Of all the gifts given me by my parents, the one I’m most grateful for is optimism. I resisted it of course. Like all living, breathing teenagers I knew deep in my bones that whatever mom and dad were selling was by definition a con. Something to make me grow up like them.
My father articulated his trust in the future clearly and thoughtfully, albeit from his own perspective. As a chartered accountant who led a corporate finance department, that generally played out as an effort to get me to believe in capitalism and private enterprise’s capacity to solve the world’s problems. He freely admitted that many of those problems were the fault of capitalists; he’s not a naïve man. But like a lot of the early boomers who came of age after the Second World War, he viewed free enterprise in generally positive terms. The road’s bumpy, but it’s headed in the right direction.
Somehow, through all the capitalism v. socialism suppertime debates, the thing that stuck was an innate belief in progress. Optimism can be instinctive. When truly absorbed, it functions like any faith. It informs one’s worldview. It guides how we receive and process new information. It helps us sleep at night.
Pessimism drives fear – of ideas we don’t understand, people we don’t know, medicine that hasn’t been administered to us before. Optimism lends us hope, which is to say energy that we can put into better understanding whatever new thing is in front of us. More than that, it is central to the creative process.
Florian Hecker’s latest work – inspired by machine listening and music information retrieval – has got me thinking about all of this. “Synopsis Seriation” stretches more than 141 minutes, drawing on four multichannel works Hecker produced over the last six years.
Artists like these represent an extreme form of optimism. It’s one thing to believe in, and dedicate oneself to, a creative life. It’s another thing entirely to make art that challenges its audience so profoundly.
The source material has been “analyzed, dissected and reconstructed” according to the album’s notes with information geometry, an interdisciplinary field dedicated to the study of probability theory and statistics. Hecker’s work doesn’t so much advocate for any of this. Instead, the Portuguese artist is exploring its musical potential.
In the process, he’s built a two-and-a-half-hour invitation. Listen to some of it, listen to all of it at once. (Use headphones.) Dig into information geometry and machine listening while doing so, if you’re so inclined. Refer back to the trilogy of text-sound pieces Hecker has produced with the Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani.
If nothing else, you’ll get to spend some time where some of the world’s great optimists live. Their experiments may sound peculiar, but they’re taking us somewhere better.