1. Homo Faber

At the outset, allow me to clarify things which may seem familiar. Revisiting those concepts which may seem rudimentary at first allow allow us to re-contextualize basic definitions which have been corrupted and are, thus, the most difficult errors in definition to correct. We will rehearse that which is basic only in order to begin a process and work through this process together. Let us begin by answering two questions:

1) What is an object

2) What is a subject?

If the reader is reading this book as a “hardcover or softcover book then they are holding an object (the book). If the reader is reading this on his iPad or other electronic device, the reader is holding or interacting with that object (the iPad or monitor etc). If the reader is sitting at a table, the table is an object and so is the chair on which the reader is sitting. Objects are things which can be sensed or touched (as items). From here, we can define the word “objective”: Belonging to the object; contained in the object.

When we go to school, we are given a schedule which tells us that the first period of the day is Mathematics followed by English 45 minutes later followed by History 45 minutes after that. These three periods of study are then followed by a recess. Those three subjects (Math, English, History) are not objects that one can touch (like a cup, table or chair). They are subjects on which human beings perform an operation (studying). These subjects can be material (physics or chemistry class have us interact with material things in order to study them) or immaterial (“English” is a language and not a material object). These are things which we cannot touch but which are understood as common subjects. A subject is defined as “That on which any operation either mental or material is performed.”

The difference between art and other bodies of knowledge is that art is fundamentally true through the making of an object (the work of art) by an artist or artists.

The object in question, like all objects is objectively true. How is it true?

The object is true because of the very fact that it exists. The existence of an object can be proven through the ability of human beings to perceive the object which is made. The subjective truths contained within the object in question (any work of art) are subject to the perception of other human beings based on human experiences are shared by those human beings either locally (as is the case with much traditional art) or universally (things that are basically true and that will be perceived as true no matter where or when the work in question is presented). That which is locally true and that which is universally true often overlap because of the fact that universal truths concern themselves with the basic nature and behavior observed in, among and around all human beings.

Here I must add a brief but necessary note. By “universal truths,” I mean to describe anything which is known to all human beings beyond the shadow of any reasonable doubt. This clarification is necessary due to the existence of a tendency among certain persons (we will examine these persons through examples which will be found throughout this book) to demand “absolute”, “abiding” or “fail-safe” guarantees of a certain fact or another.

No artist can provide “absolute,” “abiding” or “failsafe” truths. No scientist can provide these  “guaranteed facts” either. No person of learning provide “abiding” and airtight truths.

This does not mean that a truth which is presented is not true as a consequence of it’s not being absolute, abiding and airtight. It simply means that perfection is impossible and, as such, the truths that one person attests to can be built upon by another person who comes after him. I  speak for myself (though I suspect that many artists, scientists and other men of learning share my feeling) when I say that I can do without the discovery of “absolute,” “abiding” or “final “truth. Such a revelation would mean the end of human inquiry as we know it since humanity  would have nothing more to know and nowhere left to go on a given subject.

Having understood this, let us now consider an example of something which is both locally and universally true.

The following fragment of music is from a composition for piano and small orchestra called Oiseaux Exotiques. The work was written in 1955 by the composer Olivier Messiaen and is filled with musical examples that testify to Messiaen’s lifelong devotion with which he studied bird songs and found inspiration for many of his works in those songs.

The musical gesture which I have highlighted below (in green) is inspired by the whistling song of a blackbird native to the Americas (therefore “Exotique” to Messiaen; a Frenchman). This bird is called the Baltimore Oriole:

Here is a closer view of the musical detail in question:

And here is the musical detail in question with each note and frequency identified against a sonogram of the call of that same bird (as it was recorded in the wild). The arrows show how each note from the sonogram, (which is above the music and highlighted in red) is “translated” by the composer into musical notation (below and in green):

I would like to emphasize that there is an essential difference between a recording of the bird (that is best represented through the sonogram) on the one hand and Messiaen’s composition (below) which is an artistic representation. This distinction is even true in small fragments such as the one which we are examining. In other words, it is not just the fact that this fragment is part of a larger work which makes the composition a work of art rather than a recording or transcription. Every detail, no matter how loyal to reality, is a representation rather than a recording. Messiaen explains this in his own words:

“Birds sing in exceedingly fast tempos, which are absolutely impossible for our instruments, and so I have to transcribe the song in a slower tempo. Moreover, this speed is bound up with an extreme sharpness, birds being able to sing in exceedingly high registers that are inaccessible to our instruments, and so I notate them one, two, three, or four octaves lower. And that is not all: for the same reason I have to suppress very small intervals that our instruments cannot execute. I replace these intervals of the order of a comma or two by semitones, but I keep the same scale of values between different intervals, which is to say that if a few commas correspond to a semitone, a true semitone will correspond to a whole tone or a third. Everything is enlarged, but the relationships stay the same, so that my version is still exact. It is the transposition of what I have heard on to a more human scale.”

This statement is not difficult to understand. Messiaen is simply telling us that he is dealing with proportions. He is saying that that birds sing in such a way that is too fast to be played on human instruments and too high to be played on human instruments.

This means that each note which Messiaen writes is a transcription of the bird song only in as far as the way in which the notes relate to one another; the notes that the birds sing stay the same as they relate to each other.

It is the distance between notes is enlarged proportionately by Messiaen so that human beings can hear them. He is also telling us that he has brought certain sounds into the spectrum that we can hear and that people can perform. He also slows the bird song down so that we can hear a set of consecutive notes that would ordinarily be too fast for human ears to distinguish. All of these things are done because he is representing the way that human beings (himself included) hear bird songs rather than recording the bird songs themselves (that is, with no alterations whatsoever from nature).

Nevertheless, the shape of the gesture is recognizable and remains loyal to the actual song of the  blackbird in question. Had I just described the bird song using word “real” instead of “actual” (“the real song of the blackbird in question”) this would be understood by most readers  as referring to the bird song which occurs in nature. But it does open up a problematic ambiguity which is readily (or unconsciously) exploited those who are disposed against making distinctions between reality and art. While the bird song which occurs in nature is, of course, “real”, Messiaen’s composition (Les Oieseux Exotiques) is also “real” by virtue of it’s existence as a “real” object (a “real” work of art). The bird exists. The bird’s song exists. Messiaen existed as a physical human being. The composition created by Messiaen also exists (and continues to exist) as a musical composition. The distinctions between these things are easy for most people to make. They are, however, much harder to decipher once they have been obscured by convoluted persons whose messes can only be understood after a lot of untangling. Prevention, here, is better than the cure.

The recognizability of Messiaen’s musical fragment (in terms of how it exactly it coheres to the song of the Baltimore Oriole) would mean that an inhabitant of central America who lived in, say, 1782, could decipher these sounds as representative of the Baltimore Oriole as long as that person was paying attention to this bird and it’s songs. Messiaen and the Central American from 1782 are exotic to one another and are separated by continents and by time but the hypothetical person can identify this gesture from this composition with the blackbird even though they live in an entirely foreign environment than the composer who wrote it and also a few centuries away to boot. This recognizability is a simple by-product of the fact that Messiaen and our central American from 1782 are able to observe an object in their surroundings. This object, namely the song of the bird in question, is universally and objectively true.

It is important to also note that Messiaen informs us of his intent as well as his process. He does not present his work as a recording of the bird song but is, rather, upfront about the alterations that he is making. This is in addition to Messiaen being upfront about his intent (or motive) as to why he chose to make the alterations in question (to transpose what he has heard on to “a more human scale”).

Let us now recall the strictest definition of art:

ART  (ART)   n.s.[arte, Fr. ars, Lat.]1. The power of doing something not taught by nature and instinct; as, to walk is natural, to dance is an art.”

It would be natural for the reader to now surmise that photography, because it is not learned in nature, is to be counted as an artistic discipline. It is similarly reasonable to surmise the same of jurisprudence, science, mathematics, the medical arts, politics and philosophy. None of those things are learned in nature or occur naturally. What, then, separates art from all these other disciplines? The answer is simple: the artist makes.

The scientist does not “make” science (he adds to that body of knowledge by observing that which already exists). The photographer does not make photographs (he records that which already exists). The prosector, judge (or any other practitioner of the law) does not “make” the law; they observe covenants which are socially contracted and which have their bases in common notions of ethics which exist in the society in question (as well as ethical universals).

An artist must make something (as a fulfillment of the basic and most elemental function of art). The artist must also be clear about his or her intent to begin with. This is a crucial difference  in definitions which must be maintained and observed. Anybody who blurs this line is fooling themselves. Those persons who blur these lines also demonstrate a fundamental failure as far as maintaining a solid grip on reality is concerned.

The act of identifying, defining and understanding one’s intent (and being open about that intent) is fundamental to any discipline. Every professional who would like to succeed on even the most basic level must, like Messiaen, be aware of their intent. They must also be clear about the function of how they are go about achieving their goal. Last but not least, they must be open about their intent and method.

A journalist who says that he is a doctor and performs surgery is likely to be committing a crime as well as engaging in fundamental malpractice (to say nothing of the fact that he will fail in fulfilling the function of performing surgery). This failure to fulfill the function at hand is not simply due to the fact that the surgeon is trained to fulfill the function of surgeon but also because one who trains in a field understands the function in order to fulfill that function. One who says he is doing one thing but, in reality, is doing something else fails even before we factor differences in training or expertise. He fails because the idea that a person is doing one thing (performing surgery) while he is supposed to be doing something else (journalism) is an indication of an unawareness of the two functions at hand (journalism and surgery) and is therefore unable to fulfill either function due to a lack of clarity on the part of the confused practitioner-to-be. By the mere act of mixing up the two disciplines at hand, this person demonstrates a failure to understand what they intend to do as well as what is expected of them before they have even begun.

Journalism must function as journalism in order to function at all. Surgery must function as as surgery in order to function at all. Art must function as art in order to function at all. Blurring the lines between these disciplines simply negates the function of the discipline in question.

Another important (albeit secondary) concern is that intent and function must line up with people’s expectations. People expect that which appears in a photograph to be real because people understand photographs to be a recording of reality (one does not “make” photographs).  People expect the artist to make art. This is why the audience attending Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar understand that nobody is “really” being assassinated on stage. People expect journalists to record daily events and to record these events factually and accurately. No sensible person can expect a journalist, photographer (or any other professional who is concerned with recording reality) to be omnipotent and omnipresent. This is why nobody expects a recording of reality to present all of reality at once. This is understood to be impossible. No sensible person, however, expects journalists to “make news” or would deem it acceptable for a journalist to engage in such a practice. People also understand that an operating theater is not a play theater. The operating theater operates in order to serve a function (the surgeon performs surgery in this theater). The play-theater (or play house, opera house, movie theater etc) is intended to stage plays (thus serving the function of the recreation of the mind).

Universal functions, universally-observed behaviors, universally recognized emotions, universal attitudes towards certain ethical/unethical behaviors (such as killing or lying) as well as other generally-defined subjects all serve toward the common experience of art as true. These subjective truths exist in addition to the truths which make an object (the work of art) objectively true. Any work is objectively true through its mere creation. Once someone makes a thing, that object which he has made can be seen by it’s creator and identified as something that now exists in it’s current form. The object can also be shown to others who can also see it and see that it exists in it’s current objective form.

This level of objective truth is the very definition of all that human beings consider to be “factual.” Here is the definition of the word “fact”:


A thing done; an effect produced; something not barely supposed or suspected, but really done.

Reality; not supposition; not speculation.

Action; deed.

If a cup is made, it is understood to be a cup. The same can be said of a carpet or an urn. Note that the definition of “fact” also makes allowance for direct imitation when it is practiced by an actor (ie without much interpretation). The imitation of an action or deed should be universally understood as referring to that action or deed if that action or deed is universal. When an actor “murders” someone on stage or screen in France, everyone in China should be able to understand that, while the actor is not murdering someone in reality, that actor is committing an act of fictional “murder.” They recognize the action itself and therefore recognize the imitation of the action.  Any universal action can be recognized as fact by means of an actor’s imitation of that universally understood action.

This is also true of motion in general which is how one can create a pacifier (through the observation and imitation of an infant’s motion made while suckling). It is also how all people, even infants are able to intuitively learn how to use a pacifier without extensive tutorials or cognition.

The object can also be objectively true by virtue of it’s function. A jug meant for pouring liquids can easily be understood to function as a jug meant to pour liquids due to universally shared anatomy among human beings as well as the need to drink water or other liquids (another universally shared human trait). We can add other universal human traits that denote function to these.

