CRICKETS IN THE PROVENCE
In his tent in the Provence surrounded by chirping crickets, young Stockhausen was so impressed by the vast aural space unfolding around him, that he decided to create such a space in music as well. He was not alone. In ‘Les iseaux de l’arbre de vie’ form ‘Visions de l’au delà’, Messiaen evokes the many-layered depths emerging in the woods as soon as the birds begin to sing. Also more urban aural spaces created by men have fascinated composers. In Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, we hear the jumble of sounds on a fairground and in ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’ Bartok places us amidst the hustle and bustle of a modern city. And also the pre-industrial age had its own soundscapes: think of the turmoil of battle or the cries of the hawkers in the market that inspired many a madrigalist.
But otherwise than Stockhausen (and his meanwhile countless companions), Messiaen, Stravinsky, Bartok and the many madrigalists did not think it necessary to line-up the singers in a circle around the public as if they were chirping crickets. What made their evocations not less convincing: we would even not have fancied that the music would have sounded better when the singers were moving criss-cross between the guests in the palazzo. Which does not prevent that Willaert and the Gabrieli’s used to deploy two or more choirs in the four wings of the San Marco in Venice and that Berlioz had the trombones of the Last Judgment displayed in the four quarters of the compass around the mother orchestra – only to mention the most notorious examples.
It matters, thus, to investigate the relation between aural space that unfolds when the crickets in the Provence begin to chirp and musical space that emerges when the instruments begin to play in the concert-hall.
THE BELLS OF ROME
Let us begin our inquiry on Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.
In the oval colonnade that Bernini built there, between each pair of columns, we hang a bell. We have the biggest bells hung where the colonnades depart form both sides of the basilica and have their size diminished until we reach the end of the wings. We post ourselves at the gates of the Saint Peter and let all the bells ring, each on the pace of its own clapper.
No doubt, we would witness a mighty aural spectacle! Doubtful though that we would hear the sounding counterpart of Bernini’s colonnade. Since, even though we hear stereophonically as we see stereoscopically, our ability to localise sound in space is rather poor – that is why, in the real world, we tend to turn our face towards the source of the sound to find out with our eyes from which object the sound emanates. It is not so easy to localise the object on hearing alone, as anyone will know who ever tried to localise a cricket. Also on Saint Peter’s Square, we would involuntarily let our eyes dwell over the colonnade and try to determine which sound belongs to which bell. After a while, we would have the certain impression that the sounds, just like the columns, are situated on both wings of an oval in a horizontal space. But a blindfolded listener would find it far more difficult to determine the arrangement of the bells.
Especially since Bernini’s colonnade is not an open gallery where sound can expand in all directions. The walls confining the square on the outer circumference of the colonnade would reflect the sound of the bells to the opposite side. Their echo would be heard on the place where smaller bells were ringing, and the sound from the smaller bells would mix up with that of the bigger ones. To make matters worse, yet another factor comes to complicate the localisation of sounds. When two similar sounds are produced at a similar distance to our right and our the left, we tend to hear them as one single sound in the middle, right before us, so that the the sound of similar bells on the two wings of Bernini’s oval would implode into one single row of sounds through the middle of the square. And since, on top of that, above all the sound of the bigger bells would continue to resound long after its echo is reflected, the sound of each bell would also mix up with its echo. So that the straight line before us would further implode into a sounding cloud in the centre of the square. With some astonishment, we would see how the bells there in the colonnade were swinging without producing any sound, while we would hear an infernal din in the centre without discerning anything that looked like a bell.
We need not even carry out such an expensive experiment to witness the emergence of a sounding cloud. Whoever found himself amidst a flock of bleating sheep, or of a swarm of squawking gulls or croaking frogs, will have noticed that he no longer discerns individual sheep or gulls or frogs. While our bells merely merge in pairs with their counterparts on the opposite side and their echo, all the sounds of the flock or the swarm merge into one single cloud, wherein it is impossible to determine which bleating belongs to which sheep, which squawking to which gull, which croaking to which frog. Only when the flock is about to calm down can we discern the sound of the last bleaters, squawkers and croakers as separate sounds that now can easily be ascribed to individual sheep, gulls or frogs. The same goes for a waterfalls in a wood, or when all the bells begin to ring over the city, when all the muezzin begin to pray or when all sirens begin to blow.
The emergence of such a cloud of sound has something of an epiphany: in the middle of visual space, an aural space arises that seems to loosen its ties with the visual objects producing the sounds. And the impression of an epiphany is further enhanced when the sources of the sound are from the beginning invisible or difficult to localise visually, as Stockhausen’s crickets or Messiaen’s birds.
THE EMPIRE OF SILENCE
We would all too readily forget it in our noisy cities: sound is an exceptional phenomenon. Whereas things are always visible, even at night, they have to produce sound to become audible – to appear in the aural world. That is why especially the aural appearance is an appearance in the real sense of the word: an epiphany.
Nature is above all the empire of the visible, and in this empire naturally reigns silence. The ‘cosmic’ music that obligatory resounds as an accompaniment to images of space only has to conceal the icy silence that has reigned there for eons. Since, even though there is a lot of radiation in space, vibrating air can only be found on scarce planets. Despite its name even the big bang was silent, suppose there would have been ears to hear it. Also the swirling violence of nuclear fusions in suns or stars takes place in complete silence. And from the countless collisions of ever growing chunks of matter joining together to planets that eventually began to revolve around the stars, there was – despite Pythagoras’ music of the spheres - nothing to be heard. And that goes equally for the long period during which an atmosphere was gradually expanding around our earth. Even when the air began to vibrate through the murmuring of brooks and the surf of the seas, not to mention thunder and storms, avalanches and volcanic eruptions, we had to await the ears that could hear these vibrations: bacteria, single-celled organisms, fungi and plants are entirely deaf. And also the overwhelming majority of animals, that soon join their company and attract the attention through their movements, make no noise: think of the swimming of fishes in the water and the flying of birds in the skies. No wonder that the ear began to evolve only when animals conquered the land: there, not only the necessary air could meanwhile be found, but also the tramping of legs that made it vibrate – and so betrayed the presence of animals. Wherefore predators learned to move silently and their prey to stand motionless. Only late in evolution did some animals begin to produce sounds to deter competitors or to attract mates, to alarm one another and also to exchange information, which ultimately lead to the advent of being that is visible, but in the first place audible: speaking – relentlessly babbling – man.
FROGS IN THE SAN MARCO
The aural spaces created by chirping crickets, croaking frogs, singing birds, squawking gulls, mooing cows, howling wolves, not to mention singing whales: how could we in our electronic age not be tempted to generate their irresistible charms without being dependent on the benevolence of their producers or having to move to the often inhospitable regions where they work their wonders?
Let us, hence, replace the real sounds of real bells with recordings of the croaking of individual frogs. And let us have it rendered through hundreds of little loudspeakers spread over the floors of the four arms of the San Marco in Venice. That we are dealing with aural imitations of frogs would immediately be apparent from the fact hat their croaking was heard in a basilica and not in a swamp. But the presence of frogs in the San Marco is not entirely improbable. Whence the shadow of doubt would only disappear when our obligatory instinctive search for the source of the sound would reveal that the sound is produced by little loudspeakers. But whether the sound comes from real frogs or from loudspeakers, in both cases the croaking is situated in a real, not in an imitated space: staying under the central dome, we really hear the frogs on the left and the right, before and behind us, nearby and far away. And, just as on Saint Peter’s Square, aural space would not entirely coincide with visual space: through echo and the merger of identical sounds, we would equally witness the epiphany of an – although still real – aural space in the real visual space of the basilica.
Such first unlinking from visual space would probably be a mere prelude to a further ‘putting between brackets’ of the basilica: in our imagination we would soon proceed to stuff the real space with images of a swamp. The evocation of frogs through the imitation of their aural appearance would extend to the filling up of the real aural space with representations of an absent visual space.
We could proceed even further and, next to the frogs, also evoke space itself. Instead of having all the loudspeakers render the same croaking with the same intensity, we could have the volume diminished in proportion to the distance from the central dome. We would then have the impression that the frogs were croaking beyond the confines of the basilica.
The stride from Rome to Venice thus turns out to be the stride from reality to mimesis. While the soundscape on Saint Peter’s Square was as real as Bernini’s colonnade, the soundscape in San Marco no longer belongs to the realm of reality, but to the realm of aural mimesis. Just as the imitation of visual appearance conjures up the presence of a tangible being of flesh and blood, so the imitation of the audible appearance conjures up the presence of a visible and tangible being and the concomitant environment. And we situate those visible and tangible animals either on the place were the loudspeakers are, or in an imaginary space.
FROM ZENITH TO NADIR
Aural mimesis, hence, but not yet music. Let us therefore leave San Marco behind us and set out for Paris, where, under the Dôme des Invalides, Berlioz’s extended orchestra is performing the last measures form the ‘Hostias’ of his ‘Grande Messe des Morts’ (Requiem). Step by step, the trombones are descending in an ever deeper abyss, with each stride echoed by the sound of the flute, until trombones and flutes join in a final chord, the width of which is still further extended in that the flutes playing in unison now blow a triad in the higher octave.
From the depths of the world to the heights in the sky, a aural column is erected before us. For a moment, it seems as if the heights of the dome where the flutes resound are mirrored below in a reversed dome from whose depths the trombones resound. But there is no doubt: flutes and trombones are there before us, on firm ground. And on a horizontal axis at that: the trombones of the northern and southern orchestra on the right and on the left, and the flutes of the mother orchestra right in the middle.
Again, an aural space is unfolding in a real visual space, in which this time sounds are heard high above and deep beneath the earth’s surface. Visual space, in which the earth’s surface is a ground floor under the hemisphere of the sky, is silently transformed in a musical space that appears to be structured around a vertical axis from high to low, the lower pole of which reaches far beneath the earth’s surface.
The same miracle occurs whenever a musician touches his instrument. The keyboard of the piano as well as the strings are arranged in an horizontal plane from the left to the right. But when the pianist begins to play the fourth variation of Beethoven’s sonata op. 111 with his two hands on the left, we hear the sounds in the depth; and when he then suddenly moves to the right, we hear the sound in the height. It is as if the horizontal keyboard is transformed in a vertical ladder upon which the fingers of the pianist go up and down, just like the angels on Jacob’s ladder.
But the miracle comes to its apogee when we realise that the unfolding of the aural column goes hand in hand with a converse move in the horizontal dimension. Even though the instruments of the orchestra playing Mahler’s Mitternachtslied find themselves at a rather considerable distance of one another, the sounds organise themselves from high to low in one single central column, from the deepest sounds of the double bass, through the middle regions were the alt, violins and horns are dwelling, to the highest flageolets of the violins. We do not hear the depth on the right were the basses are playing, nor the heights on the left where the violins are playing. After the four points of the compass have imploded into the middle of the compass, a vertical axis is erected from nadir to zenith.
No doubt the concentration of the sounds in the vertical column is facilitated when some resonance spreads the sounds in space. And, just like on Saint Peter’s Square, it is further facilitated in that sounds with the same pitch (or their overtones) tend to merge: the epiphany of the sounding cloud as a prelude to the epiphany of musical space.
THE FOUR POINTS OF THE COMPASS
The more layers between this zenith and this nadir, the more vast is space unfolded. The somewhat thin space of Hostias becomes already more substantial in the Mitternachtslied where the middle layers are occupied by horns and strings. But it is only in music for twelve voices - as in Brumel’s mass ‘Et ecce terrae motus’ - that musical space is unfolded in all its glory. The spatial effect is even enhanced when the voices occupy space in ever changing combinations: as when in a fabric of six voices the first, second and fifth voice dialogue with the third, fourth and sixth. The continuing filling up of continually created voids makes the distance between the layers audible.
But musical space is not something like the shaft of an elevator. To begin with, we do not experience sounds as points: they seem to emanate from bodies moving in space. And such incipient expansion in the horizontal plane is further enhanced when the voices begin to alternate in a fast tempo: the ‘high and low’ is then gradually transformed into a ‘here en there’ as on the words ‘mille, mille’ in ‘Hor che’l ciel’ form Monteverdi’s eighth madrigal book. It is as if the vertical axis turns backwards, so that layers tend to gradually turn into coulisses. A similar effect is obtained when one voice comes to the foreground, as when the lamenting nymph refers her companions to the background in Monteverdi’s ‘Lamento de la Nimfa’. The vertical axis then no longer bends backwards, but forwards: the higher melody is heard as ‘foreground’ and the consonant deeper layers as ‘background’. Musical space not only has a background and a foreground, it also splits breadthways as soon as more voices come to resound within one layer, as in Messiaen’s ‘Les oiseaux de l’arbre de vie’ from ‘Eclairs sur l’au delà’. Both movements join in Jannequin’s well known imitation of the cries on the market-place, no to mention the many madrigals in which the symbolic or real turmoil of the battle-flied is evoked.
