Tim Hinck's thoughts on music and life- There is a lady living across the street from me. She is dying of cancer. I have never seen anyone so full of life and energy. She loves to work outside in the flowers and grass of her yard. I can see her savoring every sunny day... the way she stands up from planting a flower bulb with such satisfaction on her face and claps the dirt from her gloves with resolution. I want to be like that lady.

Location: Schalkwijk, Utrecht, Netherlands

Monday, January 29, 2007

Replies to an eMail discussion

Ryan Litchfield:
Maybe what we are seeking is something unique.  Maybe something close to perfection, but still unique. If it was possible to play a perfect symphony, then it would be possible for two groups of people to play a perfect symphony. This would therefore make the symphony generic.  It would no longer be unique. 

Yes, I originally started with the idea that "uniqueness" is the true definition of beauty... but then of course, something very crass and ordinary can also be unique. but what is it about the "unique" performance of a particular orchestra that makes it truly beautiful? is it just because they played the right notes? (of course not) is it because they played with passion and made nice phrasing? (even a marching band can play with passion). No, somehow this orchestra was able to convey some deep emotion... present a clear window into the human psyche... Like you said: they were able to stir something deep in the gut of the audience. That is the best definition of beauty that i can come up with: effective communication of a human emotion.

I don't know what we are looking for in aesthetics, perhaps it is yet another heart felt facet from another human being to add to our collection.  Maybe we are always looking for something original. Or maybe something that is more original, closer to the original.

Well, actually the basic idea of aesthetics as I understand it is pretty straight-forward... in aesthetic we are looking for the reasons why we find something pleasing (or beautiful). So my question is: is beauty just something that makes us feel "warm and fuzzy" or is it something deeper... the only good answer I can find so far is that something is truly beautiful when it touches someone else deeply and in a positive way.

"Beauty" is another beast entirely.  There are very few, if any, universals in the realm of beauty.  Some may like the look of a sunset, but others have been born blind, so a sunset is meaningless to them.  Some may enjoy the scent of perfume, while others may acquire a headache from smelling the same scent.  Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, or in the brain, rather. 

I think that this is an important example in support of my idea that beauty has more to do with effective communication than anything else: every sentient being should probably (i have no reference for this) be able to experience beauty. And so what about a person born blind and deaf? What would he/she find beautiful?? Beauty is probably connected most closely with two things: effective communication and positive emotions. Thus, I imagine that a deaf/blind person would find something beautiful if it "communicated" as much positive sensory information as possible... a warm hug, sex, well-prepared food....

Because I feel that perfect beauty can't exist, I don't think the question of why perfection is not always beautiful to us is a very valid one, or at least not a very useful one. 

Perhaps not valid in discussing "perfect beauty", but wouldn't it be quite useful in discussing the tools to make something MORE beautiful. Or it could also be valid and useful in redefining our aims and goals as artists.

The brain seeks balance, but balance does not have to mean symmetry, as the rule of thirds and the golden mean are anything but symmetrical.  Furthermore, one's aesthetic sense is largely the result of the things to which one has been exposed during one's past life.  Some of these things elicit pleasureable memories and feelings, and some, not-so-pleasant, but possibly still nostalgic ones.  Exposure to some things will allow a person to appreciate other things more than if they had not been previously exposed, thereby enhancing their aesthetic sensibilities. 

But there do seem to be certain aesthetic values that are shared by large groups of people (across cultural boundaries even) that must prove that aesthetic sense is not only the result of past experiences. Unless you are talking about the more general "human experiences" that are shared by all. In that case I would agree that these experiences probably shape our aesthetic sense as humans.

