Wednesday, February 12, 2014

And Moses Was a Most Modest Man; An Essay on Life and Judaism by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

And Moses Was a Most Modest Man
An Essay on Life and Judaism by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 2)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 12th, 2014, under And Moses Was a Most Modest Man.

* This is Not a religious commentary.
* The following is not meant at all to approve of violence.

I'm contemplating the story of Moses in Exodus in regards to the nuances of his reactions toward oppression. From 2:12 to 2:17, within 5 concise verses,[1] we're told that the child grew up, came to meet his people, and saved one of them from harsh treatment by striking the oppressor and burying the body. Yet when two Hebrews were fighting one another, he spoke to them with no physical intervention, and he advised them to stop quarreling their kind. His appeal was rejected, and instead, he was threatened with revealing his secret. He runs away from the wrath of Pharaoh, ends up saving the daughters of the Priest of Midian from a gang of thugs, and helps them water their sheep.

His responses seem to be unique to each situation. In the first incident, no one else is around, so he stands up for the weak all by himself. In the second incident, two oppressed people are involved, so he can't easily take sides; instead, he resorts to mediation through conciliatory dialogue. But when women are forced aside, he steps forward to protect them even as an individual against a crowd. All three situations involve acts of altruism, devoid of self-interest; yet we should be happy that, as I've heard, Jewish commentators have rightfully objected to the extreme violence of the first incident.[2] However, the face-to-face and spontaneous nature of that act of defense, leads us to understand it in terms of what Hannah Arendt might have sympathized with in her contemplation On Violence.[3] [Cf. below for a quotation.]

We read elsewhere in the Pentateuch that "the man Moses was very modest (humble), more so than all other people on the face of the earth." (Numbers, 12:3) [4] Notwithstanding the evident discrepancies between the various sections of the Pentateuch, this description has no contradiction with Exodus 2:12ff. Here's a decent if flawed character, a man of few words, curious, honest, wary of hypocrisy, as shy as he is straightforward when it's time to claim the rights of the oppressed. He's motivated to act when lives are at risk and principles are at stake, and he resorts to violence only when all other options fail the circumstances at hand.

Moses is also an eternal outsider. In Egypt, though growing up in the court of Pharaoh, he remains conscious of his Hebrew identity. But later on, among the Midianites, he is seen as an Egyptian. The author of the story is very clear on this issue: Moses names his first son Gershom, in reference to the word "ger", i.e. an alien, a stranger, in the land of Midian. More generally, his solitude among the crowd remains one of the running themes of the entire book, to the very end of his leadership, when he disappears to die alone in the mountains.

[1] Exodus 2:12-15, Hebrew with a basic English translation:
http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0202.htm

[2] Lectures by Chacham Ouriel Davidi, Tehran, Iran, 1980's.

[3] Hannah Arendt, On Violence, 1969. Here I refer to her offering an understanding of a violent act by an individual esp. when self-defense is evoked, despite her overall objection to violence, especially by the authority and state.

[3] Hannah Arendt, "On Violence", 1969.

NB: Here I refer to her offering an understanding of a violent act by an individual esp. when (as I understand) self-defense warrants it, despite her overall objection to violence, especially by those in power, authority, and state.

The following is a passage relevant to this argument. Note that I think she seems biased by the long-standing association of "masculinity and violence". An assertive state, for instance, could be quite masculine yet non-violent, and self-control can be viewed by, say, a culture as even more masculine than acting out of rage. Nevertheless, note how she understands a complex situation in her eloquent words:

"To act with deliberate speed goes against the grain of rage and violence, but this does not make them irrational. On the contrary, in private as well as public life there are situations in which the very swiftness of a violent act may be the only appropriate remedy. The point is not that this permits us to let off steam—which indeed can be equally well done by pounding the table or slamming the door. The point is that under certain circumstances. violence—acting without argument or speech and without counting the consequences—is the only way to set the scales of justice right again. (Billy Budd, striking dead the man who bore false witness against him, is the classical example.) In this sense, rage and the violence that sometimes—not always—goes with it belong among the "natural" human emotions, and to cure man of them would mean nothing less than to dehumanize or emasculate him. That such acts, in which men take the law into their own hands for justice's sake, are in conflict with the constitutions of civilized communities is undeniable; but their antipolitical character, so manifest in Melville's great story, does not mean that they are inhuman or "merely" emotional."

[Arendt, Hannah (1970-03-11). On Violence (Harvest Book) (p. 64). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.]


[4] Numbers, 12:3, Hebrew with an English translation:
http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0412.htm

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fame and Privacy; A Meditation on Life by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Meditations on Life: Fame and Privacy
By: Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 1)

(*) First published on Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 6th, 2014, under Meditations on Life: Fame and Privacy.

I once wrote, "Just because I've appeared in the public doesn't mean that I'm in the Public Domain." Imagine the strange experience of cameras and mobile phones being trained on you, everywhere you go, especially on one of your sick and battered days, or when you are holding the hand of your beloved walking down on an otherwise quiet street. Imagine a photo or a video clip of yourself, nothing more than a snap out of the context of your life, going viral without your consent. Do you feel comfortable?

