Sunday, February 27, 2011

Carried Away by Music

... Imagine there’s no music
I wonder if you can
No notes or rhythms to move us
A tragedy for man ...

Will art be man’s enduring legacy?  A recent discussion with one of my best friends, Peter Katz, urged me to ponder this question further.  The two of us usually have a lot to talk about, because he is a professional musician who is fascinated by science, and I am a scientist who is fascinated by music.

Peter and I met in the year 2000, when we played together in a Dave Matthews Band cover band called “Spoon”.  He sang, I drummed, and to this day, those Spoon days sit in my mind among my favourite adolescent memories.  Peter is a Montreal native, but moved to Toronto ten years ago to pursue a degree in Theatre, and was bit by the performing bug.  For the better part of the past decade, Peter has been busy writing a wonderful collection of songs, and winning the hearts of audiences throughout Canada and Europe.

How much does Peter Katz tour?  Toronto is where his home is, but he spent only two months living there in 2010.

I had the delightful opportunity to drum in his band in 2004, but logistics brought that to an end.  Peter has been performing as a solo artist in recent years, and brings more passion to his performance than just about any full band I have ever witnessed. 

For years, people of the press have been referring to him as a budding singer songwriter with a great deal of talent.  While his talent as a singer, poet, and guitar player is substantial, he is no longer merely “budding”.  A recent Peter Katz show that I attended at La Sala Rosa was a showcase of an artist in full bloom.

The parallels between science and art are very intriguing.  Science is man’s method of studying the physical, chemical and biological laws that govern the universe, but man did not create those laws.  The laws of science simply exist, or are God’s creation.  Art, on the other hand, is man’s creation, and is in many ways its most vital one.

Man has accomplished a lot over the past millennia, so to boldly place the discipline of art at the top of the heap on a whim would be irresponsible.  Can a proper analysis to verify this possibility be conducted objectively?  Let’s try.

At first glance, one might say that man’s technological achievements overshadow all others.  Our constructions, our manipulations of energy and DNA, our chemical formulations... Man’s list of science and engineering marvels seems endless and growing, like the expanding universe it takes place in.  Science allows engineers to tackle problems of all kinds, providing solutions that shape tomorrow’s future for the societies of Earth.

Yes, technology is impressive and often very useful.  Take a metallic bridge connecting two separated land masses for example: it is impressive to behold and serves a tangible purpose.  My first instinct to nominate science and engineering as man’s most pertinent field of study and application is a valid one.

However, the field of art is an equally valid nomination.  There is no other field that can match the passion of the arts.  I have attended meetings with engineers trying to optimize a satellite design, and I have witnessed a group of artists compose a song.  The engineers care, but do not inject their spirits into the endeavour with the same fury as do the musicians.  The satellite may serve the telecommunication needs of many citizens, but we must not overlook the very tangible positive impact that a song can have on people.  Music moves us, and flows through us at all levels of consciousness.  It affects us so deeply; I for one cannot fathom life without it.

Technology may be our best measure of progress, but at a philosophical level, I see no reason to move forward to a future if art is not a part of it.  Space-age gadgets are all well and good, but if my soul cannot be touched by art, then you can keep your gadgets.

I mentioned to Peter that if I were a political leader, I would have to put education, healthcare, and environment atop my list of priorities.  He agreed that those were essential to any society, but said that he would give as much focus to the arts.  I was initially baffled.  Is art really a need?  Can we eat art?  When the waters of Earth rise, will I play a sad song as I sink like the musicians aboard the Titanic?

After further consideration, I contend that yes, art is a need.  Richard Dreyfus’ character in Mr. Holland’s Opus expressed the importance of the arts perfectly when the music program at the high school where he taught was in the process of being cancelled in favour of more important subjects, like English: “Cancel the Arts, and your English students will be left with nothing to write about.”

Art is indeed among man’s most definitive creations.  While science outlines man’s desire to explore, no field highlights man’s creativity and desire for self-expression more than the arts.  Science shapes our society, but art gives it meaning.

Looking to the future, the importance of art in society will only grow.  Technological growth leads to automation of nearly everything.  When our last factory worker is replaced by a machine, and the service industry is filled exclusively by a monotone voice, what will humanity have to offer the world?  All humans will soon be called upon to do, is synthesize information.  Anything that can be made automatic will be made so, and many people will question their purpose in life.

In the twenty-first century, there will be great demand for scientists and engineers, for their ingenuity.  Artists will be called upon to inspire us; their creations motivate us all forward towards real progress.  I predict that by the end of this century, all jobs that require no ingenuity or creativity will be eliminated.

We often measure the significance of entities by their lasting impression.  Will the iPad be looked back upon in one hundred years as a significant contribution of man?  I doubt it.  However, in the year 2100, the music of The Beatles will still be called upon to take us to a place that a regular day in the life simply cannot.

As suggested in the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, if aliens were to visit our planet centuries from now, they would consider man unique not because of its technological achievements, but rather, because of its artistic expressions: its sculptures, poetry, photography, film, and most certainly, its music.

Returning to my wonderful musician friend, Peter Katz, I want to introduce you to one of my favourite songs by him, which served as the primary motivation for this article.  His song entitled, “Carried Away,” describes the feeling of being absorbed by the performance of art – being taken to an ethereal place, where all troubles seem to disappear.  To see him perform the song, click on this link, and be swept away by his words and engaging melodies.

The reality is that we may all be carried away by whatever it is that we are passionate about, and enforcing a competition between the professions that fuel those passions, while intellectually stimulating, is merely a subjective exercise.

Sciences and the Arts have and will continue to lead mankind into the future.  If we heed the advice of John Lennon, and aim for a brotherhood of man, that future can be a brighter one. 

I would love to take a ride up in a space elevator some decades from now.  If I am so lucky, I hope to complete the experience by listening to Radiohead’s “OK Computer” as I ascend.

No comments: