Antenati: A New Phenomenology
of Meaning in Music
When Gideon Crevoshay first approached me in the fall of 2018 about recording an album of contemporary vocal music, I had no expectation other than to explore—in the spirit of Pauline Oliveros—strange new worlds with a longtime fellow traveler. We experimented with various improvised ‘vocal scores’ for several days at The Honey Jar in Brooklyn when at one point Gideon asked to record six-minutes of long-tones and then to accompany himself.
A Familiar Stranger
The ability to accompany one’s self is something that we take for granted these days, and yet a fairly profound technological feat. The synergies created when voices blend are an age old charmer, kindling almost mystical enchantment throughout history the world over. Kindred singers were the basis for some of the most spellbinding groups of the golden-age of recorded music. Sibling duos and trios have been particularly captivating because there is a kind of extra sensory perception that emerges between performers who know each other well and have a long history together. Performing with a sibling is the closest thing to performing with, say, a copy of yourself.
But Gideon thought of a very special thing. He laid down six minutes of must-ness. Six minutes of whatever-he-felt-ness, in the form of what we call long-tones. Whatever pitch he felt like singing, held for about as long as the breath could sustain. If it felt a little tense, he would vary it slightly until it felt right. He laid it down without a thought or a care. And then he sang with himself… and because he didn’t really remember what he had done, it wasn’t like laying down harmonies or backing vocals. It wasn’t like the doubling Sir Paul McCartney is so famous for. It was more like singing with someone else. A familiar stranger.
And so Gideon tried to blend with that person. To hold something in contrast to them, creating a difference—a thing called an interval—and then sensing the gravity of that interval upon his attention, attraction or repulsion. Sometimes he would vary his pitch to increase the attraction. Sometimes he would hold still or resist slightly. All the while, his identity was merging into that of the stranger. He had found a way of adding to it without taking anything away. Of coalescing so that he and the stranger disappeared into the whole.
At this point I had an idea: what if we kept adding these layers, but instead of making it thicker, we could proceed in threes? Like a musical stagecoach team, each horse pulling once in every position—right, left and center. At each new stage, a new horse goes in, an old one comes out. Gideon, for his part, would feel that he was in an ever-evolving troika of Gideons. Reacting and moving towards and away from each other. A sibling team with a preternatural kinship, singing a song evolved from first principles of intervallic magnetism, ever driving forward.
We worked without speaking for the next two hours.
The impact of what we experienced that night took several years to reverberate through our busy psyches and schedules and it wasn’t until during the pandemic, when Micah Silver invited us to finish the composition at BlackHole in Los Angeles that my journey as a composer began in earnest. We worked through all twenty-three takes of long-tones eventually fashioning nine distinct movements in which,
ever-shifting harmonic cadences, tonal centers and dynamic levels induce the ‘orchestra of overtones’, evolving to the tempo of the breath continually for 54 minutes.
This description—from the program at the opening on November 21, 2021—would be the first of many efforts to put into words the meaning of this new compositional approach we would come to call antenati.
Antenati is a new compositional practice.
But it involves concepts we don’t find in music theory or performance technique.
In order to adequately describe antenati and place it in context, I’m going to establish a phenomenology of artistic practice.
Once the conceptual basis has been laid, I will go on to describe the practice in detail and highlight some of its implications for meaning in music.
Finally I will speculate as to how a phenomenological analysis of meaning might benefit us as a society.
The Problem With Language
A Riot of Color
When someone first tastes a glass of wine, the mind is awash in new
information. Often there is a mix of propositions—this wine is french—and sensory experiences—like the flavor of leather and tobacco. Indeed, what some sommeliers call “critical tasting” involves comparing the two kinds of knowledge in order to form beliefs about taste experiences. But as encounters pile up, several things are likely to happen.
Insights which resemble each other will gradually become familiar.
And the brain quickens to subtle unfamiliarities which are then perceived as new experiences.
From here on out, we enter a world in which,
“every visual detail bursts forth in a riot of ultrasaturated color. It had an intensity and vividness — an almost electric quality... A friend, tasting it across the table, compared it to a well-designed neon sign. These images remained in my head long after I swallowed the wine,”
What Alex Halberstadt is describing in the New York Times, regarding one of Maggie Harrison’s wines, are mental phenomena — detailed, textured, tactile places Alex has been and can only conjure for us with words like “riot of color” and “neon sign”.
