Jottings on dialectics and music

Some thoughts I jotted down while at the JUMP 2013 intensive in Melbourne the other day run by Next Wave (my ensemble Kupka’s Piano is being mentored by the amazing ensemble interface). These are not meant to final statements on anything, just little thoughts that popped up.


The spirit of the times is very unclear; it has no spontaneous expression.
One must master the entire preceding history of art.
One must grasp the dynamics of the social totality.
One must ascertain the contradictions most relevant to artistic creation.


All artistic creation is historically relevant from the sociological standpoint – but not all artistic creation is on the progressive side of art as a specific part of the movement of the social whole. There are living forms and dead forms within art – with relation to the social whole. Problem is, dead forms have a life, but like much within late capitalism, they live as the undead… Mirroring the progressive movement with its dialectic of repetition and difference but ‘progressing’ along reactionary lines.

(Where does the culture industry sit in relation to this? What is the arrangement of the ownership of the means of production in culture today and how does the new virtual DIY phenomenon fit it?)


To compose dialectics or to compose dialectically? A dialectic etched in stone is but the image of the movement of the dialectic, not the dialectic itself. A dialectic unfolding in time is the true dialectic.

This is the contradiction of music: in the score it is formalism, in sound and time it comes back to life – but as the inverted image of the form it cannot in fact fully shake.

Construct a contradiction (state A) that generates its own destruction and the creation of something new (state B). The written work excises the relationship (synthesis of continuity and discontinuity) between state A and state B. Hence lapses into formal logic. Where does the dialectic resurface…?

Nicolas’ resolution: in the the line of listening via the moment-favour.


In the composer’s head, the genetic process of the form; in the score, the reified form; in the performance, the resuscitation of the original movement. In each moment, the others are contained within. The commencement with the composer’s ‘head’ is in no way a pure commencement – at base music is not so conscious.


Instructive case: Machaut’s contradiction tenor/countertenor, and then this initial contradiction/upper voices… Surface difference built upon the contradiction in the base and coming into contradiction with it, but the base retains its identity across the work. A contradiction that nonetheless keeps a platonic worldview. A permanent contradiction with no law-bound tipping from identity into difference.

Political example: class contradiction conceived not as a progressive contradiction where the process of the increase in strength of the working class provides the force by which the whole contradiction is shattered and replaced, but instead conceived as an insoluble aporia with no genuinely progressive component (which must come from without) as both classes are overdetermined by the system of their relations.

Also orbits of planets not thought of as instances of much broader dialectics, but instead as a simple harmony of the spheres.


What defines success? Another turn in the dialectical screw. Even a backward step can be that next turn.