The Unknown Unknown

It is wondrous to think that the set up of the orchestra, used by Mozart, could have birthed something like Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faunelet alone Heiner Goebbels Suite for Sampler and Orchestra. 

Or think of the string quartet. Who would have thought in the 18th century that the form that Haydn employed would have lead to something like Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite?

Nassim Taleb writes about the uninttended consequences of tools: “Knowledge does not progress from tools designed to verify or help theories, but rather the opposite. The computer was not built to allow us to develop new, visual, geometric mathematics, but for some other purpose. It happened to allow us to discover mathematical objects that few cared to look for…As an essayist, I can attest that the Internet has helped me to spread my ideas by bypassing journalists. But this was not the stated purpose of its military designer”.

In that sense, we could argue that the turntable was not intended to work as an instrument as it does now for DJ’s. The use of tools of music, in the widest sense, are always organic and shifting in ways that were not predicted, let alone expected.

There are those who bemoan that creativity is dying in music, that all that was to be composed has been. And yet can we even be sure of that and the seismic shifts? Could Mozart or Haydn have known where these tools could have gone?

Military intelligence has a concept called the known unknown: things that are unpredictable which can be planned for. But then there is the unknown unknown: things which are both unpredictable and cannot be planned for.

Any arrogance of declaring musical stagnation has been thwarted by the unknown unknown. This all seems obvious, I am sure.

But I think the least obvious implication is an optimism for the future of music. It will always surprise us and not in the way that  we can expect.


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