Other paths of human inquiry in search of knowledge elucidate the truth and demonstrate that which is true in different ways. A photographer records a still image with a camera. A videographer can record moving images with a video camera. A journalist keeps a journal of daily accounts or transactions that are then published as a record of daily events. A scientist begins his inquiry into knowledge with a hypothesis or theory and then works methodically with the intent to prove (or disprove) his hypothesis thus adding to knowledge (that which is known). He acquires knowledge (of something) through study, the collection of relevant information, the searching of records and observations which have been made as well as through making observations and conducting relevant experiments of his own. He records the information and knowledge gained throughout the process and through the results of the methodological inquiry and shares relevant information with his peers as well as with humanity in general. All of these modes of learning and adding to the body of human knowledge involve inquiry into facts. These facts can be those which are created by art (artistic objects) or facts which are found in nature (these things can been seen as generated by nature or a Creative Being but, in any case, are understood as things which are not created by human beings). A bed is created by  human beings and it is perceived as well as defined by human beings (through the perception of the bed as something which factually exists as well as through the function of the bed and by other means). A tree is not created by human beings but can be perceived as a fact (the tree exists) and understood to be a tree  through perception of the fact as well as through definition, function and study. One can point out the presence of a bed or a tree without extensive study, definition, categorization and inquiry into the function (or making) of either one.

As we have already established, all of these modes of learning involve inquiry into facts. This is not applicable to art. Art involves making. Any cognition or cognitive inquiry that a work of art  might express is expressed through the object which is made (the cup; the novel; the song; the carpet etc). Without an object which is made, there is no work of art to speak of or perceive. In other words, there is no fact to appreciate without it having been made and having been made apparent. I will now illustrate a vital point which follows closely from what we have established. In order to make the point clearly, the reader will see the following. This is the definition of the word “aesthetic”:


1798, from German Ästhetisch (mid-18c.) or French esthétique (which is from German), ultimately from Greek aisthetikos “of or for perception by the senses, perceptive,” of things, “perceptible,” from aisthanesthai “to perceive (by the senses or by the mind), to feel,” from PIE *awis-dh-yo-, from root *au- “to perceive.”

Popularized in English by translations of Kant and used originally in the classically correct sense “science which treats of the conditions of sensuous perception” [OED]. Kant had tried to reclaim the word after Alexander Baumgarten had taken it in German to mean “criticism of taste” (1750s), but Baumgarten’s sense attained popularity in English c. 1830s (despite scholarly resistance) and freed the word from philosophy. Walter Pater used it (1868) to describe the late 19c. movement that advocated “art for art’s sake,” which further blurred the sense. [Whewell had proposed callesthetics for “the science of the perception of the beautiful.”

As an adjective by 1798 “of or pertaining to sensual perception;” 1821 as “of or pertaining to appreciation of the beautiful.”

One can see from the dates that Alexander Baumgarten’s definition of the “Aesthetic” as “criticism of taste” dates from the 1750s and that Baumgarten’s idea attained popularity in English around the 1830s. We then learn that “Walter Pater used it in 1868 to describe the late 19 Century ‘movement’ that advocated ‘art for art’s sake’ which further blurred the sense.”

The aesthetic “movement” which is being described in the passage which I have underlined above is an invention of historians and critics to describe trends which they perceive. All “movements” are similar inventions which are created in order to illustrate something that critics perceive either through their senses or otherwise. Those artists who wrote and created works of art and criticism that advocated treating the creation of art as an activity which was justified by and in itself were merely saying that art did and does not need to be utilitarian in order for it to be made.

The phrase “art for arts sake” denotes the desire that art should be created because creating art is something that human beings do and that art should not be created to simply justify a commercial or utilitarian end. There are two important points to be made here.

The first point which must be made is that all art is “art for arts sake.”

Whether a work is expressly made to be used (and thus justified by it’s function) or expressly made to be presented to an audience (and thus perceived by it’s audience), the artist is making for those purposes. Art which is made to in order to sell and make money is less true to the function for which it is advertised than art which is made in order to fulfill a function and which then might be advertised to those who have use of such a thing

Consider the following procedure. An artist first creates something that functions in a certain way (either because they want to create it or because there is demand for such an object). The artist then (with or without the assistance of marketing executives) advertises the object (and it’s function) to those who would have use for such an object. The artist (and executive— if any) finally sell the object to those people who would like to use it. If this scenario is followed and  followed in the order which I have described (1. create something; 2. make the existence of it known; 3. sell the thing which has been created), then the object is likely to correlate to it’s function rather than to the profit of a third party (or the artist himself).

To take an example: I recently opened a small glass bottle of Canada Dry Club Soda when the bottle itself exploded close to my face (I was not harmed in case the reader is curious to know). Had the object in question (the bottle) been created to serve the function at hand (the function of containing carbonated water) rather than to meet a financial quota, then the artist would have selected his materials and created the object to serve it’s function.

The bottle’s function is not to blow up but rather to contain water which could then be consumed.

The disclaimer on the bottle (below) demonstrates that the executives (and their legal representatives) knew of the explosive potential of the bottle they had sold to me (WARNING Contents Under Pressure Bottle May Burst Causing Eye or Other Serious Injury):

These “makers” were pushing a product which they knew hand the potential to be a grenade rather than a water bottle. This is why they preemptively elected to spend money on ink and print a disclaimer in order to protect themselves against legal action from myself and others (there are similar explosions which the reader can find to be recounted by engaging in a quick online search). If the artwork in general was made to fulfill it’s function and not fulfill a function that is, arguably, detrimental to it’s supposed function (had my mouth been scarred, I would consume less water and therefore the object would not be as useful) then it would be “truer” to what it purports to be.

This is how negating “art for art’s sake” is an affront to all that is objective.

This six-post huanghuali canopy bed from Jiazichuang dates from the late 16th Century. It functions and remains beautiful at the time of writing:

This early 17th century Southern German, Augsburg cabinet made from Pine carcass and gilded metal also functions and remains beautiful at the time of writing:

Such well-made works of art are not to be dismissed as the work of “mere cabinetmakers” (I have seen such dismissals). They are the work of artists. Cabinets can be made well or badly just as symphonies can be made well or badly. Those works of art which are made well should serve as an example to those who would seek to get away with selling objects that are abysmal in their form and function or even dangerous.

The second point to be made about the misappropriation of aesthetics (when it is used to mean anything beyond that which “pertains to sensual perception” in the most objective sense) is to be made when philosophy is applied to “criticism of taste.”

When aesthetics becomes a study of human senses (“of or pertaining to the appreciation of the beautiful”) the results are judgements as to what should resonate as true to human beings in general. Since human beings are individuals, such a study is not possible unless it is conducted as the speculative impression of the writer in question. These speculative impressions of how a work of art is perceived by an individual may ring true and be brilliant but they can never be more than the speculative impressions made by that individual. Universal truths (truths which are widely held to be true) must be demonstrated. If they are not demonstrated then the person presenting their impressions is left with one option: simply present your impressions and leave it to others to decide whether those impressions are useful to them.  Any “science of the perception of the beautiful” is to be discounted because of the fact that such a thing blurs the definition of science by misrepresenting itself as science.  It must also be discounted because the attempt to create a methodologically driven set of axioms regarding the “perception of the beautiful” is an officious imposition on individual perceptions of beauty.

This is how negating “art for art’s sake” is an affront to all that is subjective.

As far as the idea of making “art for arts sake” is concerned, I would like to now draw a parallel to another discipline.

Far from intending to blur any lines, I hope that this parallel will be found to illuminate the current lesson by making the connections across the work that all practitioners of curiosity and creativity share explicitly.

In 2007, a Mathematician named Ian Stewart articulated his understanding with regards to the treatment of mathematical ideas as utilitarian function. It is germane to inform the reader that Stewart is one of the world’s most authoritative researchers on mathematics and has authored over 120 books on mathematics of which I have read several which I will recommend without reservation in Appendix B of this book. Dr. Stewart expresses his understanding (as well as informs the reader of the source of his understanding in the repeated example shown through study of the history of mathematics) as follows:

“The history of mathematics shows repeatedly that it is dangerous to dismiss some clever or beautiful idea merely because it has no obvious utility. Unfortunately, this does not stop people from dismissing such ideas, often because they are beautiful or clever. The more “practical” people consider themselves to be, the more they tend to heap scorn on mathematical concepts that arise from abstract questions, invented “for their own sake” instead of addressing some real-world issue. The prettier the concept is, the greater the scorn, as if prettiness itself were a reason to be ashamed.

Such declarations of uselessness are hostages to fortune. It takes only one new application, one new scientific advance, and the despised concept may suddenly plonk itself down on center stage—no longer useless, but essential.”

Dr. Stewart is essentially correct.

I will now make two observations in addition to, rather than instead of, what he has expressed in the paragraph which I have quoted. Human beings make art because we learn about ourselves and about our functions and interactions with the world in which we live by making art. They are as follows:

  1. “The more “practical” people consider themselves to be, the more they tend to heap scorn on mathematical concepts that arise from abstract questions, invented “for their own sake” instead of addressing some real-world issue.”There is only one world which we all inhabit and perceive. There are other planets (and celestial objects) which we can perceive through our senses and are beginning to explore in order to study these bodies more deeply. This is all part of the “real-world.” Human beings study mathematics in order to satisfy the same urge that Aristotle describes to be “deep in our nature” when he discusses it in his Poetics. This is, namely, the urge to learn.
  2. It takes only one new application, one new scientific advance, and the despised concept may suddenly plonk itself down on center stage—no longer useless, but essential.One does not need to maintain a trust that knowledge will one day prove that it has utility in order to seek it out. One does not need to trust that a human being will be, as Victor Hugo’s character named Claude Frollo articulates in Disney’s excellent adaptation of his novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that a human being will one day be “of use to me” in order for human beings to cherish a human being’s life. Here is the sequence:(Frollo finally catches up to her on the steps of the cathedral. He rips the still covered bundle from her arms, and kicks her, sending her crashing to the cement steps, where she is knocked unconscious.  The baby begins to cry.)

Frollo:        A baby?

(Frollo uncovers the baby’s head, seeing the deformed infant.)

Frollo:        A monster!

(He looks around, searching for a way to dispose of the creature.  He sees a well, and rides over to it. He is about to drop the baby down the well when a voice (a lightning flash between Clopin and the Archdeacon shouts out.)

Archdeacon:    Stop!

Clopin:       Cried the archdeacon.

Frollo:       This is an unholy demon.  I’m sending it back to hell,

               where it belongs!


               ON THE STEPS OF NOTRE DAME.

Frollo:        I am guiltless–she ran, I pursued.


               ON THE STEPS OF NOTRE DAME.

Clopin:        My conscience is clear!



                        BUT YOU NEVER CAN RUN FROM,

                        NOR HIDE WHAT YOU’VE DONE

                        FROM THE EYES

                        THE VERY EYES OF NOTRE DAME!



Frollo:        What must I do?

Archdeacon:    Care for the child, raise it as your own.

Frollo:        What?  I’m to be saddled with this misshapen–

(He pauses as a thought creeps across his face.)

Frollo:       Very well.  Let him live with you, in your church.

Archdeacon:   Live here?  But where?

Frollo:        Anywhere.


               The bell tower, perhaps.  And who knows–our Lord works

               in mysterious ways.


               OF USE TO ME.

This early enunciation on the part of Frollo serves to seal his character as unlikable to any viewer of the movie just as he was in Hugo’s novel.

The appropriate questions here are as follows: What business do people have “despising” a concept?” What business do people have “heaping scorn” on mathematical concepts in the name of their supposed “practicality”? If the persons in question are so “practical,” why do they not go and work on elucidating the concepts which they deem to be needed or useful rather than spend their time “heaping scorn” on and “despising” the work of others?

Nobody needs permission to be human. Nobody, by extension, needs permission to learn. No human being should ever be under the impression that their access to mathematics or art are subject to the approval of others. These are two things which are unique to human beings. They are essential factors of what makes human beings human beings. No animal yet known to man displays a need to justify it’s essential principle of being. Human beings should not be the single exception to this rule.

The practitioners of anti-poetics, may convince one of their genuine desire to create. One reason why so many people fall for even their more blatantly ridiculous arguments is that those who make confounding and destructive works may actually believe that they are creating or contributing to humanity. That is what makes their disregard for truth, their statement of false things as true or their convolution of the truth with lies hard to decipher for even the most seasoned practitioner of any field. This is destructive in that it negates the knowledge that humanity at large shares or delays the arrival of knowledge to as many people as possible. This is detestable because knowledge is the birthright of every human being; every human being has the right to deny it to themselves but nobody has the right to deny access of it to others. What makes art so appealing to these people is that art makes things true by making them fact. But the inherent “fiction” in art works because of the fact that artists are open about the basic fact that art isn’t natural but artificially made by human beings. This is as true of a couch as it is of a symphony. It is only following the establishment of that covenant between artist and audience that the artist can function as an artist but also in communion with his fellow man. Artists and audience alike know art to be fiction. This is how people understand art is able to make the sacred palpable to the senses. There is an underlying and universal truth in the simplest element of every useful work of art. If a water bottle does not function as a water bottle then it’s failure will be self-evident. Similarly, if a song does not function as a song, then it will fail in it’s fundamental function (as a song) and this, too, will be self-evident to all.

