Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tangled Up in Blue

Driving back from dropping my daughter off at her bakery job, grey rainy morning with mist rising off the melting snow, Tangled Up in Blue in the CD player. She's been listening to that album lately, along with Kind of Blue and Frank Morgan. Inspiring that a 16-year-old would come to this music on her own.

There's something perfect about Dylan's recording of that song, and many of the others on Blood on the Tracks. What struck me was the imperfections, especially his guitar and harmonica playing. Somehow they make the whole thing work, the feeling of authenticity, of some kind of true story being told. The voice is what comes through, from the instruments as much as the singing.

Perfection achieved through imperfection, that seems key. In the software world, there is often a presumption of perfection and seamlessness (though they never really are), as if it could be engineered into permanence. There are always implicit and explicit claims that there are no kinks, the solution is complete, just needs to be procured and all the advantage will be realized. To talk as if human effort, skill, artistry are necessary is to diminish, even tarnish the value that ought to lie inherent in the software itself. But things are never permanent and perfection is something only rarely grasped, and often takes great struggle to realize. I think of how Welles never made a film coming anywhere near Citizen Kane again, and it was almost destroyed before anyone saw it (and lay nearly hidden for more than ten years after its first release). Or how Dylan saw Blood as a product of pain and didn't understand how others could enjoy it (according to this article).

Nothing new about this as it relates to films or music, but I am still sure that the same things apply to software, even when they are used in situations ostensibly far removed from emotion and drama. The human element and the struggle to make something meaningful, with all its imperfections, obtains whenever we work together to create something. It's not escapable.

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