Esoteric mental phenomena comprise a fair amount of human experience, yet we don’t have a lot of words for talking about them.
Hence, much acquired wisdom remains variously locked in people's minds as experience or shrouded in metaphor and paradoxical axiom.
At our recording session in The Honey Jar, Gideon and I eventually played all twenty-three takes of long tones—what would go on to become Superstructures, the first antenati composition—altogether simultaneously,
It was as if a window were opened onto the very passage of time itself
As if beholding the unfolding genealogy of galaxies
Such similes can in-and-of-themselves inspire to convey some of what it feels like to have a powerful and novel experience.
But for the artist who wishes to make processes of ephemeral soft-skills, and to revise and modify and ultimately convey them, a more considerate language is needed.
The Search for Tools
For five years, the full significance of the practice hovered on the edge of my awareness. I was convinced I lacked the necessary building blocks to even think let alone talk about it; so I became obsessed with definitions and glossaries, gradually inventing the tools I would need to uncover its full meaning.
Understanding that antenati bypasses thinking, I focused my efforts on the body and how meaning is processed through the senses. This led me to the field of biosemiotics.
Borrowed terms like umwelt, and functional circle allowed me to think about the moving parts of the practice without collapsing into an exhaustion of word-salad.
I ultimately came to recognize that antenati gives rise to meaning patterns with implications across various fields of human thought and experience.
This led me to distinguish antenati as a phenomenological art form.
In the following pages, I will introduce some terms, define “phenomenological art form” and distinguish it from other types of artistic experience and practice.
Why are certain human behaviors marked as special in our minds as opposed to others?
Why does one performance of the same song stand above another?
Phenomenal practice seeks to answer these questions.
Alex Haberstadt describes one of Maggie Harrison’s wines by putting into words the experience of tasting it.
A “riot of color” and a “neon sign” are striking descriptions of what philosophers of mind refer to as “qualia”, or the qualitative characteristics of sensation that make up subjective experience.
The term qualia comes from the Latin adjective quālis meaning "of what sort" or "of what kind" and encapsulates the “what-it’s-like-ness” of moments in time—the redness of a glass of wine, but moreover, the particular redness of this particular glass at this particular moment.
The Knowledge Argument
In Epiphenomenal Qualia, Australian philosopher Frank Cameron Jackson distinguishes qualia from other types of knowledge by proposing that a scientist named Mary, being isolated in a room somehow devoid of color, though she had been informed of every mathematical and conceptual fact and principle regarding wavelengths of light and had furthermore internalized and made meaning of every conceivable aspect of physics, optics and neurophysiology, will nonetheless gain knowledge of something new when she emerges from the room and experiences color for the first time.
This experiment is intended to demonstrate that an ability to gain direct knowledge of a moment in time through the senses is a kind of superpower through which knowledge becomes available in zipped form, uncompressing in the brain as mental phenomena.
This knowledge stands in direct contrast to everything Mary had learned about color while isolated in the room—what could be called her propositional attitudes.
Consequently, if Mary were ever to return, she would surely have more to say than when she left having gone from one kind of knowing to another.
Qualia are the building blocks of phenomenal practice.
They give rise to the soft skills of expertise in music, acting, sports, anything where “mental focus” can take you from middling to extraordinary.
Even the term “phenomenal”, often used to describe when things are outstanding or remarkable, speaks to the extra-special way some human endeavors resonate when observed.
But the qualia of a performer’s experiences aren’t directly observable. They are inherently personal and can only be known by the person experiencing them.
So when we observe a phenomenal performance, we are rather observing behavioral responses to qualia.
And what distinguishes one performance from another is the relationship of the performer to the particular moment in time, or to the qualia in question.
Ordinarily, qualia are but one aspect of subjective experiences which among other things includes an entire architecture of propositional attitudes that make up the psyche.
Often assumed to be the basic building blocks of thought, propositional attitudes are states of mind which exist in relation to ideas and are experienced as either true or false.
