Etching & sketching semiotic materialization and improvisation in the creative process Peter Cudmore School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures University of Edinburgh email@example.com [This is in two parts: transcribed Powerpoint slides, followed by plain text] … I mentioned in passing that the fundamental purpose of brains is to produce future, and this claim deserves a bit more attention. In order to cope, an organism must either armour itself (like a tree or a clam) and ‘hope for the best,’ or else develop methods of getting out of harm’s way and into the better neighbourhoods in its vicinity. If you follow this latter course, you are confronted with the primordial problem that every agent must continually solve: Now what do I do? (Dennett 1991, 177) It depends… What I hope the examples I’m about to discuss will show is two distinct approaches to the business of making music. 1. In media res I was asked to make some ‘classical’ music for a short film. Called Roofrack, it had no dialogue, just the musical tastes of the two protagonists: a car driver and a hitchhiker. Some years later, prompted by a conversation about Bergson and intuition, I found myself recalling a particular episode in that process—specifically, the relationship between the finished product and the starting point. I had already composed a parodied classical symphony first movement. I intended, in this episode, to improvise a Mozartian piano sonata middle movement. I started by improvising at the keyboard. [audio clip 1] Aside from the technical infelicity, two things are obvious: first, there is metrical instability. The first half is more or less in fours, and the second half in threes. Second, there is a rhetorical mismatch Etching & Sketching (Music & Consciousness, Sheffield 2006) Peter Cudmore 2 between the first and second parts; the second half not just more intense than the first, but really out of balance with it. At some point, I decided instead to do a symphonic second movement to go with the first I already had, and used the piano material like this. [audio clip 2] I think, in terms of the sketch and etch relationship, the interesting thing here is that the etch is actually simpler than the sketch. Maybe it is just me, but I kind of expect the etch to be more complex than the sketch. However, what really interests me is that this is just not what I thought composition should be! Noodling at the piano is, in some sense, cheating! More to the point, one’s imagination is constrained by one’s instrumental technique. 2. Pre-compositional sketching What I learned, as a student and then apprentice composer, was a modernist ideology in which the idea of ‘producing future’ may be a mystery temporarily withheld from the audience, but not from the composer. Etching & Sketching (Music & Consciousness, Sheffield 2006) Peter Cudmore One would be sketching an overall plan—a picture like this being the outcome of that sketching process, and not part of it These two slides are a work sort-of-in-progress, an attempt to recreate the pencil & paper process on the PC, and therein lies the rub. 3 Etching & Sketching (Music & Consciousness, Sheffield 2006) Peter Cudmore 4 For years I dreamt of being able to work straight to computer, and cut out the pencil and paper, but I found that using the computer was a very different experience, and this is just where Bergsonian intuition comes in. 3. Etching How might we account for what is going on? Musical literacy of some sort, in both cases, but that term seems to beg the question. It also, though, implicitly raises the problem of ‘what is orality’, and ‘what is improvisation’? Intersubjective technologies Anaphoric intuition Semiotic materialization Representational Redescription If you’ll forgive the snowstorm of neologisms, I call the general area of focus ‘intersubjective technology’ I use the term ‘anaphoric intuition’ for the somatic performance, and ‘semiotic materialization’ for the pencil-and-paper sketching. Both of them, I think, depend on a capability that Annette Karmiloff-Smith calls ‘Representational Redescription’. [Powerpoint section ends] Intersubjectivity Intersubjectivity is a term used in the context of studying communication between pre-linguistic infants and their care-givers where, in the absence of language, there is distinctive evidence of shared control of meaning. Vocal exchanges in this period can be characterized in terms of the development of the prosodic substrate on which oral language is founded—something that I call ‘Somatic Metre’. It sounds singular but is radically polyphonic, using Dennett’s multiple drafts model to turn the Protagorean man, who is ‘the measure of all things’ into a performative. As language—the first intersubjective technology—emerges, a process of integration yields a progression to a point where information in the system becomes knowledge to the system. Semiotic materialization capacities are subsequently accumulated by the developing mind—at least, within modernity this is so. I think this idea of shared control of meaning is very important, and I find it particularly resonant that this regime precedes language acquisition. I feel that the stress on language in the philosophy of mind may be obstructing our view of something that has been in front of our noses all along: I argue that art—in the conventionally restricted sense—should be understood as a class of technologies whose shared property is intersubjectivity, and whose shared function is to support the oral performance of society. In that respect alone art differs from other creative activity—notably discovery and invention. In other respects the cognitive processes engaged by the making of art, discovery and invention share substantial theoretical common ground. The differential between the art experienced in modernity and the art experienced in primarily or exclusively oral culture is not a by-product of the processes of modernization, and not merely a reflection of these processes or a commentary on them but a crucial and indispensable component of these processes in consequence of that shared theoretical common