2. Jump-man

“Games are a trigger for adults to again become primitive, primal, as a way of thinking and remembering. An adult is a child who has more ethics and morals, that’s all. When I am a child, creating, I am not creating a game. I am in the game. The game is not for children, it is for me. It is for an adult who still has a character of a child.”

—Shigeru Miyamoto

“My music is best understood by children and animals.”

—Igor Stravinsky. The Observer, Oct 8, 1961

The instrumental compositions of Mozart and Beethoven and the ballets of Tchaikovsky and Bernstein as well as the majority of Fritz Freleng’s animated Pink Panther shorts (to say nothing of many Looney Tunes cartoons that were created at Termite Terrace) are now enjoyed by audiences throughout the world. They are also understood by people of all languages and ages without the need for a translator or an interpretive ‘guide.’”

With the creation of Pong in 1962 as well as the video games such as Pac Man and Space invaders, we began to see people engage with video games on an international scale. The three games I have just named are examples of games that shared a transcendence of linguistic barriers with the animated works and musical compositions that I have just named. This universality is made possible by the relationship that these artistic disciples maintain with motion.

Music, dance, animation and video games imitate motion in different ways. It is helpful to understand the primary sense that each of the following arts engage with:

Music— Hearing

Animation —- Sight

Dance— Motion/movement of the body

Video Games — Touch

The first game I would like to look at is Shigeru Miyamoto’s Donkey Kong (1981). This game is composed of four different levels and introduced the now-renewed character named “Mario” to the world.  At his debut, Mario was named Mr. Video. The name of the character was changed to “Jumpman” when it was decided that he would jump over barrels in the game:

This point (regarding the naming of the character-sprite) is illustrated in the following portion of an interview from the first episode of Iwata Asks:

Iwata: So the fact that Donkey Kong is played over four screens stems from your original desire to make it scroll?

Miyamoto: Yes, that’s right. The technical supervisor at the time asked us what on earth we were thinking: “One screen is plenty for a regular game! But you’re making four separate screens! You might as well ask us to make four different games!”

Iwata: But you were dead set on doing it that way.

Miyamoto: Yes, I was. I also recall that the cabinet we were making the game for had one joystick and one button, but initially I intended it to be controlled using only the joystick.

Iwata: So what you’re saying is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped? You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Well, that might have been the case. Originally it was a game where you had to escape from a maze. To have allowed players to jump and avoid dangers would have spoiled the strategic element of the game. But then we thought: “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”

Iwata: Naturally, you’d jump over it! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Of course you’d jump over it! (laughs) So we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.

Iwata: You’d have had to focus on avoiding the barrels while climbing up through the maze. That would have required a huge amount of grit and determination.

Miyamoto: Also, if we’d made it so you’d been able to jump by pressing up on the joystick, the name “jump button” would never have come about! On the 2nd stage, we had vertical lifts and we were concerned as to how the player would be able to get on them. But if Mario jumped…

Iwata: Then getting on and off them would be a breeze! (laughs)

Miyamoto: It was then that we decided to go with jumping, which worked out for the best.

Iwata: By allowing Mario to jump, you were able to solve multiple issues at the same time.

Each level consists of one screen. Each level of the also game corresponds to a height measurement in meters. The four main levels of Donkey Kong are each captured in a single screen. The first two screens that the player interacts with are as follows. The left screen (as represented below) is the opening level of the game. The screen on the right is the second level of the game. Screens one and two represent Jumpman’s ascent of 25 meters (L) and 50 meters (R) from the ground (the vertical position at which Jumpman is situated at the start of the game) respectively. The starting point at which the character-sprite appears (the point at which the player activates the sprite into motion) can be seen in the lower left corner of Screen 1 beside the barrel of oil. Here are the four screens of Donkey Kong (1981):

The last two screens (those representing the 75 meter and 100 meter marks of our “ascent”) are as follows:

We don’t actually experience “verticality” in Donkey Kong as the screen never moves. We don’t ever “see” the building as a whole. The ingenious part of all this is that we do not need to. Miyamoto relies on impressions that we retain in our mind’s eye and our inner sense of motion. By stacking the four static level-screens in the reverse order to which the levels are actually experienced he clarifies the vertical motion of the chase (upward) as well as the form of the building that we are scaling:

Here is the entire “building” which I have pieced together from the four static screens of Donkey Kong:

In Donkey Kong, Miyamoto deploys a series of masterfully executed visual movements which cause the player to put the building together in his or her mind’s eye. I will demonstrate two examples and the reader can find many more. In the first example, one will appreciate how two levels (the first and second) which appear to be so different are, in fact, so minutely connected. Here are the two levels:

They are connected by a series of mental images which the player draws between the two through his or her own memory of the diagonal inclines which are scaled in level one (and which I have highlighted in yellow) as below:

These “diagonals” evoke the following correlation in the mind’s perception which I show in the following detail from level two through a series of similar yellow lines:

To make the correlation more explicit, here are the two levels in question:

And here are the same levels with the connections drawn out explicitly between them (I have also altered the colors slightly in order to see the arrows more clearly):

In the following example, one can see the exactitude of the (again imagined) connections with are drawn between the ladders (I have connected them below using six arrows of differing colors) as well as the connections between the lines which outline the ladders (and which I have drawn with a dotted yellow line) below:

One can start to appreciate how Miyamoto accomplishes the experience of verticality which makes the scaling of a building in a video game (as opposed to experiencing such a thing in a movie like King Kong) function:

Donkey Kong Jr. (1982) followed. In this game, also consistent of four screens, the player controlled Donkey Kong Jr. and had to save Donkey Kong from Mario. Where Donkey Kong is set in the city, Donkey Kong Jr. game starts off in the jungle. The first game has the ape intruding on the human habitat (Donkey Kong in the city). The second game has man intruding on the apes’ habitat (Mario going into the Jungle).

Before moving on to Mario’s next video game “appearance”, I would like to discuss his actual appearance as it relates to his construction. The original Mario was a 16 x 16 pixelated image. He looked like this:

Miyamoto describes here how the character was the result of function.

Miyamoto: I thought it was most likely that it was the programmer who was drawing these figures. But I thought: “I know how to draw!” I mean, I’m not saying I can draw as well as an artist, but I was confident that I was better at drawing than a programmer. That’s why I started by saying: “Right, let’s draw something that actually looks like a person’s face!” So I drew the eyes, the nose, the mouth and…

Here, we are introduced to Mario’s mustache:

Iwata: There’s absolutely no way that you would have had enough pixels, right?

Miyamoto: Right, there weren’t enough. Before you know it, you’ve used up 8 X 8 pixels. But if you draw a nose then a moustache, you don’t really know if it’s a mouth or a moustache, and it saves pixels.

Iwata: So if you draw a moustache, you don’t have to draw a mouth.

And his hat:

Miyamoto: You don’t have to draw a mouth, which makes a big difference. You only need one pixel for the chin and if you draw two vertical pixels, you’ve got eyes that hopefully look quite  cute. (laughs) Also, because you can’t fully draw hair, by making him wear a hat, you can reduce the hair to only a couple of pixels.

Iwata: So you made Mario wear a hat in order to keep the number of pixels you were using down?

Miyamoto: Well, if you have hair, it also presents problems to animate it. And if you draw a hat, you can have the eyes directly beneath it.

Iwata: And with that the face is complete.


Miyamoto: But when you come to draw the body using the remaining pixels, there’s a limit to what you can do. Furthermore, because we wanted him to run properly, we needed to animate him and we were only able to use three different frames for this. When Mario is running he moves his arms, but in order to make that movement easier to see, I thought it would be best to make his arms and his body different colours. So I wondered whether there was a type of outfit which was like that…

Iwata: And that’s how you came up with overalls! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Right! Overalls were the only option! So that’s how we ended up giving Mario overalls. Fortunately, the game was set on a construction site so we thought we had no other option but to make him a carpenter! (laughs)

Iwata: There’s a sense of inevitability about all of this! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Then we gave Mario a pair of white gloves, in order to make his movements easier to spot when he jumped.

Iwata: So the entire design was a case of form being dictated by function. You can really see that your specialist field, design is evident in the final result.

Then, because he jumped up and down, he became known as “Jumpman”, right?

Miyamoto: Well, I called him “Mr. Video”. My plan was to use the same character in every video game I made.

Iwata: So you had that plan right from the start? Why did you intend to use him in every video game you made?

Miyamoto: Well, I thought the way Hitchcock cropped up in all the films he directed was really cool! (laughs) Or take manga artists like Osamu Tezuka8 and Fujio Akatsuka who have the same characters popping up in a variety of different works. I think I was probably influenced by that at the time.

The overall structure of World 1; Level 1 (properly called World 1-1) looks like this (starting from the left and progressing to the right) if the level was to be perceived visually in one screen:

The level is never is seen in one fell swoop on the audience member’s television screen (or any other device on which the visual cues are displayed). It is seen just as it was made to be seen: one cell at a time.

The opening of World 1-1 is pieced together from individual panels which are combined as follows:

We can now start bringing the panels together to form Level 1-1. Let us now see the panels in closer proximity to one another. I have altered the exposure and saturation of each panel in order to create a color difference between the three so that the reader can keep track of the divisions even without the presence of lines:

Placing these panels together will cause the reader to appreciate how seamless the connections are between them. The player did not actually experience “verticality” in Donkey Kong as the screen never moves in that game but here is an example in which the screen as well as the player “moves”:

World 1-1 is divided into 14 individual panels. Please note that I manually inserted the divisions which follow and did so for the purpose of demonstration only. They are, therefore, not exactly as programmed in the game. This means that one would have to calculate the divisions to a finer decimal  point or receive the original program for the cartridge of the game in order to correctly imitate the level by programming it from scratch. Nevertheless, for all purposes of demonstration, the  divisions as drawn by my eye alone are close enough to the purpose in order to demonstrate the level’s 14 screens. I point this out not only in order to disclaim those who may wish to use my diagram as a “programming guideline” but also because the reader will appreciate how close to the correct programming dimensions one can come by mere perception alone. This is a testament to the programming of the game.

Here are the 14 panels which make up World 1-1:

On this map, Mario (the character-sprite formerly “Jumpman” and, before that, “Mr Video) begins at the left of the screen (panel 1) and progresses to the flagpole (and castle) in at the right-hand side of the screen (panel 13) as follows:

The screen itself “scrolls” seamlessly to the right functioning as a “camera” which follows Mario as he moves across the level.

This is not difficult to understand and the imagery of a “scroll” is actually a helpful metaphor for the unfolding of the level itself together with the motion of the character across the level. I would like, however, to demonstrate the “scrolling” of this level through demonstration rather than metaphor.

Let us begin by placing Mario at being at the following position in World 1-1. I have captured this image in a single screen-shot from my own television screen so that the reader will appreciate the dimensions of a single cell. This is what I perceive on my video screen:

The “cell” which I am looking at on my television screen contains sections from several panels; namely, one can see the right-most section of panel 1, the entirety of panel 2 and a small section from panel 3 as follows:

Mario (magnified below in order to show his current position) moves to the right (as shown by the red arrow below). The cell also moves to the right and functions as the player’s field of vision (as shown by yellow arrow below). This is as follows:

This cell is akin to our perception when reading a comic book. It is our field of vision, our eyes moving from one panel in a comic book to the next. The following comic strip, by Jim Davis, is composed of three panels (which are delineated as part of the art form):

The panels themselves do not move and the “cell” that we have as our field of vision in Super Mario Bros is akin to our eyes moving from left to right as we read the strip.

Much in the same way that the composite building (and the illusion of scaling the building) is accomplished in Donkey Kong, composite structures and illusions of motion are often ingeniously created in comic books.

Though there is no convention for direction-of-reading in comic books (many comics have no words and are read as understood through their visual cues while others, as we will see, can be read from top to bottom), they are written (even in the case where a comic book has no words in it, a storyboard is written). That is what Art Spiegelman means when he characterizes an interest in narrative as part of the job description for cartoonists:

“Composers often don’t share Mr. Fairouz’s interest in narrative (something that’s just part of the job description for us Cartoonists)”

Though no convention exists, comic books will often be read in a way that corresponds to conventions that govern the language in which they are written (or the language spoken by the persons reading the comic book if the comic is purely visual). Namely, a comic book will be read instinctively in the direction one reads as in the case with an Arabic comic:

Since Arabic is read from the right to the left of the page and from the top to the bottom of the page, one will properly read the comic strips above accordingly:

One can tell that the following example is the same strip because of the correlation of images and yet, in English, the strip will properly be read as proceeding from the left to the right hand side of the page and (as above) from the top to the bottom of the page:

Motion is not contingent on language and so a video game character can properly proceed to move from the left to the right (as is the case in Super Mario Bros) or from right to left (as in Saturo Iwata’s 1984 game titled Balloon Fight):

Or, in the case of three-dimensional games such as Super Mario 64 (shown below) one can create sprites which can move in any  imaginable direction.