After the points of the compass have collapsed into its centre that unfolds to a vertical axis, the axis seems to further unfold into a kind of sphere. But the position of the voices in the horizontal plane is not the same as before: the alto in Mahler’s Mitternachtslied no longer finds herself before the horns as in the concert-hall: she is singing from a distance further away and higher than the horns.
DIE UMWALZUNG DER RÄUME
It appears that, when listening to music, we seem to have given up every effort to stereophonically localise sounds in space and to link them up with their visual source. The ear refuses to join the relay race where it has to hand over the torch to the eye, that in its turn hands it over to the sense of touch. The ear does not give up the sounds: it clings to them. And they then begin to reorganise themselves on an axis from high to low. Which produces the described ‘Umwälzung der Räume’.
The ear does not hear music as it hears the real world. In real life, we never hear sounds as such: we read them as signs that inform us where someone or something is, what it is, what it does, and in what direction it moves. And that holds especially true when the sounds are words, the meaning of which is also determined by pitch. As is the case with all signs, we hear through the sounds as such – and especially through differences in pitch – to concentrate on what they mean. Hapilly: it would be highly dangerous to interpret the height of the sound in terms of position in real space. from way back, the thunder is in the skies, where since the twentieth century also bombers can be heard. Conversely the snake is on the ground, even though its hissing is located on the higher regions of the tone-scale, just like the screaming of a firecracker. And how misleading would it be to think of the acceleration of the motor as of an airplane taking off!
It is not so easy to approach sounds as sounds and not as signs. If you would make a recording of the sound of a fighter jet and have it resound in a concert-hall, you would discover a rich, complex sound unfolding deep in the abyss of the world. But when a real fighter jet flies over, you would irrevocably hear that same sound high in the air: it takes a lot of exercise to unlink the sound from the fighter jet and to hear it as pure sound. That is why music preferably makes use of sounds that are not found in natural or human environments, so that every temptation to link them up with a visible phenomenon is from the beginning excluded.
This raises the question of how it comes that our ears hears the frequency of vibrations as high or low. We could argue that sounds with high frequency as a rule are produced by rather small animals who have a greater chance of being situated in the air, such as flying insects and birds. But already the example of the snake shows that this is not always true. On the contrary: adult animals are far more bigger than their offspring, which is always located below the adults, but nevertheless produce higher sounds. And on top of that with humans the smaller females look up to the larger males, which in music are referred to the lower regions because of their lower voice. It is more probable that the experience is caused by the movement of the larynx, which goes up when frequency rises. But then we do no understand why this experience would be projected in space….
DER RUF AUS DER TIEFE
As already the examples above suggest, composers seem to have an outspoken propensity to divide musical space into layers.
To understand why, we have to make a further distinction between the real world and the musical world. Otherwise than the piano or the orchestra, which cover the entire range between the infrasonic and the ultrasonic, most moving objects - as far as they produce sounds and not noise - produce only one pitch: think of the sound of falling stones, the whistle of the wind. And the same goes for animals: think of chirping crickets, peeping chicks or barking dogs. Also the upward and downward movement in the mew of cats, the moo of cows and the roaring of the lion are merely ways of approaching and leaving the central pitch. Only singing birds and speaking humans resort to a larger array of tones, but also these are confined within the reach of a restricted register.
Musical space is in the first place inhabited by human voices, and since women produce higher frequencies than men, men and women occupy respectively lower and higher regions in musical space. In an ordinary dialogue we do not notice this difference. Only when lots of people are talking together (in a train, in a pub, in a square), so that we can no longer discern what they are saying, do we hear some voices ‘above’ the other. But also this effect is not precisely experienced as a spatial relation, rather as an effect of figure and ground. It is only when they are singing that female voices seem to rise, while male voices seem to sink in the depth. This binary division of space is further refined when sopranos and altos are distinguished in the female register, and tenors and basses in the male one. And the division proceeds further when mezzo-sopranos are introduced between sopranos and altos and baritones between tenors and basses. The highest and the lowest registers together cover some four octaves, divided in four or six ‘sexual niches’.
Thus, musical space is in the first instance sexually filled in. The division in generations, which plays such an important role in the visual world – think of the shape of children as opposed to that of the adults – is entirely omitted in the musical world, for reasons which do not bother us here. But the sexual filling in is profoundly affected by the introduction of instruments. The reach of an instrument is sometimes smaller, but more often broader than that of a human voice, and its register can be situated entirely beneath or above that of the human voice. The number of layers in musical space is increasing, until the limits of the infrasonic and the ultrasonic are reached. This can be achieved either through making one instrument that covers the whole range (piano, organ), or through making a family of instruments: strings, woodwinds, brass instruments, or finally the entire orchestra.
That has its bearings on the sexual filling in of the layers. By adding a new register beneath or above the normal reach, a super-low and a super-high register appear. These can be read as ‘superfemale’ (violins and flutes in the higher registers) or as ‘supermale’ ‘(trombone in the lower registers). But also a non-sexual lecture is possible: the new layers above and below the human domain are experienced as the outer-human the higher regions of which are inhabited by super-human ethereal beings and the lower ones by sub-human beings. Thus the higher tones of Wagner’s Vorspiel to Lohengrin are attributed to a kind of angels and the lower tones of Nono’s ‘guai ai gelidi mostre’ to monsters. The three layers are united in Mahler’s ‘Mitternachtslied’ or in Messiaen’s Les mains de l’abîme’. A third possibility is when one and the same instrument comes to occupy the entire musical space. This is best realised when one single instrument covers the whole musical space (piano, organ). But it can be a family of instruments as well: as in the Adagietto of Mahler’s fifth symphony where the melody arises from the depths of the strings to their utmost heights or as in Berg’s ‘Drei Orchesterstücke’. Here we have to do with accordingly magnified beings: ‘Man’, gods or giants.
SPACE AND MOVEMENT
Next to the rough division of space in layers (registers, octaves), there is also a more refined one: each octave is divided in twelve tones. Within each register, a sound can be ‘high’, ‘low’ or ‘in the middle’. But it can also move from high to low and conversely. This is not a change within a continuum (glissando), but that does not mean that music can render only discontinuous movements: we read the discontinuous succession of steps as a continuous movement (see below: Zum Klang wird hier der Wille).
As a rule, descending tones are heard as a descent, ascending ones as an ascent. But high may also be experienced as left, and low right: as when the sergeant commands ‘Left! Right’. An alternating interval may thus be read as a descending and ascending movement (for example of waves) as well as a movement from the left to the right, or backwards and forwards.
