[Smt-talk] prog rock symphonies

Greg Karl curugroth at verizon.net
Mon Nov 30 10:09:21 PST 2009


> It seems overwhelmingly likely that King Crimson would have heard  
> enough Indian music to have adapted the jor-alap-gat design for  
> their music. As I suggested, and this example seems a perfect case  
> in point, absent complex series of cultural connections between a  
> set sounds, a performance, and other sounds as a tradition, the  
> connection is ideational and syncretic.

I too think it overwhelmingly likely that King Crimson heard enough  
Indian music to have adapted a multi-partite pattern for  
improvisation. But I also suspect this had nothing to do with how the  
pattern got into their music. In approaching cross-cultural parallels  
Morse sets in opposition rich, complex, organic cultural connections  
on one hand and ideational and syncretic ones on the other. In the  
case at hand the difference comes down to being steeped in a  
tradition one has learned from the inside versus haphazardly  
appropriating from a style one admires from a distance and from which  
one wishes to transfuse high-cultural status. What I am suggesting is  
that there is a third alternative: convergent evolution. This term  
borrowed from evolutionary biology "describes the process by which  
different species develop morphologically and functionally similar  
adaptations in response to the same selective pressures in the  
environment, but in the absence of any direct genealogical relation."  
Thus (paraphrasing Daniel Dennett) "eyes of remarkably similar  
morphology . . .  have evolved independently in different phyla of  
the animal kingdom because they are a particularly useful adaptation  
for any species moving in the presence of light through a transparent  
medium such as air or water." (Both quotations are from my chapter on  
_Larks' Tongues in Aspic_ in Kevin Holm-Hudson's _Progressive Rock  
Reconsidered_.) In these terms I would suggest that the patterns of  
King Crimson's improvisations converged on those of Indian music  
because their tripartite format was a particularly useful adaptation  
for anyone needing to produce twenty minutes of coherent music from  
scratch night after night. (Crimson's concerts usually included a  
number of free improvisations interspersed among composed works.)  
Some of these improvisations had the drama and sense of teleology of  
composed works, a remarkable fact considering the "selective  
pressures" under which they emerged--for example, being on stage at  
the Concertgebouw at one in the morning with tape running as one  
records one's next album live. The tripartite pattern allowed the  
players to establish mode, meter, and motivic substance gradually by  
consensus before launching an all-out sonic assault. Thus the  
necessity of slowly coalescing consensus becomes--at its best-- 
indistinguishable from the virtue of long-range teleology in such  
tracks as "Providence" and "Starless and Bible Black."

Greg Karl
New York, NY
curugroth at verizon.net 

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