Rendered Fat Content


Stuart Davis:
Art Theory Text with Color Sequence Diagram (1951)

"Who's on first? …"

I hold the utterly irrational belief that natural orders exist in both nature and in the works of man, even mine. For instance, I imagine myself ordering the songs in my SetList in such a way as to maximize their impact. I imagine this without for a second having access to what might constitute impact from my perspective or from anyone else's. I might know after I've performed a set, but can only imagine after that natural order beforehand, and even if a song order works, I will have no way of verifying that the order constitutes the natural one or was in any way superior to any other. I must, it seems, create and then manage to believe in a layered fiction which might somehow reinforce itself, bringing resolution. I am today attempting to properly order my SetList songs, a provably impossible undertaking.

Sequence seems like one of those meta conditions not obvious at first glance.
Since a glance exists only within a single time slice and Sequence slides across many, neither first nor last glance will catch Sequence's presence or subtle significance. It serves a broader context than most of the other context markers like tempo, key, and melody. The questions Sequence attempts to answer seem straightforward enough. What tune comes first, which next, and so on until the last one's chosen? The last one, though, must leave space for the obligatory encore, which by rights simply must impart the most lasting impression. It will not do to begin with that final tune. The audience will not have been properly conditioned to receive that denouement unless that song's positioned last. Which song in this collection might best serve as first, the opening selection?

These are Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions, FUQs, capable of driving any performer to absolute distraction, or into holding the utterly irrational belief that such natural orders exist and merely await extraction from the ether. Such fictions drive many decisions and do not, by themselves, necessarily suggest any actual infraction. We each hold our collection of Old Wives Tales and spurious rules of thumb, and it's rare than any one of them lead us into serious temptation. It's no sin to believe in them and might serve as the only real way to solve such questions. Invoking an imaginal opposable thumb might render many otherwise impossibles into do-ables. Just as long as one remembers to discard the imaginal thumb after use, the resulting calculation might well stand.

I use Post-It® notes, writing a song title on each. I can then order the resulting pile ad infinitum until I settle on what will serve as the imaginal natural order for this performance. SetTheory does not presume natural hierarchies. In fact, the human affinity for ordering in hierarchies stands as one of the more profound barriers to understanding and using SetTheory. It's naturally hierarchy agnostic, a difficult concept for most of us to accept. One must hold one's breath and trust their way through the more unsettling parts, but then one must be equally willing to employ the odd hierarchy when it might prove useful. Sequence serves as a profoundly useful fictional hierarchy even if it's rooted in nothing more sophisticated than the most feral notions. A Sequence demands to be found, and it damned well will be discovered.

Sequence stands as a member of that class of characteristics better concocted without belief. Sequence serves as ritual rather than religion, practice, not perfection. It at best serves as scaffolding, not permanent structure. It's easily reconfigured yet sturdy for the purpose for which it seems intended. One must ensure, however, that Sequence not somehow get the better of the performer. It must remain malleable while also seeming worthy of deep respect. It might be better if the performer doesn't think again about Sequence once its set. It's a jig, one fewer thing needing consideration when performing, when inhabiting that space where there's always too much demanding immediate consideration. Anything the performer can freeze beforehand frees up the stage for the performance to manifest, rather than all the attending fussing to show. I'm better off knowing and convincing myself that I've chosen the natural Sequence, the absolutely proper order of performance, rather than dragging any misgivings onto the stage with me. Who's on first? becomes a question of profound importance which I will somehow determine beforehand!

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver