Newsletter Spring 2015

Interview with Dr. Ted Coons, February 15, 2015

Interview Conducted by Taliesin Thomas, Cohort ’13, IDSVA Newsletter Editor

Dr. Ted (officially Edgar Elliott) Coons is a Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University (NYU), arriving there in 1965.  As an undergraduate, he studied music composition and theory at Colorado College (B.A., 1951) and then—after a stint in the Air Force—again at Yale University (toward an M.A.).  There, however, he soon switched his career goals and, as a research assistant and, later, graduate student in the Yale Psychology Department, he got his Ph.D. in 1964 in what is now known as systems neuroscience.  In 1967, an encounter with the Electric Circus made a profound impression both on him and on it that became a lasting adventure to be unfolded below. With its mix of light shows, music, circus performance and experimental theater, the Electric Circus embodied the wild and creative side of 1960s alternative culture.


TT: How did you become involved with IDSVA?

Taliesin Thomas and Ted Coons at the IDSVA Commencement Ceremony January 9, 2015

Taliesin Thomas and Ted Coons at the IDSVA Commencement Ceremony January 9, 2015

TC: Well that’s a long story. Frankly, it was through Alex Krieckhaus that I became involved. Alex, who was the chair of the IDSVA board for a while, is the son of a professional colleague and friend of mine, Edward E. Krieckhaus (everyone called him just ‘Krieck’), with whom I became a buddy at Yale when I was graduate student. Later, he had two sons, Jonathan and Alexander, respectively called Vanya and Sasha, the Russian nicknames he and his later-ex-wife, Suzy, gave them.  Anyway, I came to know Sasha (Alex) well but only for a time when, as an adolescent, he spent a year or two with Krieck here in NYC in the late-80s. About two years ago, Krieck died and I organized his memorial service which of course included Alex (still to me Sasha). I had not been in touch with him for several years, thus, we really got to talking and rediscovering each other. Toward the end he said “I am on the board of a very interesting group, the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts (IDSVA), and its founder is going to be in NYC soon.  You and he should really meet then.”  After George Smith got the same message, we agreed to have dinner on April 26, 2012, with potent results just as Alex had intuited.

Over dinner, I discovered to my delighted surprise that George has a great interest in and knowledge of the psychoanalytic aspects of art.  But in reaction to my delight, he had even more cause to be surprised, my being trained in a behaviorist tradition ordinarily viewed as skeptical of such things. But as a graduate student at Yale in the late 1950s and early 60s I had been exposed to an interesting combination of two groups—behavioral learning theorists (exemplified by my famous mentor, Neal E. Miller) and psychoanalysts (including the also famous art theorist, Ernst Kris)—interacting in harmony.  The psychoanalysts, some even being direct students of Freud, had fled Europe during the Nazi era, and many of them had settled in New Haven.  Already settled there were the disciples of John Dewey, the philosopher pioneer of the American pragmatism.  Yet, there was a fertile interchange between these two groups, not at all antagonistic as one might have thought.  It was that tolerant environment and exchange of ideas that I was imbued with as an impressionable student. George’s and my meeting at dinner somehow generated a similar spirit of exciting intellectual exchange and we really hit it off.

That evening it also turned out that one of the Pace Galleries on West 25th Street was having an “Opening” of Claes Oldenburg’s Constructions and so after dinner we went over there where understandably were my friends, Arne and Milly Glimcher, the Pace owners. So they and George met and he became aware of the research Milly had done regarding the Happenings art movement pioneered by Allen Kaprow about which she had just finished publishing as book by the same name covering the years 1958-1963. One of the people she had featured in it was Carolee Schneemann, a friend of George’s.  Of course this was all très intéressant!

TT: Which triggers a question that’s maybe but a digression.  Is Milly’s then becoming involved with IDSVA somehow related to what has become your own involvement recently?

Funny you should ask which involves going back long before of my connection with Milly began.  However, it is worth unfolding for other things that you are also interested in questioning me about.

But before visiting my earlier times, I’ll start with the Glimchers entering my life approximately midway into it.  It was in June of 1971 when, late one afternoon, my secretary said “A man is in my office who would like to talk to you.” He introduced himself as Arnold [now Arne] Glimcher, adding that he had heard I, though an academic, was adventurously involved with the Electric Circus and, hence, might be the kind of off-beat academic sympathetic to helping him with the unusual quest he was setting for himself. Then he said he had founded a rather successful gallery called the Pace Gallery where he worked with many very creative artists and in the process had become intensely interested in probing into the psychology behind it all.  Would I be his guide?  Thus, by now highly intrigued, I decided to give Arne an extended off-the-record reading course.  We met over coffee about it once every few weeks or so for the next year or two as best he could fit it into his own Pace Gallery demands. By the Spring of 1973, our meetings turned out so productive for both of us that we decided to teach a course together on the psychology of art and music that coming Fall.  It would be unique because, through Arne, outstanding artists could be occasionally engaged to reflect on the psychology behind their own creative endeavors and, through my connections with the Electric Circus, the same could be done for musicians—examples, respectively, turning out to be Lucas Samaras and David Rosenboom.  Paul Vitz, a visual scientist colleague of mine, was invited to join us in planning and lecturing on the topics for the course and, as a result, later teamed up with Arne in writing a book, “Modern Art and Modern Science: The Parallel Analysis of Vision.”  So...we gave this course together and it turned out to be “utterly fantastic.”  Cognitively, I learned a huge amount but, emotionally, it inspired me even more and has remained that way ever since.  Last but not least, by that point I had started be a close friend not only with Arne but also with Milly, Arne’s wife, and to discover, despite her modesty, a depth of inquiry in her matching Arne’s.

TT: Early on in your academic career you studied music composition and theory. In pursuit of these ideas you became aware of temporal forms and memory, which lead to an interest in cognition and perception, and, eventually, your career in psychology. Please describe this intellectual journey.

My father was a lawyer and my mother was a show producer in a small town, Texhoma, straddling the border between the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles in a no-man’s-land better known as the Dust Bowl. My father’s side was very intellectual. His father, a valedictorian of the University of Missouri in 1885 and then a lawyer, was involved before his early death in 1893 in preparing the Territory of New Mexico for later entrance in the Union as a State.  My mother’s side were real knock-about pioneers.  Her father lumberjacked in Colorado in the late 1890s and barbered in Snyder, Oklahoma, until a horrific tornado in 1906 convinced him to try his hand at farming in the Texas-Oklahoma panhandle area, the last region opening up for good farmland acquisition through homesteading. Since my father’s side—actually by now his stepfather—had also come to the panhandle area to homestead, that’s when both sides of my family came together.

