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Subject: Its Aesthetic Worth as Music
From: Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 6 Feb 2018 02:07:48 -0500

text/plain (80 lines)

While I realize that many composers of the past (especially those working
in sacred traditions) favored hidden structures or made elaborate visual
puns on notation that weren’t expected to be heard as patterns of tension
and release in the music, I still agree with MUCH of this critique on the
music of Elliott Carter.... (And I think the analogy to three-point
perspective in painting is very apropos)


Music is an art which has developed over the ages into a subtle and complex
instrument to communicate emotional states and nuances.... In truly
expressive and great music, the gestures of the textures relate to the
order of the notes in a way which creates the strong impression of energy
going from note to note; also in quiet episodes, the notes relate to each
other to form a network of connections, creating a ‘virtual space’ within
the musical work, which defines its own context. In such music, all notes
relate to a central tone, present or hinted at, like the lines in a
figurative painting refer to the vanishing point of the perspective system,
similarly creating a ‘virtual space’. The perspective created on a flat
surface of a painting is something we can see ‘into’ the surface; we see
with imagination, recognizing the signals as given by the artist’s
imagination. In the same way, we hear ‘into’ the material surface of pure
sound the tonal perspective of the inner space of music.

In the work of people like Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis et
al, in spite of occasional tone groupings where the notes suggest, for an
isolated moment, a slight relation to each other, the composer has done
everything to avoid the appearance of this inner, tonal space,
through over-complexity, irregular rhythms and metrum, extremes of sound
and colour, absence of narrative and closure, etc. etc. and especially the
avoidance of audible relations between notes. What remains is the material
surface of sound, and however ingenious this surface may be organized, a
whole dimension is absent. But only in this dimension of inner space, the
experience of ‘expression’ – in a musical sense – is possible. Any
‘expression’ mentioned in relation to Carter’s work, stops at the flat
surface of sound. Mere gestures on the sonic level are different from the
intrinsic quality of musical expression, and it is *this *what audiences,
developed on music with an inner space, miss in this music. The capacity to
create an inner space which is part of the listening experience, i.e. which
is directly audible, is the fundament of Western music, present from its
earliest beginnings. It can be argued that music, which does not want to
create this inner space, is another art form altogether: sonic art. This
art form requires a fundamentally different listening attitude (one should
not expect musical expression) and a different cultural context (one should
relate sonic art to the imagery of 20C utopia).

The resistance or indifference of music audiences towards sonic works
or postwar
avant-garde atonal works is not ‘conservatism’ or the ‘unwillingness to
open their ears and heart to the creations of their own time’, but the
instinctive awareness that ‘this work’ does not belong in the context for
which they have bought a ticket. Including sonic art in musical contexts is
not progressiveness, but regression to a more primitive state of mind and
reception framework. For anybody with some intelligence and musical
experience this should be obvious. Gestures with unrelated notes are
comparable to the gestures of throwing confetti at weddings. They are
imitations of musical gestures which are related to the inner connections
of the intervals. Carter – who wanted to celebrate what he considered
‘modern life’ (Manhattan at rush hour?) – belonged to postwar utopian
ideology, when sonic art was born.

Let it not be confused with musical culture.


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