Since, as far as a composer’s practice is concerned, Music progresses through time linearly, it is mathematically mandated that music be notated from the left to the right (in accordance with the way in which Arabic numerals are notated (from the left to the right).

Music in which a composer sets texts which are not ordinarily read from left to right offer an illuminating number of possibilities. Schubert, setting Hebrew, chooses to transliterate the words into Latin letters as follows:

In the following example, from Abraham and Isaac by Stravinsky, the composer sets the Hebrew using the original letters (I have highlighted the letters in pink; Stravinsky sets them one syllable at a time). He then provides a transliteration below the Hebrew in which he spells out the Hebrew syllables as they are to be pronounced with each note (highlighted in green):

Above the music, Stravinsky includes the translation which is readily accessed (highlighted in yellow). These words are rendered in language (“Here I am”) and are to be understood as language. Stravinsky separates the words which are language (“Here I am” in English) from the syllables which are set (the original Hebrew) and the Latinization of the syllables (the transliteration below the original letters) by placing the English language above the line and the sounds which are set below the musical line. He also is sure to make the words “Here I am” appear as specially separate from the syllables which are set (the clarity is required because of the fact that each of the three words “here I am” happen to consist of a single syllable.

No matter the approach taken by a composer, the music itself must always progress from the left to the right regardless of it’s joining with language (or in all cases of music being composed where no language at all is involved):

This is because Music progresses through time, and we indicate this motion through arithmetic procedure in our notation. It is mandated that music be notated from the left to the right in accordance with the way in which Arabic numerals are notated and progress (from the left to the right).

I nevertheless maintain a desire that attention be paid to Stravinsky’s approach by all composers who engage with art song and choral music (any sort of music that is not theatrical). This is because of the fact

In the following example (the opening of a “festival cantata” called Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten) the words which are set to music on the first line are as follows: “Rejoice in God, O ye Tongues/ Give the…”

But the words are not joined to the notes. The syllables are joined to the notes. The syllables, therefore, which are sung are as follows: “Re/ – /joice/ in/ /God /O /ye /tongues; /Give /the…”

This is a basic fact that is all to often forgotten (and even by even some professional composers) today: Syllables are set to music; not words. The syllables can mean something (if a single syllable happens to form a word which means something) or nothing at all.

This is what accounts for the effect of ebullient “laughter” which I described as my impression from Bach’s Gloria in Excelsis (from his B Minor Mass). In the following example, the first word which is set on the line in question is “Gloria” and not the following: “glO- O- O/ O-o-o-o-o/ O- ri-i-a-a”:

The only two questions that matter when it comes to words (as far as music concerned) are the following:

      1. Is the syllable a consonant?
      1. Is the syllable a vowel?

“Glo” is not a word and neither is “ri” nor is “a” a word (in this context). In “glO- O- O/ O-o-o-o-o/ O- ri-i-a-a,” vowels are being utilized to expressive effect and consonants are being used for the same reason (but vowels are being elongated and consonants are not). This misunderstanding (syllables and not words are being set) is the cause for much confusing and even substandard musical settings of texts.

More importantly, to the matter at hand. The misunderstanding neglects the basic truth: music always progresses through time. If music is activated, it progresses through time (because it is bound to time).

When a video game is activated it, like a couch, is not bound to time. It exists through time and does not progress through time.

This is why we must understand the panels in a video game as analogous to comic book panels and not to musical measure (though the roles that tempo, touch and time play in Video Games can cause understandable confusion since video games appear to move).

If we were to use Mario as a “counter” (he is indeed used in this way if one engages with the “composer” feature contained in the game-program hybrid which was made by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo called Mario Paint) and Mario was to stop at the point marked by the blue line below then the effect on the Video Game would be different to the effect on the music. In the video game putting down the controller would make Mario stop in his tracks. Provided that nothing causes him to die and that the “time” in the game was infinite (it can easily be made so) then Mario will stand there till I return. The video game has not ceased just because I’ve put down the controller. I can still engage with it (seeing the visuals as one would see a poster or painting hung in the room or hearing the audio as one would hear a piece of music).

When I decided to reengage with the controller, Mario would be waiting by the pipe where I left him (as highlighted below):

Were I to stop the music at that point, however, the music would no longer be there. We would stop singing or listening right at the point where the syllable “ex” occurs as below:

Please note that I do not mean “stop listening” but rather “stop the music.” If I left the music on “in the background” as I did with the game when I put down the controller, the music would still be there. I would be able to hear it played by instruments or through my speaker system (if I was listening to  a recording). Just as I would be able to hear (and see) certain elements of a movie if I left it on in the living room while I went to the kitchen to get a drink.

But the moment I stop time (in the movie or the music), the movie (or music) will cease to exist as such. The movie may be paused but, at that point, what is retained is a picture and not a moving picture. The music may similarly pause on a single stalled microsecond but, if it does to, it is not functioning as the music which was created or performed (even music which consists of a single long drone or music which is as “atmospheric” as Georgy Ligeti’s orchestral work called Atmosphere’s is created, composed or made in that way). Music is bound to time (in addition to progressing through time) in a way that should not be confused with video games which simply progress through time.

In order to understand the “nature” of Mario, let us remove our lines which we made in order to demonstrate the cell and panel divisions for a moment.

As I had mentioned earlier, the level is created in order to form a single continuous journey (experience) from beginning to end:

The extent to which the The Nintendo Entertainment System for which Super Mario Bros was made was also, in turn, made for Super Mario Bros can be seen if we look at the console’s controller:

Here, the extent to which the controller’s directional pad integrates a flow of function with the game itself is clear:

Mario, it is vital to note, does not simply progress in a line across the level as we had in our illustration (again below):

World 1-1 (World 1; Level 1) begins with the following dilemma. Mario can do one of two things at the start of the game:

      1. move to the right
      1. stay still (should the player not touch the directional pad on the controller)

Should Mario chose to do either of these things, he will “die” (the game, in other words, will not proceed) and the player will have to start the game over. This is because a goomba enemy is programmed to walk towards Mario and, should Mario touch the enemy, he will die.

In option 1 (move to the right), Mario would move toward the Goomba and die (at the point marked by the skull and crossbones):

In option 2 (do not interact with the controller at all thus staying still), Mario would remain in place as the Goomba moved towards him and he would meet the same fate (at the point marked by the skull and crossbones):

A third option must be had. The player will press any of the buttons on the Nintendo Entertainment System’s controller and, as there are only five buttons, he or she will quickly find that the “B” button initiates a jump by which the player can jump over the goomba as follows:

Here we have yet another example of the extent to which the controller’s flow of function is aligned with the game:

Just as vitally, though, we have an entry into understanding the extent to which function is connected with existence as far as artistic objects are concerned. Super Mario Bros, it is often noted, is the “true birth” of Mario as a video game character even through, as it is also often noted, his first appearance was made in Donkey Kong (1981) and not in the Super Mario Bros (1985).

The question which is not addressed by the few critics who have engaged with this art-form is a question which lies at the poetic crux of Miyamoto’s art and, in a vital way, the poetic nature of video games in general. It is: “Why is Super Mario Bros regarded to be the “true birth” of the character even though he appeared in previous games (which were also popular in addition to being masterfully made in their own right)?

If Mario does not jump, he “dies” (the very game which he exists to function within cannot proceed). That is what makes Jumpman what he is. Mario’s jump is why Miyamoto called him “jump-man” as soon as he made the character jump over the barrels in Donkey Kong.

We will recall this from Iwata’s conversation with Miyamoto about the moment:

Iwata: So what you’re saying is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped? You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Well, that might have been the case. Originally it was a game where you had to escape from a maze. To have allowed players to jump and avoid dangers would have spoiled the strategic element of the game. But then we thought: “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”

Iwata: Naturally, you’d jump over it! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Of course you’d jump over it! (laughs) So we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.

This is far from insignificant. They make the function and form of Mario contribute to a core reason for why Donkey Kong is a such a fine work of art. But what, if such an important and pleasurable question can be asked in such a trite way, makes it great?

“Horrendously difficult” is not the same as “impossible.”

As previously noted, Mario begins his journey to the top of the building in Donkey Kong at the point which I have marked with a star below:

At the start Donkey Kong, the ape hurls a barrel directly downwards thus igniting the oil barrel at the base of the building:

Mario, as it turns out, happens to be standing next to this oil barrel at the start of the game:

This makes it imperative for Mario to walk to the right (as shown by the yellow arrow). This motion is necessary if he is to survive and if we are to have a game at all:

Should Mario fail to move to the right, he will be crushed by the very first barrel and die as follows:

Let us now recall Miyamoto’s words on the invention of Mario’s jump :

Miyamoto: …But then we thought: “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”

Iwata: Naturally, you’d jump over it! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Of course you’d jump over it! (laughs) So we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.”

That which is expressed through the use of the words “horrendously difficult” is different from what the word “impossible” expresses. A “horrendously difficult game to play” is different from “no game to play.”

Mario will die if he does not jump over the barrel as follows:

But jumping over a barrel is not a pre-condition to the very existence of the game itself. Mario can survive without jumping over a barrel and the player can experience quite a bit of game before he or she has to jump over a barrel at all.

By the point at which jumping over the barrel above is required in order to proceed with the game, the player can, for example, have made Mario continue to move to the right (pink arrow and the player also could have controlled Mario to climb a number of ladders (white, red and orange arrows) as shown here:

By the point at which jumping over the barrel above is required in order to proceed, the player must have jumped over the fireball (blue arrow). He or she has encountered an obstacle already provided that the player has initially moved to the right (green arrow). These are functions of necessity in order for the game to begin (green arrow) and in order for the game to continue (blue arrow):

We may now answer the question: “Why is Super Mario Bros regarded to be the “true birth” of Mario even though the character appeared in previous games which were also popular games in addition to being masterfully made?

In Donkey Kong, Mario must move to the right in order to survive. Without walking to the right, we arrive at “Game Over.” If Mario does not walk to the right in Donkey Kong, the very game in which he exists to function cannot exist.

In Super Mario Bros, however, Mario dies if he does not jump over the very first goomba. If Mario does not jump, the game in which he exists to function cannot exist.

Let us look at the conditions for the game to exist in Super Mario Bros. Just as in Donkey Kong, standing still would mean that the game could not begin:

Walking to the right was needed for Donkey Kong, the game, to begin. And yet, this is not enough to satisfy the conditions for the game to begin in Super Mario Bros:

Mario’s jump is why Miyamoto called him “jump-man” as soon as he made the character jump over the barrels in Donkey Kong and yet Donkey Kong is not considered Mario’s true “birth.”

No game is possible in Donkey Kong without walking to the right. And yet all of the following gaming is possible once one meets that condition.

Let us remember clearly that Miyamoto called the character jumpman in Donkey Kong (not in Super Mario Bros). More specifically, Miyamoto named Mario Jumpman at this moment which he created in 1981:

Subconsciously (I believe it is subconscious), Miyamoto makes the walking prerequisite doubly clear. Even if Mario was programmed so survive the blow of the barrel (he isn’t), he would still die a few microseconds later. As a result of the barrel igniting the oil, Mario would burn to death:



















Donkey Kong is a supremely fine (and enduring) game in which function and conditions of artistic existence meet in the moment above. Yet the game itself is not predicated on this function. 

Donkey Kong, as a game, can proceed to exist and be a game if Mr. Video walks. And yet, Mr. Video became JUMPman when he jumped over the barrel in the moment captured above. He did not become WALKman when he walked to the right as a pre-condition for beginning to play Donkey Kong. 

Music and video games imitate and create the illusion of motion. Video games create the illusion of motion visually and music creates that illusion aurally. 

And yet, in music something really does move: the vibrating body which emits the sound waves moves and, more vitally, the harmonic motion within the activated body (the low “C” String on our piano as in the previous chapter) moves infinitely with  the frequency of a normally imperceptible number of vibrations per second. 

In video games, something actually moves as well. It is not the illusion of motion created by the visual objects on a screen moving at a maximum of 60 frames per second. It is the player who must move in order to play a game using the touch-interaction with a controller or the motion controls in other cases or the simulation of shooting a gun as is the case with the NES Zapper and other “guns” in video games or any number of other motions. We must move in order to play the game. 