We may think of them as beliefs about experiences.
In order for qualia to give rise to “phenomenal” performances, they must be isolated from propositional attitudes, memories of different experiences and expectations as to what will happen in the future.
In other words, they must become mere.
When mental qualia are completely divorced from propositional attitudes— when our experiences are untainted by what we believe about them— then knowledge of mere qualia becomes possible and the direct transmission of phenomenal practice takes place.
Imagine we are gathered outside the room when Mary emerges. If we’re close enough to see her face, we may react with powerful emotions of our own.
This sympathetic reflex is an example of the transportive quality of direct behavioral responses to mere qualia.
The same mechanism is at work when we speak of the transportive quality of certain works of art.
The effect is about more than the information conveyed by the behavior (she exclaims “wow”).
The effect is about more even than the meaning Mary is making of the knowledge of the quale of color.
It’s rather a direct transmission of “what-it’s-like-ness” from one subject to another in a kind of inclusive compressed form.
Mark Rothko referred to what I’m calling direct transmission when he once said in an interview,
The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.
In What Is Art, Tolstoy says,
A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist — not that alone, but also between himself and all whose minds receive this work of art. In this freeing of our personality from its separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art.
How this call-and-response effect works is not fully known. But it’s a fundamental mechanism underlying phenomenal practice and what makes certain human behaviors resonate as more “phenomenal” than others.
Boundary of Rules
When we observe a footballer improvising within the informational system of football/soccer, who sees an opportunity and seizes upon it to physically bring about a meaningful resolution to the narrative, we not only understand the resolution of the narrative (yay, we won!), but we acquire knowledge of what the footballer experienced in their accession to that moment in compressed form by observation.
The resolution of the tension-release pattern combined with the direct knowledge of the quale of that moment, is what creates the massive energy that fills the football/soccer arena.
One can imagine the amount of tension released in a pub where the game is televised versus a pub where word is simply announced.
It’s more than the narrative resolution that excites, it’s the behavioral response to mere qualia (by the player) and the corresponding compressed transmission by observation (to the observer).
Flirtation With Perfection
The Spanish term duende has been used to describe the quality of performance we are calling phenomenal.
Mastery of presence within a moment in time can turn a record of that moment, however flawed in detail, into a flirtation with perfection.
Having duende can be compared to the American concept of having “soul”.
That wonderful singer El Lebrijano, creator of the Debla, said: ‘On days when I sing with duende no one can touch me.’ (Lorca)
Federico García Lorca identified duende with darkness because he recognized that mere qualia awakens knowledge of mortality.
‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that… Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who… hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’ (Lorca)
Mere qualia reminds us of mortality because it reveals that our subjective identities are bound to instantiation in time, hence temporary. It pulls back the curtain on the movie of reality and discloses that we are but a single frame of luminous urgency flickering inexorably in a moment no less evanescent than the last.
Propositional attitudes fortify the myth of continuity (the myth of equilibrium) and stave off existential fear.
Thus, the abolition of propositional attitudes in order to attain knowledge of mere qualia carries risk.
This may help explain why, when given the option, more and more people are happy to rely upon technology to accomplish things such as singing in tune or playing in time—things that in the past would have required a measure of mere phenomenal experience to accomplish.
Lorca described duende as a force that inhabits the performer. This is in line with the way many artists speak about artistic practice. But in phenomenal practice, duende can be better understood as a structure or mental model we create in the mind according to a set of rules which defines the artwork or activity.
This is more than the lyrics and melody to a song. It’s also the feelings of the character who is singing and the overall feeling of the music and arrangement. It might be a synthesis of aspects of past masterful performances. It is the sum total of the feeling or spirit of the artist’s version of the work. A duende structure is similar to a memory in that it’s a detailed, often emotionally complex model of an experience, not a list of attributes. It is, in short, a mental model of the quale of the piece.
Biosemiotics pioneer Jakob Von Uexküll describes the entire subjective universe of a living organism as its umwelt. He conceives of the umwelt almost as we would a spaceship, a perceptual bubble inhabited by a conscious agent. All of the complexities of the outside world must be negotiated through the simple instruments on the control panel of this ship.
