Jazz-tune Yourself

At first I wanted to title this post simply “Tune Yourself”. Then I realized that is insufficient. Tuning can mean a lot of things. Generally speaking, I assume it refers to an increase of performance. It suggests fiddling or adjusting with some inner parameters.

The reason I changed it to “Jazz-tune Yourself” gets at the core of what I will try to express in this piece. It is difficult for me to find the right words. So, if this post does not make perfect sense, I might want to tune it some more as well. At the very least I hope that the general concept will come across…

Have you ever listened to a piece of music and experienced dissonance — a strong feeling of “something here sounds terrible”? In the way I perceive life, that feeling not only applies to music. I will do my best to use the domain of music as an analogy. And I believe that to the extent I am able to apply this analogy to other parts of my life, everything turns out much more enjoyable, for myself and others.

Jazz, as a genre of music, seems to be a fairly acquired taste for most people I know. It asks quite a bit of the listener — and the performers. Most people seem to enjoy music when it offers just the right amount of edge experience for them.

What happens in Jazz that makes it difficult to enjoy for quite a lot of people? I believe it is that feeling of “something here sounds terrible.” And that is where the tuning comes in — which I also believe applies, importantly, to both the instruments being used to play the music, and the listening ability of the person doing the perceiving of the music.

As someone who plays keyboard at home with a computer generated piano sound, I have often had the surprising experience that the same combination of notes sounds much more enjoyable played with one virtual instrument than played with another.

In short, I think of Jazz-tuning as an ability: on the side of the instrument, it creates the opportunity to go through passages of potential dissonance in a way that minimizes the risk of offending the listener, by appropriately integrating the various pitches (frequencies). When this tuning is applied to an instrument, whatever feeling of “this sounds terrible” occurs is not gone completely, but becomes manageable and, over time, in fact enjoyable.

On the side of the listener, Jazz-tuning creates the ability to listen beyond the dissonance. A person with Jazz-tuning can have some residual feeling of “this sounds terrible” while at the same time experiencing a quality of understanding of the motion (and emotion or motive) behind a certain expression.

Now it is time to test the analogy… An area I imagine this applies most crucially to is language based communication. Take, for instance, the topic of what it means for people to talk about transgender youth. Many people I know hold a strong set of beliefs, and at least between people, there seems to occur a lot of dissonance.

Someone who supports the idea might say or write something. And someone who finds the idea abhorrent might easily respond, internally, by thinking “that sounds terrible” (if not outright evil).

Applying some Jazz-tuning to my listening, at least in my imagination, I can listen through the (potentially offensive sounding) expression and “divine” a meaning behind the words. If I attempt a translation, a first pass might sound like this:

“I really care about the emerging sovereignty of children and teenagers. When they tell the world what they want, many times they are told that what they want is stupid or bad or unachievable. I do not want to live in a world where children are treated that way.”

And if I had to take a step further, and guess where that might come from, again in my imagination, I come up with this:

“Growing up, my parents created a world of demands for me. I had to go from activity to activity, rarely being left to implement my own ideas for what I wanted to do — that is, to play. Instead, I was their project, and they pushed me to achieve so many things, which I have done. But now I no longer know who I am. So I swore to myself I want to listen to children who tell the world they know who they are.”

It is, on some level, ironic that, in the way I translated what I hear from people who support children going through a sex transformation, these people unfortunately seem to repeat the same kind of “making children a project” mistake that I imagine might have happened to them…

What I mean by Jazz-tuning is, on the instrument side, that a person who wants to express what I translated actually expresses that with as much integration of (inner) notes as possible. It means revealing the inner turmoil and, importantly, doing so as a “passing motion”, not a permanent state of dissonance. It requires a true integration within the person to fully understand why they are supporting a certain position, and revealing that understanding rather than just the position they support.

On the listening side, Jazz-tuning refers to a person’s ability to consider what an integrated version of an expression might sound like, if the instrument had been properly tuned in the first place. That can be quite a challenge, I admit. It requires imagination and curiosity. It requires to ask this question: “if I am in pain (experiencing dissonance) listening to that person, what might the source of that pain be in the other person? They are making me go through a dissonant moment, so they really seem to care. What is going on within them?”

Another recent example where I felt that my Jazz-tuning (and that of the people communicating) helped in translation: this part of the conversation between Richard Haier and Lex Fridman (at time index 1:46:40) contained an expression of experienced dissonance:

You can find on measurable variables of success, the top quartile does better than the bottom quartile in the top one percent. They have more patents, they have more publications, they have more tenure at universities, and this is based on their, you’re dividing them based on their score at age 12. — I wonder… how much interesting data is in the variability in the differences? So, but that… that’s really… that… that’s, oh boy, that’s very interesting, but it’s also, I don’t know, somehow painful. I don’t know why it’s so painful.

Ultimately — and this is something I hope to pick up in another post — I believe that Jazz-tuning has a lot to do with how I have come to understand the idea or concept of God. The way I now appreciate that idea is that God is a “guiding principle”. It provides everything, from particles of matter and quanta of energy over molecules in living organisms to human beings and society or culture, with a kind of homing signal. How do I get from where I am to where I am supposed to be?

If I apply some (inner) listening skills, I can find a tuning (a fiddling of parameters) that allows me to appreciate resonance whenever my intentions, my individually experienced wants and will, align with “where I am supposed to end up.” Once I find that alignment, life becomes not only manageable but outright enjoyable. Whatever struggles might be ahead, the pain that will come (and go), does no longer produce a sensation of “Oh my God!” but rather a welcome challenge.

On the flip side, whenever I experience a sensation of “reality is terrible”, I can use that as a signal to “find my Jazz-tuning”. Whatever it is that stimulates that dissonance is as much a reflection of true, objective dissonance in shared reality as my inability to “listen through” that dissonance. If I want to live a life of harmonic resonance, I believe it is to a large extent my responsibility to tune myself up in that ability: listening through the initially terrifying sound for what it means, and how to support others to express themselves in less dissonance generating ways.

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