Sunday, March 29, 2015

Notes from the Pluriverse {14–16} (A mythology for music theory today)



In just seven years we will celebrate the tercentenary of Jean-Philippe Rameau's Traité de l'harmonie réduit à ses principes naturels (1722).
Three years later, we will celebrate the tercentenary of Johann-Joseph Fux' Gradus ad Parnassum (1725).

Juxtaposition of Fux and Rameau offers a mid-stream snapshot of a fundamental bifurcation plaguing/driving (take your pick) the Common Practice Period. The Roman Janus keeps reappearing in countless guises in unexpected places. Janus was slain by Clio, the muse of history. (This is my mythology; I can write it however I want.) Today the Greek Hydra has been reborn from Janus' honored remains. She now lurks among us, both plaguing and driving contemporary composition and theory.


Frontispiece from the 1725 edition of Fux' Gradus ad Parnasum

Josephus has completed his climb up the steps to the top of Mount Parnassus.
Surrounded by the Nine Muses, he receives the laurel wreath from Apollo.
In the background Pegasus charges over Mount Helicon
where his hoof strikes a rock, creating the Hippocrene spring,
fount of poetic inspiration.
As he bows to receive the wreath,
is Josephus holding his first musical work
or his completed counterpoint exercises?
– or –
Can you reach Helicon from Parnassus?

[added Apr 5 2015]

 "A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress." (Walter Benjamin)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Notes from the Pluriverse {7–13 }


Seeing the nose on my face

"... to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle." (Wittgenstein)

From within a/the world, I cannot see that world. A model is not a/the world, but a house of mirrors in which (imperfectly) to view a/the world. The model, flaunting the impossible, allows me to see into a/the world from outside – allows me to see (approximately) how that world relates itself to itself and, ideally, to other worlds (if they exist).

... but the fly is still in its bottle.


Dueling ontologies

I don't live in the world, but in the model of a world.
I don't live in a world, but in a model of the world.


Ethical dilemma

In the [music] pluriverse, models can be misinterpreted, misunderstood, misapplied.
But there are no wrong models.
This is not the case if [music] is a universe.
There the search is for the one right model.


Janus again.

Relationships inside/outside time (warped from Xenakis):

we theorize ourselves into (–do (–experience (–hypostatize)))
   a possible music-world inside time
          as composer, performer, audience;
we theorize ourselves from (–undo (–observe (–hypothesize)))
   a possible music-world outside time
          as analyst, critic, politician.

Question: Is there a corpus callosum that allows communication between the two?


Etymological shards from the Early Jargonic Period

(This started as a bit of dorky self-absorbed etymological play
– just killing time – with no intention of posting it.
Then I started to think about it.
And from deep in the recesses of
my aging brain came the whisper,
"Bosch's egg.")

θέα                                                   –  view
θεωρώ                               –  consider, speculate
θεωρός                  –  envoy sent to consult an oracle
θεωρία                           –  contemplation, speculation 
                                                             –  a looking at, viewing
                                                                –  a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at.
theory (1590s)                     – conception, mental scheme.

up, throughout + a loosening  –                     ανά + λύσης
analysis  –                                         ανάλυσης
         a breaking up, a loosening, releasing  –                                                                .
unloose, release, set free  –                               αναλύειν
 to loose a ship from its moorings  –                                                             .
resolution of anything complex into simple elements  –            analysis (1580s)  
composition (late 14c.)                               –  action of combining
                                             –  manner in which a thing is composed
compositus                       –  placed together
componere                                    –  to put together, to collect a whole from several parts
< com + ponere     .......
F. pondre                                   = lay an egg
One of the most remarkable facts in F[rench] etymology is the extraordinary substitution whereby the Low Lat. pausare came to mean 'to make to rest, to set,' and so usurped the place of the Lat. ponere, to place, set, with which it has no etymological connection. And this it did so effectually as to restrict the F. pondre, the true equivalent of Lat. ponere, to the sense of 'laying eggs;' whilst in all compounds it completely thrust it aside, so that compausare (i.e. F.composer) took the place of Lat. componere, and so on throughout. Hence the extraordinary result, that whilst the E. verbs composedeposeimposepropose, &c. exactly represent in sense the Lat. componeredeponereimponereproponere, &c., we cannot derive the E. verbs from the Lat. ones since they have (as was said) no real etymological connection. [W.W. Skeat, "Etymological Dictionary of the English Language," 1898]  – From the Online Etymology Dictionary (retrieved Mar. 11, 2015)
Concert in the Egg, (follower of) Hieronymus Bosch (ca.1561)


Analytical heresy

If you want to become a clockmaker, a good place to start is to take clocks apart to find out how they work. But if you simply want to know what time it is, all you have to know is how to "read" the face of the clock. If you want to make your appointment on time, knowledge of the clocks's mechanism hiding behind the face does you no good except insofar as it moves the hands accurately over the face.

The clock's mechanism becomes important (and vitally so) only when the clock no longer tells the right time.


Back to the future: the "relevance" issue 25 years ago.

From David Lewin Collection, Administrative Papers, Library of Congress:
Lewin: The [Harvard] Graduate Program in Theory, iv/21/90 
What do ‘music theorists’ study?  Theorists’ opinions vary widely.  Mine: they study the vocabulary, concepts, and intellectual structures in general, through which people talk and have talked about the organization and coherence of music. 
How do you go about studying this?  Among other things,
1.     You explore the systematic bases for contemporary compositional methods.
2.     You study the history of music theory in our cultural tradition, and so far as possible in others.  (There is a question to what extent the whole notion of ‘music theory’ is meaningful when applied beyond our own cultural tradition.)
3.     You explore the systematic assumptions underlying received analytic methods.