At first glance, it might not sound very satisfying or dramatic to be a tick, but think about living life with only three senses—smell, heat and feel—in dogged pursuit of one simple meaning-rule.
The tick sits motionless on the tip of a branch until a mammal passes below it. The smell of the butyric acid awakens it and it lets itself fall. It lands on the coat of its prey, through which it burrows to reach and pierce the warm skin with its sting… The pursuit of this simple meaning rule constitutes almost the whole of the tick's life. (Von Uexküll)
In phenomenal practice, the boundaries and rules of the duende structure must be doggedly pursued as the only meaning rule, as if the duende structure comprises the artist’s entire subjective universe.
Therefore, the artist must learn to bring their perceptual bubble to some extent inside the boundary of rules describing the duende structure. That is to say, the artist must fully inhabit the duende structure rather than the other way around.
Insofar as the artist’s umwelt = duende structure, the artist will be free to react from within that subjective universe and those behavioral responses will correspond in counterpoint to the quale of the duende structure.
Welcome To The Planetarium
In this sense, the artist’s umwelt is a flexible, malleable and constructed thing. Using the powers of the imagination, the artist may lay out before their own senses the instruments and controls necessary to negotiate those aspects of reality that serve the rules and boundaries of the artworks which exist in their minds.
The key to this lies in meaning. For an umwelt contains only those objects that carry meaning for the subject. In identifying and doggedly pursuing the meaning rule that governs the relationship between the artist and the meaning carriers in the duende structure, the artist creates a kind of inner- or secondary-umwelt.
We may now think of the duende structure as a planetarium constructed inside the mind. Projected upon the enormous domed ceiling are constellations of symbols which define the artwork and for which the structure was created. When the artist begins creating meaning-relationships with these symbols, the artist’s behavioral responses are joined with them in counterpoint, and the quale of the duende structure is transmitted to the observer.
Von Uexküll has a very beautiful concept of counterpoint that I have adopted and will try to convey here. We might tend to think of point and counterpoint as one thing’s answer to another, a call and response like “thrust and parry” but Von Uexküll’s sense of the meaning is more subtle. In The Theory of Meaning he says,
The flower is a collection of counterpoints that act upon the bee;
The color of the flower, although not the same to the bees as it is to us, serves them, nevertheless, as a positive perceptual cue because the flower and the bees are composed in counterpoint to each other. (Von Uexküll)
He uses the exquisite patchwork of partnerships, perceptual alignments, unlikely assists, and puzzle-like intricacy in the natural world to illustrate a kind of ontological call and response, a structural counterpoint in which subjects are joined with the objects in their subjective universes. He goes even deeper when talking about the octopus and its relationship to water,
Let us take, as the first example, the octopus, designated as the subject in its relationship to sea-water as the meaning-carrier. We will immediately perceive a contrapuntal relationship. The fact that water cannot be compressed is the precondition for the construction of the octopus muscular swim-bag. The pumping movements of the swim-bag have a mechanical effect on the noncompressible water that propels the animal backwards. The rule that governs the properties of sea-water acts upon… the development of the octopus form to express the properties of sea-water in a counterpoint; first and foremost, an organ is produced whose muscular walls force the water in and out. The rule of meaning that joins point and counterpoint is expressed in the action of swimming.
According to Von Uexküll, no objects will appear in an organism’s umwelt unless the object contains meaning for that organism and so his idea of counterpoint is an expression of his theory of meaning.
The handle of a coffee-cup demonstrates without doubt the contrapuntal relationship of the coffee and the human hand… The meaning to us of our household utensils… can always be traced back to the bridge that is built between [us] and the utensils' counterpoints… The chair is a seating accommodation that rises from the floor, whose meaning lies in its being a number of bridges to various counterpoints. Its seating surface, back and armrests find their counterpoint in the human body, to which they form bridges, while the legs of the chair form distinct bridges to the counterpoint, ground.
In both of these examples, the meaning that defines these contrapuntal relationships is related to form and he in fact hypothesizes that physical forms are indeed joined, not by chance over enormous spans of time, but by meaning. He points to the sun as being responsible for the development of the eye and in a kind of epistemological sleight-of-hand, turns it around on the sun, declaring that conversely the eye is also responsible for the sun.