My mother’s side of the family reeked with musical talent! Her uncle was a folk fiddler and square-dance caller.  One brother was a saxophonist in Buddy Rogers’s 1930s swing orchestra.  And mother learned to play the piano on her own, taught herself personality singing, tap, and ballet, and then started teaching all that to all ages of children and putting on at least a couple of shows a year.  I call her the ‘Diaghileva of the panhandle’—she was an amazing woman.  I grew up from age three being put in any performance role that she needed. It was her great hope was that I would be a movie star.  When I was 15, I did indeed have a Hollywood agent.  It’s a long story, but then I rebelled; I wanted to go to college.  She said ‘go into the movies, get famous, make lots of money, and then you can go to college.’  But I told her that it just doesn’t work that way, it will change my life in ways that I don’t want.

So in 1946 I entered Oklahoma University and its Music School. There, I majored in piano and also became very interested in composition. I wrote some good pieces such that one of my teachers had me attend a 1948 summer session in Colorado College so I could study with Roy Harris, a famous composer in residence.  I so loved the experience that I switched to Colorado College for the remainder of my undergraduate education. The regular music faculty were superb: the Lasalle String Quartet, John Reeves White, who later became the head of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua, and David Kraehenbuehl, whom Paul Hindemith, the famous composer, credited as his most talented student. Then, as guests in subsequent summers, I also got to study a bit with Hindemith himself and with Virgil Thomson, another famous composer.

When Hindemith returned to Europe to conduct the Zurich Symphony, David replaced him on the faculty at Yale and took me with him.  It was extremely fortunate he did because we thus could keep collaborating on a question of mine in which he’d become interested too, namely, what effect form in music has on the feelings of the listener.  Toward exploring that question I had earlier at Colorado College run into information theory and Norbert Wiener’s 1948 book, Cybernetics, from which David and I had started devising a method of measuring information in music and relating it theoretically to emotion.  Hence, by still being able to be together at Yale we finally published in 1958 & 59 two pioneering articles in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and the Yale Journal of Music Theory: “Information as a Measure of the Experience of Music” and “Information as a Measure of Structure in Music.”

Yet there was more to be done.  I convinced the music department that I needed to know how the nervous system processes information and so they let me take some courses outside of music.  I started with one titled Introduction to Psychology and soon became enthralled with the question of how the information described in it had been discovered. Toward its end, I asked David Hunt, the young professor teaching it, if he knew anybody that might be interested in me working for free in their lab.   By that experience, I thought I might get some answers to the question bothering me. About two months later he called me and said there was this famous psychologist Neal Miller I’d read about in the course and he was willing to take on students as volunteer research help during the summer. He’d already agreed to interview me. So I went, and there’s a very funny story there (too long for here).  At any rate he let me work for him for free. My research findings proved very interesting not only to me but to him such that, when I asked if I could continue research beyond the summer provided I was now paid, he agreed.  Indeed, he fully supported me as a research assistant for the next three years. During that time he also allowed me to take psychology and other science courses to catch up because I had never had any before.  At the end of that time he recommended that the Yale Psychology Department accept me into its doctoral training program, which is one of the three best in the United States. So I got in shortly after which I made an important discovery; I discovered an area of the brain that was involved in the control of appetites and hunger and with the rewards associated with satisfying these. As a consequence, a lot of my research toward and even long after the PhD was centered about that discovery. Even the National Medal of Science which Neal Miller received in 1964 cited that research as one of its bases.

TT: That must have been a very rigorous PhD.

TC: Oh it was very hard! I take pity on anyone doing a Ph.D. in the area I did. For me, it was particularly difficult because I had to put music completely aside given the time and concentration it took to reprogram myself as a behavioral researcher and brain scientist. So, between coming to Yale in music and getting my Ph.D. there in psychology plus having an extremely impactful side-adventure with a gifted lady scientist from Poland along the way, I was at that university for just over eleven years. Toward the end, I meet Krieck who joined Miller’s lab as a post-doctoral researcher.  He too proved impactful.

Then began the business of applying to various psychology departments for an assistant professor position. There were several places that accepted me but I choose NYC for a triad of reasons: First, it was close to Yale where I was still doing some research. Second, NYU is a excellent school, particularly its psychology department. Third, but not least, it was because NYC is the capital of the arts and I wanted to be around all the arts, especially my old love, music. Although I had gone back to practicing the piano and composing, I was also intensely interested in exploring the contemporary music scenes that were thriving in NYC when I arrived there in 1965.

TT: During the NYC residency in January of this year you participated in a panel at Pace Gallery where you, Robert Whitman and Julie Martin discussed the artistic “Happenings” of the late 1950s-early 1960s. Please refresh us on your understanding of some of the music scenes you mention as a parallel form of the “Happenings.”

From left to right: Taliesin Thomas, Julie Martin, Robert Whitman and Ted Coons, Pace Gallery, January 2015.

From left to right: Taliesin Thomas, Julie Martin, Robert Whitman and Ted Coons, Pace Gallery, January 2015.

TC: Well there’s a lot to be said about it. By the time of IDSVA’s residency, I had of course become a bit familiar with Milly’s book.  The “happenings” she documented in it were explorations into new ways of viewing art and so forth. But when I came to NYC they were completely unknown to me so that I couldn’t enter into my music explorations with the notion of there being any similarity. No, what I was doing at that time was simply discovering. It was a hot Sunday afternoon in 1967 and I had a girlfriend down from Yale. We thought for entertainment to go see some body painting being done in Washington Square Park. It started to rain, and the body paint started to run so that the painters and their human canvasses said “Let’s fold up and check out this new disco, the Electric Circus, that’s opened over on St. Marks Place and is having a free audition of the Mothers of Invention.” We thought that, hey, that sounds interesting and so over we went too.  Besides the rock group, there was also Mort Subotnick’s computer-generated music, Tony Martin’s colorful swirling light show, plus strobes, frenetic dancing, and—believe it or not—Bach & Brahms mixed in. It was literally a multimedia-multiera circus and I was “There!”  It just blew my mind and, Wow, you didn’t need any drugs to do it!  Because I knew a lot about the history of music, some if it reminded me of things that had gone on in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 1150 to 1250. That was a time in which services opened and closed with big processions in which priests danced down the aisles with bells, cymbals, drums, and all kinds of other things. For example, some of the first ‘more part’ music was also being done in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

TT: What is more part music?

