Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Culinary Art

Today I had a sudden sandwich inspiration: Chili Relleno Burger! Kind of a twist on the classic patty and egg sandwich, amped-up with some Mexican heat. (If you've never had a chili relleno, it is essentially a cheese-stuffed green chili fried in an egg batter.) So, this idea combines three of my favorite things to top a burger with: fried egg, green chili and cheese.

Here's how I imagined it: two slices of toasted wheat bread with regular or chipotle mayo, hamburger patty topped with a chili relleno, tomato and lettuce. So simple, I can't believe I never thought of it before, or found it on a menu somewhere. I can''t wait to try this. I'll definitely report back my results with a photo. If anyone beats me to it, tell me how you liked yours and send me your photo!

You're welcome.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Saving Leonardo

I have recently finished reading Nancy Pearcey's new book Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning, and will very likely be re-reading it again soon. To anyone who has found the kinds of things I have been writing about on this blog of interest, I could not recommend it more highly. It is a must read book for anyone interested in art history and the way that worldviews are shaped by and exemplified in literature, paintings, sculpture, architecture, music and movies. The book is full of beautifully reproduced illustrations, and would make an excellent textbook for a class on recognizing how worldviews are expressed through the arts.

What are the messages that are being expressed through these art forms, and how do we absorb them into our own way of thinking and seeing the world around us? What relationship do they have to truth? To beauty? How do the arts reflect the ideas and values held by a culture? In what ways can the arts inform and influence individuals and cultures of the truth of a biblically informed Christian worldview? These are the kinds of questions Nancy Pearcey very ably tackles in Saving Leonardo.

As a scholar of the writings of the late Francis A. Schaeffer, Pearcey has extended the legacy of his work and thought. Her insights will be invaluable to any Christian who wishes to influence the ideas of their culture rather than fall victim to them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Live Digital Sampling Fun

Here's another live performance using digital sampling technology. Check out this new video by worship leader, song writer and lefty-guitarist, Evan Wickham (and sons):

Evan's new album, "Above the Sky" is coming out soon and may be preordered on his website.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A New Renaissance

I'm sensing that we are on the cusp of another Renaissance in Christian thinking. There is so much momentum of contributions in philosophy, the arts and sciences by talented, thoughtful, orthodox Christians, that it seems to me that it will not be long before a cultural explosion occurs. The arguments of the "New Atheists" are too weak to resist it. The fact that they are so desperately flailing about with fallacious rhetoric convinces me, all the more, that they know they are loosing their footing in this culture war. They may become more desperate yet, before the last gasp. But ultimately, Truth will prevail! I can't wait to see it happen.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Time, Music and Creation

As creative endeavors go, none are more tied to the notion of time than music. Music is temporal rather than static like a painting or photograph. It is intended to be experienced over time. It takes time for one to fully experience a book or a movie (essentially, story telling in various forms), because time is necessary to communicate the idea that the artist is imparting. In this sense, the art is the idea. But with music, the art is much more than the idea. Reading a composer's transcript of a musical piece can give one an intellectual understanding of the music, such that every note may be committed to memory. In this way, one can "know" a piece of music (the artist's idea) without ever having had an experience of it. Time is a component of music. Concequently, music may only be experienced in time. The art of it, just is the experience of hearing an audible representation of notes over time.

It is interesting to contemplate how malleable the components of music are. Both the representation (instrumentation, timber etc.) and the timing (tempo, rhythm, and time signature) can often be varied to a large degree without the piece losing its identity, that is, it is still recognizable as itself. A good example of this is the experimental time-manipulations of Pachelbell's Canon in D Major by Brian Eno. Eno has had a longstanding interest in time, and its role in music. "Discreet Music" the title piece from the same album, is one of his early forays into "Generative Music" utilizing the (then available) technology of tape looping. Simultanious playback of multiple tape loops of varying legnth, each with pre-recorded "bits" of musical sounds, yeilded in the final recording, a layered effect and a random, rather than structured relationship between musical phrases. Eno used this technique again on a later recording Ambient 1: Music for Airports, which has since been subjected to a process of reverse engineering. A painstaking note-for-note transcription was necessary to facilitate live performance of the piece by the ensemble, Bang On A Can.

Newer, digital technology has spawned musical gadgets that allow musicians to sample and loop playback in a live performance setting. Today I encountered a video of a singer/instrumentalist who skillfully uses this capability to become her own accompanist. Check out Theresa Andersson's live performance on Conan O'Brien's show:

What is evident to me from Theresa Andersson's  performance, in addition to her obvious musical talent and skill, is that she has, in advance, a clear idea in her mind of what the whole of her musical piece should sound like, and she proceeds to assemble the layers of musical performance into that cohesive whole.

