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Banbury Cross

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Post details: Of people and tones

Of people and tones

Recently I noticed that I prefer smaller companies. Anything larger than party of four is as appealing as last week's lettuce. And I think music is to blame for it.

Most chords consist of three or four tones and there is a reason to it. Too many tones have trouble resonating with each other. Harmony rests in simplicity of ratios. And with people it works the same. A dialog, a pas de deux, is the purest form of consonance. Three or four people can still conjure up a rich and pleasing harmony. With upwards of five people, the personal character of the conversation disappears: there are too many voices to pay attention to, too many sensitive topics to avoid, too many viewpoints to inspect and before you know it the discussion turns into a trivial sequence of sound bites. Depth is replaced by breadth.

People are indeed like tones. Some sound well together and others don't. Certain people have chemistry, others rub themselves the wrong way. It is not a judgement though. If two tones sound dissonant, there is nothing wrong with either of them. You just should not put them together in a chord. At least if you are on speaking terms with your ears. Take E for instance. It sounds well with G# or A or B, but not so well with D#. Yet D# is a perfectly decent tone. Try it with F or with G# and you'll be thrilled. That's the magic of chemistry.

Note that despite the fact that D# and E are in a clear disaccord, they both sound well with G#. In this regard, human relationships are no different. I have two friends who can't stand each other, yet I love them both dearly. On the other hand, I share common friends with many people I am not terribly fond of. It is almost like a magic. Perhaps we should stop calling it "chemistry" then - "alchemy" might be a more suitable term.

But the thing about alchemy is that you can't really learn it. It is more an innate ability. Kind of like a musical ear. Sometimes I know I won't function well with some people as soon as I see how they hold their glasses. Or how they clap their hands. And other people just scratch their head, and I know right there that a lasting friendship is in the offing. I can almost hear that mellow sound of hitting a major sixth chord.

I once spoke with an old communist - a Leon Trotsky type - who spent most of his life teaching the History of the International Workers' Movement. I told him I had doubts that we all could be brothers, as Marx and Lenin would have us believe. I think it is important that people treat each other fairly and respectfully, but friendship should be reserved for special people. Just like harmony is reserved for special tones. What good is friendship if there is no element of discrimination in it? The old communist thought that this idea smacked of a bourgeois decadence and western elitism and he was very concerned about the lack of revolutionary zeal on my part. But communism has lost its battle long time ago and I am sure one of the reasons for its well deserved demise was its disregard for harmony. Yes, people should be treated equally, but not too equally. Making arbitrary friendships is unnatural and eventually unsustainable. Have you ever tried playing in A major, while accompanying someone whose instrument is tuned in E flat minor? It doesn't work. And a society built on such music is doomed.



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