I remember learning about the scientific sense of sublimation in middle school
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and noticing the magic and unexpectedness of the process even then. How could a solid just become a gas? One of the most important things I learned while studying ethnomusicology in college was that a musical tradition, by virtue of being a tradition, has
developed over a long time to reach a place of aesthetic sublimity. My twenty-four-year old ears can listen to a 1,500-year-old court music tradition, resting assured that the ingredients involved are not there by chance. Take Japanese gagaku. This is not some guy in his bedroom making beats–this is a court music tradition that is at least 1,500 years old (and even older if you trace its origins in China). I remember being struck by its foreignness, to my ears, at first. But as I listened, I came to find the music, as has happened with other court music traditions–Indian and Indonesian, for example–not just beautiful, it was sublime. The same sense of magic I had felt in science class hit me again: how could these musical elements–which, alone, sound stark and harsh to me–together elevate each other to
such a degree? I can only assume this
comes with many years of dedicated refinement by the culture. At the risk of seeming like Im rehashing the territory covered in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I find in this process much in common with eating food that is foreign to me. Once I was invited to the home of a Swedish friend to partake of a traditional smörgåsbord. Again, the experience was similar (though I wasnt thinking about gagaku at the time; I was devouring everything much too quickly to be considered polite). There were certainly familiar foods at the table–potatoes, dill, cucumbers, eggs, liquor–but they were prepared and combined with flavors that were new to me, just like the drum and flute in gagaku, which, while familiar, are employed in a manner contrary to my impulses (as a composer and a listener). And of course, the composition of flavors in the smörgåsbord has also been developed over time. We are lucky enough to be able to enjoy
the fruits of these cultures refinement. They are sublime in the true sense–an unexpected elevation. [youtube id=5OA8HFUNfIk width=470 height=400]