Saturday, 4 March 2017

Music and interiority

Since classical music as a genre - in the widest sense - is often seen as not compatible with modernity (whatever that may mean), classical concerts are sometimges 'sold' with the reassuring information that what audiences are going to hear, is exciting, fun, hip and the best entertainment choice within the wide range of contemporary free time spending. The idea is, that this approach will draw new, i.e. young, listeners to the art form. But classical music is not  entertainment (although entertainment is often a part of it) but an art form that adresses interior awareness. It can be exciting, yes, and engaging, and wild, as well as reflective, meditative or spiritual. But it addresses the listener's interiority, his inner emotional and reflective life which is as present, lively but also as non-conceptual as the art form itself. We can produce pictures and descriptions of our inner experiences, but the experience as such is word- and picture-less. Visualizations and descriptions are metaphorical, not 'the real thing'.

So, classical music is indeed not compatible with modernity if we understand this modernity as the typical characteristics of our time as observed in public space, and as it invervenes in our private daily lives, in the form of practical technologies, contact and information opportunities and computers, as well as the extensive media culture mushrooming in every corner of human activity. But if modernity is understood as simply our present life: the reality of our experience in the here and now, classical music can be an organic part of it, but in which way? It seems to me that classical music is part of modernity in the sense that it offers an alternative to modernity: where modern life has the tendency to draw-out the individual from his private psychological shelter into the outer world, classical music offers an alternative space where he can recover his inner awareness of Self and balance, and can take distance from the outside world with its many pressures. This is not escapism but a mental therapeutic recovery place. As a balancing act, in its profound contrast to modern life, classical music is a necessary counter weight for emotional and mental sanity.

From this it follows that the materialistic nature of sonic art ( which is all about the sound as such) is not suited to such function, because it does not address the emotional realm which can be reached and touched by music with its expressive aims, with its psychological dimension. Also music which balances at the edge of insanity like Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Erwartung or Berg's Wozzeck, is not the best means of re-confirming the Self - but at least it can function as a recognition, and as such: a confirmation, of the listener's inner turmoil, and where this turmoil is suppressed, such music can make it conscious which is in itself therapeutic. But it seems to me that such music can only be located at the margins of the predominant meaning of the art form in general.

The best classical music is driven by two contrary energies: the one that binds, and the one that diffuses; the centripetal and the centrifugal forces, which can also be seen as reflecting the two main drives in the human emotional realm, or to put it differently: the balancing of order and chaos, or: regular structure and freedom. It is the underlying intensity of instinct that wants to be liberated that gives even the most ordered music its energetic life, as so many works of J.S. Bach demonstrate.

Classical music is non-conceptual, also where it functions as emotionally-intensifying a text, and its interiority means that it takes distance from the environment in which it was born. This makes it universal and understandable for listeners in very different times and places: it is contemporary for ever. In this way, classical music is an organic part of modernity and not a 'museum culture' with fossilized works of art which we can observe but with which we can no longer engage.





5 comments:

  1. I was thinking about your distinction between music and sound art and how impossible it seems to me to draw a line between (or even make a meaningful non-eurocentric distinction at all) - so instead of arguing with myself I thought I would read what you actually have to say and think about it. So here I am.

    >>classical concerts are sometimges 'sold' with the reassuring information that what audiences are going to hear, is exciting, fun, hip and the best entertainment choice within the wide range of contemporary free time spending.<<

    I agree with that this is a bad strategy. It reaches into the question "why even promote art at all?" and if the answer is *just* for it's entertainment value, then obviously there is something wrong here.

    >>But it addresses the listener's interiority, his inner emotional and reflective life which is as present, lively but also as non-conceptual as the art form itself.<<

    I'd argue that the specific purpose of listening you name here is itself the conceptual aspect of the music.

    >>where modern life has the tendency to draw-out the individual from his private psychological shelter into the outer world, classical music offers an alternative space where he can recover his inner awareness of Self and balance, and can take distance from the outside world with its many pressures.<<

    That is a beautiful sentence - I agree, which is why it is very confusing to me that you then feel the need to proceed in the next paragraph to "sound art cannot do that" - because that is literally what happens when I engage in listening to what you would call sound art. It is not at all about the material, and all about inner awareness.

    And I'd go even further and say: If there is something about a piece of music that is beautiful, our mind does not need to do any reflection on that, whereas if we encounter something that makes us feel uncomfortable, there is a lot to learn about your own perception, it is a starting point for personal growth. This point can be stated without referencing any particular style, because I think dissonances are common enough even in baroque music.

