A Couple Quick Thoughts, Occasioned By The Death Of Ornette Coleman
I don’t really know where to begin when discussing the death of Ornette Coleman. His music is important to me, both for what it actually is, and for what it represents. It represents a certain sense of freedom.
Ornette Coleman once argued that improvisation in black music, the root of jazz, stems from the idea that seeing black musicians read sheet music would be intimidating to white audiences. It would be clear they knew what they were doing, and so that needed to be hidden.
The freedom of jazz feels deeply spiritual. It reaches, then, into atonality, things that people find annoying, musically. This stems from the back and forth, players responding to one another, but also pushing themselves and their instruments to their limits.
See also: the notion of harmolodics. That harmony comes into being naturally from each being, or that we are all in harmony anyway, so we can play however we want. If I understand it correctly.
In a online forum, the group Autechre was asked if, after all these years, they’d gotten closer or had any ideas about what music actually is. The response: Music is speech minus text.
If you google this the first response you will get is someone saying this is basically true from the perspective of evolutionary psychology.
Thinking then about the post-modern academic position that text, language, is a trap, that defines your thinking according to its own parameters. This sort of post-modernism I would define as the kind I don’t like, distinct from the literature of the sixties that emerged from what was called “black humor.” But that writing, rich in paradox, is like a saxophone blowing as a band leader, pursuing humor, nonsense, counter-intuitive logic. “Catch-22″ as a short-circuit, that calls out other such short-circuits, and so begins to name the nameless thing, creating a space where one can breathe truly.
Thinking about breath, yoga. The trick to playing a horn is circular breathing, where the inhales and exhales are each continuous, the body as a conduit. If I am understanding correctly. The air flows in as it flows out.
This sort of writing, this sort of music, this sort of art, is considered uncommercial, and so goes unmarketed to the masses ostensibly because it doesn’t appeal to very many people. I would argue that it is uncommercial not because it doesn’t appeal but because the goals of this work, to rewire meaning, counter the narratives of capitalism, which has a logic which is meant to make sense, although it only rarely does. It insists that things must make sense, even as they don’t, a claim is made to a system. Work that defies systems to make its own, that is forever falling apart and falling back together in a breath. I don’t need to understand anything precisely correctly if I can intuit the general shape.
A joke I made once, that is barely a joke, more of an observation, is that Ornette Coleman once wanted to castrate himself, to remove the sexuality from his music and his being. His doctor persuaded him to just get circumcised. Later he went on to have a son, and this son was named Denardo, which seems to imply, linguistically, the product of a man’s castration.