Many of us may confuse for a moment the human being whom we run into on the street with what we've heard of him, his persona from afar at the podium, or his image on the screen. But to think that just because you've known Of a person would give you automatically the right to trespass their sphere of privacy, and to tarnish their reasonable trust in the environment, that's a mistake with serious consequences. A fortiori, to organize multitudes to chase and catch a glimpse of the famous or a scoop, it's been a demonstrably dangerous practice.

Neither the self-alienated crowd who objectifies a human being, nor the individual in the spotlight, deprived of many common layers of privacy, may have come equipped by default to handle fame. Years ago, an erudite person noted to me how child actors tended to grow depressed as they got older and missed the attention they once received. On the other hand, adult actors are known to have come in grips with some aggressive trespassers. Given the tragically dwindling health and habits of many talented young and adult individuals before the public eye, even because of it, it's about time to reinforce a serious discourse toward a more reasonable culture of fame. From the outset, we should aim to to help the individuals and the public see the human in themselves and in another, and that reasonable expectations of privacy in the public arena are respected and protected.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How Large Is Six Million...; A Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

How Large Is Six Million...
A Memo By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 5th, 2014, under How Large Is Six Million....

Imagine yourself sitting behind a desk in an office where people come to you every day to be interviewed. You are paid a handsome amount to find out about each person, whether it's a man or a woman, young or adult, their name, age, city of birth, parents and grandparents, children when it applies, occupation, joys and sorrows, regrets and future dreams. You are required to spend one minute with each interviewee, and you'll do this five hours a day, five days a week, back to back, without a break. If you can keep pace for 52 weeks per year, five days a week, 5 hours per day, without taking a week or a minute off, then you will need 76 years, 11 months, and one day to meet six million individuals and spend only one minute with each of them.

A few years ago, the students in an American school were guided to get a sense of "six million" by collecting one single item, and their dramatic and moving effort was captured in the documentary, Paper Clips (2004).

Or you may imagine yourself walking by a file of people who are standing up, facing eastward, shoulder to shoulder, on a straight line, no gaps in the file. Allowing 3 feet width per person, it will take 1 mile to fit 1760 people. A file of six million people would become 3409.09 miles long. That is almost 1000 miles Longer than the direct distance between Los Angeles and New York, which is only about 2448 miles.

Imagine the people, in your office. Imagine the people in the line. Imagine them saying goodbye, lying down, closing their eyes...

- Sites Consulted:
(*) For distance between cities: http://www.distancefromto.net/
(*) For unit conversions: google.com
(*) Imdb.com.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Forms and Moods (Part I); Reflections on Life; by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Reflections on Life: Forms and Moods (Part I)
By Payman Akhlaghi (Short Essay, Draft 3)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 5th, 2014, under  Reflections on Life: Forms and Moods (Part I).

Music affects us. Colors, smells, and shapes impact our mood. Perceptible, or rather perceived, patterns of sensory data, i.e. the form of the objective world, communicate something to us. These are packages of information, which whether implicit and ambiguous, or explicit and unequivocal, sensually immediate or cognitively mediated, may and often do alter something about our mind, our understanding of the world, and our mood. I learned this long ago, and at least in my experience, not even a knowledge of this fact would make us completely immune to the effects.

I remember a few years ago, when I learned a good lesson in certainty, and humility. It was one sunny afternoon in LA, and we were driving with a close friend, speaking casually about a variety of topics, listening to music. It was the CD of a composer whom I very much liked to appreciate at the time. At some point, my mood and thoughts turned unusually negative. She, herself a musician, noticed the change in my attitude, smiled, and suggested that I should change the music. I followed her suggestion with secret reluctance. As a musician and music student, with a demonstrated flair for music analysis, I was resistant to accept that my formulated thoughts, even the logic of my thinking, could have been in any fundamental way influenced by that music. Naturally, I was in for a big surprise, and we would have a laugh about it.

The moment the new music played, the universe was all sunny and bright! A broad smile pulled up on my lips, and my world was all green palm leaves and the proverbial unicorns. I had to put back the first music to make sure that it was not a coincidence, and it wasn't. The darker mood, melancholic sentiments, and negative thoughts had to do something with the first music and my impression of it. Of course, my knowledge of music could give me a relative degree of cognitive detachment compared to the general audience, but fortunately, I would continue to be sensitive to the effects of music, as varied they might be from one person to another.

Most people understand the power of music when it's the subject of their focus. But I always ponder its influence on them when they are not aware of it, especially true for film music. Far stronger than a memorable tune, we are influenced by the atmosphere that the timbre, texture, rhythm and harmony create for a scene, on par with the overall hue of the images. Students of film music might have heard of the "substitution" experiments, when the music of a known cinematic excerpt is replaced by a few other styles of music. The effect is absolutely hilarious. (Imagine the Star Wars opening with a banjo music, or the Persian folk piece, Baba Karam! You get the idea.) The impact of the scene is fundamentally altered with each substitution.