TC: Meaning not just Gregorian chants with their single line, but ones with a second voice or a third voice going on at the same time, what we now call counterpoint.  Finally the Pope had to put a stop to those gaudy processions but, fortunately, not their music.  If that too had been banned then the whole course of Western music’s evolution would have changed.  I couldn’t then have been reminded at the Circus of the more-part music’s two medieval composers at the Cathedral, Leoninus and Perotinus. That being the case, I wouldn’t have been inspired to do what now follows.

By 1966, John Reeves White, whom I’ve already mentioned as one of my great teachers at Colorado College, had gotten to be the head of the New York Pro Musica which represented the best troupe in the United States doing medieval and renaissance music. Thus, the very next night after my Sunday afternoon experience I had dinner with him and I said “This Electric Circus is fantastic! We have got to get the New York Pro Musica into the Electric Circus with its rock and gaudy multimedia goings-on and show the resemblance between what was happening in 1200 and what’s happening today.” Without blinking an eye, John said “You get in touch with the Circus and set things up.”  “Me!!!” “Yes, you!”

After many timid noon-time walk-ups the Circus’s stairs and cold-feet back-down agains, I forcibly ran into Dennis Wright, the Manager of the Electric Circus, on his way up.  “Can I help you?”  With a gulp, I explained my idea.  Like John, with an unblinking eye, he said “Have the head of the New York Pro Musica immediately get in touch.”  As everything was nearing ready for the multimedia-era show I had had in mind to take place at the Electric Circus during the Christmas season, John remembered that the Pro Musica also had something scheduled about the same time at Carnegie Hall and thought to check with the Hall’s agent, George Schutz, that such close timing wouldn’t be considered a conflict. “Oh no, quite the contrary!  Let’s move the whole thing up to Carnegie on Dec. 27th and 29th and call it the “Electric Christmas.”

What an event that turned out to be!...with all the aforementioned participants plus the Circus Maximus rock group...lavishly advertised, completely sold-out, plus fabulous next-day reviews. Then there came a glowing article in Time Magazine and another in the New York Times in which its head music critic, Harold Schonberg, called the show ‘The Gesamtkunstwerk of the future.’  Not surprisingly, another show was planned, this time the “Electric Easter” which was to take place at the Electric Circus itself everyday over a whole week and involve the same caste except for a different rock band, the Chambers Brothers.  Indeed, another great show was put together but by the time it came off, suddenly we were in a very sad time: Martin Luther King had just been assassinated to be followed shortly by Robert Kennedy’s.

However, one good thing occurred.  One of my former classmates at the Yale Music School, Thais Lathem, had recently returned from England where she had showcased concerts of Broadway and multimedia American music at the American embassy in London.  She was now involved with Judith Blinken in producing multimedia shows at Hunter College.  Hearing about my “electric” adventures, she contacted me about the possibility of her staging a series of multimedia concerts at the Electric Circus too.  And so I made the proper introductions...not only to Dennis Wright but now also to Jerry Brandt and Stan Freeman, the owners of the Electric Circus.  With them she worked out an agreement to let a composer/media artist of her choosing (with advice and help from Mort Subotnick, Tony Martin, and David Rosenboom, the Circus’s music and lightshow programmers) put on a multimedia production each Monday night in the Circus during the summer of 1968 and spring of 1969.  On each of those evenings the entire disco space, electrical/computer facilities, and technical staff were available to that evening’s composer.  Leading off with John Cage, among these were Lejaren Hiller, Pauline Oliveros, Salvatore Martirano, Terry Riley, Subotnick/Martin, and Rosenboom.  The resulting powerhouse of a series was called the Electric Ear.

Yes, it was all multimedia and not in a usual setting.  With that, the music staff of the New York Times jumped to attention! They realized that this represented two things (and this is what we talked about the Pace Gallery-hosted IDSVA event in January): there was a new kind of orchestra emerging that was electronic and that, with the lightshows and so forth, couldn’t fit on a stage. Where could it fit? In the caverns of discos! The second thing that the NYT recognized was that the baby-boomers were coming along, the offspring of the veterans of WWII, and were now in college or soon would be and that this was becoming their entertainment environment, not the usual concert hall. So the Time people saw this was a big sociological thing they had to cover and, indeed, they did: every one of these Electric Ear shows!  

This all vividly reminded itself to me anew when Milly Glimcher sent me her just published book in February of 2012.  At that point it seemed to me almost beyond doubt that the Electric Ear had at least in spirit grown out of the earlier Happenings.  After all, both the Happenings and the Electric Ear movement borrowed liberally from the other arts, especially theater, both took place in off-beat locations such as minor store-like galleries for the first and a disco for the second, both suddenly got lots of press attention and both seemed to have John Cage as a philosopher leader in common.  Allan Kaprow, the leader of the art-world Happenings was very overtly a follower of Cage. In music, certainly Lejaren Hiller credited him as an important influence as did his multimedia peers, Gordon Mumma, David Tudor, and Nam June Paik.  Then I recalled Dennis Wright himself saying in 1968 that one of the Electric Ear events reminded him of a Happening that took place at Princeton when he was a student there in the early 1960s.  I mentioned all this to Milly as soon as her book caught my attention.  However, it was not until a breakfast conversation between her, George Smith, and me at NoHo Star last November, over two years later, that the resolve to feature the connection took root.  The venue for that was to be an IDSVA-sponsored discussion session between Milly and me at the 534 W. 25th St. Pace Gallery that, in fact, took place this past January 8th.

It was while I was preparing for the discussion session during my winter-break vacation in California that I started studying closely what Milly had written about Allen Kaprow’s guiding role in the Happenings and looking carefully at the Electric Ear from how Mort Subotnick’s and Tony Martin’s viewed its significance.  Then I began to see critical differences between the two movements in what they were trying to accomplish within themselves, where and how they were trying to do it, and in relation to the zeitgeists—approximately 10 years apart—in which they existed.  Further, when the discussion session itself took place, Robert (Bob) Whitman and Julie Martin—emergency replacements for Milly chosen because of their original involvement in the Happenings—focused oddly not upon that era but upon the make-up and use ofelectronic equipment for art experiments contemporary with the Electric Ear’s multimedia.  I was kind of stunned.  The event wasn’t adding up to the comparison it had been billed to do.  There was a peculiarity somewhere that needed clarification.

Thus, after the event, I thought long and hard about what had gone on and started a back-and-forth dialogue with Milly about it on paper.  What puzzled me most was how cavalier Bob Whitman had been about the Happening movement’s allegiance to John Cage’s use of “chance” (aleatoric) methods, like the throw of dice or his divination use of the I Ching, to optimize creativity in artistic decisions by making them free from the tyranny of “cause” from the past.  I knew that the movement’s primary exponent, Allen Kaprow, had been very influenced by Cage so must have subscribed to Cage’s philosophy and approach in this regard.  That being the case, so too must have been those artists that followed in Kaprow’s path.  For me the truth of this assumption would serve as perhaps the most compelling proof of at least a strong philosophical link between art’s Happenings and multimedia’s Electric Ear in that Cage’s adoption of aleatoric methods in 1951 had long also been very influential in music too as attested by a number of the composers represented in the Electric Ear being devotees of Cage.