We interact with a video game like Donkey Kong or Super Mario Bros through the manipulation of touch and the consequent action we see on the screen. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the element of play draws us into this illusion—we play games and we play instruments and the exploration of the two brings one closer into the process to the realization of the art itself. 

Any skills which are honed are those which make the continued exploration and play in these art forms ever more rewarding. The audience for both art forms interact in real time to the expression and schematics of the game or musical score in question. My feeling towards music exist as a professional composer who loves the work that I do. In the case of video games, my feeling is one of a life-long spectator who wishes to express the unbridled joy I have taken in watching, listening and playing games. 

Play, in music and games, is about motion and perpetual dynamics. 

Miyamoto’s success (as well as the success of any video game creator) is inevitably going to be contingent upon finding the right movement.  

Miyamoto: Yes, I was. I also recall that the cabinet we were making the game for had one joystick and one button, but initially I intended it to be controlled using only the joystick.

Iwata: So what you’re saying is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped? You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping! (laughs)

In Donkey Kong, Miyamoto exacted the right movement for Mr Video and that is why Mr. Video became Jumpman at this moment 1981:






“To have allowed players to jump and avoid dangers would have spoiled the strategic element of the game” said Miyamoto in his interview with Saturo Iwata. 

“So,” he said, “we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.”

Jumping over the barrels (and other objects which are hurled at Mario by Donkey Kong) is also the primary source of the fun in the game. Without Donkey Kong hurling objects which Mario could jump over, the game would consist of:

      1. walking to the right and to the left 
      2. Climbing the ladders

Engaging in those two actions are far less fun than the avoidance of obstacles. Even if the video game in question turned out to be a strategic mind-bender, what then would functionally distinguish this video game from the fun of doing a crossword-puzzle. If the objective of this video game was the navigation of a maze, what would have made it more pleasurable than going to an actual maze? 

There are answers to those questions, I am sure but, as far as touch and interaction is concerned, Mario’s jump is the only way most of us will (and the only way in which most of us will want to) interact with  an infuriated ape like Donkey Kong who is hurling objects at us. 

Miyamoto: Well, that might have been the case. Originally it was a game where you had to escape from a maze. To have allowed players to jump and avoid dangers would have spoiled the strategic element of the game. But then we thought: “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”

Iwata: Naturally, you’d jump over it! (laughs)

One could also shoot the barrel or, as is possible in Donkey Kong, avoid a barrel by partially climbing a ladder. The jump, again, was not simply the natural choice. It was the best natural choice for the artistic medium in question.

Miyamoto: Of course you’d jump over it! (laughs) So we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.

Iwata: You’d have had to focus on avoiding the barrels while climbing up through the maze. That would have required a huge amount of grit and determination.

If the game did take place in a maze the player would, as Iwata then says “have had to focus on avoiding the barrels while climbing up through the maze. That would have required a huge amount of grit and determination.” 

It could have been fun but the reason for the correctly perceived “focus on avoiding the barrels” is that the avoidance of the barrels by jumping is what makes Donkey Kong a pleasurable game. It is Mario’s only  active interaction that exists with the ape in the entire game. Were it not for the jump and the avoidance of the barrels and objects which Donkey Kong hurls at Mario, then the only reason for the game to be what it is (Donkey Kong); that is, for it to feature the monkey and the building in question. Otherwise Mario’s interaction with Donkey Kong (the character) would be limited to the  initial walk rightward which is prerequisite to gameplay in Donkey Kong (the game). 

Saturo Iwata, an artist of note in his own right, created such classic games as Balloon Fight but hailed Miyamoto as being on another level of artistry altogether because of his “imagination.” 

Iwata is correct. It must be mentioned, the word “imagination” has been misunderstood by many to mean praise for Miyamoto’s “story-telling” or “narrative capabilities.” Game critics who say this often proceed to launch into an explanation of the “story” in Super Mario Bros. 

But saving a princess Toadstood from a lizard named Koopa in the Mushroom Kingdom while avoiding malignant turtles and “goombas” as well as spines thrown from cloud-dwelling turtle named Lakitu and collecting coins and mushrooms which make Mario (who is now a plumber from Brooklyn) is not only  a “story” which is largely made-up after the fact. It is also not the greatest narrative material. 

Iwata’s most revealing moment (and one in which he reveals his truest passion as a programmer) is this one in which he contends with Miyamoto’s inspired decision. “So what you’re saying,” posits Saturo Iwata, “is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped?” 

“You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping!” adds Iwata, also correctly. 

Many reasons can be thought up for Mario’s jump. Many ways exist to avoid a barrel. Many strategies and scenarios and movements and ways to initiate that movement are possible; an infinite number of these possibilities and more are, in fact, possible. Miyamoto’s task (and that which remains every artist’s eternal challenge) was simple and stupefying: out of the dazzling infinity of possible options find one; the right one. 

Miyamoto, as we saw with Beethoven in the exercise on the construction of the opening of the 5th Symphony, found the right one; the natural thing that could not, in retrospect, have been done in any other way. Mario’s jump is so natural that it seems as though it’s always been this way. But it hasn’t. Miyamoto had to find it. 

Miyamoto christened Jumpman at this moment which he found and which makes Donkey Kong the inspired and enduring work of art that is:  






Donkey Kong is a supremely fine (and enduring) game in which function and conditions of artistic existence meet in the moment above. Yet the game itself is not predicated on this function. 

Donkey Kong, as a game, can proceed to exist and be a game if Mr. Video walks. And yet, Mr. Video became JUMPman when he jumped over the barrel in the moment captured above. He did not become WALKman when he walked to the right as a pre-condition for beginning to play Donkey Kong. 

Donkey Kong, as a game, can proceed to exist and be a game if Mr. Video walks. It can be a fun game (it is). And yet, Mr. Video became JUMPman when he jumped over the barrel in the moment that made Donkey Kong the game that it is. He was never meant to be WALKman when he walked to the right as a pre-condition for beginning to play Donkey Kong. The jump is natural in Donkey Kong; it makes Donkey Kong the game need to be Donkey Kong. 

That is why Donkey Kong is a fine work of art by a great artist. 

If Mario does not jump in Super Mario Bros, however, the game in which he exists to function cannot exist. And, in this meeting of necessity and nature, Jumpman got his first game that transcended the rare accomplishment that is fine artistic work to inhabit the inspired realm of truly great works of art; works which we cherish and without which we cannot imagine our world as our world (the world we know today). 

That is why Super Mario Bros is, and should be, regarded to be the “true birth” of the character even though he appeared in previous games (which were also popular in addition to being masterfully made in their own right).

This is also why Super Mario Bros is a great, and not simply good, work of art. 

In any case, our journey begins here: 







3. Addition

Once the “cardinal movement” (that of jumping) is accomplished, a series of motions are set into inevitable motion in Super Mario Bros.  If, at the point which I have marked “2” below, Mario initiates  his jump, the arch of his jump will cause him to hit the question mark block (which I have marked with a red dot):







This action (hitting the block from below) results in the emergence of a Mushroom which is programmed to move to the right (as shown by the arrow below). The mushroom then reaches the end of the suspended platform and falls. When one sees this, one understands how gravity works in this particular game (the same as in our world; ie things fall downward in the Mushroom Kingdom):







Once the mushroom hits a new plane (the ground) it continues to move to the right (as I have indicated by the green arrow below): 







Once the mushroom collides with the green pipe, it ricochets against the pipe and moves in the opposite direction of it’s default programming (which is to move to the right) The point of collision is as shown below:







And, following this, the mushroom is sent right back to Mario (provided he is static). The player does not need to do anything in order for Mario to receive it:







The effect which the mushroom has on Mario is to turn him into “Super Mario” (Super being the Latin for “greater than” or “bigger” or “above”) and when used in English as a prefix is as follows: 



      1. above, over, or upon
      2. superior in size, quality, number, degree, status, title, or position
      3. inclusive
      4. (physics) supersymmetry
      5. (fiction) superhero

For the definition of the “Super Mushroom as it applies to the game in question (Super Mario Bros) I have used the Super Mario Wiki definition here because of the lack of critical or poetic works which cover video games (though I have checked the definition against books and research in other arts). Here is the  relevant portion of the definition:

Super Mario Bros. is the first Mario game to feature Super Mushrooms. 

Touching one will turn Mario into Super Mario, making his body grow. While Super, he gains the ability to break Brick Blocks and allows him to take one more hit from an enemy (shrinking down to Small Mario before losing a life). Also, when Super Mario gets hit, his image will flicker and he will be temporarily invulnerable during this time.

…if a Super Mushroom comes in contact with a wall, it will turn around. Just like 1-Up Mushrooms, players can make …”

Additively, Mario becomes “Super” or “superior” in size (as can be seen below) as well as superior in strength (he can now break blocks) and in endurance (he can take a “hit from an enemy and revert to his smaller size where Mario (the original Mario) would die if he sustained a single hit) amidst a host of other things… But the equation at hand, in the simplest sense is “Mario + Mushroom = Super Mario”: 





If the player does nothing in this situation (and Mario stands still) the mushroom will quickly arrive at his position and, upon colliding with him, cause him to become Super Mario (as below):







What, then, would happen if the player did something? 

If the player does decide to move Mario in the two ways which we have learned to move him thus-far (to the right and/or jump) the mushroom will still reach Mario in all but the most unlikely conditions.

If Mario jumps then he will hit the blocks and return to the ground where he will receive the mushroom (remember that Mario is still small and cannot break the brick blocks above him yet):











If Mario walks (as shown by the pink arrow below) he will eventually run into the mushroom all the same:










The invitation to “upward motion” which begins in Donkey Kong (scaling the building) nevertheless is synthesized in Super Mario Bros. The “invitation up” pervades every aspect of Level 1-1 and, indeed, the entire Mario Series of games (it is a “defining feature” in the real sense of those words). 

If we zoom out and, once again, look at the entire landscape of Level 1-1, we can immediately see the trajectory from Mario’s beginning (as small Mario) to the top of the flag pole: 




On a more local level, this upward diagonal is omnipresent. The pipes moving in an upward slope lead Mario upward to the highest plane in World 1-1 as can be seen here:





The second half of the level is similarly built with upward momentum which is especially punctuated by the two “upward” and “downward” stair-cases followed by the final “upward” staircase (one which is not followed by a “downward” equivalent). 

 In this case, the long line which we can chart to the flag-pole is as follows: 





Ever upward. 

It is not just these macro structures which demonstrate synthesis, unity and simplicity. Everything in World 1-1 is accomplished with a profound economy of means which is often described as having been motivated by the lack of “power” in the technology which was available to Miyamoto at the time when he created Super Mario Bros. 

This argument is flawed if one only considers his vocal (and decades-long) favor of techne and art (wile) over “graphics” and “horsepower” alone. The argument becomes ludicrous if one considers how much harder it is (as, again, it was for Beethoven in his Fifth Symphony) to simplify everything to the most basic and satisfying atomic elements of inevitability and pleasure. 

Let us examine two visible details which will illustrate this point. Here is the opening shot of Level 1-1 which we considered earlier:














The small cloud (1) and the small bush (2) are modifications of the same form. The mushroom (3) and the Goomba (4) are also variations on the same form. This is also true of the  three part bush (5) and the three part cloud (6).

 I have highlighted and extracted these elements in the diagram below in the hopes that the reader will immediately appreciate just how much of the variety contained within this detail is derived from fundamentally unified elements.






















Throughout the level, too, every element can be traced to an atomic root. The invisible panels and cells which define the level (as well as the fact that we see the level with a square (or rectangular) frame (a television or a digital frame) as our point of reference is mirrored in every minute detail of the visual design. 





The floor (1) question mark blocks (2), brick blocks (3) and stair-case blocks (4) are all made of the same stuff (they are all blocks) with only the veneer adding variety to the fundamental unity: 












In the case of the two “upward and downward” staircases, the function of the landscape is similarly jump-oriented:






Mario’s  jump is required to get from one staircase to the other (I’ve marked these with arches below):






Should the player control Mario in such a way that would fail to execute a jump with the desired arch (desired in order to proceed), on the first attempt, then the player would fall into a crevice as follows:








All one would then need to do is have Mario jump out of the crevice and try again. Should the player fail on  the second attempt, however, Mario will fall into a “bottomless pit” and die (the “bottomless pit” is antithetical to the essence of the character of Mario who is upward-driven and thus makes perfect sense as a cause for “instant-death”): 







In the second instance, however, two blocks rather than one are given in order to increase the variety of  jumps available to the player (in terms of momentum built by walking/running on the one hand and  the intensity of touch on the controller as it correlates to the height of Mario’s jump on the other. 






