Conversations at La Mama ⟶
Conversations at 16 Beaver ⟶

Maas is a musical pidgin language. Pidgin languages are contact languages—rudimentary languages that are cobbled together whenever two populations that don't share a language meet for the first time. They are extremely simple. They are practical to learn. So they're a little different from natural languages—you can't really make a language, but if you have no choice, you can make a pidgin. Maas has 120 words, each of which is a basic 2-to-4 note melodic shape.

Music and language are uncannily similar—it's one of those things that is so obvious, people forget to be puzzled by it. They are both a reflection of thought, operating on the exact same time scale. Notes and syllables produce the same texture. Both are vocal, in the sense that a voice puts sounds in order. This singularity or punctiformity is what typifies a voice, and allows it to function as the Lacanian small a object. Both are also compositional.

There are two sides to Maas: the speech community and the tangential audience. There are people using it to communicate, and people who don't have any fluency, who hear it as music. I have the latter very much in mind: I'm interested in the musical results. The tangential audience hears the unconscious.

One of the reasons I think the results are beautiful is that when you're talking to somebody, you don't typically listen to the sound of your voice—you're interested in what you're trying to communicate, and whether you're finding success in that regard. So you stop listening to the sound of what you're playing, or trying to construct music self-consciously.

Maas makes it possible for someone to play music without hearing themselves, something which they can't achieve by plugging their ears up.

On the other hand, the fluent listener could experience an inverse effect that registers as a sort of musical oracle. Words in Maas have 2, 3, or 4 notes, and the lexicon covers the complete combinatoric space of basic melodic shapes. So, a fluent speaker of Maas can listen to any music at all and pick out words and phrases.

Language needs a community, so I've fabricated various social conditions in which people would actually use the language. I think it would be fun to have hobby clubs in schools that speak Maas at lunchtime. In the fullness of time and history, each symbol begins to accrue associations, and becomes richer in meaning. We could develop a Maas literature. English literature has meaning because there are millions of people who speak English. With a speech community, Maas could live the strange double life of speech and writing, being a device for composition as well as thought.

I do think music is as necessary as food and water, and I don't think that musicians will always be styled as entertainers. I like the idea of the musical citizen, the idea that citizens are musicians and musicians are citizens. As a musician you really start to develop an appreciation for and consciousness of rhythm. If there's a reason we're all going crazy right now, it's because we have all of these time-saving devices, and less time than ever, and way too much to do. Why is that? Maybe it's because we haven't developed our rhythmic conciousness yet, haven't learned to appreciate slower time-scales or how to thrive in an irregular rhythmic environment.

For instance, if you're a jazz musician, you don't know exactly what's going to happen—you might make a mistake, you play something you didn't expect, or it comes out differently than you expect, or someone else plays something you didn't expect—and if you're a good improviser, this is the moment you've been waiting for. You make something out of the unexpected. This is a skill that generalizes to how the musical citizen thrives as she goes about her day. I think when we get music out of the sandbox of the performing arts, it becomes a healthier and more useful part of the world. And Maas can certainly be a part of that because it's an example of a use of music which isn't oriented around stage performance.