The body that houses the subject on the one hand produces the symbols that populate the surrounding garden and is, on the other hand, the product of these very same symbols that are the meaningful themes in constructing it.
The sun owes its shine and its form high up in the sky that extends over the garden to the eye, as the window of the body that houses ourself. At the same time, the sun is the theme guiding the construction of the window.
He proposes a theory of the development of forms in which meaning is a kind of fifth fundamental force of nature, responsible for all the intricate joinery we observe in the parquet mosaic of the natural world. A world in which our forms create the objects that appear to us, objects which in turn are responsible for the development of our forms, being joined with us in biosemiotic counterpoint.
This same principle is operating and illustrative as to the workings of the duende planetarium we have now imagined. Just as living organisms behave in biosemiotic counterpoint to meaning carriers in their physical environment, so by bringing the spaceship of our subjective universe inside of the planetarium, the artist behaves in phenomenal counterpoint to the symbols projected upon the mental firmament of the duende structure. Now, looking through the spaceship windows at what appears to be the outside world, we are actually looking at the domed ceiling of the planetarium and the array of symbols which hold, for us, the meaning of the artwork we have come to fully inhabit. The symbols that populate that ersatz firmament spring out of the subjective universe that’s observing them while also having played a role in the formation of that universe—in this instance, the mental model-universe the artist has created in order to occupy the artwork.
So in the physical world, the meaning rule that joins point and counterpoint—the musculature of the octopus and water—is expressed in the action of swimming. Whereas in the phenomenal world, the rule that joins my ability to feel deep aching sorrow (point) to a lyric about lost love (counterpoint), is expressed in the action of singing.
Because it seeks to answer some of the same questions, one might expect phenomenal practice to intersect with aesthetics. But though phenomenal practice does give rise to a kind of aesthetic regime, it’s a regime based upon the artist’s experience of mere qualia rather than the formal qualities of the behavioral responses themselves.
Phenomenal practice represents an alternative value system to formal aesthetics and places absolute value on the mental states of the artist. Formal qualities are derived from their bodily responses to mere qualia based upon contrapuntal meaning relationships formed within the duende structure.
Phenomenological Art Forms
Open and Closed Structures
Duende structures can be closed and open to varying degrees. We have imagined the planetarium with constellations of meaning carriers projected upon the dome in a semblance of the celestial heavens. But sometimes duende structures describe artworks with no specific meaning-carriers. These are duende structures we would describe as open.
A Georgian choir is operating within mostly closed duende structures, defined by many repetitions over many generations of singers. However, to the degree that the subjective universe of the singers is brought inside the duende structure, that is the degree to which the singing will transmit the quale of the song to the observer.
John Coltrane, on the other hand, created a system with very open duende structures wherein his quartet could give direct expression to their phenomenal experiences. The relationships within the group, the drugs they took, even the presence of audiences could all be characterized as ritual elements which served to facilitate knowledge of mere qualia within the boundaries of the structures he defined. For Coltrane the duende structures were open enough to allow for direct representation of mental states, but closed enough to ensure group cohesion.
Abstract expressionism is another example of very open duende structures which allow for direct representation of mere qualia. The structures are closed by color choices and reliance upon bodily gestures or other means of getting paint to canvas. But open with respect to almost every other aspect of painting.
Stream-of-consciousness writing and stand up comedy are also phenomenal practices with very open duende structures.
With open duende structures, behavioral responses become direct representations of mere qualia within an artist’s umwelt as opposed to within the dome of the closed duende. In these circumstances, the structure of the duende serves only to create the inner-umwelt or secondary subjective universe from which the artist observes and responds to mere qualia in the primary umwelt of the artist which can include their thoughts, memories, fears and fantasies as well as sensational stimuli from the physical world.
When duende structures are very open, phenomenological art forms become possible.
Whereas in phenomenal practice, behavioral responses to mere qualia sympathetically kindle knowledge of the quale of the performance in the observer, in the phenomenological art form, the artist’s physical responses directly represent the mental states to which they are responding in counterpoint.
With phenomenological art forms, deep levels of meaning can be tapped and woven into narrative structures.