What can the human propensity for musical expression and enjoyment tell us about our human nature? Music, like all forms of art, exists first in the mind of an artist, before it is given substance in the world, which allows it to be perceived and appreciated by other minds. One might be tempted to think that "generative music" methods imply that music can come into being by some "evolutionary" process. After all, the music that Brian Eno created with his tape loops was something of a surprise to him...he didn't have that exact sequence of sounds "in mind" when he set his tape loop machines in motion. Just as with natural biology though, the process has nothing to work upon unless there is some input from a mind. Eno had to set up all of the parameters: record and assemble tape loops; set up the playback devices and wire them all through a mixing board to the recorder. It simply doesn't happen without an artist's forethought to set it all into motion.

How about this? Temporal art (we have established that this is what music is), is meant for temporal beings. The ability to conceive of a piece of music, and then perform it (especially a multi-layered performance like Theresa Andersson's), requires an innate sense of time. Materialist science has a great deal of difficulty making any sense of this temporal aspect of human nature--that we have an enduring sense of "I" over time. How can this be, if human beings are merely matter? All material things change over time. The best theory materialist science can come up with is that human beings are not enduring individuals at all, but rather, a succession of separate instances of an "I". How could music, which requires for its appreciation, the apprehension of an ordered-whole through an experience of changes in sound over time, ever be comprehensible by such a being? No, I find it much more likely that the sense of identity-over-time that we all intuitively feel, and that seems to be necessary for our enjoyment of music, must be grounded in something non-material and enduring...the human soul.

Several days ago, I was speaking with my son-in-law, Kelly, who is a computer programmer and a musician, about the generative music project he is currently working on. I am of the same opinion he is, that 'all music is discovered, rather than created.' God is not surprised as Eno was, by what we "create." Any work of art that we create, existed first in the mind of the original Creator, God, who created us, that we might also create. Our works are a mere subset of what God has made by His act of creating us! What Johannes Kepler said of science, is equally applicable to the arts...that we are "thinking God's thoughts after Him." There is a sense in which God, in His omniscience, is cognizant of everything that ever was or will be created by human artists, indeed all of human history, at once, as though it were the content of a book. But God is also temporal--He creates, He communicates, He is in relationship with mankind as well as within His own tri-personal being. These are actions of God, and action assumes a temporal existence.

Exactly how God can be omniscient, eternal and yet temporal, is a mystery I am still contemplating. For now, I am just grateful to Him that in His supreme act of creating, He conceived of a world where privileged creatures as ourselves have been granted the pleasure of having the capacity to discover and enjoy music.

Apparently, that's what He had in mind!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Art and the Soul

Painting by blind artist Esref Armagan

Turkish artist Esref Armagan has been blind from birth. Yet, beyond the information available to him through his sense of touch (shape, texture, hardness, etc.), he clearly has an understanding of things like color, shading and perspective. He has formed in his mind's eye, as it were, a "picture" of the world around him which he is able to communicate through standard art media--pencil sketch or (as in the image above) paint applied to canvas with his finger tips. Scientists who study cognition and perception are astonished by this man's ability to accurately perceive and portray the world, without the use of his eyes. I suspect that much of their confusion stems from their assumptions about the nature of human beings. Most scientists today (under the reigning paradigm of materialism) assume that the human mind is nothing more than the human brain--a entirely physical system that responds to stimuli which are fully explainable with reference to physical phenomena. They are hard-pressed to explain how Mr. Armagan is able to perceive and to draw with an almost mathematically accurate perspective. Indeed, if the mind is merely the physical brain, this shouldn't be possible to do without any visual input.

Human beings are not merely physical, though, they have a dual nature--both physical (the body) and spiritual (the soul). The mind is part of this spiritual aspect of humanity we call the soul. Perception and cognition of concepts like color, shape and spacial relationships, are capacities of the soul. Color isn't a frequency of light. It is a non-physical concept of a mind. Our souls have the capacity to perceive such things because they first existed as concepts in the mind of the Creator God, who then created the universe to exemplify them. He also created human-kind such that our bodies would interact with that physical world (through our senses) in ways that give us accurate knowledge about the world He made for us. That is, He created our souls with the mental ability to conceptualize color, shape, etc. as He intended us to.

Given this dualistic understanding of human nature, we can more easily understand how a blind artist can perceive the world and communicate it so accurately in his art. Even though his body does not function visually, all of the capacities associated with vision (which reside in his soul), as well as his ability to conceptualize them, are fully operational. Mr. Armagan "sees" the world because God created him with a mind designed to apprehend accurately, all of the concepts a sighted person might describe in visual terms. Though blind, he is able to apprehend visual aspects of the world by the spiritual/mental activity of his soul.

A wonderful promise of Redemption is the healing of blindness, both of the physical and spiritual kind:

Rev 21:4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.

1Cr 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

For more information on Esref Armagan, be sure to watch the video on Facebook. My thanks to Larry K. for bringing it to my attention!