ground. Etching & Sketching (Music & Consciousness, Sheffield 2006) Peter Cudmore 5 Technology I use ‘technology’ as a conceptual rather than material term of path-dependent interrelatedness. Path dependence emerges from the interaction of three conditions: technical interrelatedness; economies of scale; and quasi-irreversibility. In the famous case of the qwerty typewriter keyboard, an arbitrary, sub-optimal layout is locked in (apparently, the layout permitted salesmen to type the word “typewriter” conveniently): In addition to the corporations manufacturing the instrument, and the customers buying it, the instrument required operators (who would not, on the whole, be the purchasing customer) and these operators required training. As an investment, from the customer’s point of view, the value of the instrument depended on the continuing availability of operators. From the operator’s perspective, investing in the necessary training conferred a ‘pecuniary externality’, and in time a symmetrical benefit accrued for an emerging market for instruction in touch-typing that reduced the per-unit cost of undertaking training, and of providing it. Representational Redescription I believe that the same kind of lock-in underpins the cognitive achievements Karmiloff-Smith captures in her term ‘Representational Redescription’. ‘Representations, along with mental states, especially beliefs and thoughts, are said to exhibit INTENTIONALITY in that they refer to or stand for something else.’ (Schwartz) This statement makes explicit the functional coupling between thoughts (the ‘structure of internal representational elements, combined in a lawful way’ (Clark)) and the range of things we purposefully put there in the environment to remind ourselves of these thoughts. Implicitly, a further link is made with what I call ‘the language layer’, the third order of intentionality that Dennett regards as distinctively human. Representational Redescription, as Karmiloff-Smith applies the term, refers to a set of staged learning outcomes broadly related to the childhood acquisition of language and literacy. At first, the child simply has two unrelated representations that perform two different functions. The first step beyond is for this knowledge to become available to the system so that the similarity can be compared. At this second stage, however, the child cannot yet explain the difference between the two different functions. The knowledge has become manifest in the system, but the system requires further development before knowledge becomes fully available to introspection (Clark & KarmiloffSmith 1993, 496–8). The example I like to use is the difference between wool on a sheep’s back, and wool in the clothes we might be wearing on a cooler day than this. The first step is appropriation—at some point our ancestors came to discover the warmth and shelter fleece affords, and made a practice of appropriating that property systematically. Now, carded and spun—re-presented—the fleece loses its real properties but gains imaginary properties. It becomes useful for a variety of potential purposes, but is useful only insofar as such purposes may be conceived. Woven or knitted into textile form—re-described—the original insulating and water-repelling properties of the fleece are real once more, but the imaginary dimension remains because the textile still retains the potential for further translation. To be sure, a lot of that potential is already inscribed in the textile—tweed makes suits, plaid makes kilts and so on—but the end is not ordained, and is not directly inferable from the beginning. Anaphoric intuition Representational Redescription is the process that operationalizes the next element I want to talk about. Intuition is a term that has acquired a specialized meaning for philosophers, one that seems to have a close relationship with geometry. Anaphoric intuition, then, has a developmental dimension to it that links with representational redescription and the conceptual thinking that it enables. Etching & Sketching (Music & Consciousness, Sheffield 2006) Peter Cudmore 6 We find Bergson, in Creative Evolution as elsewhere, repeatedly talking about space. If he does not state it explicitly, we may nevertheless assume that in Bergson’s mind when he talks about space it is a reasoned, geometric account of space. If he does not feel obliged to state it explicitly, it is because he assumes that those in his networld share the same training, the same tacit knowledge. Thus intuition as he defines it depends critically on the conditioning input of others. Not in the banal sense in which canonic thought is the progressive reflection of an ever richer polyphony of opinion, but in a deeper sense in which abstractions—exemplified for instance by Euclid’s postulates—tend to condition the terms in which these reflections are articulated. At issue here is the structuralization and formalization of learning that cumulatively constitutes the achievement of literacy in an individual. Literacy, it seems plain, means something more than just the ability to read, write, and perform arithmetic. It appears to be the acquisition of a repertoire of intuitions, which tend to tumble stochastically according to path-dependent predispositions. I see a three-fold progression from recursion (the homeostatic, native appropriative state), via representation (the ability to detach instance from its temporal context) to re-description (the ability to reuse these detached instances constructively and systematically). Intuition is now coming to seem to be a confidence, or competence, in manipulating these abstractions at the same time as preserving its more natural pattern-completing sense. This is something that does not arise in an individual except through a long process of maturation, nor does it ordinarily reach such a pitch of perfection that it is not amenable to tuning and refinement. Because re-presentation depends critically upon registers and external storage, I am inclined to call this mode ‘extuition’. While any particular register may be rigorously ordered and resistant to the implicit laziness of