MILES DAVIS & EMERGENCE
For millions of years there were no stars in our Universe, hardly any atoms more complex than Helium, and of course no planets, no living organisms, no people. Then, over 13.7 billion years, all these things appeared, one by one. Complex behaviors that arose spontaneously. Stars fused Hydrogen atoms into Helium atoms, creating vast amounts of energy. In their collapse, the largest stars created all the elements of the Periodic Table, while the energy they pumped into the cold space helped assemble these elements into utterly new forms of matter with entirely new properties.
Never the most dexterous of trumpeters, Miles Davis vibrato-less tone is one of the most moving sounds in all of jazz, indeed all of music. In the course of creating or helping to create several subgenres of jazz, Miles Davis embodied, both personally and artistically, the characteristics of emergence. His nature found expression in his playing, in the spaces — the silences — surrounding his solos, in the room he gave himself in order for his music to resonate.
Answers are starting to come into view.
A) One is that these emergent phenomena can be understood only as collective behaviors — you need to look at dozens, hundreds, thousands of the contributing elements. These wholes are indeed greater than the sums of their parts.
B) Another is that even when the elements continue to follow the same rules , external considerations can change the outcome. For instance, ice doesn’t form at zero degrees Celsius because the water molecules become stickier. Rather, the kinetic energy of the molecules drops low enough for the repulsive and attractive forces among them to fall into a new, more springy balance.
In music, and all the complex things around it, exist only because many things were assembled in a very precise way. The ‘emergent’ properties are not magical. They are really there and eventually they may start re-arranging the environments that generated them. But they don’t exist ‘in’ the bits and pieces that made them; they emerge from the arrangement of those bits and pieces in very precise ways.
Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926, in Alton, Illinois. At that time the Midwest had just recently come into its own, as both a region unto itself and a destination for blacks moving north in search of economic opportunity and eager to escape the racist South.
that strange mixture of the naïve and sophisticated, the benign and malignant, which makes the American past so puzzling and its present so confusing; that mixture which often affords the minds of the young who grow up in the far provinces such wide and unstructured latitude, and which encourages the individual’s imagination — up to the moment “reality” closes in upon him —
the definition of emergence has the word elegance built right in it because it’s not just heaps coming together it’s not just complexity it’s wholes; and the difference between a whole and a heap is order and a specific set of patterns of order. This means not every relationship is synergistic some relationships are entropic they actually create the opposite direction of new emergent properties, they destroy some properties that were already there.
So it’s not just net complexity it’s ordered complexity and it’s elegantly ordered complexity and then when you get a new property then the universe selects for that right that new property that offers some evolutionary advantage to that system that a system that didn’t have that. So the universe is actually selecting for diversity and more unification across the diversity right more agency and more symbiosis at the same time.
Evolution in complexity theory is defined most generally in terms of more elegantly ordered complexity. Bucky fuller called love, metaphysical gravity, in the same way that gravity and physical forces act on physical bodies. If you think about all of the attractive forces as expressions of a fundamental principle of universe of allurement that there is a principle by which separate things have reason to come together that offers advantage that being separate doesn’t have
Miles spent on his maternal grandfather’s fish farm in Arkansas, he recalls walking the region’s back roads at night when he was six and seven, hearing hooting owls and the music in nearby churches — music that combined gospel and blues and that became linked in the boy’s imagination to the great open land. Then, there was, Harlem Rhythms, which first introduced young Miles to the music of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Lionel Hampton, and many others. Soon Miles began taking private music lessons, and his personal determination found a focus.
In 1909, the biologist Jakob von Uexküll introduced the concept of the umwelt. He wanted a word to express a simple (but often overlooked) observation: different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different environmental signals. In the blind and deaf world of the tick, the important signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields. For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves. The small subset of the world that an animal is able to detect is its umwelt. The bigger reality, whatever that might mean, is called the umgebung.
The interesting part is that each organism presumably assumes its umwelt to be the entire objective reality “out there.” Why would any of us stop to think that there is more beyond what we can sense? “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.” We accept our umwelt and stop there.
Our unawareness of the limits of our umwelt can be seen with color blind people: until they learn that others can see hues they cannot, the thought of extra colors does not hit their radar screen. And the same goes for the congenitally blind. As a human is to a bloodhound dog, a blind person does not miss vision. They do not conceive of it. Electromagnetic radiation is simply not part of their umwelt.
Similarly, until a child learns in school that honeybees enjoy ultraviolet signals and rattlesnakes employ infrared, it does not strike her that plenty of information is riding on channels to which we have no natural access (the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to us is less than a ten-trillionth of it).
