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Notes from the Field

The shape of the past

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The aesthetics are important. Certainly aesthetics are secondary to tone and playability and build quality. But, even within those limits we do need to consider shape of the instrument.

A lot of what is important to me about music is its connections to past music. And the aesthetic connection helps with that. I can more easily see myself as a part of something gigantic with a long history and legacy if my instrument is either old, or looks similar enough to what was used "back in the day."

I am not talking as much about technical innovations that solved problems and made or enhanced manufacturability and playability. I appreciate technology and don't want to live without it. I have no desire to die at 40 of tooth decay. I am an engineer after all.

I am thinking more about the aesthetic design of things. Mandolins.

For me, even when I was a kid, I felt something deep and wonderful, a belonging, a meaningfulness, when taking my seat as the living extension of something vast and ancient. Finding my place within the tradition. And the shape of the instrument, and to see my own hands holding it, and holding it in a way that hands have held it for decades, centuries even - it really is a part of the feeling. To look down and see, actual visual confirmation, that I was partaking in something grand.

It becomes problematic when one sees aesthetic innovation as meaningless, shallow, as a lack of reverence, or worse, as admitting you can't "do it right". One can naively think it easy to do something different. Just look at what is being done and avoid it. Fishing for shad? Just hunt for rainbow trout and miss.

I know in my heart things aren't that simple. You cannot learn to fly by aiming for the ground and missing.

I fully understand the need for evolution. Change or die of irrelevance. I understand that we have to be careful about reveling in the past and revering the history in that so much of that past we revere was innovation for its time. What has become tradition is often the result of folks being decidedly irreverent and breaking with their received tradition, (and likely receiving a lot of scorn from those who revered the prior tradition). The past designs we love are often results of aesthetic movements whose adherents felt very modern.

And my own attitudes would, in all likelihood, be against them.

That said, I like my changes in small increments, with clear and obvious connections to the past.

A lot of this is true about the aesthetics of the music itself, but that is for another day. Another blog. Another pot of coffee.

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Updated Jul-17-2021 at 2:26pm by JeffD