But Milly in our exchanges quickly disabused me of Allen Kaprow’s and his followers’ allegiance to Cage’s promotion of chance methods of artistic creation. Yes, toward the very end Kaprow, indeed, did some work using the aleatoric approach, but for the most part he was very precise in exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it, and for why. Nothing was left to chance. Rather, Milly says, Kaprow’s fascination was not with the I Ching but with how Cage produced and innovated with ‘sound’ and with ‘no sound’ as ‘objects’ of art.

TT:  This circles back to the philosophy of the two movements, and since we study philosophy at IDSVA it’s always an effort to get back to that aspect of things.

Yes, with the downplay of John Cage as a philosophical guru linking the Happenings and the Electric Ear movements I had to really start taking seriously what I had begun to see as not the samenesses but the differences between those movements, some of them very nuts-and-bolts in nature but some deeply philosophical.  In terms of differences in what they were each trying to accomplish, let’s look at what motivated them in the moment.  Milly points out that the original impetus behind Kaprow’s pioneering of the Happenings, utilizing as they did crude material, ephemeral theatre, and tacky settings, was to circumvent what he saw as the corrupting potential of the Art Market by making art that couldn’t be sold.  Of course the later motivations of his followers were at least somewhat altered by the subsequent popularity of the movement.  On the other hand the motivations of the multimedia composers of the Electric Ear were largely driven by the impulse to explore the immense artistic potentials of all the computer and other technological advances born of the United States’ highly funded efforts during the late 1950s and the 60s to reach the moon ahead of the Soviet Union.

But probably the most important differences between the two movements stems from the differences in the zeitgeists—approximately 10 years apart—in which they existed.  By the late 1950’s and through the early 60’s the overall aura of the times in the United States was centered about the national striving for racial equality and the sense of at last making some true advancements.  Somehow consonant with that spirit was the Happenings’ democratization of materials, locations, and the free selection among a multimedia of art, dance, music, poetry in it productions along with an accompanying sense of energy and economic optimism in their employ.  However, by the time of the Electric Ear, in the 1968-69 period the zeitgeist was considerably different.  There had been assassinations, we were in burdened by Vietnam War, but at the same time there was the optimism of reaching the moon and, as already mentioned, the technological fruits of the effort.  But perhaps most of all, the children of the WWII veterans, the Baby Boomers, were reaching teenage and entering college.  The Electric Circus and the associated Electric Ear can be viewed as a timely response.  To paraphrase Mort Subotnick’s analysis: The Baby Boomers’ gravitation for entertainment was not to the concert hall of their parents but to the very discos where a new space-age-generated “orchestra” with its capabilities for creating psychedelic effects could fit and, as consequence, also lucratively garner unto itself, its creators, artistic programmers, and operators the prices of admission these Baby Boomers were willing to pay.  A new entertainment industry was born that still reigns.  The New York Times understood that all of this was a brave new world and, hence, saw the Electric Ear and its events as the initial show cases always to be reported upon.  

TT: In our preparation for the Pace Gallery lecture comparing the Happenings and Multimedia movements we discussed the notion of “cause,” the philosophical importance of the revolt against it played in both movements, and the role of “chance” there. Since we study philosophy at IDSVA, please elaborate.

TC:  I think I’ve already covered this in my preceding comments.  However, they were in large part drawn from the email dialogue between Milly Glimcher and me.  There the issues of cause and chance were much more elaborately considered.  I am appending these in case you would also like to make them available.

TT: First-year ISDVA students read Kaprow’s writing in the ‘white book’ (Art in Theory 1900-2000), so it’s wonderful to hear your comments on this particular aspect of Kaprow’s work.  Please now share with us your current workload activities and plans.

TC: Taliesin, much of that is unrelated to IDSVA concerns and shouldn’t take up space here. But more relevantly to the plans you’ve asked about, George Smith hopes Milly and I will revisit and expand on some of the issues discussed above. There is also another issue, one he picked up from Milly, which he’s suggested that she and I might worry about collaboratively and that is the growing loss of contact with one’s own culture as imposed by the internationalization of the art world. I am not sure this will happen, but Milly is very interested in what’s going on in the art world, which is the loss of contact with one’s culture. It’s the degradation of art because of the loss of where you have come from.  The same thing is going on in music, too.

To explain: The last three centuries of music have been called its “common practice era.”  Very stable rules of harmony had evolved that governed how music was composed and by what criteria the listeners were to judge its correctness.  Essentially, the interplay of the two or more lines proceeding simultaneously in more-part music had resulted in such standard vertical alignments of one line on top of the other that these coincidences started being experienced as entities in and of themselves, called chords.  Some of these chords were perceived as a piece’s tonic, “home base” so to speak.  Others began to be viewed as departures away from the tonic, some more adventurous than others.  Thus, from the Renaissance had evolved a sense of a piece having a dominating tonal center called its key.  For composers, ways to make a piece interesting to a listener could be achieved by manipulating how far away from piece’s tonal center these departures would go and return and how often.  Next, the composer began to experiment in actually changing from one perceived tonal center to another within the same piece.  During the Nineteenth Century the composers got more and more inventive in changing from one tonal center to another and their audiences more and more tolerant of this happening. Finally it got to the point where composers were moving around so fast that the listener began to lose track of what was a piece’s tonal center at any given moment.  It was then that Arnold Schoenberg said what the hell! It’s just all atonal! There is no such thing as tonal center.  To help his listeners now hear atonally he created what he called the twelve tone system in which the notes and their chords are manipulated so that none are seen as dominant.

On the other hand Stravinsky effectively said ‘No’ to giving up on tonality. Instead, he and other contemporaries found how to create pieces in which the listener could hear the notes ‘describing’, as the piece progressed, two or more tonal centers playing off against each other at the same time.  It is called polytonality.  By analogy what happened was just like several centuries earlier when composers learned to play one or more single voice lines off against each other at the same time such that a listener could hear them separately but still somehow as belonging together as a ‘whole’ called ‘more-part music.’