Etymologically, the “synergy” term was first used around 1600, deriving from the Greek word “synergos”, which means “to work together” or “to cooperate”. Synergy usually arises when two persons with different complementary skills cooperate. For example, say person A alone is too short to reach an apple on a tree and person B is too short as well. Once person B sits on the shoulders of person A, they are tall enough to reach the apple. In this example, the product of their synergy would be one apple. A song is also a good example of human synergy, taking more than one musical part and putting them together to create a song that has a much more dramatic effect than each of the parts when played individually.
In 1858 the German mathematician August Möbius simultaneously and independently discovered the Möbius strip along with a contemporary scholar, the German mathematician Johann Benedict Listing. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz independently developed calculus at roughly the same time. British naturalists Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace both developed the theory of evolution independently and simultaneously.
The time was “ripe” for such discoveries, given humanity’s accumulated knowledge at the time the discoveries were made. Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray filed their own patents on telephone technologies on the same day. As sociologist of science Robert Merton remarked, “The genius is not a unique source of insight; he is merely an efficient source of insight.” When Mark Twain was asked to explain why so many inventions were invented independently, he said “When it’s steamboat time, you steam.”
On the other hand, mystics have suggested that a deeper meaning exists to such coincidences. Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer compared events in our world to the tops of ocean waves that seem isolated and unrelated. We notice the tops of the waves, but beneath the surface there may be some kind of synchronistic mechanism that mysteriously connects events in our world and causes them to cluster.
Bebop or bop is a style of jazz developed in the early to mid-1940s in the United States, which features songs characterized by a fast tempo, complex chord progressions with rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity, and improvisation based on a combination of harmonic structure, the use of scales and occasional references to the melody.
Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians expanded the creative possibilities of jazz beyond the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new “musician’s music” that was not as danceable and demanded close listening. As bebop was not intended for dancing, it enabled the musicians to play at faster tempos. Bebop musicians explored advanced harmonies, complex syncopation, altered chords, extended chords, chord substitutions, asymmetrical phrasing, and intricate melodies. Bebop groups used rhythm sections in a way that expanded their role.
Whereas the key ensemble of the swing era was the big band of up to fourteen pieces playing in an ensemble-based style, the classic bebop group was a small combo that consisted of saxophone (alto or tenor), trumpet, piano, guitar, double bass, and drums playing music in which the ensemble played a supportive role for soloists. Rather than play heavily arranged music, bebop musicians typically played the melody of a song (called the “head”) with the accompaniment of the rhythm section, followed by a section in which each of the performers improvised a solo, then returned to the melody at the end of the song.
Some of the most influential bebop artists, who were typically composer-performers, are: tenor sax players Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and James Moody; alto sax player Charlie Parker; trumpeters Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie; pianists Bud Powell, Mary Lou Williams, and Thelonious Monk; electric guitarist Charlie Christian, and drummers Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Art Blakey.
In 1944, at the age of 18, when Billy Eckstine’s band came to play in St. Louis. Miles went to the club to see if he could sit in with the band. And it turned out they did indeed need another trumpeter. The man who told him was John Birks Gillespie, better known as Dizzy. In the band, too, was the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, also known as Bird. Miles refers to his experience that night as “the greatest feeling I ever had in my life — with my clothes on,” When he left the Midwest the same year for New York City, in search of Bird and Diz, Miles entered history, embarking on some of the clearest examples of positive sum games.
A zero-sum game is an interaction in which one party’s gain equals the other party’s loss — the sum of their gains and losses is zero. Sports are quintessential examples of zero-sum games: winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, and nice guys finish last. Jam sessions are positive sum games. More colloquially, positive-sum games are called win-win situations, and are capture in the cliché “Everybody wins.”
The biologists John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry have argued that an evolutionary dynamic which creates positive-sum games drove the major transitions in the history of life: the emergence of genes, chromosomes, bacteria, cells with nuclei, organisms, sexually reproducing organisms, and animal societies. In each transition, biological agents entered into larger wholes in which they specialized, exchanged benefits, and developed safeguards to prevent one from exploiting the rest to the detriment of the whole.
In Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright argues that because of the advantages of engaging in nonzero-sum transactions, it was virtually inevitable that living organisms would evolve whose primary function would be to capitalize on the benefits of nonzero trading opportunities. There is an “arrow” to history, one pointing toward ever-increasing social complexity designed to make nonzero interactions possible. Information, after all, is the ideal nonzero-sum good; unlike physical resources (such as coal or food) the stock of information does not decrease as more people use it.