Patterns often begin to emerge which resonate across varying fields of human thought and experience.
The basic emergent pattern which characterizes a phenomenological art form is the life-cycle.
Cardinal Time Frame [c]
The word antenati is Italian for “the ancestors” and the practice is so named because its basic structure is organized around an analogy of the life-cycle, the cardinal time frame [c]
[c] = a frequency
[c] = an oscillation
[c] = a canonic displacement
[c] = an input delay
[c] = a self reflection
[c] = a perceptual calendar
[c] = a familial structure
[c] = the circumference of a spiral
Total Emotional Certainty
Mortality salience (knowledge of our own death) presents an obstacle to experiencing mere qualia. Therefore in order to undertake phenomenological practice the artist must create conditions wherein they are buffered against existential fear.
The cardinal time frame can act as a buffer-zone between our conscious and the subconscious. A place for them to cooperate with each other. It acts as both a structure and a support, mediating between these two states and modifying them through the mechanism of time.
The purpose of the cardinal time frame is to establish the internal condition of total emotional certainty. Only in a state of complete freedom from anxiety can the artist become fully aware of the present moment and react with clarity.
The function of the cardinal time frame is to establish a perceptual environment for the artist. It physically forms the umwelt which is the vehicle by which the artist creates, navigates and sustains the antenati canon.
The cardinal time frame takes the form of a six-minute canonic displacement with one repetition.
This can be achieved by using an input-signal-delay, with a length of six minutes and a feedback function set for one repetition.
This form creates a three-voice canon.
As with the planetarium of the closed duende structure, the antenati canon becomes a closed perceptual environment for the artist performing within the cardinal time frame.
If we recall the tick which responds only to three meaning carriers in its umwelt—smell (prey), heat (skin) and feel (escape)—we can imagine a focused and reduced secondary umwelt formed within the open duende structure of the cardinal time frame responding only to those meaning carriers which are present in the antenati canon.
Family of Voices
Performing within the canon creates a feeling of interdependence, trust and wellbeing. It also changes the artist’s propositional relationship to the choices before them.
Your flaws matter less when they’re woven into the fabric of a family of voices, and that family can foster the courage it takes to want to plunge into the darkness, the unknown, the great question mark which is ultimately and merely the future now, the next present, the epochal shift.
Performing within the canon mirrors and echoes generational relationships.
One way of thinking about the time frame is as the turning of a great wheel. With every rotation, a voice is lost and a voice is added, and the motives evolve and the perspective changes. With every turn, a generation drops away and a new generation is born.
When a delay is used to create the canon, a single continuous voice is produced, which in order to be meaningfully understood must be combined with two copies of itself offset by the cardinal time frame. A mathematical structure which achieves this same canonic relationship without resorting to copies is a helix wherein the circumference of the spiral is equal to the cardinal time frame.
The spiral arms, or spiral voices all align according to generational relationships of influence.
Because the spiral voices are offset copies of the self, the cardinal time frame recalls the oscillatory self-reflection we associate with the seasons, the calendar and other means by which we record and measure the experience of memory.
When a spiral structure is utilized, this oscillatory process of consciousness commenting upon itself in cooperative reflection, refines the subjective state of the artist over time, producing increased focus, clarity and duende.
Antenati Practice: Trialogue
When the three move as one, the antenati are speaking.
By setting aside temporally displaced copies of the self, the cardinal time frame creates a phenomenological class within the mind.
The practice of antenati involves the act of ontologically merging with this phenomenological class.
Triangulation is a collective behavior which arises when the artist merges their identity into this class and responds in trialogue.
Trialogue is achieved when all three spiral voices are describing the same musical object.
The three spiral voices are like three vectors describing an object in musical space:
x = [c]-2, (two time frames back)
y = [c]-1 (the last time frame)
z = [c] (the current time frame or current self)
Triangulation effaces the subjective identity of the artist, increasing knowledge of mortality and posing an existential challenge.
Antenati relies upon a philosophy of trust and penetration into darkness.
The challenge of triangulation engages the artist in Lorca’s “struggle on the edge of the pit” where duende is to be found.
The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.
