bass-ackwards()

24th December, 2007

When I was an undergrad studying music composition I worked, briefly, with the composer Samuel Adler. One day during a lesson he told me “artists, as a rule, do everything bass-ackwards”. I don’t recall the inspiration for his remark, but I do remember him raising his voice, shaking his head, and waving his arms as he said it. I came away with the impression that this sort of logic, for artists, was a part of our DNA and needed to be accepted and managed. Every once in a while I’ll catch myself doing something and remember Sam’s comment, and smile when I realize that, for me in that moment, there isn’t any other way, and it’s OK.

Recently a student in my interactive scripting class, questioned the importance of scripting cross-media events in pseudocode as we’d been doing all semester. She reminded me that she is an artist in art school (something I had reminded the students of a few times during the term), and she had already figured out a fine project without formally and abstractly writing down the logic.

I reminded her that a requirement of their final projects was, in addition to a completed project, a master script for the event(s) they had devised in pseudocode. This requirement struck her as useless given the fact that she had already conceptualized and begun to run her project without any pseudocoding: case closed.

I recalled this quote from John Dewey:

The artist has his problems and thinks as he works. But his thought is more immediately embodied in the object. Because of the comparative remoteness of his end, the scientific worker operates with symbols, words and mathematical signs. The artist does his thinking in the very qualitative media he works in, and the terms lie so close to the object that they merge directly into it.

Scripting, I reminded her, can serve as a tool for analyzing the causes and effects within a project to permit the creator(s) to fine-tune them by revealing some of the inner workings of the piece abstractly.

When we can view the logic of a gesture we may understand it in greater detail, and realize that it is composed of various elements and nuances. Understanding our intentions from this view we may then seek various viable hosts for the different aspects and nuances that comprise the gesture and find appropriate media to support and reveal each element, then edit accordingly to insure that the overall intention is effectively conveyed via the ensemble of actions and media we have devised.

I told my student that scripting after the project is already worked out in one’s head is just as useful as the other way around, especially for complex works whose medium is, essentially, an ensemble of actions across a broad spectrum of methods and materials. Then, privately (and after many years), I recalled Maestro Adler’s remark and saw my DNA as a script that contains a nucleotide base we’ll call the function bass-ackwards().

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