Nevertheless, music uses pitch above all for rendering expressive movements of beings: their facial expressions, gestures and posture. But also the way in which the whole body is moving: falling, stumbling, marching, hopping, dancing, springing, yes even flying. There is no question here of rendering a change of place: the focus is on the expressive freight of the movement. Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’s Tod’ does not picture a movement from A tot B, but the expressive quality of the tread of the mourners. We do not have the impression that a procession is moving from the left to the right or from the background to the foreground: the whole has rather the effect of walking on a Piscator conveyor belt.
After all, the question remains how music could possibly render a movement in the horizontal plane. We have seen how the sounds in the four corners of the compass are concentrated in the centre and layered in the vertical dimension. And in that dimension, ascending or descending of necessity has to end up in a metamorphosis: the male voice that would want to climb into higher regions threatens to change in that of a woman and thus to be deprived of the very motive to ascend. Only the desexualised instruments seem to escape such fate, especially when they cover a broader register than the human voice (violin), let alone the entire musical space (piano). In that remarkable last movement of Chopin’s second sonata for piano, we hear the notes capriciously roll up and down over the entire keyboard. But, just like in Mahler’s Adagietto, we do not precisely have the impression that we are going through several layers: rather is it the layer itself that seems to have expanded. And that expanded register seems moreover to tip backwards and to be transformed in a plane where something is moving criss-cross from the left to the right and from the background to the foreground. But although we read the movement in the horizontal plane, we have no indications of the precise direction: we only have the impression of an indeterminate hither and thither.
CRESCENDO AND DECRESCENDO
In the real world, movement has nothing to do with pitch, but everything with ‘aural perspective’: what is nearby sounds loudly, what is far away sounds softly. In music, the echo is imitated through repeating a musical motive more softly. Approaching is rendered through a crescendo and going away through a decrescendo. Thus we read the crescendo and decrescendo of the double bass in Ligeti’s Aventures as something that comes nearer and disappears again.
But such apparently obvious method of rendering spatial localisation is not transferred to music just like that. That we had to look for a convenient example in Ligeti’s music, which is moving on the edges of ordinary aural mimesis, should make us suspicious. It immediately comes to our mind that, in music, intensity has in the first place something to do with the intensity of emotions. But there is a further reason why crescendo and decrescendo are not so apt to render movement as seems at first glance. Although we interpret a crescendo as coming nearer, in music there is no telling in which direction the thing is moving. In Borodin’s ‘In de Steppes of Central Asia’ it is not clear whence the caravan comes and where it goes. It rather seems that – as usual – we turn our heads in the direction from where the sound is coming, so that the moving object is always situated right before us, and thus seems to come from the background to the foreground.
All this explains why movements – which in the real world occur mostly in the horizontal plane – are so seldom depicted in music.
There are certainly more examples in music where approaching is rendered through a crescendo: think of the descent of the Grail in Wagner’s ‘Vorspiel’ to Lohengrin, or of the appearance of another celestial body in Messiaen’s ‘Apparition de l’Eglise éternelle’. But although in all these examples sound is growing louder, that is achieved not so much in that separate voices become louder, but rather in that ever more voices are joining in, until the whole orchestra is mobilised. Thus, the effect of approaching is not achieved through sound perspective. This is all the more apparent in the Vorspiel to Lohengrin, since th Grail is not moving towards us in the horizontal plane, but descending towards the earth on the vertical axis, on which movement is impossible in music. That we nevertheless have the certain impression of a descent is not due to the fact that the strings descend from the higher registers to the lower ones – to a real change of layer in musical space – but to the fact that ever lower registers join in. The violins themselves continue to play in the higher registers.
It looks as if, in music, distance is overcome through ‘sympathy’. Just like two strings tuned to the same pitch begin to vibrate when one of them is struck, just so do musical beings express their feeling of solidarity through singing together, each within the seclusion of its own register. They seem to merge in a mystic body that tends to encompass the entire space. A more profane version of the unfolding of such mystic body – this time in its purest form: without concomitant suggestion of a movement in space – can be heard in Ravel’s Bolero, where ever new voices in ever new registers are joining the obsessive rhythm until it eventually permeates the entire musical space. Thus, in music, movement is rendered not so much by crescendo and decrescendo, but rather by joining in. Movement is no longer a movement of two bodies towards each other, but rather the expansion a of mystic body that eventually embraces all the members of the community.
And that has everything to do with another difference between the real, foremost visual world, and musical space. Whereas visual bodies are surfaces enveloping volumes with an empty space between them, sounding bodies make other bodies vibrate at a distance. In its most elementary form, sound becomes more sonorous when ever more people begin to sing in unison. But the phenomenon becomes audible in all its splendour when different voices in different registers sing different but harmonising tones: the sonority of the unison develops into the harmony of the chord. Only through their separation in space are voices in a position to bring forth that remarkable mystic body wherein they merge: the chord.
Such nearness at a distance is poignantly set to music in that marvellous ‘madrigalism’ in the ‘Duo Seraphim’ from Monteverdi’s ‘Verspro delle Beata Vergine’, although another unity in diversity is at stake here: that of three persons in one god. Three angels are singing a triad on the words ‘et hi tres’ soon to proceed to singing ‘unum sunt’ in unison. The sonority of this unison on ‘unum sunt’ only highlights the higher form of unity achieved through the multiplicity of the chord.
That the voices immediately thereupon begin to sing separate but similar melodies, reminds us of the fact that there is another means of rendering distance, albeit this time in the time dimension. When two voices break in one after the other, we have the certain impression that they are located in different places, even though they are moving simultaneously: they seem to chase after one another. But also in this new dimension, identity may be restored through synchronising movements through meter and singing the same melodies (canon). And nearness despite separation may be obtained through letting them sing in harmony. Which does not prevent that the voices may join in ever shorter intervals to eventually break in together.
Thus, music disposes of a whole array of techniques to render various forms of being together – the essence of love. Each voice might sing its own melody on its own. Or two voices can stress their solidarity by singing the same melody one after another, so that they are echoing each other. Still nearer do they come when the one begins to echo when the other is still singing, so that we get a canon. Nearer still do they come when they do so in the same meter and on harmonious sounds. But only when they sing a succession of chords in the same rhythm and the same meter are they together in every respect. It is such play of varying forms of ‘nearness in separation’ that under ever changing forms is celebrated time and again in polyphonic music, that is one great ode to the (communal) love between people. And it is at once apparent how lack of solidarity can be rendered: either through singing different melodies in different keys (polytonality) as in Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, not to mention the melodies running indifferently alongside one another in atonal space; or through progressively giving up synchronised movement and giving each voice its own rhythm and through letting them tumble over one another without any synchronising meter.