(*) This was an original memo.

(*) On the effect of mood and the biases of judgment, see the excellent "Thinking, Fast and Slow", by Daniel Kahneman.
(*) On cognition and emotions see David Burns' "Feeling Good".
(*) As I recall, a film music scholar, Mr. Wellbey, as I recall, demonstrated the "music substitution experiment" many years ago before a class of musicians at UCLA. The contrast of impressions could be highly dramatic.
(*) The "music substitution experiment" was described in Claudia Gorbman's 1986 book, "Narrative Film Music", by now a standard source on the conceptual studies of film music.
(*) I was glad to read that scholar Daniel Levitin, in his excellent "This Is Your Brain on Music", offers that the impact of the musical timbre on our listening experience might have even heightened in our time. It had been very much true of my overall experience as a musician.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.


(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Shake the Book: Burn the Fat & Fatten the Muscles by Reading the Books; Humor by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Shake the Book: Burn the Fat & Fatten the Muscles by Reading the Books
By Payman Akhlaghi (Humor, Draft 3)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 4th, 2014, under Shake the Book: Burn the Fat...

It came to my attention that reading has largely remained a stationary activity. Aside from the occasional use of the thumb and the index to turn a page or jot down a note, few other limbs get any exercise while we read. Also, as most of us have discovered, reading and eating need not be mutually exclusive; why, we even lie down next to a bag of chips to read an article on sports. The net result is that for every page traveled we may as well gain a fraction of a pound. As for reading while running on the mill, you'll never know whether the words, the legs, or the panting is getting the upper hand. And if you thought walking to the library to lift heavy books was exercise enough, that's no more as well since the instant delivery of the feather-weight eBooks.

But could we somehow concentrate to read and yet get trimmed? How could we integrate large bodily movements into the very act of reading? The solution might be found in a new category of reading experience called Shake Books. After all, gamers found ways to chop the air and dance their day before their TV screens, so why not the book worms?

Consider this: Your reading device, a Shake Book, which comes complete with adjustable weight and other applicable tools, will stop working unless you shake it literally every 5 minutes for 10 times or more. To turn the pages, you would need to squeeze a firm rubber ball and pull on a tough rubber band, of course, switching hands for facing pages. For each new chapter, you'd need to place your Shake Book on the floor and squat on it 5 times or more. Kinesthetic sensors enable intelligent orientation, allowing for complex Book Shakes that would require you to do sit ups, neck rotations, stretches, runs, and push ups, all the while as you enjoy reading your book. Needless to say, for variety and function, authors might program their unique Shake routines into the content of their books.

Imagine to read your Hesse, daily news, Shakespeare, or Facebook threads on your Shake Book. Too much distraction, you may complain. But didn't we adapt so far to almost everything?

Afterthought: Reflecting on my earlier days in the synagogue, moving to and fro waist-up while whispering the words, weren't we indeed treating the Siddur, the Jewish book of prayers, like a Shake Book?!

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Cinema: Hungarian Director Miklos Jancso; A Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

On Cinema: Hungarian Director Miklos Jancso
A Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 4)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 2nd, 2014, under On Cinema: Miklos Jansco. Revised 02.08.2014.

I learned about the Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó only a few years ago, and I rushed to see several of his works voraciously. He was one of the most original artists of cinema that I know of, with an eye for substantial and pictorial perfection on par with Tarkovsky and Bergman, notwithstanding their differences in terms of cinematic vocabulary and dramatic techniques.

I'd like to focus here on one of the elements of his cinematic language, which I found to be most innovative and unique. In his mature style, there are perfectly choreographed scenes, sometimes made of only a single long take, with crowds of actors and extras, and complex camera moves, in which a vast amount of the "story time", "plot time", even "screen time", hours or even decades of narrative time, are compressed without haste or contradiction into the "real time" before our eyes. The result could be breathtaking. It's not just about the organization of the long take; others have done that quite successfully. Nor is it exactly about filmed theater. This is a compact and coherent dramatic and visual event, which could seamlessly and reflectively walk you through centuries within minutes, if he wished, without a hitch. To me, it's magic. I still enjoy thinking about exactly how he managed to pull it out so beautifully.

I attach below an 11-min sample from one of his famous works, "The Red Psalm", which I understood as an abridged critical narrative of the long history of his country, told with a symbolic brush. It deserves a full viewing with English subtitles. The dramatic compression of time into the real time can be seen here in its maturity. (See comments for a viewing link. Scenes from The Red Psalm by Miklos Jancso.


He could as flawlessly do this in more realistic settings, as it's evident from the following scenes from "The Red and The White", another of his critical historical films. Scenes from The Red and The White.

P.S. Jancso made an absorbing and melancholic documentary in two parts about the largely diminishing Jewish population of Hungary, which I highly recommend. (To my knowledge, he was not Jewish.)

NB: This note was prepared off of the author's memory. Please find here the NY Times's obituary, which was not consulted before writing this memo.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.