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random access apologetic part 4

Bloged in RAM, cognition, culture by rod Sunday November 13, 2005

In the real world, everything seems to be becoming more random access. Music reflects it as texture becomes more important than harmony or form, ambience becomes as important as melody, melodic phrases and textual phrases are different lengths, yet superimposed. The “vertical” aspect of music, (or “moment-in-time”) which may be textural, or layers, rather than harmonic interest, is quickly replacing linear direction and functional harmony. Even in pop music, key is sometimes obscured by remote tonal shifts between verse and chorus, and chords are used interchangeably between parallel major and minor keys.
In movies, it is becoming common for the first scene to represent the present time, rather than the beginning of a story that will bring us to the present. Sometimes the ending is told before the story is presented, but can’t be understood without context of the past. Sometimes every scene is a what-if scenario based on the previous scene, and they don’t have to be sequential. Folks who complain about this usually say something like “it was too hard to follow,” but miss the point in that the point may not have been to follow it. Not all stories are best told front to back, and if it is thought necessary to re-order events to make sense of them, many lessons may be lost.
Jesus didn’t tell his story front to back. We argue all day about which events described in the revelation are still to take place or had already happened when they were written. The salvation story is not being told front to back.
In Music Theory I, one of the first things that I talk about is the fact that there is info that we’ll need to go over that won’t make complete sense until they have the next bit as well. It doesn’t matter which thing we discuss first, the other is needed to make better sense of it. Forgive me, but this is true of most everything in life. There is nothing quite as exciting as the epiphany of instantly seeing how so many mysterious things come together to make sense.
Even when speaking linearly, we recognize that we often can’t make sense of something until it is understood in light of later events or circumstances. We say, “hindsight is 20/20.” In music, we use pivot chords to change keys, so that when they are heard, they are interpreted using the context of the current key, but once the ear moves to the new key, the chord is remembered not as having been in the old key, but in how it relates to the new key. We call this re-interpretation. A chord can relate completely differently to the chords immediately on either temporal side of it.
When studying music on a details level, students often wonder how a work can be considered to be in a particular key when, in fact, it visits many keys along the way. But on a higher, broader level, we note that each of the visited keys serve as harmonic movement that help to define the real key of the piece. This is beyond sequential understanding because linearly, the keys seem only to relate to the ones that came just before or just after them.
I often refer to Jesus’ teaching methods to illustrate the putting into place of bits of information to access randomly, but also as an apologetic for artistic expression of the gospel and the courage not always to tell the whole story at once. I’ve mentioned to students that I think it is possible that Jesus rarely if ever spoke straight-up in literal language to his disciples. I think of when he asked Peter who he thought Jesus was. Jesus said that flesh and blood had not revealed that to him, even though Jesus had been, in flesh and blood, teaching him all along. I also think of Jesus’ conversation with the twelve on the night before his death in which he refers to his having been speaking figuratively. The disciples respond to his comments by saying that he is no longer talking in figures of speech. I believe that the whole of Jesus’ teaching never painted a complete picture necessary for understanding, until he was finished. When all the pieces were in place, the lights came on for those who would believe. The salvation story and the kingdom of God could not be understood sequentially, he never presented a step by step process of living in the kingdom, receiving the Holy Spirit, or anything. He told them that the Spirit of truth would come and lead them to all truth. He put the elements in place that would come together to form understanding.

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