In musical space movement is obsolete: melodic identity, meter and harmony bridge every distance.
There is more.
As opposed to visual objects, which only reflect the light of the sun, aural objects produce their own sound. It is as if visual objects would send out their own light. Just like sounds, they would no longer have a surface then, but be transparent like a flame. Just like sounds, they would seem to be enveloped in a visual halo: all the objects in their environment would be lit by their rays of light. Just like sounding bodies, they would therefore be far more difficult to localise: suppose we have to determine the place of someone who is walking with a lantern in a nocturnal wood with his back turned towards us. It immediately would dawn on us why it is so difficult to localise a cricket, especially when it is singing in a courtyard, so that the echo of his chirping is reflected from all sides. Would we place it under a dome, that would have become impossible altogether: the sound would be reflected from all points of the dome. Which produces the same effect as when a candle is placed under a dome: it would appear as a lighting dome rather than as a flame in the centre. And that holds especially true for a sound that is sung in a resonating space: it no longer seems to emanate from one point in space, but rather seems to have become space itself, especially since spatially distributed but identical sounds tend to merge, so that the sound seems to emanate neither from the centre nor from the perimeter, but is rather filling the entire space.
Only in such resonating space is every separating distance evaporating and replaced with omnipresence. Resonance works in the horizontal place what unison, harmony and melodic identity work in the vertical axis. The effect is only enhanced when the sound breaks in smoothly and when it is sustained for a longer time (like the ‘Om’ in Buddhists temples). The opposition between nearness and separation may here easily be enhanced through alternation of sustained sound and short impulses: long sustained sounds merge with their resonance and begin to fill space, while short impulses drown out their echo and hence appear as points in space. The opposition is developed in all its varieties in the music of Willaert and the Gabrielis.
The effect of resonance is, if possible, still more fascinating than that of harmony. That is why a whole technology of resonance has been developed. In the first place the sounding boards of the instruments: these make the sounds sound louder, but they produce above all he impression that the sound is resounding in a closed space – a cavity. That effect is further enhanced through placing the instruments in closed spaces, such as the caverns, where the first sanctuaries were created. Soon, the megalith cultures proceeded to the construction of cavities covered with earth (Malta) and these gave rise to the construction of religious buildings with domes and vaults, until finally electronics have taken over in our times.
Only to a listener hovering in the middle of a spherical space – or in the centre of a San Marco whose mirror-image would be excavated in the ground – would the universal resonance coincide with musical space unfolded. And such musical space unfolded is not infinite, but finite – like a cave. In the visible world where we of necessity have to move on the earth’s surface, such a space is best approximated through diverse condensations of the cube on the ground and a hemisphere in the heights – exemplary in the Pantheon whose interior space can be inscribed in a sphere.
Still, there is a visual counterpart of such aural space: not the mirror, as we might expect at first glance – that is only the counterpart of resonance from one point: the echo – but a lighting space, such as it appears in the mist over a lake or in a sunset, in the depths of blue waters or blue skies, or in the glow of flames and fire, which from way back exert a fascination similar to resonance and harmony. The lighting kernel of the sun or the flame corresponds to the sound, and the light in the surrounding space to its resonance. Not for nothing has it been the sunset that inspired many an inventor to produce ‘visual music’. But man does not content himself with the admiration of those ‘espaces trouvées’. from way back he is out at recreating the magic of sound in the visual world through igniting fire or candle-light in the dark. And the counterpart of the effect of the filling of space can be obtained through filling the spaces with smoke. An afterglow of such beings shining from within is found in the stained-glass windows in the cathedrals or in the glacis of oil-paint.
Be that as it might, in such ethereal-oceanic space, aural appearance comes to coincide with aural space. Thus is completed in the horizontal dimension the movement through which in the vertical dimension the separate sounds were merging in the chord. Eventually, all the identical beings coincide with the soul of the group. Such completed narcissism would ideally be incarnated in a deep sound, rich with overtones, that would uninterruptedly resound in a spherical space – the Buddhist ‘Om’ in the Christian San Marco. That would certainly be the quintessence of music, but as is the case with most quintessences, they are rather boring in the end. That is why the beings in musical space rather set out to move more freely and to strive for more complex modes of unity. That is also why more complex music no longer fits in spaces with lots of resonance, while, conversely, the import of identity in time (echo as canon), meter and harmony increases correspondingly.
But – we can no longer talk around the problem – what kind of beings is it that are merging here in the mystic body of harmony to eventually coincide with aural space as such?
ZUM KLANG WIRD HIER DER WILLE
Despite the sometimes cosmic dimensions of musical space, the cosmos itself, as we already know, is essentially a realm of silence. Only on our unsightly planet in that vast universe could the first sounds be heard after the development of an atmosphere and the evolution of animals.
Light, on the contrary, was already there from the beginning, and it continues to willy-nilly make visible the entire world. That is why to be visible and to be perceptible seem to be synonymous. No wonder that mimesis seems in the first place to apply to visual appearances, whereas it seems futile to conjure up a world through sounds – that is why the mirror, and not the echo has been chosen as the paradigm of mimesis. We certainly can imitate the singing of birds and the roaring of the lion, but these do not provide interesting information. The sound of their movements could tells us more. But, as we already know, they do their utmost to act in silence. It is impossible, hence, to evoke a cat catching a mouse through mere aural imitation. Only man leads a more noisy life. There is nothing clever in evoking him: it suffices to imitate his speech. But that is theatre, not music.
But there is more to man's aural appearance than speech alone. Because man has so much to learn, he is the imitating animal par excellence. That is why he experiences actions as compelling examples and is extremely sensitive to the way in which they are performed. Whoever poses as an example, articulates his exemplary action in its constituting elements, shows how to perform them and ensures their coherent unfolding by producing sounds. He thereby organises his movements through the melody of speech, as if it were the words of a sentence: think of the way you learn a child how to tie an knot*. Also when working have humans often to coordinate their movements: think of rowing or dragging a heavy burden. Also then do humans endorse their movements with an appropriate sound. With movements that produce sounds of themselves – foremost when instruments are handled – it would suffice to accentuate those sounds. But man cannot help to resort to his voice nevertheless: from the ‘Left! Right!’ of the sergeant to the ‘He! Hoi!’ of the rowers. And this propensity turns into a necessity when the movements that have to be synchronised or imitated do not produce sounds at all: think of knitting, spinning and weaving. Thus, sounds are transformed in an order to move (kinetic impulses). In principle, they have nothing to do with the sound - if there is any - of the movement they dictate, and they owe their existence to other movements than those of the movement dictated: the beat of the slave driver has nothing in common with the sound of the oars in the water, nor with the pushing and pulling of the rowers.