I guess that's because I still would think (maybe you do too...?) that there are still many times where the more perfect a version of something, the more beautiful (I imagine enjoying a piece played by a better instrument at least as well, if not sometimes better, than one of the more rudimentary ones like you mentioned) it may be to me, at least. 

yes, music played on a more advanced instrument WOULD sound more complex.... or more perfect... or maybe more pleasing; but does this mean it is more beautiful??? we just discussed that beauty isn't all about being PLEASED, because even Baroque paintings of Jesus suffering on the Cross, or even modern paintings such as Picasso's 'Guernica' would probably not be called 'pleasing'. But many call them beautiful.
well, anyway, i'm not into dissecting something until it's meaningless and boring... i just think that if people thought about beauty in another way it could have a big impact on the world:
- audiences wouldn't walk out of a concert just because the music isn't something they are used to... not "pretty" or "soothing". Music doesn't have to be pretty or soothing to be beautiful!! but that is something that we are not taught from childhood.
- people would appreciate fine things like good food, or good art... not because they look "pretty" but they would search for deeper meaning... try to connect with the emotions of the artist. that's really all we are after as artist. we want to communicate something with others... something from the heart.

that is true beauty.


Any other takers on this topic?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bouldering near Paris

Ricardo climbing at the amazing boulders of Fontainebleau...

Ricardo and I discussiong the philosophical ramifications of a boulder (or maybe the noisy Russian prostitutes next door to our hotel room)...

This is the hardest boulder I have ever done at Bleau...

...Jesse doing one of the several 7a boulder problems he did on this trip

My feet swinging around on a roof problem...

...Ricardo and some typical Fontainebleau sloping holds

Jesse on "levitation" 7a+...

After three years of hating Paris, I'm beginning to see some of it's beauty. Jesse and I walking towards the Arc...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

on God and Aesthetics (part II)

This is an older post that I have rewritten, as my thoughts have developed a lot on the topic. If you read my last post on this topic, you know that I have this theory that beauty is not just striving for perfection, but rather taking something "perfect" and varying it slightly. It is in those variations that true beauty lies. But since the earlier post on 'beauty' I have also been toying with another angle. Perhaps beauty should not be something for which an artist should strive at all. Or perhaps beauty is just not what most people take it for. Example: I recently had a long discussion with an artist friend of mine. He had concerns about a piece of music I had written... said it left him with a "dark" feeling, and that made it hard for him to enjoy. (He didn't say it but others, I can imagine, would say that it just wasn't "beautiful").

This got me to thinking that maybe we have developed a skewed view of what is beautiful. If by "beautiful" we mean "warm and cozy and light-hearted", then we are definitely off track. I feel that beauty is found in any succesful attempt at true expression. I know this seems a little risky, but bear with me. I don't mean that just having something to say, and saying it as strongly as possible is beautiful, but I believe that true beauty is found less in the thing/idea being portrayed than in the manner in which it is portrayed. My artist friend who esteems Picasso's 'Guernica' as one of his favorite paintings finds that it really sparks his imagination. I think that most people would agree that the war-time horrors depicted in that painting are anything but conventionally beautiful. However, the brilliant way in which the subject matter is depicted is so genius, so effective, and yes, even so beautiful. Think of Michelangelo's 'Battle of Cascina' or 'Martyrdom of Paul'. The incredible beauty of these paintings has very little to do with their subject matter, (if anything, the intensity of the subject strengthens the power of the paintings).

Part 2: "GOD"
The traditional christian view would say that God is equivalent with absolute beauty and that beauty is essentially that which encapsulates the essence of love, peace, joy, etc. ... "whatever is holy, lovely, of good report..." I would challenge any good christian to take a closer look at "God's own masterpieces": his brutal, jagged mountain peaks; his giant sea creatures; the bleak emptiness of deep space... I think that any christian who bases his/her ideals of beauty on the image of a wine-and-roses God not only has a skewed perception of beauty, but perhaps also a misguided view of their god and his artistic tastes. A christian would say that God's greatest masterpiece is man who, although he may bear some atributes of his creator, is still a far cry from a god. Why then would God create a masterpiece that is frail flesh and bones, with the ability and main function of reproducing itself into an endless number of variants of God's image. If this is God's idea of beauty, than most christians have a lot to learn about aesthetics. Beauty wasn't achieved by perfection in copying God's image exactly, but in the endless numbers of variations that will be created as long as the human race continues to populate the Earth. God didn't give his masterpiece the ability to sing as perfectly as the angels, but perhaps there is more beauty to be found in flesh-and-bone trying desperately to emulate the voices of heaven. Maybe all the voices of heaven were just a little too perfect for God's refined sensibilities.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


