Hierarchies Matter

Bear with me on this one.

I was chat­ting with Joe Ravo, a gui­tarist who also hap­pens to be a com­puter tech wiz­ard, and we got to talk­ing about the start of the inter­net. Back in the 1960s and 70s, the US mil­i­tary began a project called ARPANET. One of their goals was to decen­tral­ize com­mu­ni­ca­tions, so that in the event of war the military’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion would not be wiped out with one hit.

Like­wise, with the present-day inter­net, we like to think there is a lot of decen­tral­iza­tion. But is it so? Google’s way of cod­i­fy­ing the inter­net gives pri­or­ity to web sites that attract a lot of atten­tion. For instance, Google recognize’s that more peo­ple are likely to search for Wendy’s, the fast food chain, rather than my friend Wendy. Google under­stands the impor­tance of form­ing data into a hier­ar­chy. If Google gets taken out, that’s going to affect the inter­net a lot more than my friend Wendy’s web site disappearing.

Joe and I talked about the nature of things being bro­ken up but return­ing to their nat­ural order — another exam­ple is AT&T. In the early 1980s the com­pany was bro­ken up into smaller pieces. Here today in 2007 it is back together, stronger than ever.

(Joe Ravo rec­om­mended the book Linked for more on this subject.)

Well, for what­ever rea­son, this reminded me of tonal­ity. In the 20th Cen­tury, there was an attempt to decen­tral­ize tonal­ity. From now on, music would not be orga­nized into a hier­ar­chy of key and chord pro­gres­sions. But some­thing there is about human nature and the nature of music, the way we lis­ten, that dri­ves us back to orga­niz­ing music into a hier­ar­chy of, if not key exactly, related notes and motifs.

About Richard D. Russell

This was written by Richard D. Russell, New York City based composer of fine music.