Almost everything important that happens in both nature and in society happens from the bottom up, not the top down. Water is a bottom up, self-organized emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen. Life is a bottom up, self-organized emergent property of organic molecules that coalesced into protein chains through the input of energy. Evolution itself is a bottom up process of organisms just trying to make a living and get their genes into the next generation.
After Diz left Bird’s band, no longer able to tolerate his friend’s unreliable drug-addict ways, Miles replaced him on trumpet. He couldn’t match Dizzy’s velocity or range, but , just as importantly, he gave Bird something Diz hadn’t: space in which Bird’s own solos could resonate. True to his nature as both a musician and a person, Miles found ways to add breathing space into those short, two- and three-minute bebop tunes. Miles did not play every note of every chord, but rather chose the most important notes:
“I used to hear all them musicians playing all them scales and notes and never nothing you could remember.”
In Birth of the Cool (released in 1957) Miles Davis played “Cool” melodies as distinctive as those of Bird and Diz, but less intense and more accessible than bebop. On these tunes we can also hear Miles not only playing notes in his highly selective fashion but also creating space for his sound to resonate in other ways. On “Jeru,” Miles played solos that set anchors with solos pared down to their essence.
The next couple of years would find Miles assembling and leading one of his most celebrated groups. The group’s sound was largely driven, as Miles’s groups tended to be, by its drummer (in this case, Philly Joe Jones), and featured a tenor saxophonist — John Coltrane — who would become a hero in his own right, a figure whose increasingly note-y sound contrasted interestingly with Miles’s spare playing. He was the perfect foil for Miles, as Miles had once been for Charlie Parker.
That quintet won Miles great acclaim, but instead, he set off for new musical territory. Miles Ahead, the first of his three highly celebrated album-length collaborations with Gil Evans, found Miles playing trumpet in front of an entire orchestra; paradoxically, the sounds of all those musicians formed a background that only served to isolate Miles’s solos. Miles is, in effect, alone with his horn.
Bebop grew out of jazz musicians’ “cutting” sessions, after-hours jams at uptown clubs in which rapid tempos, shifting chords, and breakneck solos separated the truly gifted players — newcomers and veterans alike — from their lesser brethren. Imagine, improvising solos that explore harmonies, rapidly incorporating notes of chords that change numerous times in the course of a tune.
Most people, however, see the world from the top down instead of the bottom up. The reason is that our brains evolved to find design in the world, and our experience with designed objects is that they have a designer (us) who we consider to be intelligent. So most people intuitively sense that anything in nature that looks designed must be so from the top down, not the bottom up. Bottom up reasoning is counter intuitive.
No one designed Music to look and sound like it does today. From Bach’s time forward music has evolved from the bottom up by players adopting their own nuanced styles to fit their unique lives and cultures. For the past 500 years humanity has gradually but ineluctably transitioned from top down to bottom up systems, for the simple reason that both information and people want to be free.
His work on Dig, for which he wrote all the tunes, benefitted from a technological advance, the invention of the long-playing record (LP), which allowed musicians to extend solos the way they would in live performances. Dig, which featured the tenor of Sonny Rollins and the alto of Jackie McLean, found Miles doing just that. In his first solo on the title track, he plays for 32 bars of music in 4/4 time — compare that with the eight breakneck bars of a typical Bird solo. In this marathon of a solo, Miles, becomes a storyteller as well, spinning a tale with a beginning, middle, and end. He would keep telling such stories throughout his career, in vastly different musical settings. Dig also hints at another direction Miles would take. In a passage from “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” Miles inserts one of his characteristic pauses, then reenters the fray on a note significantly higher than those he had usually played.
By the album Walkin’ , Miles set out to recapture some of the intensity of his bebop period while infusing the music with the blues he loved. Now Miles had begun habitually playing trumpet with a mute, which lent his sound a wiry quality — as wiry as his physical presence — that, six decades later, remains distinctive .
Around this time, Miles also found confirmation of his own tendencies in the music of pianists Thelonious Monk and, particularly, Ahmad Jamal: their playing made full use of space, inspiring the trumpeter to continue experimenting in the same vein. Ironically, in applying that approach to his late-1954 recording Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, the trumpeter created the space he desired by largely leaving out the piano (played by Monk!), giving the rest of his rhythm section — Percy Heath on bass, Kenny Clarke on drums, and Milt Jackson on vibes — room to “stroll,”.