One now begins to understand how much variety of potential and richness is contained within Miyamoto’s initial choice of movements in Donkey Kong (walk/run on the one hand and jump on the other). The following are all possibilities which I have traced from actual gameplay (there are literally countless other possibilities):








In Super Mario Bros 2 (1989) this defining upward momentum is maintained and expanded upon through the integration of an astonishing level of vertical motion as well as through the elegance of it’s interaction with the four selectable character-sprites (Mario, Luigi, Toad, Princess) who are distinguished from one another through an array of differences in their jump and speed (the walk/jump combo once more) capabilities. 

Here, for a sense of perspective is the entirety of World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros 2: 











Another detail captures the extent of the vertical upwardness which is a distinguishing feature of Super Mario Bros 2: 



















And that’s not all; far from it. We continue to climb upward beyond this moment (white arrow) until we reach the grand finale of Level 1-1 in Super Mario Bros 2: a battle with the often-faced nemesis/guardian of several gates throughout the game. He goes by the name of “Birdo” (according to the official materials for the game) but would like to be called “birdetta” (also according to the official materials for the game). 

Here you go:







“He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called ‘birdetta.’”

Here he is (as reached by a continued climb upward (shown by the white arrow below) followed by a final upward incline (shown by the pink arrow below): 

















Here, if we take it all in at once, is a prime example of how the simplest of elements can be synthesized to make a whole that boggles the mind when seen (because of how intuitive it is to navigate the labyrinth one cell at a time); World 7-2 from Super Mario Bros 2:




















Released in 1989, Super Mario Bros 2 contains several levels which hearken back to Miyamoto’s now decade-old aspiration to scale the Empire State in Donkey Kong. 

Here’s what Miyamoto said about scrolling the building in Donkey Kong : 

Iwata: So the fact that Donkey Kong is played over four screens stems from your original desire to make it scroll?

Miyamoto: Yes, that’s right. The technical supervisor at the time asked us what on earth we were thinking: “One screen is plenty for a regular game! But you’re making four separate screens! You might as well ask us to make four different games!”

Iwata: But you were dead set on doing it that way.

Here is an example that shows the fulfillment of that aspiration (World 7-2) in Super Mario Bros 2. 

In (A), the reader can compare a section from Super Mario Bros 2; World 7-1 to the additive nature of verticality from Donkey Kong. In section B, the reader will find a detail which highlights the interlocking ladders from Donkey Kong and compares them with the same interlocking ladders from the detail in Super Mario Bros 2; World 7-1.




















It only took ten years, but how moving is it to see Mario now scrolling upward! 

Mario’s upward ascent is a feature on all the covers which were made for Super Mario games thus-far. Here are the covers of Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario Bros 3:









Super Mario Bros 2 introduced the Desert World and the Cloud World as well as the Ice World.

The Worlds in Super Mario Bros 3 (as follows) include Grass-worlds (Super Mario Bros), Desert Worlds (Super Mario Bros 2), Underwater World gameplay (Super Mario Bros), Ice-World game play (Super Mario Bros 2), Sky or Cloud World gameplay ( Super Mario Bros 2) are all derived additively from the first two games.

Only the Giant World gameplay and Pipe World gameplay are themes that are introduced as essentially new to Super Mario Bros 3. 














In Super Mario Bros 3, the idea was had that Mario (bound ever-upward) should finally be given the ability to fly. This is accomplished according to the following control scheme:






Here is the trajectory of Mario’s run and his subsequent take-off into the air (which he accomplishes while equipped with a Raccoon Suit complete with propellor-tail) from Super Mario Bros 3’s World 1-1:









And here is how Mario’s initial flight works in Super Mario Bros 3’s World 1-1:










And yet, Super Mario Bros 3 also incorporated the movement of picking up objects and throwing them from Super Mario Bros 2 as follows: 





Like a composer having written Symphony #1, Symphony #2 and Symphony #3, the Mario Series is a “tradition” of it’s creators’ making; one which is influenced by those things which influence it’s creators but one which is entirely synthetic in the best and truest sense of that word. 

In 2008, Super Mario 3D World reinvented and re-perfected the four-character formula which was one of the unique and defining features of Super Mario Bros 2. It also introduced a Cat power-up for all four characters by which the  defining upwardness of the Mario Series could be re-experienced anew:








Super Mario Odyssey, to take another example, incorporated a number of costume changes based on Mario’s many appearances in many games (too many to recount here as a detailed history of all of Mario’s transformations would likely merit an entire chapter of it’s own). Here are a few of them (the costumes refer to games as diverse as Mario Picross; Super Mario 64; Golf; Yoshi’s Cookie; Super Mario Maker among other):







From the very first transformation which the player must make in Super Mario Odyssey (into a frog) to the very last challenge (Culmina Crater on the Moon), the emphasis is on Mario’s continued jump, his motion upwards and his defiance of gravity. 

Culmina Crater features the “highest” peak in Super Mario Odyssey; a movement to the top of a building in a place where all of Mario’s friends are waiting for him; everyone whom he has met in the journey throughout the worlds of Super Mario Odyssey is present here and encourages him onward to a final climb to the top of a familiar building which is mysteriously placed against a beautiful cosmic backdrop. 

Culmina Crater is a culminating point in Super Mario Odyssey and in the Super Mario Series in general. It is described in the game as “every traveller’s final stop.” 













4. A New Tradition

In this section, we will complete the circle of our look at video games. I would like to begin by discussing work and play as opposed to play and work (where we started our discussion). We will find both work and play (as positive, additive and multiplicative elements) do not simply coexist but are necessary to the existence of one another; the interaction of mere technology and techne is central to all the arts. Where we had begun our discussion with a demonstration of play as work, I would now like to discuss work as play. 

Speaking to a Game Developer’s Conference, Shigeru Miyamoto, who began his discussion in the opposite way to mine, said the following: “Though I have talked mostly about the technical aspects of game creation,” Miyamoto said, “I would now like to talk about something on the opposite end of the spectrum. We must not forget the importance of human ingenuity and creativity in game design.”

“Naturally,” said Miyamoto, “it is new and unique expression of ideas that gives birth to new games. Recently, I am very sorry to see that the uniqueness of many titles has been dependent upon new technology and specialty development tools, while the personalities of the creators have been diluted. For me, game creation is like expression through music. When I am working as a director on a game, while I always try to hit upon new plots, I place great importance on the tempo of the game and the sound effects. I feel that those directors who have been able to incorporate rhythm and emotional stimuli in their games have been successful. When I am holding the controller and setting the tempo, I feel that my own personal game is in the midst of creation.”

“I have never created a game that has been of a level that I could be satisfied with,” concludes Miyamoto.

A “necessary element of design” says Miyamoto “is skillful management of the memory map and accurate estimation of the processing speed. When we make games for consumer game consoles, it is important to take into account the limited ability, processing speed and transfer rate of the console.”

There is hardly a clearer analogy to this situation than the one which is to be found among inexperienced composers and songwriters attempting to orchestrate or set text to music with little experience in the practice of voice-leading, text-setting, orchestration, instrumentation, counterpoint and other technical matters (note that. I say the practice of these things rather than the theoretical or speculative study of these things; it is only through the repeated practice of these things through the unique application of them into one’s own work that one can gain a grasp on them— no study of these matters either scientific or through the observation of the practice of others (important as those things are) can substitute for one’s own practice through the making of one’s own work).  

Miyamoto continues his discussion. “For users and company management, said Miyamoto, “who do not have a technical grounding, it is taken for granted that the virtual world exists in the game. This is a matter of course. If we see a man running and there is a hill in front of him, naturally, he will run up the hill. If a car is bearing down on him, we can guess that it will hit him. We assume that the cars wheels will turn when the car is moving and stop turning when the car stops. For the users and management, these are the laws of nature, but they don’t realize that we are the ones who have created this virtual world. When problems arise in the end, they ask ‘Can’t you do this? Does the processing speed have to be so slow? Why do I have to wait so long at this point?’ But at that stage of development, such areas can not be fixed.”

The following illuminating insight of the poetics of motion and tempo is given by Miyamoto: 

“When we were making games for the NES, sounds in the game consumed CPU power, so in early development we would include dummy sounds so that we could estimate the processing speed of the final product. There were days when we were playing Super Mario Bros. to the music of Excite Bike, and Mario’s jump didn’t have its characteristic “boing,” but rather the rev of a motorbike. [Miyamoto imitates the “wrooom” sound for the audience, which results in laughs and cheers.] This kind of consideration is necessary for taking the interface into account and in order for us to focus our attention on the areas of the game that we have placed our creative priorities on.”

Miyamoto now comes to his summa. The statement which I am about to quote is a clear example of what many serious students of composition realize early-on in attempting to create works which will succeed in musical terms. Orchestration alone, for example, is never noticeable as orchestration if it is successful orchestration. It is noticeable if one takes it away but, when present as part of a great symphony, it is taken for granted as one focuses on the music and the music as a whole (the orchestration and every other singular element operates in the background to the music). 

Here is Miyamoto:  

“Understanding the technologies is the requisite if we want to fully realize our expression. Game designers are apt to boast of the technical aspects of their games, and I, too, have fallen into this trap. Speaking of my own case, I tend to highlight new technologies when I am less confident about the new ideas I am putting forward in the game, and later, I always regret doing this. It is important for us to remember that technology can inspire new ideas and help us realize those ideas, but it should do so from the background.”

A composer with any experience must emphatically agree with Miyamoto’s statement if only because of the fact that the extent to which technology (by which I mean mere technology) and play are integrated in video games and in music cannot be understated or underestimated.

Mere technology (like the cabinets we examined in the first part of this chapter or my television, for example) are works of art which satisfy themselves through fulfilling their function. 

My piano is another example of mere technology. Every work written by every composer who has ever written musical compositions for the piano has interviewed their work with the piano to an almost indescribable level. 

Here is the opening of Mozart’s A minor Piano Sonata (K 310):  












Every decision that Mozart made about every single note and every single rhythm and every single indication of loudness, softness (dynamics) and every single imaginable musical decision was influenced by two pieces of technology: 

  1. The piano
  2. The human hand

There is not a single musical idea or element in this entire piano sonata that does not take into consideration (and is therefore informed by) those two technological considerations. Everything Mozart did in this piece js touched by the possibilities and limitations of these two instruments (the piano and the human hand). 

This is true of every musical element in every piano work which was ever composed by any composer who has written for the piano. It will also be true of every work which shall be composed by composers who will write for the piano. 

This is true of every other instrument also as well as every combination of instruments from the most simple duet to the most layered symphonic orchestration. 

The flow also holds true for every game console which works with the games which it was created to  play and which are created to play on it. 

For Nintendo, the Mario Series (and others such as Zelda, Metroid, StarFox, Pikmin) have gone hand in hand with a series of consoles that were made in order to play these games.

Unveiling, Nintendo’s newest console, the Nintendo Switch, in 2017, Shinya Takahashi (director, member of the Board, Managing executive officer, general manager, entertainment Planning & Development Division at Nintendo) had this to say: 

“Nintendo Switch has inherited DNA from each of the many hardware systems Nintendo has released to date. The Nintendo entertainment system included two controllers in the base system, GameBoy made it possible to bring video games out the home, Super NES added the ‘x’ and ‘y’ buttons and the ‘L’ and ‘R’ buttons to enhance the fun, Nintendo 64 offered the world’s first analog control stick and it introduced a rumbling controller with the development of the rumble pack, we put a handle on Nintendo GameCube so that it could be carried around. Even at that time we were considering a home system that you could take with you but it seems we were a little too soon. Nintendo DS added a touch screen with the Wii Remote motion control became possible and the WiiU gamepad enabled you to play games off the TV and now, Nintendo Switch has inherited all of Nintendo’s entertainment DNA and we have packed each and every one of these features into the system Nintendo is constantly pursuing new forms of entertainment to bring more fun and more smiles to the world…” 

In order to understand Takahashi’s sentiment more clearly in terms of the sheer additive function which it expresses, let us now take a look at the sequence of Nintendo gaming consoles as they were created and brought into the world in their chronological order of release. 