intuition, the totality of register—the archive, to use Foucault’s term—is amenable to pattern-forming navigation in the organic manner familiar to the term ‘intuition’. This extuition lies between two intuitions, or pattern-completing modes. The first, familiar in oral contexts, is ‘affective intuition’, since it operates with unmediated sensory data. The second is ‘anaphoric intuition’—anaphora being, in grammar, ‘The use of a word which refers to, or is a substitute for, a preceding word or group of words’ (OED). This functions (or so I assume) in the same way as affective intuition, but the crucial difference is that the principles of substitution must be learned—and by learned I mean that someone other than the individual intended that the individual should learn it. Thus anaphoric intuition correlates with the geometrical apprehension of intuition. The point, in respect of the first example of music-making that I presented, is that mostly it just made itself out of these pre-installed intuitions. Semiotic materialization The second example reflects the continuation of representational redescription processes in adulthood. Striking support (I believe) comes from an example Andy Clark discusses in Mindware (2001, 147–50), following research conducted by Van Leeuwen, Verstijnen, and Hekkert into the practices of visual artists. These subjects’ practices are ‘heavily dependent on “an interactive process of imagining, sketching and evaluating”’ (147). That is how my second example seems to me. I’ve taken to calling this ‘semiotic materialization’, because the process seems to me to be an active search for appropriate, communicative forms of expression—a making gesture in which the progression from immaterial to material needn’t necessarily be complete, and possibly needs not to be complete. The focus of van Leeuwen et al. is the function of sketch-making in the creative process. Why do painters make preparatory sketches, rather than committing their conception directly and immediately to the frame? What the team uncovers is a sharp distinction between the capacity for manipulating abstract mental images—for thinking about images—and the way in which in which perceptive faculties parse incoming sense data. In particular, synthesis is easier to perform in realtime than analysis—while it is fairly simple to look at the letters D and J, and imagine them Etching & Sketching (Music & Consciousness, Sheffield 2006) Peter Cudmore 7 recombined to form the shape of an umbrella, decomposing complex forms into simpler components on the fly is much more difficult. Certain forms of abstract art … depend heavily on the deliberate creation of ‘multilayered meanings’—cases in which a visual form, on continued inspection, supports multiple different structural interpretations. Given the postulated constraints on mental imagery, it is likely that the discovery of such multiply interpretable forms will depend heavily on the kind of trial-anderror process in which we first sketch and then perceptually (not imaginatively) reencounter the forms, which we can then tweak and resketch so as to create an increasingly multilayered set of structural interpretations. (149) The relationship between iteration and environmental feedback, between externalizing and reassimilating is, Clark stresses, integral to artistic cognition. What usefully isolates creativity as a performance, in these terms, is precisely the focused, iterative attention—the element of intentional return. The defect in the convenient approximation of this procedure as ‘trial-and-error’ lies with the second term. The term I would substitute is simply ‘feed’. Any ‘trial’ is subject to a range of feedback possibilities, from negative to positive, passing through no-feedback-at-all. Negative versus positive is a false opposition; what matters for a learning experience is that feedback occurs at all. More often than not, null feedback response is the norm. Rather than an opposition between positive and negative feedback, the appropriate modifier that fosters creativity is the idea of feedforward. Technically speaking, feed-forward behaviour is predefined response to measured perturbation, especially when the state after perturbation is stable in such environments as gene regulation of growth. In this sense the sketch is a temporary eigenvector, enabling the experimental exploration of a local space that can subsequently be re-sketched as stability is established, or etched in the sense in which a product is finalized and presented for inspection. The product can be a work of art, and equally it can be the reporting of experimental data in a scientific paper. Competence Rather than literacy, then, I prefer to think in terms of a set of three interrelated competences—oral, symbolic and conceptual—mobilized by representational redescription. Symbolic here is more a matter of semiotic knowhow, whether alphabetic script, math notation or music, whereas the conceptual is more concerned with the personal cognitive management of the set of symbolic mindtools. Of the two examples, the first tends more to the oral: despite the symphonic artifice, the process of capturing performance in media res and layering it is more like—for instance—studio work with a band. The second tends more to the conceptual, though both are supported by the symbolic. I guess it would be useful to say something about what I intended to communicate in each case, and to whom. But that’ll have to wait until some other time. Etching & Sketching (Music & Consciousness, Sheffield 2006) Peter Cudmore 8 Bibliography Bergson, H. (1911). Creative Evolution. (A. Mitchell, Trans.) London: Macmillan. Clark, A. (1993). Associative Engines: Connectionism, Concepts, and Representational Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Clark, A. (1994). Language of thought (2). In S. Guttenplan (Ed.), A Companion to the Philosopy of Mind. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd. Clark, A. (2001). Mindware: an introduction to the philosophy of cognitive science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 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