This post starts off with a visual and auditory experience for you that will work best if I don’t provide any “up front” information. Below you will see a link to a short video that will provide that experience. It is best if you watch the video before reading on.
To view video, click on link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Now that you’ve watched the video, please take a moment to briefly let James, the artist, know what you experienced. It would be helpful for him to know what you thought or felt at various points in the video. You can provide this feedback by clicking on the bubble at the right of the picture at the top of the post. If you want your comment to remain anonymous, just write in “anonymous” when prompted for a name.
Below is an interview with James which I think you will find interesting. My intention was to find out more about how this particular artistic experience came about.
A&Z TODAY: Most of your current music, music videos, and of course your visual device, “The Adagio”, seem to tap into a sort of slow motion in conjunction with music. How did you get started along this line of thinking?
James: I can remember the circumstances pretty vividly. It was a while ago, probably around 1966 or 1967 when I was a music student at Boston University. One evening, a weekend night I’m pretty sure since I had nothing pending the next day, I was chilling out at my apartment with some friends, listening to jazz, mainly Miles Davis. One of my friends shared some weed, and I probably had had a few beers by that point in the evening. I think it is pretty common when “high”, either on just life or with the assistance of some mind-altering substance, one gets into a state of mind where he/she is somewhat removed from oneself; almost like you become an “observer” observing oneself.
Miles was playing “Solea” from his “Sketches of Spain” album. I was very much in the “observer” state of mind at the time, and looked down to notice my hand was moving very slowly to the music, kind of in an up and down fashion along with the characteristic “arcs” that Miles plays during his solos. ( If you listen carefully to this piece in particular, you will notice that he hits high points, then his trumpet lines slowly descend to a low point. He then begins to build the tension, and overall pitch, back up, etc. etc. ) My hand was following that, the up and down motion, but also moving very slowly in a smooth arc, not at all as part of any of the rhythmic elements of the piece. I was hearing/feeling some other motion in the music that no one was talking about. It was not anything you could consider “rhythmic”.
Fortunately, I hadn’t partied too hearty that night, and the next day I remembered the evening’s experience pretty vividly. I thought about it off and on for the next several years, and in 1969 I built the first prototype of “The Adagio”. It was pretty crude, but it worked, and was my first attempt to capture what I had experienced, and something I could work with in more detail.
A&Z TODAY: In a previous A&Z article, you discussed some of the thinking that led to the actual building of the Adagio.
Yes, I won’t repeat that here again. Anyone interested can go HERE to read the article in your blog. I did go into some detail at that time about how and why I came up with using the sine curve to measure the up and down motion. Using a slowly rotating cylinder, that was speed adjustable from 0 rpm up to about 3 rpm allowed me to create a slow moving, continuously flowing arc of light across the viewer’s vision.
A&Z TODAY: At one point, you used Adagio in a biofeedback experiment. How did that evolve?
After I built the first Adagio, I spent a lot of my free time watching it while listening to music. I also began to notice certain patterns that might someday be of interest to music theorists. From working with Adagio and music over the years, several patterns have emerged:
1. Most music falls within several rotation speeds: roughly 1 rpm, and 1 rev. every 90 seconds. Some outliers do occur, for example Gregorian Chant which moves incredibly slow, like 1 rev every 3 minutes, and Bartok’s piece for Celeste, Orchestra – adagio movement, also crawls along at a barely perceptible pace.
2. Most music, esp. classical such as Mozart and Bach, has cadences every ¼ rotation. In other words, 8 or 16 measures of music usually equal ¼ rotations of the cylinder, or on the sine curve, at the 90, 180, 270, and 360/0 degree marks. You can get an idea of this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrnhYnNqjzU , along with a Mozart piece. Note that the Adagio is at 180 degrees rotation when the piece cadences at around 47 seconds. Coincidence? Maybe, but then maybe not.
3. Much good music (including Bach, Bartok, and oddly, Gil Evans – esp. Sketches of Spain with Miles Davis), follow the arch of the curve. I.e., it builds up during the first ¼ rotation, then releases down to ¾ rotation, etc. I have used these theories in my own compositions. This video you included at the start of this article, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isvcRjRauSU uses an ambient piece I composed that was constructed specifically for use with the Adagio. The rising and falling ball/”moon” follows the sine curve across the screen, with a cylinder rotation speed of 1 rev/90 seconds. Hopefully you get a sense that the music is moving “upwards”, during the upward cycle of the Adagio, then “downwards”, etc. That’s what I intended anyway.
If you work with the Adagio long enough, it can affect you psychologically. You almost feel a little “stoned”. I think it slows your sense of time down, and you begin to notice things that perhaps you never noticed before. Of course the study talks about the fact that it activates the right hemisphere, etc. And so that kind of ties in with the altered-state one gets from viewing the Adagio over a period of time.
Of course the sensation of an altered-state is what eventually led to the biofeedback study. I definitely noticed a change in how I was feeling and seeing things and I had several of my friends try it as well. They also remarked on a change in their perceptions, a sense of “time slowed down”.
In 1978 I was taking a few courses at Nova University in Florida, and also teaching some of the students there computer skills. One of the doctoral students, a friend of mine, Joyce Keen, became interested in using the Adagio as part of a left brain/right brain activation experiment she was proposing. She was able to get some heavy hitters of the time, such as Dr. Joe Kamiya, to be on the dissertation committee. Anyway, the experiment produced some very strong and statistically conclusive results; namely, that the Adagio, and music, reduced stress in the experimental subjects. The general conclusion is that the Adagio and music activated the right hemisphere, thus allowing the left hemisphere, which is the side of the brain that brings our “fight/flight” response back under control, to concentrate on that task. In other words, while the right brain was engaged, the left brain had available “down time” so that it could more efficiently address the stressors that were being administered to the subjects. A few weeks after the initial sessions, Joyce repeated just one session. Evidently the effect did not seem to diminish over time, as the experimental group still recovered significantly faster than the control group.
Some interesting non-scientific results also occurred. For example, one student swore she was being levitated in her chair while watching the Adagio. Another student that suffered from insomnia, said he had started sleeping normally again.
A&Z TODAY: The study was done a while ago, in 1978. What has transpired since?
Well, for better or worse a something called “life” got in the way of my doing much else with it since that time. I got off on a number of tangents, making a living, etc., so I really haven’t done much with it until recently. I know this seems like a stretch, but I have become very interested in politics over the last 5-10 years, and am very concerned about the direction the country, and the world is taking. The human race faces at best an uncertain future, and, according to the majority of climate scientists, quite possibly extinction. What seems to be lacking most in our business leaders and politicians is a little thing called “empathy”. Nobody seems to care about anyone else not within their immediate family or sphere of influence, much less the fate of future generations. As long as they are OK, as long as they are comfortable, who cares about anyone else? That seems to be the current trend, the current way of thinking, especially here in the United States.
Empathy emanates from the right brain. It is a right brain attribute. Well, you can probably guess where this is going. In short, what the world needs most is a little right brain activation, a little more right brain thinking. What was that popular song “What the world needs now is love sweet love”? - a Burt Bacharach song from the mid-1960s if I recall. Unfortunately it is truer now than ever.