Thursday, February 7, 2013

Non-linear lessons

Some years ago I learnt not to listen to Beethoven's Emperor Concerto from the beginning. I'd heard it so often I would vague out, find myself compiling tomorrow's shopping list or something, before the end of the exposition. I'd be lulled into a dream by the predictable unfolding of the familiar landscape. Catching snatches of the piece coming out of the open window of someone's living room, however, or absent-mindedly flicking on a radio gave me a new appreciation of the piece. Why? Because what I'd experience when entering the piece in midstream was the actual hue, the full impact of the piece without the dulling of any mental expectation.

This has got me thinking about the mosaic manner in which we most effectively learn something. I'm getting to know Los Angeles in a similar fashion: "Oh, so if that's Westwood, Beverly Hills must be over there" etc...

This has got to be one of the most lovely confusing places I've ever had to orientate myself in. I think it has something to do with mountains on all sides of the San Fernando valley. I wonder how I can be approaching mountains when I've just left mountains behind. But gradually I've begun to piece the city together (it helps to have gotten used to the sun being in the south of course). I've now got a picture in my head of a coast that goes south-east to north-west, then east-west, and then south-east/northwest again. There is a big ring of mountains sitting on the flat bit of coast (bounding the San Fernando Valley), then to the east of that a break leading to the coastal plain where Downtown and Hollywood etc lie. I got a buzz coming home the other day when I knew we were about to hit the Sepulveda Pass into the Valley and "if my predictions are correct, the Getty Center will be up there on the left. Westwood and UCLA are over there on my right, and Santa Monica is behind us to the left." I'm working on the city inside out, rather as a composer does when he's working on a piece and the entire shape isn't yet (can I say "boringly"?) guaranteed.

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