With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. (Lorca)
When you’re doing Antenati, you’re a bird chasing a dragon.
In Ghostbusters (1984) we find a terrific analogy for antenati and the existential risks/rewards of triangulation.
Egon Spengler warns Ray Stantz and Peter Venkman to never “cross the streams”. He then clarifies by telling them to imagine all life as they know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in their bodies exploding at the speed of light.
However, when risk of failure is at its greatest, he reverses course telling everyone to cross streams knowing full well there’s a slim chance they’ll survive.
They cross streams, reverse the proton flow, banish Gozer and defeat their foes.
Antenati is a practice that crosses three streams of consciousness.
The practice is inherently charged with fear.
However, merging identity with the collective class—crossing streams—is the only way to succeed in the practice.
Because all three conscious streams originate in the mind, triangulation is a form of neuro-self modulation.
Performing from within the canon facilitates continuous brainwave entrainment by antecedent neural states.
However, because the period of offset is so long (six minutes) prior mental states are experienced as independent autonomous voices rather than as delays or echoes.
From this point of view, antenati can be described as a nested complex adaptive system based upon an amplifying feedback loop.
This results in a continuously rarefying flow-state of conscious meaning making.
In spiral form, antenati has aspects in common with mind-body practices like yoga and meditation.
Flock of Seagulls
As a nested complex adaptive system, antenati can give rise to musical outputs that resemble a variety of natural systems such as flocking, shoaling and swarming behaviors, migration and growth patterns, weather systems, economic markets and turbulent flow.
The temporal qualities of triangulation are perhaps the most mystifying aspects of the antenati practice. At any given moment you are creating a result in the current time frame, the last time frame—by changing the meaning of those actions— and the time frame before that, in addition to defining the time frame to come and two time frames into the future. So it is a cross-temporal act.
During spiral triangulation, a continuous flow of new meaning is produced in real time, across three temporal intervals.
Catch the Wave
Humans derive our sense of meaning from the pattern of the life-cycle.
Physical matter is hypothetically thought to be vibrational in nature.
Our brains generate neural oscillations at different frequencies.
We exist biologically and existentially as expansion-contraction patterns.
There are oscillatory wave patterns at every level of physical reality.
All tension-resolution patterns and oscillations are analogs of the life-cycle. It’s why both the Eden (birth) and Apocalypse (death) myths persist. The life-cycle represents and is represented by every oscillating wave pattern in the universe.
The Myth of Equilibrium
‘To be in a moment, is to be in a moment.’
This phrase perfectly captures the elapsing, rolling nature of subjective reality, one moment always answering to the next.
A conscious agent has but one underlying directive which is to perpetuate. Instantiation in time means you are in-a-moment and the greatest drive is to continue in-a-moment.
The myth of equilibrium is the experience of the movie of reality. It derives from our experience of the instance and leads to the belief that a moment can last in perpetuity.
The idea that our being in-a-moment had a beginning and will have an end is jarring to our psyches which are underpinned by the myth of equilibrium.
However, the oscillatory nature of the physical universe has implications for meaning.
When conscious agents struggle to create or maintain equilibrium in the physical world, tension-resolution patterns are created because in the psyche—as in physical matter—equilibrium, perpetuation and continuity only exist as oscillatory life-death cycles.
Tension Resolution Patterns in Music
If our psyches are underpinned by the myth of equilibrium, why do we resonate with life-cycle patterns?
Leonard Meyer shows in Emotion and Meaning in Music, that in music, meaning comes when expectations are not fulfilled and tension is created and then relieved.
Expectations are part of the edifice of propositional attitudes which buffer against knowledge of mortality.
Meaning for intentional agents is made when the myth of equilibrium is challenged and then those challenges are resolved.
The Functional Circle
Semiotics allows us to understand behavioral music like antenati as meaning making.
Uexküll describes intentional organisms as operating in functional circles.
A functional circle is a feedback loop whereby an organism both observes and reshapes its subjective universe.
Even the simple blink-reflex, caused by the eye being approached by a foreign body, does not consist of a mere sequence of physical causes and effects, but of a simplified functional circle, beginning with perception and ending with effect
But what is the artist actually doing when they’re operating in the cardinal time frame?