But in an Individualist culture such as Western Society where for centuries much stress has been put on a composer to keep finding novel things to say in his music, trying to do so in any system, tonal, atonal, or polytonal, gets harder and harder as he and other composers keep harvesting and, in the process, exhausting the system of its novel possibilities. It gets more and complicated figuring out how to say anything new or that, at least, the listeners can hear as new. At some point even the greatest composers become stymied. For example, take the novel possibilities inherent in the music of Baroque period beginning around Sixteen Hundred; by the early Seventeen Hundreds, these possibilities had been so thoroughly mined that it took the genius of Bach to find more to say (and a great more it was at that).  As a result, there was nothing left in the Baroque style for composers following Bach. Some of them, thus, created a new style having new possibilities to explore. This ‘style galante’ has been identified with the Rococo period.

Something like that has been going on in today’s music.  The ability to find something novel or creative to say within classical or even some branches of popular music is dwindling. Given our burgeoning technologies, one of the ways for composers to flee, of course, is into the exploration with what opportunities for making music the instruments of those technologies have to offer.  But with the composer’s and the listener’s fascination over the many possibilities that have indeed opened has come the danger of losing track of one’s cultural origins, one’s sense of continuity, one’s contact with the roots of our musical traditions in Western civilization that date back at least to Gregorian chant in the Eight Hundreds. In addition, the young consumers of the arts are more interested in what many of these technologies has the ability to feature-enhance and make available, art having high arousal value, such as threat and sex and so forth, very primitive type stuff.  Their interest is fanned yet more because it’s being done by computers in very interesting ways and distracting ways.

So we have fled to a new thing, but it seems to produce almost an amnesia. and you see it in the concert hall. There are no young people in the concert hall; it’s all grey hairs who still understand where they come from! Information is flowing so fast these days because of computers and that one can’t hold on to anything new long enough before it’s replaced by something else. There is really a kind of blithering out of stuff.  Milly has been worried about this in the art world. And before her, Kirk Varnedoe had a symposium in 1993 on this whole issue on the loss of contact with one’s roots, one’s cultural artistic roots in the arts. Everything has gotten so democratized; there is no sense of what it more important than anything else. Do you get what I mean?

TT: Yes, it’s a bit of a free-for-all.

TC: Yes, a free-for-all—so democratic that you lose a sense of perspective if you don’t have hierarchies. Now hierarchies can be bad, but they are also very good ways to organize things.

TT: Yes, George says this, to learn the grid because then within the grid you find your freedom.

TC: That’s right! And by how you work with old things, you find the ability to say new things. It’s important to somehow keep something old in order to appreciate the new. With the new, if that’s all there is...with no indication of what went before it, then what’s left can only consist of the very primitive and basic “here and now.”  That may consist of only what experiences can be worked with that are sensory, autonomic, and rhythmic, etc., all very basic stuff animals also respond to. In today’s music, a lot of what is going on in music, appeals in my view mainly to such basic arousal characteristics. And maybe so in the visual arts, I don’t know.

TT: Yes, interesting parallel.

TC: So it’s a big problem of how to find value in a sea of change.

TT: Speaking of something new, you have so generously established the Ted Coons Dissertation Prize at IDSVA. You have overseen and directed many dissertations. What is your advice regarding the selection of the dissertation topic and the overall dissertation process?

TC: Selecting topics, well of course one thing is to try and understand where you are coming from and deciding what you might want to go to. I think a certain amount of philosophy is important, but you really need to get an overview of where you are coming from and then of course your choices, well you may see in the data something that needs to be said or needs to be investigated. Do something that turns you on!

TT: If you had to do your dissertation again what would you do?

TC: I have thought about this. Oddly enough I was interested in the relationship between form and feeling. My work with rats and the brain and stimulating various areas of the brain, so in fact that was looking at the effect of this … instead of having an audience of people out there in the auditorium to respond to whatever was I was composing, I was essentially changing to see how different neurons would respond to different patterns of stimulation.

TT: So still science?

TD: Yes, it’s a big theme in my life, and it’s become more and more important. There’s a book that’s just been written called Why Does The World Exist by Jim Holt, it’s a wonderful book. The New York Times called it one of the best books of the year two years ago. I have read the book and I love it. But I am interested in a separate question, not why does the world exist but why does it persist? How is it that we survive? There have got to be some very deep principles that are involved and some things don’t survive because somehow they aren’t meeting a demand, and we sometimes we don’t know what the demands are until we have had enough experience about not surviving to discover what they are. But it’s an interesting thing, so I guess if you try to relate it to the arts, why does a particular art form catch on? People are out there trying out different things. You have got to try something or else you don’t have anything to work with. Chance plays a lot of roles, but then before you can have anything to work with you do need to have ‘happenings.’ But then among the happenings it is your duty to select which you are going to work with, so the survival of something depends upon what gets selected. Many things don’t persist but why do the ones that do persist persist? So that could be lots of people’s theses!

TT: Thank you, Dr. Coons. 



(1) On 1/12/2015 5:55PM Ted Coons emailed:

Hi Milly (re: IDSVA discussion session at the 534 W. 25th St. Pace Gallery on 01/08/15),

I am grateful to you for crediting me with a terrific performance at Thursday’s event since I left the evening feeling a bit inadequate about it.  The little that got communicated before Thursday between me and your substitutes, Julie Martin & Bob Whitman, didn’t at all explain to them the original plan for your and my dialogue, namely, the ways the visual arts Happenings and the musical arts Intermedia resembled & differed and to what extent the Intermedia took the Happenings as its inspiration.  Of course I knew you wouldn’t know much if anything about the Intermedia movement−and even less would they. Thus, toward the goal of relating the two movements, I felt it my responsibility: 1) to show you and the audience what the Intermedia movement was, 2) to study carefully your assessments of the goals and overall approaches of the Happenings so as to meaningfully relate to them the Intermedia’s own goals and overall approaches, 3) to communicate all this to you−hopefully intelligently−in front of our evening’s public, and then 4) for me to engage you in a discussion about your “take” on my “take.”  Even if I hadn’t gone off to California (a programed trip I couldn’t cancel) and even if Arne’s trip to the Mayo Clinic hadn’t taken you away, I now see in retrospect that the plan outlined above for which I had indeed prepared during my trip by studying your fabulously insightful Happenings book was perhaps too ambitious to implement and present clearly even had our dialogue come off as planned.  Finally, last Thursday evening’s opening with Julie and Bob’s focus not on the Happenings with its cardboard boxes, dirty fabric, and the like for scenery but instead on their involvement with a very sophisticated computerized technology from a much later period left me confused which didn’t help.

