“I had an extremely slow-dawning insight about creation. That insight is that context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn’t sound like much of an insight, but it’s actually the opposite of conventional wisdom, which maintains that creation emerges out of some interior emotion, from an upwelling of passion or feeling, and that the creative urge will brook no accommodation, that it simply must find an outlet to be heard, read, or seen. The accepted narrative suggests that a classical composer gets a strange look in his or her eye and begins furiously scribbling a fully realized composition that couldn’t exist in any other form. Or that the rock-and-roll singer is driven by desire and demons, and out bursts this amazing, perfectly shaped song that had to be three minutes and twelve seconds — nothing more, nothing less. This is the romantic notion of how creative work comes to be, but I think the path of creation is almost 180 degrees from this model. I believe that we unconsciously and instinctively make work to fit preexisting formats.”
David Byrne, over at Salon, has a super cool article about the evolution of music. He puts together the pretty convincing argument that the form of music that was contemporary in the past was largely confined by the types of venues and media through which it was played. He goes on to say that you can’t truly appreciate a piece of music from a different culture or time once it’s been transposed to a different space - in other words, you can’t properly appreciate medieval chants unless you’re in a cathedral, or you’re missing something if your rap music isn’t blaring from your car. It’s a neat article, and it’s also a very relevant way to think about biological evolution; as PZ Myers writes,
That’s what eco devo is all about. Development and environment are all intertwined, with one feeding back on the other — species are products of the spaces they evolved and developed in, and cannot be comprehended in isolation. It’s one of the weird things about modern developmental biology, that we preferentially study model systems, organisms that have been able to thrive when ripped out of their native environments and cultured in the simplified sterility of the lab. My zebrafish live now in small uncluttered tanks with heavily filtered water; their environment is like iPods, simple, streamlined, focused with relatively little resonance. The zebrafish evolved in mountain streams feeding into the Ganges, in lands seasonally flooded by great monsoons, a vast and complicated opera hall of an environment. A wild zebrafish and a lab zebrafish are two completely different animals.