoughts in a stream of consciousness. If you are still reading this post, the words I have typed so far are still within a span of a train ride home and I have not reviewed what I have written thus far. As such, we slowly become less concerned with the nuances that are implied in our choice of words. Instead, we're more interested in stating what we think even though if those thoughts have not been processed properly; a need to insist on the world listening to oneself.

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*The remaining of this post below is written on my computer*

Perhaps that is why we can be considered as the "soundbite generation". As an illustration, we should look back on January of 2009 when Obama assumed office and gave his Presidential Inaugural Address. The whole world watched on and various political commentators were furiously giving their analysis on what is to be considered a watershed event in the history of USA. Amidst the cacophony of voices, one of them spoke to me. Clay Jenkinson, social commentator, historian and Chautauqua practitioner, was describing what a different world we are living in and wonders how could one even give a credible analysis on a speech mere minutes after it has been made. It would be impressionistic at best or utterly inaccurate at worst. Such comments certainly reflect the world we are living in; consuming a greater amount of information almost immediately but often missing out on the important points.

As a final anecdote, someone did point out the absurdity of the need to text someone to read an email that was sent and to reply to it promptly. This was done in spite of the fact that the reciever was expecting such a mail. It does seem to me that the efficiency of communication makes us less efficient in such a way that we are bombarded with all sorts of mail and messages to such an extent that we naturally just ignore all of it and, in the process, miss out on the important ones. Thus, we see the emergence of a seemingly irrational habit of actually texting people to remind them to respond.

While the bulk of my post is more of a lamentation on the falling standards of the way we communicate and conduct our relationships with others, it would be silly to reject the benefits of technology and do what the Luddites did. The synthesis should neither be a magic nor a mind-blowing solution because that just means that no one would be able to do it. At the end of the day, it truly boils down to how important the particular person is to you because if they were truly important, taking the effort to slow down, communicate clearly and promptly and being mindful of your conduct should not be a chore. In short: slow down, think through and be on time.