 Here’s more or less what my plan had been:
            I would open−which indeed I did−by explaining (in association with a slide show) how I got involved with the Intermedia multimedia movement via the Electric Circus disco on Saint Marks Place in the East Village. I had inspired a highly noticed and praised Electric Christmas show in 1967 at Carnegie Hall and an Electric Easter at the Circus in 1968.  That led Thais Lathem, a former Yale music-student associate of mine who was now involved with Judith Blinken in producing multimedia shows at Hunter College, to contact me.  I introduced her to Dennis Wright (manager) and Jerry Brandt & Stan Freeman (owners) of the Electric Circus. With them she worked out an agreement to let a composer/media artist of her choosing (with advice from Morton Subotnick, Tony Martin, and David Rosenboom, the Circus’s music and lightshow programmers) put on a multimedia production each Monday night in the Electric Circus during the summer of 1968 and spring of 1969.  The concert series that resulted was called the Electric Ear, the productions of which were assiduously reported upon by the New York Times, mostly very favorably but especially so regarding those of Lejaren Hiller, Salvatore Martirano, Terry Riley, Rosenboom, and Subotnick/Martin .  The series then changed its name to Intermedia and moved uptown to Theodore Kheel’s Automation House on East 68th St. where it continued its mode of staging performances during the fall of 1970 and spring of 1971 when it ended.

             Milly, initially it seemed to me that the Electric Ear/Intermedia movement was going to be easy to represent as inspired by the Happenings and that you and I could make much of this in our discussions.  After all, both movements emphasized theater, multimedia, and seemed to have John Cage as a philosopher leader in common.  Certainly Gordon Mumma, David Tudor, Nam June Paik, and Lejaren Hiller credited him as an important influence.  But as I more closely studied what you had written, especially about Allen Kaprow’s guiding role in instigating the Happenings. and more carefully examined what the Electric Ear was about from Mort Subotnick’s and Tony Martin’s perspectives and motivations, I began to see critical differences in the two movements and what they were trying to accomplish within themselves and in relation to the zeitgeists−approximately 10 years apart−in which they existed.

            I’ll start with what I make of Kaprow’s motives.  But first I want to state some deep physical reality distinctions I see as relevant to the differences between the plastic and the performance arts:

The Heisenberg Principle in quantum physics holds that the position of a particle and its momentum (thrust or speed) cannot both be precisely determined at the same time. Finding a particle’s exact position rules out determining the exact thrust with which it is traveling.  Conversely, knowing its exact thrust rules out determining its exact present position. A trade-off dichotomy exists about how the particle’s reality can be known in the above regards: the more exactly one of its aspects is determined the less exactly can the other be determined

A similar kind of quantum-like dichotomy also tends to exist in the arts:
1) The visual arts typically emphasize position in which the focus is on the “hereness”, the underlying specious moment of reality, as the fundamental measure of artistic worth.  Hence, movement is minimized as a distractor by a kind of tunnel vision attention.
2) The performance arts typically emphasize movement in which the focus is on the processtoward an overarching reality as the measure of artistic worth. Attention to the deep “hereness” reality of each position along the way becomes a distractor which can be minimized by a process known as backward masking.

            I understand the Happenings as Kaprow’s attempt to circumvent (so-to-speak) the Heisenberg Principle by including process as the art without sacrificing the specious moment.  Allen Kaprow saw in Hans Namuth’s blurred photographs of Jack Pollock painting the validation of process as itself the art.  However, in an attempt to still maintain the focus on the moment he relied on Cage’s embracing of Buddhist mindfulness (vipassana) in which attention is to be paid to each moment of experience as a “necessary” thing in itself having its own character or absence thereof without relation to any other moment or thrust toward other moments (characterized by Henepola Gunarantat as “Looking into something with clarity and precision, seeing each component as distinct and separate, and piercing all the way through so as to perceive the most fundamental reality of that thing").  To further insure the unrelatedness of each specious moment as it arises in the process of making art, Allen Kaprow also embraced Cage’s I Ching method of using chance to protect each moment from the tyranny of cause from the past or result into the future. Nevertheless Kaprow’s need to see the process of making visual art as itself art required that there be a succession of instances albeit it unrelated.  The solution was to create a theater of aleatoric events and objects in which even their viewing by viewers had to be orchestrated by chance and the selection could not be governed by any traditional values.  Hence the objects served best that were at least to some degree not sought for but “found” by happenstance and treated therefore as democratically equal.  Out of this emerged his 18 Happenings in 6 Parts doled out even to viewers by random order of assignment who, as a consequence, themselves became a part of the theatrical production.

            There was, however, yet one more question to be settled in Kaprow’s attempt to cross-over the visual arts into the performance mode.  Until the invention of the photo- and phonograph technology and film, performances were evanescent, disappearing as objects as soon as the performance was over except insofar as they could be retained in memory. Thus, should visual theater events also be evanescent except as captured by memory?  Kaprow, reinforced by the Buddhist mindfulness goal of being able to give up as well as accept an instant, strongly entertained the view that the visual theater events should remain evanescent and uninstantiated by recording devices even despite the fact that some of his notions of making art as being art itself was aroused from the capture on film of Pollack in the act of painting.  Luckily, some examples of Kaprow’s art in motion exist as captured on film. Other examples exist of the use of photography and film to capture the making of art as art, a famous one being Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le mystẻre Picasso.

            Perhaps, because of Kaprow’s reputation, his friendship with other artists, and the enthusiasm with which the art cognoscente greeted his Happenings, Kaprow’s experiment was imitated by other artists in his circle even though, as I understand from Bob Whitman, the others did not use the term Happenings as a label for their own productions.  Nevertheless, the term stuck as a moniker for the movement.  Its acceptance as a modus vivendi by his fellow artists and a coterie of influential, informed viewers may also have had something to do with its consonance with the zeitgeist of the late 1950’s and ‘60’s, namely, the national striving for racial equality.  The Happenings’s democratization of individual instants as all co-equal and the free selections among a multimedia of art, dance, music, poetry, etc. fit in the major societal goal of racial equality toward which the nation was moving at the time and with the energy and economic optimism, as you noted, to back it up.