Von Uexküll speaks of the process of perceptual signs inducing responsive impulses as “the induction that the melody creates in tones, how one tone follows another.”
Uexküll describes the contrapuntal impulse as melodic command
In biosemiotics, the spider is an intentional agent locked into a meaning-relationship with the fly.
As an intentional agent, the spider is subject to the myth of equilibrium and its melodic command is to perpetuate.
Melodic command expresses itself in different ways according to each organism’s energetic pattern.
In the spider, the melodic command gives rise to a contrapuntal response to the fly (the web) so that he can eat the fly and perpetuate.
For the artist in the functional circle of the cardinal time frame, the melodic command is to perpetuate, but in abstraction.
When the artist observes the two meaning carriers in the cardinal time frame ([c]-2 + [c]-1), the melodic command is to create equilibrium musically which is an analog for existential continuity.
The struggle to obey the melodic command and establish equilibrium, is the effort to bring about resolution consistently over and over in an oscillating pattern.
So that’s what we see in classical music, in popular music, in narratives, in books and in plays, we see tension and resolution because human beings experience challenges to the myth of equilibrium followed by resolutions to those challenges, as containing meaning.
Antenti is a kind of extracted distillate of conscious meaning making.
Antenati breaks through the ceiling of the most powerful imagination because insofar as it’s practiced and pursued, it is an examination of bare consciousness itself.
This creates contours of meaning which resemble dynamical flow.
What emerges is a kind of complex storytelling where independent voices simultaneously create parallel meaning within a context of generational relationships that evoke aspects of reality on multiple levels. A “musical narrative of thought”, in which independent agents become woven into meaning-relationships evolving through a continuous flow of tension-resolution patterns. This chorus of bound voices echoes and recalls natural systems of all kinds both organic and inorganic and may point to the existence of some common underlying logical tendency which science has yet to define.
Antenati combines the role of shaman and storyteller.
Part mind-body practice, part compositional technique, it is the merging of the shaman and the storyteller, sometimes separate roles in what Terence McKenna calls “archaic” times. When the shaman would descend into dreamtime and seek through ritual to break down the doors of perception, the powerful psychedelic or prophetic experience could often seem—as would a download from a dream world—a jumble of psychic detritus. It was the storyteller who would “interpret” rantings as the pastor “interprets” tongues. Here, the roles are combined. The musician is the interpreter and the messenger and—it turns out—they are the message itself.
Our bodies retrieve and we through successive waves of the canon, successive arms of the spiral, make meaning from what is brought forth in a vortex, churning and turning on itself in order to produce musical matter, variation and form, even a sense of light and texture and temperature.
It’s a kind of cinema of consciousness.
Regarding the things in this essay
My observation of the slow onset of poverty befalling the popular arts has been one of the most painful and clarion aspects of my artistic journey. However, I do not believe that the reason for the decline is merely cultural in nature.
The state of popular music is the inevitable result of extractive capitalism in which excellence incentives have been replaced with concentrated wealth imperatives at every level of the economy.
As music is increasingly experienced as a manufactured corporate product, we are slowly forgetting why we love it, and we are gradually moving away from the experience of duende.
The arrival of the duende presupposes a radical change to all the old kinds of form, brings totally unknown and fresh sensations, with the qualities of a newly created rose, miraculous, generating an almost religious enthusiasm. - Federico García Lorca
I believe that people gain emotional intelligence, in part, by immersion in popular arts and conversely that contractions in emotional intelligence culturally will be tied in part to the health of its popular artistic ecosystem.
One way to assess the health of a pop-art ecosystem is by gauging diversity. Times when style is being defined broadly are times of abundance for an art form whereas highly imitative times are indicative of contractions.
When pop-art forms contract, emotional intelligence gradually contracts.
Artists can convey by direct transmission the qualia of complex emotional states—the qualia of self knowledge (which is knowledge of the moment).
When these experiences proliferate, humans broadly share the benefits of such knowledge and are more easily bound together by shared narratives.
Suffice it to say, when we have a vibrant and enlightened artistic class, the opportunities for emotional discovery become more broadly visible for more members of society and cultural progress is subject to fewer impediments.