when facts exceed my curiosity

A couple of quotes grabbed my attention during Timothy Wu’s segment from this weekend’s On the Media broadcast.

They were quotes from Walter Lippmann. I ran down a reference to their original context in his book, Public Opinion.

Regarding the Lippmann’s opinion that humans are not equipped to be the “informed citizenry” needed by democracy theory, he says that we become reductive when complex “facts exceed our curiosity.”

Also he comments on the role of symbols.

“The making of one general will out of a multitude of general wishes is an art well known to leaders, politicians and steering committees. It consists essentially in the use of symbols which detach emotions after they have been detached from their ideas.”

I found this entire quote via a google search which linked me into a power point slide presentation for a course from Berkeley last year. Here’s a link to the pdf: [pdf of a slide presentation on propaganda]

I was laying in bed dozing when someone began quoting Lippmann beginning with the “facts exceed our curiosity” quote. Suddenly my mind struggled to wakefulness realizing these were interesting ideas.

Although Lippmann was writing in early part of the 20th c. his ideas seem salient to an understanding of dumbing down of discourse.  I also was intrigued by the idea that symbol relates to emotions detached from ideas. Not sure how accurate any of these things are, but certainly food for thought.

Speaking of food, I need to go grocery shopping this morning. I kind of ran out of mental and physical energy yesterday afternoon. I was in the middle of doing my bills when I received a late notice that Turtle Island String Quartet would be presenting a lecture recital in about an hour at Hope College.

I decided to attend.

Later I would figure out that my exposure to this group was at the beginning of its career in the late 80s.  I like that they are a group of composers who play their own music for string quartet. I did wonder a bit about the “freshness” of their music. Their latest CD is “Have you ever been…?”


David Balakrishnan is one of the founding members and did one fourth of the speaking yesterday.  I have been thinking about music in terms of “freshness” lately.  “Fresh music” is sort of how I am thinking of music that takes into account how we listen and think at this point in time.  The Turtle Island Quartet ended their little noon recital yesterday with their rendition of “All Along the Watchtower.” It was a nice arrangement but as an ending piece it seemed to not necessarily engage the restless young crowd already thinking of their next class. I wondered what the music meant to the young musicians who made up most of their audience. I caught a furiously nodding head out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to see who was “digging the groove” it turned out to be someone who looked like a professor not a student.

So Hendrix and Dylan. Hmmm.  I like Hendrix and Dylan. But when Mark Sumers the fantastic cellist answered a question about what music occupies him in his private life it was accompanying his 22 year old son at the piano on jazz tunes and listening to the Beatles on his Ipod.

Again, hmmmmm. Elvis Costello released a fascinating album this week. Next week Bruce Springsteen comes out with a new CD. These are not exactly revolutionary or obscure composers. I wonder why Sumers and The Turtle Island String Quartet aren’t doing what many thoughtful jazzers are doing and using the wonderful improv approach to more contemporary tunes.

In my initial response to Costello’s CD in particular I hear some pretty solid interesting self consciously tuneful melodies that would hold up under some jazz approaches. Not to mention the many recordings you can find of tunes by Radiohead and others.

I have kind of a funny relationship to jazz. David Balakrishnan pointed out that the two younger newer additions to the quartet, Mads Tolling (30 years old) and Jeremy Kittel (26 years old), had both had more academic opportunity to hone their abilities in the area of jazz and improv than the older members, himself and Somers.

I keep wondering just what a systemized (not to say frozen) approach to the wonderful world of jazz as a performer is all about. I know it helps me to learn to play in the style of great jazz pianists. But that is about the technique and the already existing corpus of music. I think that there is a bit of drawback when a style becomes so systematized as to enter the hallowed halls of academically sanctioned recognition.

I heard Balakrishnan using the word jazz to describe his and the quartet’s music.  All four referred to rock and roll, claves rhythms, scottish and irish fiddle music, back beat, comping and so on. I feel more at home in music that struggles for a clear vocab to define itself.  The word Jazz in many contexts seems to have become the term of choice for something that’s not really about 20th century music styles of Morton, Ellington, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and others.

For example in Ann Arbor there is an Episcopal community that has “jazz” services. They do the 20th century jazz thing mentioned above. But they also do almost any other style that occurs to them to put into their worship.

Anyway, I do go on. I need to stop and go do stuff.

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0 thoughts on “when facts exceed my curiosity

  1. Do these musicians have other pursuits that provide income? It seems to me that when you travel, a lot, your ability to intellectualize anything decreases substantially. I have traveled extensively, away from family, comfort, rest etc. It is exhausting. I believe it is difficult to focus on fresh ideas when you are trying to maintain a travel schedule. So, “why fix the barn, if it doesn’t leak” may be their operative process while on tour. I haven’t heard their music, but this is a problem with popular styles of music. They eventually, become unpopular. Anyway, it is just a thought and my comments are really not that noteworthy.

  2. Well I just had another thought. I think this new proposal to create a regulation Czar for the internet is a way to curb free expression. It is a disguise for regulation when you say “protect your confidentiality”. That is a load of Horse manure and Nothing in this area by government will be good for the people.
    Wow, two thoughts in a day. Maybe I should go and rest a while. I am exhausted.

  3. Since this group has won two grammys and is up for a possible third on the Jimi Hendrix CD, I speculate that they make a living. They also seem to have real lives with the people they love. The cellist talked about regularly playing music with his 22 year old son and also played a piece dedicated to his sister. So even though they do tour they don’t seem entirely out of touch with life. I was suggesting something else in my post. Namely that musicians (no matter what the style) can settle into comfortable understandings and practices that cease to grow and change. These men do not entirely fit this category since they have two new members who are from the generation of their children. Still, I wonder about how they see music. David Balakrishnan spoke about how he sees their work as American music (as opposed to the classical European understanding of music). I thought he made good sense about this. He explained understands of rhythm that come to American from Africa directly or via Spain or the Caribbean. I also thought he was on track here. Composers have a tendency to think about these things outside of categories. Balakrishan said that classical musicians have mixed it up with jazz musicians since the beginning of jazz. I know this. I also suspect that his definition of jazz and good music is closer to my own than many sitting in the room (prof or student). But that’s just a guess. Incidentally, all four the men in the group could play and improv in amazing ways. They are top notch players.

    Regarding the Internet Czar I think that the freer the Internet the longer it will be remain useful and interesting.

    I’m always interested in your ideas, dude. No need to apologize to me (if that’s who are apologizing to). : )

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