            Now I will fast forward to the 1967-1971 years to take a look at the Electric Ear/Intermedia movement that primarily made the process art of music its base of departure.  As already said, it resembled the Happenings movement in using multimedia, being largely theatrical, and having John Cage as one source−but by no means the only source−of inspiration.  However, it differed in being intensely dedicated to discovering and employing in its multimedia productions the uses of technology, especially computers. Many of the pieces of equipment embodying this technology were in easy readiness for use, having been intensely developed and manufactured in the course of the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in their race to the moon and were being explored by multimedia artists for their usefulness as “musical and visual” instruments in the artists’ productions.  But as a result, the types of so-called orchestras into which this new technology equipment could now readily be readily assembled would no longer fit on stage of a traditional concert hall.  The caverns of discos and dance halls were much more suitable.  Conveniently consonant with this new location suitability was a looming social demand.  The children which the veterans of WWII started producing upon their return from the war, the so-called Baby Boomers, were becoming teenagers and young college students.  Their gravitation for entertainment was not to the concert hall but to the very discos in which the new “orchestra” with its capabilities for creating psychedelic effects could fit and, as a consequence, also lucratively garner unto itself, its creators, artistic programmers, and operators some of the prices of admission that these Baby Boomers were willing to pay.  Mort Subotnick and Tony Martin, joined later by the young David Rosenboom, were principal among this group in having the wisdom to see what was needed and that their multimedia creativity would help meet that need and, as a consequence, affiliated themselves with one of the new locations, the Electric Circus, into which the new type orchestra of technical instruments would fit.  The New York Times (NYT) was obviously aware that a burgeoning youth demand for a new kind of entertainment hall was rapidly developing along with a new kind of orchestra and art form to help provide that youth its entertainment. Hence, the NYT’s reviewers paid very close attention to the multimedia concert series, the Electric Ear, which Thais Lathem produced at the Electric Circus and the kinds of expressions the creators of this new multimedia art form could find for it and exhibit there and with what success to the disco audience.  Sociologically, one of the reviewers, Theodore Strongin, even commented off the record to me that it was a particular pleasure to be a reviewer at those Electric Ear events because his teenage children−usually off into their own activities and disdainful of his−liked coming with him there.  Again, as with the zeitgeist operative at the time of the Happenings, a zeitgeist, albeit a different one, was at work to reinforce the attention to and success of the Electric Ear/Intermedia movement of that period.  However, unfortunately, by 1972 the Intermedia movement lost much of its spirit when the period in which it thrived began to deteriorate. That period’s initial good mood for having achieved racial equality to which the previous period had been directed was finally overcome by the nastiness of Vietnam and the associated political upheavals that ensued. I understand that even Buddhist mindfulness itself entered into something of an eclipse.

Thus, Milly, as I see it, the two periods we had been commissioned by George Smith to compare did indeed have similarities but also major differences although both were more deeply similar in serving as the mirrors of their times.  I’d love to hear your own views as well yours in response to mine. I am sorry that last Thursday didn’t and probably couldn’t have adequately served that purpose. Perhaps another IDSVA occasion may arise.

Fondly, Ted

ADDENDUM:  Other factors in the breakdown:

1) The artist’s search for something new to say within a style (a departure from the expected) can exhaust the style’s potential for yielding a new novelty to be exploited within it.  At that point, the artist may abandon the style for a new style.  Of this also depends upon whether the viewer/listener can see/hear anything new enough to continue supporting the artist’s work.

2) The viewer/hearer often attends to an art form to discover some engaging novelty within it.  This discovery of what’s novel depends on the viewer/hearer (observer) having a good enough appreciation of a style to recognize what constitutes novelty within it.  To the degree the observer is very familiar with a style subtle departures from it can be experienced as engagingly novel.  However, this in turn depends on the observer having enough experience with the style to recognize departures.  And even then, like as with the artist, there may come a time when subtle departures of style become too subtle for the observer to recognize as such.

3) Historically, high art has depended on its clientele having enough exposure to it (often via leisure time) to recognize as engagingly novel any departure from it.  For centuries only members of the upper class (nobility, chiefly) had that leisure time.  But with the Industrial Revolution, a middle class arouse who had not only the necessary leisure time but found it to their interest to use the criteria held by the nobility as their rules for what constituted art to engage in and support.

4) However, beginning in the 20th Century leisure time began to disappear.  Via the increases in communication and its shifting demands on attention, the viewer/hearer couldn’t maintain an attention on a style to absorb its subtleties.  With that and the other factors described above the observer lost contact with the styles prevalently governing the standards of art and music over the past several centuries.  Thus, for novelty, the observer had to look to more basic and crass aspects of art to get his kicks.

5) Combined with that was the increasing attraction of new technologies and instrumentations.

(2) On 1/22/2015 3:34 PM, Mildred Glimcher emailed to Ted Coons:

I hope this finds you well.  I learned a lot from both what you said and what Julie and Bob said but I don’tthink any connections were drawn which was a pity. 

 So I have read your presentation to me several times.  I slightly disagree with a couple of issues.  Mainly I feel Kaprow’s impetus for making the Happenings was a little different than your interpretation.  He did take Cage’s classes at the New School but he was mainly interested in learning about the way Cage was producingsound, using everyday objects to create the sounds, and also to learn how he used the recording equipment itself.  He was less interested in Cage’s attachment to CHANCE.  In his earliest Happenings, the ones I document in the book, he really left nothing to chance.  For /18 Happenings . . . /he worked from June through September organizing every aspect of the action and the sound.  The cast had many rehearsals.  Even in the last one in the book called /Tree /that took place outdoors, and there was no audience, only participants, he still tightly choreographed the action and sound. In the works he made during the late 60s and early 70s he was much more willing to set a process in motion and then let things devolve naturally.  For instance he made a work in 1967 that he titled /Fluids, /he had an enclosure built of very large blocks of ice, one part of the work was the community it took to build the enclosure, working together etc. and the secondpart was letting it melt, over which he had no control.  It was one of his best pieces I think.  There is a U-Tube video of a recreation that took place in 2008.  I believe that some of the original impetus for Kaprow was not to circumvent the Heisenberg Principle but rather to circumvent the Art Market.  Although there really wasn’t an Art Market at the time he was very prescient and in much of his writing he worries that as artists begin to make money from their art, their art will be corrupted and no longer art.  He really wanted to make art that couldn’t be sold!!! He repeats that again and again.  So the Happenings were his answer to that.  And the Happenings evolved from his Installation Art and really had little to do with theater per se.  The other artists who followed him, Oldenburg, Dine, Whitman etc. were much more interested in theater and they strongly believe they were doing something quite different from what Kaprow was doing.  They saw what they were doing as a means to enhanced ‘personal’ expression and NOT the expression of a theoretical idea or philosophical stance, which is how they viewed Kaprow’s work.  They respected him but they resented that the public saw him as their public spokesman.  I left most of that out of the book as I thought it would be fodder for a whole group of writers who would then turn that resentment into something greater than it was.

I guess we could have had a discussion based on those points but after reading your description of the Electric Ear and Electric Circus I think a joint discussion about them and Happenings would be less than fruitful and perhaps rather a discussion of the music groups and Pop Art might be more useful, explaining how and why “high art” devolved into popular culture during the late 60s and early 70s.  What forces were at work in the culture at large to break down the barriers between high and low culture.  Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik curated an exhibition addressing that subject at MOMA in 1991 that was roundly criticized everywhere but it was simply ahead of its time.