(river sandstone, Tennessee)

I have a student who I find almost impossible to teach. This student has learned the notes, they have learned the interpretation, but they cannot even understand that there could be more. I don't think that anything moves or turns inside of them when they play. If I am lucky, this student at least can feel the tick-tick-tick of the tactus keeping them within a steady rhythm; that alone is a skill of maturity. But how can I teach my student that sickening urgency that you feel in your gut as you play a musical line falling down and down to its cadence? How can I explain to them that a single note entrance can feel like a furious axe-fall or a mournful sigh by doing nothing other than displacing its entrance by a hundredth of a second? And then somehow I have to back-step and teach my student that all of this passionate playing must be restrained so that the bit that escapes from your psyche is swallowed and polished by the room's acoustics and isn't even recognized by the audience. The listeners can't feel the weighless upbeats, or the tiny pushes and pulls of tempo. You've muted the axe-fall to a subtle nuance of your fingers even though the executioner is raging in your head. And all that the audience can contemplate is that your performance sounds somehow more musical than the last, but they don't know quite why.

How can I teach my student that?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I am a basil

I was sitting here staring at the window where my two basil plants are trying to catch a few rays when I suddenly realized that I had a lot in common with these plants. We're both continually expanding and growing, but we're both sadly over-ambitious. These plants can suddenly shoot up several inches, but then if I forget to water them for just one day they fall, pathetically slumped over the sides of the pots. But I suppose that the most striking parallel between my character and the basil plant is that in some ways we lack identity. Or rather, we have multiple identities. The basil plant is at home in the Italian kitchen, but also sneaks its way into the Asian kitchen and blends right in. Browsing through my photos the other day I noticed that they are a mis-matched collection of rock-climbing pictures and 17th century organ keyboards. I'm not exactly certain that this is a character flaw or even a benefit, but it has made my life somewhat more complicated than necessary. But then again, I've often thought that I wouldn't be half the musician I am today if I wasn't also a mountain man.

(not exactly basil... but the leafy shutters on the organ case in Oosthuizen, 1521)

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Search

Who would have thought it would be so hard to find a good organ in the Netherlands! It is now less than three months away from my final examination/concert at the Conservatory and I just can't find an organ suitable to perform this music. I need it to be:
1. large (with at least two keyboards and a separate pedal division)
2. in old tuning (mean-tone)
3. historical, not just a newly-built organ in the old style
4. and it should have a beautiful sound, but I guess that goes without saying

Here are some possiblities:
...the transept organ in the Oude Kerk Amsterdam is in old tuning, has a beautiful sound, but it's not historic (built in the 60's) and is really too small.

...the organ in Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk is huge and really beautiful, and it's also a very historic organ. But it doesn't have the old tuning and it's impossible to get practice time in the church.

...this organ in Dronrijp has the old tuning, and beatiful sounds, but it's too small.

... big enough and beautiful, but not in the old tuning

... this organ is great: very old, very beautiful, very large, . . . but it's in Germany!

... this is, I believe, the ONLY instrument in the whole country which is old, and large, and retains the old tuning, and has such unbelievable beauty in all of its pipes . . . but the church commission just informed me that it's not available.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

the eye inclined, heav'n to see
and spend its gaze on holy vistas
and leisurely
take in the treasures and trappings
of imprudent heav'nly beings
- tim hinck (2004)