(Dear Internet. About a week ago I wrote about 1200 words on this. Then a hard drive crash took it. Obviously nature thinks I should write less. I promise).
Each year the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre (the Joan) features an Australian Composer in Focus. This gives high school students a chance to study a work by attending a performance and then workshopping with the composer and a short text. This year it was Ross Edwards, a wise choice. Next year it’s me. Not so wise.
It’s not fake shyness. It’s more that I am (a) really fired up about some aspects of music and (b) very muddle headed about how on earth to convey it in the clear and useful manner that the situation demands. I’m overwhelmed with the trust of the panel, and need to support the spirit of music teaching that seems much more common in the past than now.
Fundamental to my argument is that ‘music’ is debased by ever being described as ‘organised sound’ – that the notion of ‘sound art’ is a foolish concession to the forces that would turn every art into a pseudoscience, all the better to get research funding.
Music is not ‘sound art’, as if one drawer in a dresser called Art. That’s an insult to the muse. Art is simply the skill, as in possessing an art, whereas Music is the environment in which these skills have any sense. When I hear visual artists describe music as an optional extra to their flat surface coating it seems that the philosophical work of years have been lost. I would like to regain that work.
(I’d also like to quickly debunk Goethe’s quip about architecture being frozen music. He said this as part of the set up to joke about needlessly baroque living spaces. There’s no evidence that he took the idea any further than that. The actual quote comes from Schelling, who first described the unconscious and I’ll come back to that if there’s time.)
The ancients saw music as the principle on which the universe is ordered, and it pleases me no end to see that the Big Bang exploded with a musical note, the overtones of which are still visible in background radiation.
Also from the ancients I take the idea of knowing not only from calm logic, but also the divine Orphic madness. You need to think and also dance. I think this work will only be valid if half the time I am studious and the other half drunk as a judge. I knew that when I made the Gehennaland exhibit in 2007 about the dark and light of world fairs, but it was a failure because I didn’t connect emotionally with the work.
I would like to present music as much more than just sound. I need advice.
One source is the painter Kandinsky, or should I more properly describe him as a musician? Writing in 1910 he sums up the problem of funding quite elegantly:
In place of an intensive cooperation among artists, there is a battle for goods. Hatred, partisanship, cliques, jealousy, and intrigues are the natural consequences of an aimless, materialist art.
The aimless materialist art is at odds with an internal necessity.
All methods are sacred if they are internally necessary. All methods are sins if they are not justified by internal necessity.
And the necessity he describes in terms of music.
Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically.
I feel he goes to far when wants the colours to be a rigorous score. That kind of one on one mapping needlessly restricts the wide varieties of musicality. But still, you can sense his desire for all to be drawn together into a synthesis.
A parallel between color and music can only be relative – just as a violin can give warm shades of tone, so yellow has shades, which can be expressed by various instruments… The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes or dark lake with treble…
Unfortunately in 2010 it’s not possible to share Kandinsky’s belief in some Theosophical spiritual zone. I don’t have to. There’s enough evidence of a shared musical context, with no need for a neo-platonic wonderland. Enough writers have examined this, and I tend to side with Marcel Duchamp among others that there exists an overarching context that is common ground for creator and consumer. This lies outside of the artist – an external necessity? Or at least a compulsion internalised by both.
Then there’s Ruttmann, a ‘filmmaker’ but really again a musician.
(I am ashamed to think I was impressed by the film Koyaanisqatsi when it came out, correctly understanding that it was one of series of ‘city symphonies’ but taking too long to go back to the original Berlin by Ruttmann. I made Kato Gets The Girl in the spirit of something I hadn’t properly researched. Mind you I don’t recall Reggio ever mentioning Ruttmann)
Everything Ruttmann makes is music. Even Deutsche Panzer, a propaganda film about tanks. I saw that and thought it must be him without knowing. I also wonder how much input he really had into Triumph of the Will. He’s not a theorist, he simply has the music in his being.
This is already fast returning to the dread 1200 words, so let’s just set out a few principles and deal with them later.
1. World’s Fair. I must work on this half student and half drug fiend. Do what I have understood but not practiced.
2. Music – everything begins with a dot. Rhythm = Pitch = Timbre. Tear it apart and rebuild it, not to return to 1910 but to regain the momentum of that era. Modernism is the energy needed.
3. Every good idea I have ever had was put there by birds. Just because I am being called a composer doesn’t mean I start pretending to be one. As Duchamp says – it comes from outer space.
4. Everything I do must be something I can explain to a high school student in plain words. And no hiding behind obscurity as I have in the past. Unless obscurity is the power of it?
5. Research, worse than the grog. But there is just so much in this project that connects up with my Doctoral work (in terms of psychology in abstraction etc.) that it indicates a strong principle that needs careful documentation.
6. Forgot. Add it again later.