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The "Rubato" of the Open Road

We have witnessed new categories of communication arise the last few years, and none of us were schooled to use them effectively. For instance, wouldn't it be nice if people wrote concise stand-alone email messages that pertained to just one action item?

DVD movies are a big industry; most have a commentary track. It's easy to tell that the people making the track don't know what kind of information is desirable.

That is why I was pleasantly surprised to be listening to the commentary track of Love Actually and hear an informative and non-self-absorbed comment by Hugh Grant.
Stars usually think they are adorable and irresistible because of their looks and vivacious personalities. Actually most are dull when somebody else isn't supplying the words. Hugh Grant is an exception. He pointed out, nonchalantly, that pauses and variations in the tempo of the piano music in the soundtrack are known as rubato, which means "robbed" in Italian. To a musical illiterate like me and presumably most listeners, that comment was informative.

I have been disappointed with what I've learned so far on Wikipedia about the human brain and music. So let me guess: when a theme -- I said 'theme' rather than 'tune' so it sounds like I actually know what I'm talking about -- becomes predictable to the listener, it starts to lose its power to affect us, no matter how beautiful it might otherwise be.

One way of beating this problem is to repeat with small variations. Eventually the composer comes to his limit with that; or maybe the variations are actually inferior to the original version.

Varying the tempo is another way to keep the listener guessing and prone to being impressed and affected by the music; but random pauses would be a merely mechanical thing. There are times when the rubato of George Winston's piano adds a lot to my enjoyment.

When we are traveling it helps to imagine ourselves always being shaken up, and disallowed from falling into routines. Routine mobility is meaningless. The variation of locations, amenities, scenery, climate, etc. must be exploited. Accidents, coincidences, and even misadventures must be allowed to happen, so that we actually stay sensitive to travel experiences.

Newbies won't believe this of course. They think that if they go to well-known scenic hotspots, they will have their socks knocked off by the experience, despite anticipating it, and thereby destroying it.


Bob Giddings said…
I have to disagree with the premise that as a tune "becomes predictable to the listener, it starts to lose its power to affect us".

Certainly this is sometimes true. And perhaps 100,000 repetitions might ruin any song. I'll never know for sure. But as a general rule the premise is false. There are tunes that have changing effects as we change, but still manage to stir even so - even years later.

What about advertising jingles that you can't get out of your head? What about genre fiction, where people seek out and revisit essentially the same plot over and over? They simply can't help it. Some people even read the same book over and over. They want their "fix". What about recreational drugs? Or rather not the drugs themselves, but what people seek in taking them?

And as for travel, there is a pleasure to be found in routine as well as novelty. Pleasure that does not wear out, but grows with and perhaps because of repetitions. Certainly there are places I never grow tired of.

All travel is internal. And certain places bring out the best in us. Again and again.

Novelty is simply one lure among many. Another is the comfort and reinforcement of familiarity.

Bob G.
Boonie said…
Bob, Thanks for your well-written and thoughtful comment. I can't say I agree with most of it, but that's OK.

"All travel is internal." I like that.
Some find comfort in routine, others boredom. I'm in the latter group.
The interesting thing is, tho, when it comes to travel, I love revisiting favorite places. It sounds like a contradiction... maybe it's movement I crave. As for the song I couldn't get out of my head for almost a year because of over-play.... Copacabana, by Barry Manilow.
Anonymous said…
Novelty releases endorphins in the brain according to James Austin (Zen and the brain p.219) The best argument I know for pushing the surprise button as often as you dare. Mobile Kodger