If the child succeeds in imitating an exemplary action, parent and child enjoy repeating the same movement on its sonorised rhythm, and in that synchronised performing together, they celebrate identity realised. This is the basis of the communal enjoyment of identity through performing identical movements. That is why humans use kinetic stimuli not only to dictate instrumental movements, but in the first place to coordinate a whole range of free movements, as when dancing (see chapter 11 of 'The ecstasies of Eros’).
Thus, man begins to model himself after the image and the likeness of the sounds he produces. And he does not restrict himself to movements that can be executed by his real body: he rather soon proceeds to produce rhythmical patterns that can be performed only tentatively or by imaginary beings. He thereby discovers how to conjure up beings, not through imitating their visual or aural appearance, but through producing the impulses of their movements.
And that is how a new branch of art is born: music. Which is a very special phenomenon. For music does not conjure up beings by imitating their aural appearance, as do the visual arts, but through sonorising their will to move.
That discerns music from ordinary aural mimesis, as when one imitates the call of the cuckoo or a human dialogue. Only when audible movements are used does there seem to be a common ground between music and ordinary aural mimesis. But that is merely an illusion. To begin with, there are often considerable differences between the real sounds and musical sounds. In Schubert’s lied ‘Die Post’, the rhythm of a galloping horse is rendered through the piano, and in Wagner's ‘Walküre’ through female voices! And in both cases tones are used that have nothing to do with real horses. And even though Borodin, in his ‘In the steppes of Central Asia’, renders the steps of the camels in the sand somewhat more realistically through pizzicato’s in the strings, especially the softly undulating sounds betray that we are not dealing here with the imitation of the feet coming down, but with kinetic impulses that dictate not only the coming down of the feet, but also the inaudible swinging of camel’s bodies. And what is more: in most cases the sound of feet coming down is preceded by a leap or a pointed motive, that renders the impulse to put down, but precedes the sound wherein it comes to a standstill – and also that impulse is of course inaudible.
And there is more. In that music conjures up movement by providing impulses for it and not by imitating an aural appearance, it gets at once rid of the problem that lots of movements do not produce sound at all: from the planets of Holst, over waves (Wagner’s Vorspiel to Rheingold, Debussy’s La Mer), the flickering of light on the water (Schönberg’s Farben), the flashing of lightning (Beethoven), the swimming of fishes (Schubert’s ‘Die Forelle’) to the flying of the rave (Schübert’s ‘die Krähe’). Also the expressive movements of men such as shivering (Vivaldi), trembling (Liszt), not to mention the gentle bowing of the swan in Tchaikovksy’s Swan Lake.
And also the evocation of immobile or lifeless beings is no longer a problem. For also the adoption of an hieratic posture is an activity to which an impulse can be given through sustained tones. Also the vast domain of visible things that do not move altogether are successfully rendered in music: the motionless sea (Hor ch’el ciel, Monteverdi), impressive mountains or castles (Wagner, Smetana), the endless steppes (Borodin) or the immobile nocturnal space (Mahler’s Mitternachtslied).
Nowhere is the difference between aural imitation and music more tangible than in Liszt’s ‘Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este’: of real fountains we only hear the coming down of the water. But it is not at all such monotonous splashing that Liszt lets us hear, but rather the sparkle of tones that convincingly dictate the upward and downward movement of the water – which is entirely inaudible.
Music is not an imitation of the audible aspects of movement (or standstill), and what it evokes is not at all the ordinary aural appearance of a being (as far as it has one), but the inner will that makes itself known in that it adopts a special aural appearance through a voice or an instrument: the production of kinetic impulses (under its most primitive form: the drummer in the galley or the sergeant on the barrack square). We could also speak of a soul that becomes audible. But we prefer to stick to Schopenhauer’s ‘Wille’, were it alone as an homage to his philosophy of music – although this does not mean that we agree with it, even less with the underlying philosophy. For in music the soul does even more than reveal itself through sound: it also wants to mould the listener to its image.
'Singend und tanzend äussert sich der Mensch als Mitglied einer höheren Gemeinschaft: er hat das Gehen und Sprechen verlernt und ist auf dem Wege, tanzend in die Lüfte emporzufliegen' (Nietzsche, Geburt der Tragödie 1871).
Driven by his newly discovered demiurgic potential, man developed a whole arsenal of instruments to produce the most diverse sounds to conjure up the most diverse objects or bodies. And, through the superposition of several layers, he even can conjure up beings that express themselves through movements on more than one level. Man has facial expressions as well as gestures with hands and arms, and postures or movements with the legs and the entire body. This leads to diverse kinds of layering: think of the most common division between melody and accompaniment, each with their own momentum and coordinated through meter and rhythm.
That music stages moving beings, does not mean that we should make a visual representation of them. How little a composer does fancy the visual appearance or the concrete body of the moving being he is conjuring up, becomes immediately apparent when we follow our propensity to execute the movements dictated by these creations. While the orders of the sergeant or the slave driver are fully appropriate to the movements dictated, the sounds of music are meant for bodies compared with which ours are mere dummies. If only for the fact that they are not susceptible to gravity. That is why in the quotation from Nietzsche above, men is only about to take off in the air. For even though we humans can effortlessly move fingers, hands and arms upward and downward, with our feet we necessarily have to come down to the ground. However much the dancers in a ballet may try to escape gravity by stepping on their toes, turning around their axis, jumping up or being lifted up, every ascent irrevocably has to end up in descent. In that musical beings have retired into their will, they seem to command bodies and limbs that are so weightless or minute that they can move them in a tempo we even cannot think of: not for nothing are instruments played with our little, quasi weightless fingers that can produce very fast movements. But it is above all the breadth of the movements that transcends every human measure: think of the majestic elegance of the descending gestures in the masterly sarabande from Bach’s suite nr 5. for cello. The difference between beings reduced to pure sounding will and beings that have to manage with a visible and tangible body, comes to a painful apogee in the often all too lamentable spectacle staged by even the most specialised dancers when they are trying to translate musical movement in the movements of their inert bodies of flesh and blood.
That is why the sole adequate approach to music does not consist in having no representation of it at all, but in leaving apart every visual representation and confining oneself to the sole representation that is appropriate to music: that of a will embodied in sound. That is the truth in the assertion that music conjures up the inner world. Nietzsche’s words ‘sie sind dabei in die Lüfte empor zu steigen’ should be completed with ‘and they leave their inert bodies behind’. Albeit that they do no ascend in the air: they rather are entering musical space. The leaving behind of the inert bodies is a complement to the disappearing of the earth’s surface.