The Nintendo Entertainment System is released in 1983 (“The Nintendo entertainment system included two controllers in the base system”):








The Nintendo Game Boy is released in 1989 (“GameBoy made it possible to bring video games out the home”):










The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is released in 1990 (“Super NES added the ‘x’ and ‘y’ buttons and the ‘L’ and ‘R’ buttons to enhance the fun”): 








The Nintendo 64 is released in 1996 (“Nintendo 64 offered the world’s first analog control stick and it introduced a rumbling controller with the development of the rumble pack”):








The Nintendo Gamecube is released in 2001 (“we put a handle on Nintendo GameCube so that it could be carried around. Even at that time we were considering a home system that you could take with you but it seems we were a little too soon”):








The Nintendo DS is released in 2004 (“Nintendo DS added a touch screen”):









The Nintendo Wii is released in 2006 (“with the Wii Remote motion control became possible…): 










The WiiU is released in 2012 (“…and the WiiU gamepad enabled you to play games off the TV”): 









And the Nintendo Switch was released in 2017. It is not difficult for anybody to see how those features enunciated and introduced additively with each new Nintendo System are all present in the Switch itself; the Switch is a home console which can also be taken outside the home; it’s screen features touch control; it can be played on the television and off-TV; it’s controllers feature HD Rumble technology and advanced motion controls; it’s two built-in Joy-Con controllers resemble the two-controller system found on the NES (and which came together with the NES’s Japanese counterpart); the bottons on the Joycon are those which were codified on the SNES). 

Here is the Nintendo Switch: 







The flow of play between the technology also continued to develop seamlessly and additively even as both the hardware and the software (the instruments and the musical scores, so to speak) continued to be built additively each in their own way. 

In the chapter section titled Jump-man, we looked at the flow of play between the NES Controller’s directional pad and the movement of Mario in Super Mario Bros on the NES. Let us take, for a second example of this flow between the hardware and software elements of techne, the Nintendo 64. 

The Nintendo 64’s analogue stick provides natural access to movement in 360 degrees so as to coincide with 3D environments such as those created in Super Mario 64; a game which was bundled with the console upon release. 











In Super Mario 64, the extent to which the analogue stick was integrated to work in tandem with Mario’s flow is every bit as “natural” as the integration of the directional pad was in Super Mario Bros. Mario is created to move in a three dimensional environment and 360 degrees of motion are enabled as follows: 








But it is the shape at the center of the Nintendo 64’s controller that is ingeniously harnessed by Miyamoto in this game. I am referring here to the 8-sided polygon:








This shape is cellularly (atomically) central to every element of Super Mario 64. It informs most everything from the design of Mario himself (left) to the central motif of Princess Toadstool’s castle (right):







The 8-sided polygon is central to the design of the Nintendo 64’s controller and interacts seamlessly with the circle. The polygon gives the circle tactile dimension (so to speak): 






The interaction between the 8-sided polygon and the circle is a masterfully wielded force which distinguishes Mario’s encounter with Koopa (Bowser) in Mario 64. 

In this encounter, Mario must hold Bowser by the tail and swing him in consecutive 360 degree rotations speeding up as he goes along. 

Mario does this until enough momentum is gained in order for Bowser to be thrown off the polygonal stage and into one of the eight bombs which lie off-stage and yet within intuitive reach because of the fact that the circle on the controller is felt to be operating within the polygon and also because the polygon is the implicit circle in the visual structure which the player sees on the television (in the game itself):








The touch of the polygon as well as the circle on the Nintendo 64’s controller is a sensory masterstroke and an important part of what makes Mario’s movements in three-dimensional space feel so intuitive that they seem to spring as an extension from the player’s own body:










In 2017, twenty years after Super Mario 64 introduced Mario to three-dimensional space, Super Mario Odyssey was released for the Nintendo Switch. Introducing the new game, the producer Yoshiaki Koizumi said the following: 

“While I am the overall producer for the Nintendo Switch hardware, I simultaneously have a hand in the newest Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey. This is the first time since Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine that we have created a large Mario sandbox world like this for you to run around in. The theme for this game is that Mario is on a journey to an unknown world and Mario has jumped out of the Mushroom Kingdom to go on an extraordinary adventure. I said ‘unknown’ but perhaps you noticed some landscapes that look familiar from the real world…”

Koizumi goes on to add another layer of self-critical illumination which sheds light on the direct connective thread which links Super Mario 64 to Super Mario Odyssey. “In the 20 years since we made Super Mario 64,” said Koizumi, “I have been on a long, long journey together with Mario and we are working on this new journey called ‘Nintendo Switch’ with the excitement one feels when visiting unknown countries for the very first time. I’ll be very happy when you can all join me in departing on this new Mario journey on Nintendo Switch.”

Koizumi then showed a diagram of two concurrent additive series within the Super Mario Series’ three-dimensional games. The upper arrow demonstrates a series of games which are more linear and goal-oriented in their approach to level design while the lower arrow demonstrates a series of games which feature multi-linear and multi-goal-oriented levels. 

The games in the former category are Super Mario Galaxy (2007), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010), Super Mario 3D Land (2011) and Super Mario 3D World (2013). The games in the latter category are Super Mario 64 (1996), Super Mario Sunshine (2002) and, now, Super Mario Odyssey (2017). 

And so we see how a tree can grow through additive and multiplicative means. The two-dimensional games that started with Donkey Kong (1981), Super Mario Bros (1985), Super Mario Bros 2 (1988), Super Mario Bros 3 (1988) and Super Mario World (1990) continued with a slew of beautifully crafted two dimensional  Mario games such as New Super Mario Bros Wii (2009)  and New Super Mario Bros U (2012) at the same time that the three-dimensional games continued and flourished. The Super Mario Series is additive. Nothing needed to be sacrificed and nothing is. Here are the three-dimensional games as broken down by Koizumi. The arrow, placed subconsciously, indicates an additive continuity that will ever continue to grow: 









May it be so. There is good reason to hopeful for the creative health of the series. 

It is, after all, in Super Mario Odyssey (2018), we have the most simple interplay of two-dimensional and three-dimensional gameplay which we have yet seen. In New Donk City, the heart of Super Mario Odyssey’s Metro Kingdom (one of the fifteen worlds or “kingdoms” in the game), a trio of artists (clothing-makers from the artistically inclined lake kingdom) sit atop a building which resembles New York’s Flatiron building and speak of how inspired they are by New Donk City: 









It’s not difficult to understand why. 

Here is Mario standing at the bottom of the “flatiron” building as seen from above. If we place Mario along either the line which is highlighted in red below or the line which is highlighted in purple below, one can imagine Mario moving along a two dimensional platform:













This platform is, nevertheless, extended into a three-dimensional environment as illustrated below:













One can see the interplay of three-dimensional and two-dimensional spaces in Super Mario Odyssey. 

It is striking to see how intuitively the three dimensional environment of New Donk City (one of the environments Koizumi was referring to when he spoke of “landscapes that look familiar from the real world”) can be interpreted into the two dimensional landscapes in the worlds of Donkey Kong and the Mushroom Kingdom of Super Mario Bros:



















And then, there are sections in Super Mario Odyssey which interpose literal two-dimensional “side-scrolling” gameplay landscapes with three-dimensional “sandbox” gameplay landscapes. 

Here, for example, are two sections of gameplay in one frame captured from Super Mario Odyssey. 

In the first instance, Mario is moving through a three-dimensional landscape which is pictured in the foreground while a two-dimensional landscape exists (as though it is a mural) on the wall in the background:












But the player is able to move Mario into the pipe on the right (above) and, in so doing, Mario is seamlessly transported into the two dimensional environment:












Later, in New Donk City, another world from Super Mario Odyssey, there is a line forming on one of the streets. If the player moves Mario close enough to the line, a text-bubble will appear above one of the characters who is waiting in line and who tells us what all the buzz is about: “The Theater’s playing one of the all-time greats right now!” 










The player can cause Mario to rush to the front fo the line and have Mario enter the theater. Upon entering the theater the player will see the title screen from Super Mario Bros (1985). In an inspired moment, Mario is able to access the game (Super Mario Bros) from the parent game (Super Mario Odyssey) by entering the pipe on the left-hand side of the screen in the theater: 
















The player is then able to play through the entirety of World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros (1985) while, of course, playing Super Mario Odyssey at the same time: 









Upon completing Level 1-1, Mario re-emerges into the three-dimensional theater of Super Mario Odyssey  (proper) from a pipe on the right-hand corner of the “screen” within our screen; of course Mario has “never left” Super Mario Odyssey: 












This is one of the most striking examples of interaction between two-dimensional gameplay and three-dimensional gameplay in Super Mario Odyssey and it provides a unique and delightful example of a game and a meta-game (in which this “meta-gameplay” allows us to play a game within a game). 

Having cycled back through a 2018 game, to Super Mario Bros of 1985, we are now ready to take the final leap which will bring us full-circle: to 1981 and Donkey Kong.

The cumulative sequence at the center of Super Mario Odyssey is called “A Traditional Festival!”:












In order to get a better feel the counterpoint of buildings in New Donk City and the building which we scaled in Donkey Kong let us take a look at a game called Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.

 In Captain Toad, Treasure Tracker, the Japanese technique of gardening called Hakoniwa (箱庭 “box garden”) serves as the fundamental inspiration for the self-contained “boxes” which each level of the game is built within. Each level is a box which can be manipulated as one would manipulate the “camera” (point-of-view) in a three dimensional environment within a video game. Here is a level of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker (on the left) and a Hakinowa Box Garden (on the right): 








These gardens can, of course, also be viewed from above as well as from various rotational angles and inclines:
















Taking into account various points of view and perspectives is an illuminating feature of Hakoniwa which is elegantly translated into the camera-level gameplay interaction of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker. One is able, for example, to view the Hakoniwa gardens from many different stories and planes if placed within a building:
















This results in camera perspectives that enhance the involvement of multilayered levels such as this one, based on a city-scape (New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey) as well as the castle in the sky on the right:









In Super Mario Odyssey’s Traditional Festival, we can see the squares formed by the girder and imagine the path the Mario will scale around a building even as he remains in a two-dimensional space. The obstacles feature a combination of the oil to be avoided in Donkey Kong (1981) and the bottomless pits to be scaled in Super Mario Bros (1985):












And yet, if one looks at the New Donk City skyline (taken as a whole), one can see how far up we have come if we allow our eyes to turn to the top of the central tower we started scaling all that time ago in 1981):












Here are the sections of gaming platforms inspired by Donkey Kong as interposed on the building structures of New Donk City:























The image above demonstrates how the first level of Donkey Kong might be seen from the reverse if we were to imagine the level from Donkey Kong (25 Meter) superimposed onto the building: 

















The picture above shows the first level of Donkey Kong as it would appear to us if we were viewing it on the building as a projection or if the screen was superimposed onto the front of the building. Here is a side-by-side comparison with us looking at the level from behind in Super Mario Odyssey (2017) on the left and Donkey Kong (1981) on the right:





















And here, at long last, is a view of the moment in which Mario and Donkey Kong finally meet again; the level (25 Meter which began Donkey Kong in 1981) is now placed at the top of the building. 40 years after Donkey Kong was made in 1981, we have “leveled up” quite a few times to reach this moment in Super Mario Odyssey; but reached it we have:












In reaching this summit, Miyamoto and his fellow makers at Nintendo have made themselves a tribe out of their true affections. And in their making and sharing their truest affections, the world has gained a new and already much-cherished tradition. 

May this art form flourish in the true affections and human ingenuity in generations of video game creators to come. 


5. Comix

There are two instances of cartoon music that I would like to discuss in this final section on animation, motion and emotion. 

As with all the arts, we will learn how the optical illusion of animating pictures works by “doing” rather than “explaining”. As a composer, my artistic discipline is quite different from that of the great animators but the artistic principle of “doing” rather than “thinking” remains the same across all the arts. When I was a child, my fascination with the work of great animators like Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Mike Maltese and others led me to this experiment as a way to understand their craft.

I assure the reader that my skills in drawing, painting and in the visual arts more generally, will leave much to be desired but I can attest that this is the only way to attain a genuine and real understanding of the art form. This simple exercise brought me joy as I learned about the mechanics behind my favorite cartoons when I was a child. There is nothing to be intimidated by in this process. 

The first thing that you will need is a pad of paper suitable for animation. The animators I just mentioned would have used animation paper cells (cellulose acetate clear sheets) for their works, we can accomplish our task with any pad of tracing paper (as long as the paper is not too thin). Now you’ll need something to draw with. When you select an instrument, make sure that it is one that does not  bleed through one sheet of paper in your pad and onto the next. A pencil is ideal. If you want to draw in color, I recommend water based markers. 

Open the pad to the last page of the pad and begin to draw a simple picture. Anything will do and even a simple geometric shape such as a circle or square is fine. Once you are finished drawing the first image, turn the page and trace your image onto the penultimate page in the pad. You must move the image slightly but be careful to move the image only slightly. Continue this process on the subsequent pages, of the pad and work your way to the first page. Remember to shift your picture gradually and, if you choose to incorporate any other changes in your subsequent drawings, please remember to make these changes subtle and slight. If you focus your drawing on the bottom section of the pad, this will make it simpler to flip the pages with ease which you will need to do using only your thumb (as in the image below) and, behold, our images are moving:










Let us now freeze our animated cells in order to delve into the structure and function of comic books. The comic book writer Dennis O’ Neil described Batman’s Gotham City as “Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November” to which William Safire, writing in The New York Times adds: “from SoHo to Greenwich Village, the Bowery, Little Italy, Chinatown and the sinister areas around the base of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.”