On Milestones, from 1958, he added alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley to his group. Playing in a modal style, which largely dispensed with chord changes, giving them still more space to roam in a single direction; the challenge, as Miles put it, was to “see how inventive you can become melodically.” Miles’s solos had become stories years earlier, but here, on Milestones, they approach the weight of novels. In addition, the sweet-sounding alto work of Cannonball, whose velocity rivaled Coltrane’s.
The modal style of Milestones laid the groundwork for what would become not only the most celebrated album of Miles’s career but also the best-selling jazz record of all time: Kind of Blue (1959). The album’s relaxed tempos, the solos that stretch on and on without chord changes, affect the listener somewhat like hypnosis, transporting the mind to another plane, one of contemplation and beauty, one of contemplation of beauty.
Miles’s working band had different configurations as he moved into the 1960s. However, by the middle of the decade, jazz was all but eclipsed by rock. Miles found himself at the proverbial fork in the road. Miles embrace of rock — and partial spearheading of jazz-rock fusion — represented just another fresh development. In his autobiography, Miles expresses disdain for musicians who still play music in the style that he, Bird, and Diz perfected in the 1940s. Why not move on? With regard to playing jazz fusion and adding guitars to his sound, and he saw nothing wrong with that. Miles in the Sky (1968), Filles de Kilimanjaro, and In a Silent Way (both 1969) added new elements to Miles’s sound, but it was Bitches Brew (1970) that placed him in a whole new aural landscape.
There’s a passage in Miles Davis’ notorious 1990 autobiography where he’s talking about how much quality music he recorded in the mid-to-late 1960s with his current quintet — the group featuring Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. “I made six studio dates with this group in four years,” he says. “And there were some live recordings that I guess Columbia will release when they think they can make the most money — probably after I’m dead.”
In the same way without our brain and our body we also wouldn’t exist without the atmosphere and the trees that make it and the plants and bacteria that make it and the gravity and electromagnetism and foundational forces. The concept of I separate from universe is a misnomer so when Einstein said the idea that there are separate things is an optical delusion of consciousness and in reality there is one reality that we call universe of which we are all inextricably interconnected facets.
The first thing that Bitches Brew made clear is that Miles was keenly interested in expanding the idea of what his music could be, and was starting to stretch it way out. Imagine the evolution of consciousness structures themselves right as you move from a reptilian nervous system to the increased orderly complexity of the mammalian and then a neocortical and then prefrontal nervous system you move from the kinds of sentient that map to that of pain pleasure at reptilian to emotional to cognition to abstraction so we have a universe that’s moving in the direction of not only more elegance but greater depths.
The title track runs 26 minutes, which then and now is at the extreme end of what a side of vinyl on an LP can hold; the opening “Pharaoh’s Dance” also breaks 20 minutes. And these pieces weren’t lengthy compositions or single jams, but were assembled by Miles and producer Teo Macero through editing — unrelated tracks could become one piece through the miracle of the razor blade and magnetic tape.
For an improvisatory art form that was founded on the idea collective expression in the present moment, the idea of stitching together pieces into a new whole was radical enough on its own. But Miles was changing his approach in several ways simultaneously as the 1960s came to a close. He was processing his trumpet with echo, working with electric keyboards and electric guitar, adding new percussion colors, experimenting with rock rhythms, doing away with chord changes, and building long tracks from riffs and vamps.
All of these elements swirled together into a record of brilliant and fascinating contradictions. Amid the chugging sound produced by electric piano, electric bass, bass clarinet, and not one but two drummers, Miles retains the spare quality of his playing, but, in order to be heard over the fray, rises to the higher register he had been investigating over the years. In some ways, the electronic sound was particularly well suited for Miles’s trumpet style: his instrument needed amplification, which tends to work less well with rapid trumpet lines, and so the sparseness of his playing was ideal for the setting.
The psychedelic cover art and long electric jams on the one hand anchor the music in Age of Aquarius, but the connections to earlier jazz tradition and unmoored, floating quality of music also lend it a timeless feel. It was long and hard to get a handle on, but it was also a huge commercial success.
The amount that Miles Davis’ music changed from the early 60s to the early 70s is astonishing. His sound was constantly on the move, and this is what it sounded like on those August days in the studio. When you are in the experience of listening to beauty that didn’t exist before in the universe you feel a kind of aliveness it’s not matched by anything else. The primary difference between push and pull lies in how listeners are approached. In push , the idea is to promote lines by pushing them onto people. For push offerings, consider choruses and repetitions. On the other hand, in pull offerings, the idea is to establish a loyal following and draw listeners to the thing.
Miles Davis had, as he once put it, changed music four or five times, charting an artistic journey perhaps matched in his era only by that of Picasso.