The extent to which the will has to resort to an (albeit potential) body or limbs is in proportion to the extent to which it is moved. The more it is with itself, the more it becomes pure presence - in the limit: endlessly sustained resonating sound. But long before this limit is reached, the independently moving beings come to rest in the final chord. Such coming to itself is so fascinating that many a composer cannot refrain from endlessly prolonging its bliss: as Richard Strauss in that masterly final sequence of ‘Im Abendroth’ (Vier letzte Lieder), wherein the rest of ‘death’ wherein ‘life’ ends up has become sound in the motionless shift of wonderful chords. Which can endure a good dose of resonance…
But – as we already know from the paragraph about harmony – music does more than merely conjure up individual beings. Since they have left their bodies behind in the visual world, musical beings can resonate each others vibrations in unison, parallel movement, succession of chords or polyphonically echo each other on changing chords. They thereby come to give life to unison, harmony and to meter and repetition (the echo in the dimension of time): and these are the various audible forms of the mystic body of the group, the real individual whose separate members are merely ‘dividuals’. (The complement of this in the visual arts are the complex ways in which figures are integrated in an encompassing composition).
IN THE PANTHEON
Back to earth.
It will be apparent now that music not only differs from ordinary aural mimesis, but also from real aural spaces like the one we tried to create in Saint Peter’s Square. But, however much it might differ from it, it cannot do without. No music without instruments – and instruments are objects occupying a place in real space. Whoever wants to create musical space will have to produce sounds in real space, and hence of necessity will have to create a ‘soundscape’ – even though it will equally of necessity be rearranged in musical space according to a purely musical logic. It is obvious, however, that the real arrangement of the instruments will influence the ease with which such reorganisation will be realised: one ‘soundscape’ will be far more appropriate to facilitate the requested rearrangement then another. Let us therefore examine the interaction between the arrangement of instruments in real space and musical space.
Since sounds organise themselves on a vertical axis, the instruments need not be lined up vertically. How little the formation of musical space depends on the actual height on which sound is produced, is apparent from the fact that the spatial disposition of the three layers in Messiaen’s ‘Les main de l’abîme’ is nor influenced when the organ is situated high above the listener. In the concert hall on the other hand, the orchestra is not above, but below the listeners on the first, second or third balcony. And that does either not influence the unfolding of musical space. And what goes for the entire orchestra, equally holds true of parts of it. When in Berlioz’ Hostias we would have the flutes play in the dome and the trombones on the floor – or for spectacle’s sake: when we would construct a pyramid under the dome of the Invalides with several floors and arrange the instruments on it from low to high, somewhat like on a score – that would only come to endorse musical space. A disposition on the vertical axe is not bad, but not at all necessary.
In the horizontal plane, we cannot but spread the instruments in space. That runs counter the propensity of sounds to arrange themselves on a vertical axis. But since resonance and merger of similar sounds or of sounds with common overtones tend to concentrate sounds in the centre, the dispersal of the sounds in real space is largely undone: the ‘soundscape’ changes in the kind of sounding cloud that is already familiar to us from our experiment on Saint Peter’s Square. Where a spread in the horizontal plane is strived for, the effect of multiplication of voices in the same layer may be endorsed through disposing two groups on the left and the right (the double-choir of Willaert and the Gabrielis in the San Marco), or on the foreground and the background (a ‘Fernorchester’ as in Mahler’s ‘Das Klagende Lied’ or in Richard Strauss’ ‘Alpensymphony’), or in both dimensions on a cross (as in Gabrieli’s Coronation Mass for the San Marco in 1595). But it testifies to the orchestral genius of Berlioz that he wisely counterpoised the referral of the brass instruments to the four corners of the compass with leaving the horns in the central mother orchestra.
How much the disposition of the instruments in real space is indifferent, becomes apparent when the instruments are moving during the performance. Imagine a violinist walking around amidst his audience in the Pantheon in Rome while playing the Chaconne from Bach’s second partita. Musical space would not move an inch. And neither would it move when the soprano’s singing the ‘Stasimo secondo’ from Nono’s Prometeo were moving amidst the public: their voices would nevertheless occupy their appropriate place, high above the heads of the listeners. The same holds true for the vertical axis: imagine the violinists descending from the dome while playing the Vorspiel to Lohengrin: the Grail would nevertheless continue to hover over our heads.
ON THE SCENE
The experiments in the Pantheon remind us of the fact that, as a rule, singers or instruments are not disposed amidst the public, but in front of it, on a platform. And that helps musical space unfold properly, since musical space happens to be situated before us, just like the orchestra. When we still have the impression of being submerged in it, it is merely in our imagination and through a kind of forward projection of ourselves.
That should not refrain us from asking what would happen when we lined up the instruments of the orchestra in a circle around the public in the Pantheon. Already the experiment with the violinist teaches that musical space would not move. But now we have to add: it would continue to unfold before us. For even when the violinist passes behind me, I continue to hear musical space in front of me. That is why for centuries nobody bothered when the organ was placed behind the flock in the church.
We could even dispose four orchestras in the four arms of the San Marco and let them each in their turn play a section of the allegretto form Beethoven’s seventh symphony. In the last section, Beethoven divides the melody in four parts. Each part is played by a different combination of instruments. Thus, already in the normal disposition, the place where the music is produced is changing. And this would only be accentuated when each part would be played by another orchestra. Apart from the fact that the division would be more pronounced, nothing else would have changed. And what is more: we never would have the impression that something was rotating around us.
AMIDST THE MUSICIANS
Totally different would be the outcome of the reverse experiment: when the instruments were spread all over the Pantheon and the public was allowed to walk around between the musicians. Granted, musical space would still be immobile, and it would still unfold before us in the vertical dimension. But that would no longer be obvious. The sounds nearby would not have the time to merge with the sounds farther away. Their merger into musical space would further be hampered by the fact that we would hear the thus isolated sounds on our left and right, before us and after us. The orchestra would surreptitiously turn into a mass of sounding objects, whose place in real space we would involuntarily tend to determine, so that it would become just as difficult to hear sound as such, as was the case with the sound of the fighter jet. Only when the distance between the public and the orchestra is increased and coincides with the position of musical space in front of us, can musical space smoothly unfold. The greater the distance to the public, the smaller in proportion the distance between the instruments themselves, especially when some resonance and the merger of similar tones comes to concentrate them in the centre.