 All the best,



(3) On 2/11/2015 8:45PM Ted Coons emailed in reply:


Indeed, you find me well and, after reading your illuminating "My response," even 'weller.'  What you said about Allen Kaprow largely invalidates the theories I had concocted.  However, I don't feel bad about the concoctions; they were valiant efforts to make sense of the only thing, your book, I had with me during my trip to California. I now no longer see--associated with Kaprow’s reluctance to have his Happening filmed--a conflict between: 1) his viewing "the flow of making art as a part of the art" and 2) what I took to be his ‘Buddhamystic’ intent (a la Cage) to protect each precious specious moment of a flowing art's deep reality from contamination and dilution by its preceding and following moments.  Rather, I now understand from you that Kaprow's reluctance stemmed, instead, from his wanting to make an art that was transient so that it could NOT be sold, the reason being his opposition to encouraging a monetary-value-based Art Market which he feared would corrupt artists' own making of art.  Hence, "out the window" goes a lot of my Heisenberg theorizing as no longer applicable to him.  By the way, Milly, my appreciation of Kaprow goes way up, given his fears about the Art Market.  As an aside, have artists’ outputs been crassly affected the way he feared?  Who might be examples... Warhol, Jeff Coons, Schnabel?  If so, isn't their art's crassness nevertheless creative and of value because of its recognizing and personifying to our culture that this crassness is indeed happening as part of it (even making the news by “making the news”)?

I already picked up from Bob Whitman at the Pace discussion that he and the other artists who followed Kaprow did not share hisphilosophy, ethics, and interest in theater in doing so or even the influence Cage had on him, limited though it was just to making sounds.  Nevertheless, they saw something worth emulating.  Was it some other intrinsic value in his Happenings, such as the greater liberty for personal expression?  Or, was it because they were trying to hitch a ride onto the art cognoscentes' enthusiasm for the novelty and theatricality of Kaplow's project, even though its deep raison d'être was probably uncomprehended?  And I have another question which relates to the planned "appearance of chance" in Kaprow's initial Happening:  How much did his disciples, too, let undercover plans masquerade as chance in their productions?

So, from what you say, except for their both being involved in multimedia and theatre, I see much less relationship between the Happenings and the Electric Ear movements than I originally did.  True, John Cage was somewhat of a link but not much other than standing for a kind of liberty for what could be taken from the environment as an object or an event for "artistic" contemplation (including non-musical or unintended sounds).  Rather, as I’ve said in an earlier document, the Electric Ear and Intermedia provided focused opportunities for exploration of what opportunities the new age of electronics, computers, and other such equipment provided for aesthetic creations.  It attracted the media’s attention in large part because of the need and emergence of new kinds of stages—discoes—for entertainment of the baby boomers.  Associated with the Electric Ear movement’s ability to ENGAGE the baby boomers was, indeed, something related (to quote you) to the “forces [that] were at work in the culture at large to break down the barriers between high and low culture,” namely the ability to use and manipulate powerful stimuli that attract attention by their ability to commandeer in playful practice our very basic autonomic arousal processes.  These are processes designed to deal with the anticipation of and hopeful success at: 1) coping with threat, or 2) attaining sexual gratification, and 3), in either case, often doing as a tribally and sometimes orgiastically organized group.”

To continue with your quote above, it brings to mind a theory of history proposed in the Seventeen-Hundreds by Giambattista Vico.  He speculated that there were two underlying forces, “Unity” and “Diversity,” cyclically and sometimes overlappingly at work in society’s historical evolution.  In European history beginning with the domination of Christianity from the downfall of Rome, Unity reigned alone for about 450 years in the form of a Theocracy dominated by the Church starting around 700.  Then, beginning with about 1150, Diversity began overlapping with Unity to produce an Autocracy dominated by the Nobility faction.  But starting around 1600, the overlap ceased so that Diversity has ruled alone to produce a culture in which the idea and practice of Democracy has been dominant.  Add another 450 years to that and what one sees ahead (beginning around 2050) is the beginning of Unity’s overlap with Diversity with the result being a Chaos that will reign until out of it will cyclically crystalize according to Vico’s plan a new Theocracy of some sort around 2500, perhaps a Brave New World.  By the way, the previous “Chaos” ran from about 250 AD in Rome that was characterized by a period of degradation of Roman rule and its downfall as the Gauls, Goths, Visigoths, etc. swept in and true chaos ensued.

The above little “presentation” was not made with a strong belief in Giambattista’s theory but to make another point perhaps explanatory of the increasing individuation and breakdown in constraining societal conventions and taboos over the history at least of Judo-Christian culture that Vico noticed and felt the need to explain.  The theme I want to promote is the increasing growth in the ability of us modern humans to communicate over the ages since we first emerged maybe 100,000 years ago.  It began with the discovery of spoken language. It greatly increased with the invention of symbols via which the information communicated via spoken language could be communicated in writing (but only laboriously and in limited amounts and in which only selected people were trained to use and comprehend).  With the creation the printing press the limitation noted in the just-preceding parentheses disappeared...with the widespread increase in communication and the information it could convey.  Associated with that was the literary creation of the novel and with it the beginning of a fascinating inquiry (to readers) into the inner life of individuals portrayed in those novels.  Fast forward to the exponentially increasing ways to communicate to each other by record, film, radio, television, computer, i<phone, etc. and we are in an era in which, informationally, we are being able to turn ourselves inside-out to other people not only cognitively but emotionally and autonomically.  A lot of this “uncovering” involves the breaking of taboos.  When a taboo is broken the fascination that’s generated when the id overcomes the superego in a now-publicizable display is like the energy that comes from splitting an atom.  Thus, the battle between unity and diversity, between societal constraints and primitive needs, leads to what fascinates both the actor and the observer and especially the media which makes its living from fanning the flames and publicizing that controversy.  Hence, the “breakdown [of] the barriers between high and low culture,” to quote you again...but also, sadly, the homogenization that tends to obliterate the local cultures of art and music that give individuality and special flavor to our lives.

That breakdown has, in reality, been going on for centuries, especially beginning with the downfall of nobility over the 1700 Hundreds and the emergence of the at-first up-scale-imitating proletariat in the Eighteen Hundreds but now-increased down-dressing beginning in the early Nineteen Hundreds.  This is something that you and I certainly can talk about as emerging very blatantly in music and art, especially from the late 1950’s on.  In any case, I look forward to lunch with you and George tomorrow (February 12th) at 1PM at Bottega del Vino.....

Cheers, Ted