    >>From this it follows that the materialistic nature of sonic art ( which is all about the sound as such) is not suited to such function, because it does not address the emotional realm which can be reached and touched by music with its expressive aims, with its psychological dimension.<<

    It doesn't? Maybe our experiences are too different. But even as someone who doesn't particular like for example Lachenmann, I can listen to it and it tends to reach my "emotional realm" just as well, if not better, than baroque music.

    I admit that the fact that J.S. Bachs music mostly does not reach me at all emotionally might be more of a personal defect of mine - but anyway. So, I'm not reached by Bach and you're not reached by what you call sound-art. Isn't that more of a personal thing?

    (to be continued, had to split up because of length)

    ReplyDelete
  2. >>Also music which balances at the edge of insanity like Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Erwartung or Berg's Wozzeck, is not the best means of re-confirming the Self - but at least it can function as a recognition, and as such: a confirmation, of the listener's inner turmoil, and where this turmoil is suppressed, such music can make it conscious which is in itself therapeutic.<<

    Re-confirming the Self is an odd way to phrase it - I associate immediately some buddhist or hindu teaching, which is basically trying to get rid of the self. But I'm happy that you see therapeutic value in what you consider "music at the edge of insanity". I am pessimistic enough about our society to say that pretty much everyone surpresses a lot of inner turmoil all the time, which would make this kind of music sort of important...

    >>But it seems to me that such music can only be located at the margins of the predominant meaning of the art form in general.<<

    Art in general is on the margins of society - the fact that almost no one listens to something does not tell us much about quality; neither does pop-music become good just because masses of people listen to it.

    So I don't even have a problem with putting the music I happen to enjoy at the margins of what people think of as music, because it already is. So is classical music, with the exception of a few names.

    >>The best classical music is driven by two contrary energies: the one that binds, and the one that diffuses; the centripetal and the centrifugal forces, which can also be seen as reflecting the two main drives in the human emotional realm, or to put it differently: the balancing of order and chaos, or: regular structure and freedom.<<

    I didn't understand your first sentence, but the balancing of order and chaos, that is pretty much an universal thing ... not even just in classical music, but probably in most art forms. It is also not something that distinguishes classical music from any other music at all... I am failing to see your point.

    Is it that classical music is supposed to be all or mostly about this balance, whereas other art isn't?

    ReplyDelete
  3. >>Classical music is non-conceptual<<

    To the extent that classical music is non-conceptual, so is sound art. If I think of something like Stockhausens Studie II as a classic example of electronic music, I can listen to it as something non-conceptual, just a piece of music, the same way I'd do with a Mahler sinfony - and I can listen to both as something conceptual, if I include information about what the time was, when it was written, what were the composers intentions, what name does the piece have and why, and so on.

    >>also where it functions as emotionally-intensifying a text<<

    I'm confused.

    I suspect I do not understand the word "conceptual" in the same way. Maybe I'm wrong about it, but for me, the context of a piece is important - it is essentially a part of the piece. So is the name of the piece.

    You can remove all that information. Let's say I hear a piece in the radio. I do not know it's title, nor it'S composer, I can just hear the way it sounds, and have a suspicion that it might be Bach. The way I listen to the piece might be called non-conceptual. Is that what you mean by it? Also, does it change if I do know more about the piece, like when it was written, for whom, for what intention, etc. ?

    >>This makes it universal and understandable for listeners in very different times and places: it is contemporary for ever.<<

    I remember the story of travellers who wanted to introduce classical orchestra music to an african tribe. The people listened to the whole recording, and after it was over, they said: "Very interesting, but the best part was the beginning" - and it turned out that they meant not the beginning of the piece, but the beginning of the recording, where the orchestra was tuning."

    Of course, that is just an anecdote, and I just re-told it from memory, which is problematic - but if the general gist of it is true (and I think there are more examples of folklore that is *very* different from what europeans consider music) then the idea that european classical music is understandable for listeners everywhere is simply wrong.

    It might be that because of the massive influence of european music on the world, there is practically no one left that is not influenced by it (with most pop music being essentially a spawn of european music amongst other influences). On the other hand, I was raised in a household soaked with classical music, from Bach to Wagner to Bartók, and somehow I cannot find anything emotionally pleasing about Bach whereas I love Bartók - so my european-classical-upbringing still leaves me *not* understanding something that you would maybe consider to be an universal appeal of music.

    -

    That was more words than I though I would write; let me just say that I very much appreciate the fact that there are composers writing about music (it is still rare on the internet I'd say) and even if I happen to disagree, I like that there is the opportunity of discussion. Also, "interiority" could turn out to be a useful concept, even if I would end up understand it in a different way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. I will reply to these comments in a new post.

      Delete