Kupka’s Piano; or, forget the injustice to music

New ensemble forming in Brisbane out of the ashes of the MAC ensemble and spearheaded by my partner Hannah Reardon-Smith and myself. It is looking like it shall be called Kupka’s Piano, based on the below 1909 painting by František (or Frank) Kupka, a brilliant Czech painter and pioneer of abstract art:

'The Piano Keys/Lake'

Now, there is a touch of the ‘Indy pop band’ to this name, which is a cause for suspicion. It is certainly not a bad name, however, the question is whether one wishes to leave it in its resonant, poetic state, or whether it needs to be supplemented by a reading that would act as a kind of ‘manifesto’ for the group. My current position is that all of these ‘poetic’ titles that proliferate contemporary music, like all of those ‘poetic’ or ‘personal’ programme notes, must go and we need to replace them instead with concrete attempts to outline the subjective intension in the work. I suppose this position comes from a simple aversion to the trap of worrying about language doing injustice to the linguistically irreducible music. All that ends up doing is deifying and reifying the musical object, and does an even greater injustice. However, it is necessary to uphold that music is irreducible to language – but that, under conditions of a genuinely creative musical project, the question of relation between music and language is not that of a simple (Real) object – (symbolic-imaginary) concept, but more of either a dialectic or an axiomatic prescription and its unforeseeable consequences… Or something else. In any case, let’s not worry about language doing injustice to music which leads to our resignation to speak of it only obliquely. No, we have to be as brave in our music as in our words about it. If the music is brave, brave words will not destroy it.

As for a reading of this painting, an obvious approach would be that of the old ‘art becoming life’, the piano keys becoming the idyllic nature scene… Musically speaking we would see this ending up in a kind of spectral, vitalist position: the well-tempered piano keys transcend their finitude and discrete nature and become part of the more infinite nuances and continuity of the spectral realms. As a variant of this, there is a sense that the discrete musical blocks underpin the forms of the world and are, so to speak, their ontological basis.

This simplistic reading would have to be rejected if the name Kupka’s Piano is to be a worthwhile ensemble name. I am currently at a loss as to a different reading, but it’s worth a try. There’s too much in this painting to be reduced to such a silly reading. Also, if we take the progression of Kupka’s Oeuvre into account, both the piano and the world are left behind, though the vertical piano blocks become central (albeit further abstracted). Is it that ‘Kupka’s piano’ is something like the piano in the process of losing its specificity only to gain in its own abstract power?


2 thoughts on “Kupka’s Piano; or, forget the injustice to music

  1. Pingback: New Music … in Brisbane | The Wind Blows

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