This is the video of the Zoom session on Saturday 16th May 2020 and includes various contributors – Asher Arnon, James Bell, Hussein Boon, Christian Ferlaino, Colin Frank, Andrew Knight-Hill and Tim Sayer – discussing their contributions with Simon Zagorski-Thomas and other members of the C21MP network.

Transcript of Simon’s statement from the start of the video session:

Although the title of the symposium frames restrictions and affordances as binary opposites, I really think of the affordances or possibilities of a particular situation and our perception or understanding of them, as the basis for our cognitive processes. In that sense, restrictions are therefore, just the recognition or choice of specific affordances: restriction and freedom (or availability) are the binary opposites and affordances are the raw materials out of which those restrictions or freedoms are made. And that idea of “recognition or choice” leads to another distinction between two types of affordance – those that are based on circumstances and those that are based on choice. In the first case, the physical nature of the environment and of our own physicality within it produces affordances which we learn about – we learn how the world works and we use that knowledge. In the second case we have something that may be a uniquely human trait – the desire to deliberately restrict oneself so as to draw attention to the way we have used a specific affordance. 

However, there are grey areas here – not least in the definition of the ‘we’ involved in both of these statements. On the one hand, individuals can be constrained by other members of their society to believe that some things are possible for some and not possible for others – to differentiate between things that are theoretically possible and things that are practical affordances available to me in my current circumstances. We can see this as an individual circumstance that can be as real as the physical environment and simultaneously as a social ‘choice’ in that it is culturally constructed.  And with the second case – restriction by choice – why would we want to do that? Why did Stravinsky say what he said about constraints and artistic freedom? In the case of the ‘we’ being communal, the restriction is about exerting power for some form of gain – either for an individual, a subsection or the totality of a society. As individuals we can knowingly or unknowingly submit to this power and abide by the restriction – but there is also an additional reason we can choose to restrict ourselves on an individual / personal basis: to highlight the aesthetics of the process. By restricting the tools or the rules I’m going to use, I make judgment simpler. Some of these restrictions become culturally established – like instruments, formal structures, tonalities and so forth – and some are more narrowly or even personally established – like schools of composition or personal methodologies.

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