Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Marshall McLuhan reminds us that technology extends the human body into inanimate form

Thoughts on the Fluid Piano from The Daily Goose by Matthew

I’m talking on the internal front, now. I’m talking improved musicianship. Here I connect this instrument with the kind of singing/listening exercises found in the first 150 or so pages of W.A. Mathieu’s monumental book Harmonic Experience. Mathieu (my teacher and friend) details singing exercises you will find, by my lights, no where else in contemporary Western musical literature. These exercises (informed by his own study of classical North Indian singing for over 30 years, as well as his training in European music and American jazz) provide the student with a felt-experience and internalized wisdom about harmony, about the way music works on levels very deep.

These kind of exercises (which in my online writing I have referred to as “Tone Yoga“) provide a number of benefits. But specific to this discussion, they allow one to develop an internal tonal compass, or pitch recognizer, whereby one can sense far more palpably and perfectly subtleties of pitch one didn’t really notice before. [...]

Marshall McLuhan reminds us that technology extends the human body into inanimate form. The wheel extends our feet. The plow extends our hands. Electricity our nervous system. The phone our voice. A house our skin. Thus Mr Smith’s piano, too, extends something of us. In part, the Fluid Piano becomes more of an extension of the human singing voice than the current piano; the voice can (and very often does) capture tones a piano can’t. But the extensions go further: a conventional piano, and thus the Fluid Piano to an even greater extent, extends a music order of polyphony, or many-voices at once. But no in an even more precise, attuned manner. It is up to musicians to make these possibilities musically appealing to the average listener.

The Fluid Piano doesn’t create anything “new” that we didn’t have before, but rather allows us to realize something in a more unnatural, artificial, externalized and examined way (like all technology). Which means Mr Smith’s piano, while seeming exotic, can in fact help us realize and express something we already have. Certainly the piano means a new playing field with a set of rules that include old rules as well as those new. And one of those is a profound challenge to the musician to know more about tones. Call it the a tool for “pitch etymology”.

As a musician, to know tones deeply in the body is, I think, a kind of responsibility, that of intimacy with the raw materials of music that hold a power and magic so crucial to human life. To be a musician means, at the end, that one must by spurts and fits deepen a relationship with nothing less than the enduring human heart. Itself an extension of . . . well, I’ll stop right here.

1 comment:

  1. I rescued from cassette this talk that Marshall McLuhan gave at Johns Hopkins University in the mid 1970s. I have not found an audio file of this talk anywhere online. So far as I know it's an original contribution to the archive of McLuhan audio. Enjoy. Rare McLuhan Audio