In this chilling environment, Bob Kane created arguably the most colorful rogues gallery of villains in any comic book series. I selected four of these figures as the basis for my 14th-17th Piano Miniatures, a series of character pieces in which I sketched out attributes of these extreme and compelling characters.  

I would like to look at these miniatures, designed to be performed as a set titled The Rouges Gallery, as my first example of my composedly animation of “structural cartoon music.” 

  1. Mr. Freeze (Piano Miniature #14)Mr. Freeze is a tragic character. Driven by a desire to cure his terminally ill wife, Nora, he cryogenically freezes her in an unauthorized experiment only to have his employers pull the plug on the whole affair and, in the process, trigger an industrial accident that leaves him in his current cold state. Freeze’s condition also slows down his body’s aging process basically making him immortal.
  2. Much has been written about the symbolism of cold for Mr. Freeze (that molecules slow down when colder). As a result, the music of this miniature is extremely slow and makes use of the high registers traditionally used to evoke coldness in music. The music is stoic but tinged with tragedy and loss. In the middle of the miniature, we hear a tinkling melody that I wrote to evoke Nora in the extreme high range imitating the sound of a music box. This is a reference to the makeshift music box that Mr. Freeze creates featuring an ice sculpture of his wife. It is his only source of happiness during his incarceration.
  3. Scarecrow (Piano Miniature #15)Originally a student of phobias, Scarecrow uses his psychological knowledge as well as his signature fear-gas to exploit the fears of his victims. The music of this miniature is extremely fast and relentless imitating the increased heartbeat of a terrified victim. There are echos of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) throughout. Just as it seems to calm down, this minute-long panic attack comes to a tumultuous close.
  4. Two-Face (Piano Miniature 16A/16B)Once Gotham City’s dashing and idealistic district attorney, Harvey Dent is driven to insanity when the left side of his face is hideously scarred by acid. This unleashes all of his inner demons and obsession with dualities. Believing that justice is arbitrary, Two-Face makes all his decisions with the flip of a coin.
  5. At this point in the set, the pianist flips a coin to determine whether the audience will hear miniature 16A (Harvey Dent) or 16B (Two-Face). Miniature 16A sets the calm and magnanimous spirit of Dent centered around an starry-eyed chorale ever reaching upward. There is only a hint in this music that things could go terribly wrong.
  6. Miniature 16B takes Harvey’s musical motifs and transforms them into violent blackened sounds invoking Two-Face’s ruthless and psychotic character.
  7. The Riddler (Piano Miniature #17)The Riddler is my favorite of Batman’s Rogues. The master of puzzles leaves clues to his deadly crimes in the form of Riddles to challenge his opponents and prove his intellectual superiority. The music is obsessively punctuated with a seven note motif that spells out
    “R-I-D-D-L-E-R” using a modified version of the (cryptic) 19thcentury “French” system of generating musical cryptograms:









The flamboyance of the music is inspired by Frank Gorshin’s depiction of the character as well as Jim Carrey’s interpretation (inspired by Gorshin) in Joel Schumaker’s 1997 movie, Batman Forever.

At the opening of the score, a riddle is presented from the comic book Batman #23.2: Riddler #1, one of my favorite Riddler comics: “My servants cannot leave me, In all they number five. They bring me everything I want, and I keep them alive. What am I?”

The answer is presented cryptographically in counterpoint to the “R-I-D-D-L-E-R” motif and then as a second theme of its own. A hint to the answer is also given in the fact that this is a piano piece: “H-A-N-D”.

In Batman #23.2 Riddler #1, the events involve scaling the most secure building in Gotham City (Wayne Enterprises). The Riddler begins with a clear demonstration of why he is scaling the building: “TIME TO PLAY. 











One can see the “blocks” of the building that we are scaling. The Riddler describes it in terms of mere “schematics.”

The events are set into motion right at the start of the comic which begins “four years ago” in Arkham Asylum with an abusive episode: with the words, “Hey psycho. “Riddler!” the reader is introduced to the character and sympathizes with him:















Time is fast-forwarded to the present day (“now”) and the reader is confronted with five riddles. These five riddles are the foundation for the entire comic and as they play out with mechanical force, the reader feels the inevitability of the Riddler’s game (as though we are solving the riddles at the opening with retrospective knowledge of recognition, we seem to know what his next step is but he is always just a step ahead of us which is, of course, the point). 8:44
















The Riddler comic is an excellent example of time suspended and yet set into the illusion of motion In the excerpt below, the first panel contains an inevitable direction of motion in the first cell (Upward) and the very motion of breath is paced in the second cell (Breathe in) and the third cell (Breathe out):



























We hear the words “HEY PSYCHO” once again and, without seeing the Riddler’s eyes, the reader is prepared for the menace that is to surely come. 

For my second example of animating “structural cartoon music”, I would like to move from the figure-sprite scaling a building and set my focus upon the building itself. We will do this through a look at my Fourth Symphony. In the Shadow of No Towers (Symphony #4 for Wind Ensemble) takes its inspiration from details in Art Spiegelman’s comic book of the same name. Like Poems and Prayers, my Third Symphony for Chorus and Orchestra, the work engages serious ideas. In the case of my Fourth Symphony, each movement takes as its point of departure a graphic detail, a panel removed (so to speak) from Spiegelman’s book.

The first movement, The New Normal, takes us back to September 11th 2001 and, in its three large sections, literally depicts the events of that day as Spiegelman explores them in the following sequence:






The events are not “seen” but they are understood sonically. 

The music begins by depicting the electronic monotony of the first panel. When the calendar turns to 9/11 in the second panel the music explodes reflecting the sense of shock and awe that wakes the “anyone” viewers from their complacent sleep. After a cold and quick funeral march, the music does not stay “awake” but is lulled back into the repetitive sleep of the opening. But in the final panel, the calendar is replaced by a flag, the effects of the shock are still apparent on the people and the music is not quite “right” with a dissonant trumpet line that is decidedly out of place. It seems that nothing has really changed. Everything is the same, but not quite.

The music progresses, as it should, through time (linearly) from the start of the movement to the end of the movement:










I’ve seen a description by one composer of the “three-part form” which is often called “Sonata Form” or even “Sonata Allegro Form” by “scholars and “academics” which looks like this:










Though I cannot understand the need attempt to codify a “form” that is supposed to somehow describe the first movements of countless instrumental works by countless composers across the centuries (the attempt, like all attempts at codifying human behavior, has failed for all practical purposes and produced tens of exceptions to the “rule” for every interpretation of the rule itself) I found the structure above compelling for use in my Fourth Symphony. 










Panels are, after all, things that fall from buildings. 

An artificial structure had to be imposed (one which would immediately be understood in terms of the comic book that I was extracting panels from). 

Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist (below) is the inspiration for the second movement of the work. Like the comic book sequence, it relies on limited “colors” (instrumental timbres) that I selected from the larger wind ensemble. Here I decided to use only the instruments that do no “breathe.” It is music of deep reflection and, like the sequence, registers through time in descending order. 

Time, in other words, begins to be vexed.

The page from Spiegelman’s comic book (on the left) is one which I did not incorporate into my Symphony but which I am placing side by side with the panel (on the right) which was the inspiration for the second movement of my symphony. 

Here we have no jump-man but the most terrible of images (that of the eternally frozen in photographs) falling man: 





















There are four different sections in this movement. Each section starts at a high pitch and descends slowly and inevitably to the lowest pitch and the richest set of harmonics that I could compose into a profound dissonance.

The third movement, One Nation Under Two Flags, serves the role that a “Scherzo” would in a four-movement “classical” symphony. This movement responds to Spiegelman’s image which reflects a divided nation in the detail to which follows. 

Spiegelman draws a portrait of the United Blue Zone of America versus the United Red Zone of America to which I responded by literally breaking the wind ensemble into two different bands (I’ve reproduced the score layout to the first page of this movement in my manuscript below it).



















The movement begins with grotesquely Sousa-esque gestures from the Red Zone as follows:


























Those gestures dovetail into a blathering “resistance” from the Blue Zone as follows:



























This leads, inevitably, to the two “sides” coming together to clash in music which is best enjoyed by those men and women who, blighted by noise, seek to make sense of the meaningless chaos:


























The music of each “band” is pitted relentlessly against the other with the two “sides” not listening to one another (remember that this is, in reality, one band and that it should function as such). This scherzo develops themes of “political satire” (the sound of bad behavior) that I also incorporated much less explicitly in Poems and Prayers.

There’s a generally quick, breathless and outraged feel in the music of the “urban Blue Zone” and a jingoistic, fanfare-y thrust to the music of the “Red Zone.” The two “musics” and the two “bands “sometimes comment on one another while, at other times, they “shout” over each other to form a concerted chaos (which is really very ordered). This is my most explicit musical representation of loudness as “nationalism.”

There is a moment in this movement however where the two sides come together to sound “as one” in an over-the-top exultation of “patriotism” (complete with sounding bells and whistles) before diverging again to the same breathless and overblown rhetoric only to finally spin out of control and into a tumultuous conclusion.

Apart from this moment (a meeting of two-arrowheads), time “moves” throughout this scherzo in this way: 
















The final movement of the work, Anniversaries, starts with a ticking that will stay with us throughout the movement. It is, in its first part, inspired by the following graphic detail about the passage of time and the ticking of a time- bomb. There is a general anxiety that underlies this music and the constant ticking of the movement. This is music that is unable to mourn, instead concerning itself with the passage of time and the commemorations of each “anniversary.”











In his note on my Symphony (which I quoted earlier in the chapter), Art Spiegelman said the following: 

“Mohammed Fairouz and I are both from different tribes (though we are both thoroughly Rooted Cosmopolitan New Yorkers). He belongs to the Composer Tribe (a group that devotes itself to keeping time, while we comix artists find ways to represent time spatially). Composers often don’t share Mr. Fairouz’s interest in narrative (something that’s just part of the job description for us Cartoonists) but he and I seem equally obsessed with structure in our respective mediums—and clearly we both were shaken by the tumbling structures that struck Ground Zero back in 2001.

Though my idea of a wind ensemble is something often made up of kazoos and jugs, I’m moved by the scary, somber and seriously silly symphony he has made (especially that martial schizo-scherzo he built around “One Nation Under Two Flags!”) I’m honored that the composer found an echo in my work that allowed him to strike a responsive chord and express his own complex responses to post 9-11 America. He emerges from the rubble with a very tony piece of highbrow cartoon music.”

The Composer Tribe (Speigelman aptly says) are are devoted to keeping time. We (to the extent that I can speak on behalf of my Tribe) are also interested in creating houses of memory in times which demand that humanity recover lost time. 

My interest in narrative here is, perhaps, more of an interest in structure, de-structure and the effects of destruction. Throughout the final movement of my Symphony, the music grows louder and louder and the memory of the towers come to loom far larger than life. With each anniversary, there is both a fading of the true memory and an enlargement of mythic status. This is captured on the album in a way that only music which is created after the advent of recordings gave us the ability to look at visual cues that told us the exact timing of the music made it possible to (and often impossible not to) see the exact timing of each song and piece of music which we were listening to. 















Much in the same way that the key of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony was pre-empted by printing it in the program (how else would one know that one was about to listen to a Symphony “in c minor”) this information is often unwelcome (especially when it is a time bomb counting down the seconds to destruction). 

We have four ways of keeping time in my Fourth Symphony. The final movement, like Yeat’s Gyre is constant amplification (of noisy anniversaries) and constant receding (of memory). Time progresses like this; frozen constantly (at 9:11):









All accusations of interest in narrative aside, my relationship to Spiegelman’s cartoon is musical and, here, music provides one with more than enough (perhaps it is all that is enough) to capture the immobility of anxiety. 

I calculated the musical timing for my work to a minute and detailed level. I then wrote a symphony and would like to offer it to those interested in the visual and narrative-oriented tribe of cartoonists (a tribe that must “freeze” the motion of time in order to capture it in another artistic disciple. I offer it with no mind to competition or correction (there is no competition among artists when it comes to our disciplines but only love for the arts). I offer it as my own way of preparing a visual cue  (and a clue); this is a visual cue from the tribe devoted to keeping time. 

My symphony contains a series of demonstrations (in time) of the temporal mechanics by which those men and women who are  more inclined to destruction than any form of art render themselves and those  susceptible around them into a stupor. 

I have attempted to render this immobilized state, as attained through the schematics of failure and destruction and other traits of human anti-making, is a state which I have rendered through the composition of a symphony which (bound to time) takes active time itself into consideration in the representation of a vile search for frozen and immobilized “time.”