Also the emergence of the nonetheless strong vertical axis would seriously be hindered when the trombones were resounding in the dome and the flutes deep beneath us. But it is only acceleration of the speed of the movement that would utterly destroy musical space. Imagine a violinist hanging on a cord swinging around under the dome in the Pantheon: Bach's Chaconne would at once be reduced to sounds produced by a violin circling above our heads, not unlike the fighter jet in the air.
The conclusion is compelling. Even when the disposition of the instruments in real space is indifferent, it must be with and not against the grain.
WHALES IN THE GRAND CANYON
As soon as sounds no longer smoothly merge in the vertically layered musical space, they stop being tones produced by the will of potential bodies: they are reduced to concrete sounds produced by concrete instruments, just like the sound of a motor or the bell in a tower. And that implies that we read them again as signs referring to the presence of real objects that we want to localise in real, visual space. So that musical space implodes into a soundscape in two dimensions. To restore the height imploded in such soundscape, we would have to lift up the sound-sources with a crane, or provide them, just like the fighter jet, with wings, or – when we prefer an imitation of real space – dispose a loudspeaker array in three dimensions.
Because of our propensity to localise sounds with our ears and eyes, also movement in space is no longer neutralised. Imagine a huge mobile à la Calder hanging in the dome of the Pantheon with loudspeakers rendering the squawking of gulls. It would seem as if real gulls – or harpies – were circling around.
And that draws our attention to an unsuspected consequence of the specificity of musical space. That high tones tend to ascend to the higher spheres and lower ones to the lower regions, implies that in musical space bombers cannot lift up in the skies: in musical space there is only room for them in the underworld. Conversely is it inconceivable that children’s voices would resound in the depths: in musical space there is only room for them in heaven, as in Fauré’s Requiem. In the real world, thunder naturally resounds in the skies, high above the crickets chirping on the earth’s surface. And the same effect can be obtained through aural imitation when the chirping of the crickets is rendered through loudspeakers spread on the ground, and thunder through loudspeakers mounted on pylons.
With aural mimesis of objects and their aural environment, we have not to confine ourselves to rendering existing objects in existing spaces: it is far more fun to conjure up imaginary beings in an imaginary world – even when it would no longer be the disembodied beings inhabiting musical space, but ordinary audible beings in visible and tangible bodies. In a first phase, we could produce existing sounds in an unexpected environment: as when we would have the sound of singing whales resound under the nocturnal skies in the Grand Canyon. In a second phase, we could use non existing sounds ascribed to imaginary beings: as when we would have the flour of the Beauvais cathedral strewn with minute loudspeakers and have the listeners take place on the galleries. We would loudspeakers under the vault have render the roaring of see-elephants, some two octaves lower, and those on the floor the chirping of crickets, some two octaves higher: musical space reversed – the choir of Beauvais that collapsed several times during construction being the appropriate location for such imaginary soundscape. In a third phase, we could have Unidentified Sounding Objects flying through space. We could thereby resort to real movement, as with our mobile in the Pantheon, or imitate space with the diverse techniques of ‘surround sound’.
Only in such imaginary soundscapes would crescendo and decrescendo regain their appropriate function. And we ourselves our appropriate place: amidst the proceedings, since, as soon as we are dealing with non-musical imaginary spaces, neither the place of the sources of sound nor our place in the centre is indifferent, as it is in music: whoever witnesses the whizzing by of a spacecraft rendered by a ‘surround-sound’ installation from without, would no longer hear the spacecraft above him and disappear in the distance before him. He rather would have the impression that something would move there before him over a short distance while simultaneously growing louder and softer.
At once, it becomes apparent that also the need for being submerged in musical sound is rather unmusical. It always reminds me of the one who would like to walk with Rodin’s ‘Burghers of Calais’, or worse still: of the one who would like to take place on da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’. Next to Judas: since all this makes us question the zeal with which many a composer, especially in the second half of the twentieth century, referred the orchestra or the loudspeakers to the perimeter around the listeners. And against the background of what we know about nearness and separation in musical space, also the corollary obsession with Unidentified Sounding Objects has its dark overtones: since they cannot find one another in musical space, they have - not otherwise than the inhabitants of our big cities - to race back and forth, without really encountering someone or something.
After our return in real three-dimensional space, we can do more than merely imitate real of imaginary beings in real or imaginary space: we also can distribute real sound-sources in real space. When we do so in the two dimensions of the horizontal plane, we are making the counterparts of visual items like parks or squares: aural landscapes – soundscapes. When we do so in the three dimensions, we are making a kind of aural architecture. We can use natural sounds, and then drive frogs or cattle on a square, or artificial sounds such as the bells we used on Saint Peter’s Square, or, as far as I am concerned, also alarm clocks, radio’s, bicycle bells, motor horns, metronomes , and – bearing Tchaikovsky in mind – even cannons.
But that would irrevocably lay bare the internal weakness of such ‘musical architecture’. When we would use continuous sounds – an installation of tanks with roaring motors on the Square of Heavenly Peace in Beijing – the sounds originating from different points in space would merge into one single droning cloud. We could prevent that through replacing the continuous sounds with short impulses as with Tchaikovsky’s salvos. Or we could use differing sounds like Cage’s radios. Both solutions are combined in our aural landscape on Saint Peter’s Square. That solution has the disadvantage that our soundscape would appear to render spatial movement rather than a structure in space. We could make a virtue of need and pretend that we have made the revolutionary stride towards ‘moving architecture’ – Goethe’s architecture as frozen music on its head. Or we could endlessly repeat the pattern of movement, in the hope that, as with a lighthouse, in the end, an enduring structure would be postulated. But that cannot conceal the fact that sound is not precisely an appropriate means of creating space: that is why the arts of real space are from way back visual arts.
Precisely therefore, the domain or aural spatial design has largely remained virgin ground, as is also the case with ordinary aural mimesis. The cultivation of this domain received a new impetus through the development of electronic sound-generation and the computer.
But let there be no mistake about it: just like, when entering the domain of ordinary aural imitation, we leave the realm of music, just so do we, when creating aural landscapes and aural architecture, leave the realm of imitation – and hence of art. Again: not all that sounds is music…
After having witnessed the rise of music, we thus threaten to witness its fall, not only in this text, but also in the real world.
© Stefan Beyst, February/Marach 2003
* Thus pitch has a second function borrowed from the speachmelody: to be a sign for the structure of movement. That is why there is a conflict in music between sound as a pure phenomenon and sound as a sign. the art of composing consists precisely in combining these two dimensions. Here is not the place to discuss this problem: suffice it to mention it.
This text is meant as an introduction to: Luigi Nono's Prometeo: a revolutionary's swansong
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Background to this text: stefan beyst: theory on art