Friday, 19 October 2012

Surprising moments and Recursive Processes

There were two pieces of music on the radio this morning, one by Tippett and the other by Tchaikovsky. Both were very good. But both very different in terms of style. Yet, in their respective 'goodness' they shared something fundamental: an ability to surprise: Tippett in his dancing rhythms and tonal colourings, and Tchaikovsky in drastic changes of mood and colour. But what is surprising on hearing this is the sensation within me that "this is interesting". What is happening there?

I've been pursuing a variety of models of this kind of moment. First of all, I think it is a "restructuring of anticipation" that might be related to 'meaning' (see More broadly, I think we may consider things meaningful when they change our expectations of the world. More recently, I have begun to think of 'expectation' or anticipation in terms of a meta-strategy game tree (see This thinking makes anticipation and the strategy tree dependent on the participation of other people: we do not think within our individual heads, but between each of our heads, for our anticipations are anticipations of the agency of others. Thinking is necessarily social.

This position has political implications which I will explore in a later post. But for now, I want to concentrate on the transformation of the meta-strategy tree. What I think brings about a restructuring of anticipation is the grasping of a concept. The restructuring is effectively a collapse of complexity in the game tree. Where numerous branches disappeared off in various directions, the concept comes along and fundamentally changes the structure. It does this because powerful concepts are recursively applicable: they apply at many levels of the meta-strategy. Recursive applicability simplifies complexity. It means that more becomes thinkable.

With music, though, as we listen - where is the concept? Is it in the notes? Is it in the experience? Is it in the composer? or the performer? Whilst it is probably in all of these, and the concept itself will work in all of these cases, I think there is merit in looking for something in the actual notes. In this way, motivic structures within the work, or tonal shifts, etc can correlate to moments of revelation in performance. If we were to analyse the work, would picking up these recursive structures help us to identify that moment of meaning where anticipation is transformed? I wondering if the techniques of granular computing might help here - after all, granular computing makes its distinctions around those pattern that recur at many levels.

If we had some kind of recursive map of a data stream, would it be able to indicate where something meaningful happened? Would it be able to filter out the noise and reveal the essence of what might have been transformative? If this was possible, then a new way of steering playful interventions might present itself...

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