I try to visit Mr. Boretz whenever I’m at Bard.
Most recently, I was at Bard in February to do the mandolin part in Kurtag’s Troussova Letters. I visited Ben then. He reminded me of something I might have known already, that Noam Chomsky took an interest in his Metavariations.
When I was at Milsaps for Lynn Raley’s Babbitt conference there were some funny exchanges in which Ben’s name came up. I started yacking about the uncertainty principle in a very naive way and Milton began rolling his eyes.
“Ben did not cite Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle!”
I was younger then and even more clueless than I am now. I don’t remember how the subject came up.
Milton Babbitt also was a fan of Metavariations. The anecdote should stand as a reminder that Milton was all about clarity and precision. He might have liked Musil’s “precision and soul”. Would he have balked at “soul”? I think the clarity that Ben achieved in Metavariations is an example of the kind of precision that Babbitt appreciated.
America’s recent descent into fascism led me to rediscover Chomsky. Chomsky talks about how our eyes work, as opposed to how an insect’s eyes work. I think that gets to his point about deep structures of the brain.
Does music reveal those structures? Perhaps Chomsky wants to correct for misperceptions caused by such? When the moon is near the horizon, our brains make it appear larger to us. Goethe gets into subjective aspects of color.
In music and in Metavariations, this becomes free play. How to enjoy such frissons?
I’m not conversant in Bertram Russell’s language. I’ve relied on my fallible memory of Frank Brickle’s paraphrase of Metavariations. It establishes a musical value. A valuable work is one that establishes a new category of music with only one member. I immediately think of people. Everyone is different and everyone’s numinous is of equal value, determined by their unique constitution of phenotype and experiential history. (Novalis: “soul” is another word for fate! Soul is that concretization of pheontype and experience…) Music has the potential to translate one individual’s numinous to another individual?
My friendship with Ben is a great gift and my attempt to dash off a gloss on Metavariations is to be like a dog who makes you toss a stick for him to fetch when all you want to do is doze under a tree. But we learn by bouncing off of each other and Ben is a great bouncer. I cherish any bouncing that might be had with Ben.
I also learn from Ben through his music. His Fantasy on an Improvisation by JK Randall was written for Cygnus. Cygnus gave the first performacne at Symphony Space a few years ago, or a decade ago. I started to think about it, attempting to crack it open like a nut, and got sidetracked. I know there are many more secrets there for me to discover.
Let’s plan on a great 90th birthday concert for Ben. Devoted Boretz interpreters: please send me your proposals.