Bewitching Swerves

A carelesse shooe-string, in whose tye
I see a wilde civility:
Doe more bewitch me, then when Art
Is too precise in every part.
“Delight in Disorder”—Robert Herrick

Years ago I wrote in a journal, “Use unexpected shifts and swerves.” Like the 17th-century poet, Robert Herrick, I tend to find “a wild civility” more bewitching “than when art is too precise in every part.” Max Patrick, Herrick’s 20th-century editor, described this ancient aesthetic principle as “an artistically deliberate fine disorder.”

This principle recognizes that an unexpected deviation from a prevailing order may fully capture our attention, and, if this surprising twist becomes an unanticipated aspect of a larger effect, the result can prove surprisingly expressive.

I enjoy incorporating predictable patterns (such as tonal and metric frameworks) into my compositions because they provide opportunities for unexpected swerves and sudden shifts of energy. In many fields of artistic expression and design, I often find a measure of “wilde civility” particularly engaging.1