Something About Nothing – A Musical Romp

For the first time since starting this blog I have nothing to write about. I typically have 2-3 ideas rattling around in my head. Today, however, this human disk drive is empty, my heart is bereft of inspiration, my brain lacks  focus. Good news however; today I shall write about nothing! There is actually more to say about nothing than you might think. The literature is ample; many have written extensively on nothing, so I can say with certainty there is something to say about nothing.

Between something and nothing there is a compelling dialectic, well demonstrated by my lunchtime visit with two work mates a few days ago. We were setting up equipment for an event. The pace of work was very slow, so slow in fact that it felt like we were doing absolutely nothing. When the procurement of an extension cord, a something, took about forty minutes I realized I had my theme: There is always something to say, even about nothing. Wanting to write something about nothing a song immediately came to mind, Billy Preston’s Nothin’ from nothin,’ a song with a particular sound along with a special meaning and significance. Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’ / You gotta have somethin’ if you wanna be with me.

A simple and literal reading of the lyric is mathematically precise, 0-0=0. Upon close inspection however the song describes issues of power sharing within human relationships. For two to become one in any sense requires negotiation, respect and imagination. Paying attention to social challenges can be tiring, however. A shift in attitude, and a change in music sometimes helps. Take Simon and Garfunkel’s Feelin’ Groovy a song about doing nothing, sung with a smile.

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy

My schedule- and outcome-focused self aligns well with Shakespeare’s complaint in Much Ado About Nothing. The Bard suggests that attention to serious matters alone deserves attention and enthusiastic response. I tend to agree as I prefer an ordered and systematic approach to gatherings and relationships. As I still find it hard to “live and let live” I remember a music workshop I once attended where the instructor asked us to write down our approach to music and music making. It seems we were all dreadfully earnest as Pablo returned with a simple message for all of us: “Don’t worry, be happy!” Point taken.

In a more classical vein, I remember learning about the American Experimental Composer John Cage’s most controversial composition 4’33” (Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds) while an undergraduate music student at the University of Victoria. 4’33” is a three-movement composition where the score “instructs performers not to play their instruments during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements. The piece consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed.” While the performers produce no sound (nothing) there is music discovered in the environment in which the piece is experienced (something). Performed on instruments of any size or type and in any combination including orchestra, the real instruments become human elements such as breath or heartbeat, distracting physical movements, the whirrs of equipment which keeps performance spaces comfortable, traffic, sirens, planes and anything at all. 4′33″ became for Cage “the epitome of his idea that any auditory experience may constitute music” (Wiki). For Cage, all of life is music.

Opdracht GPD; componist John Cage , kop *23 juni 1988

I can say with conviction that while one can photograph a black hole in space, that nothing is difficult to observe and something I shall continue to avoid. I think we can also agree that the above is interesting but nothing to write home about.

In sum, I am pleased to say that writing about nothing has given birth to two more blog themes. All is not lost; both heart and mind are again roused, so watch this space . . . 

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