Or, how I learned how to stop worrying and smash classicism.
In a very fruitful discussion last night after my presentation of a few works, a collective process of thinking led to the conclusion that what my music is suffering from is an overemphasis on classical harmony. Not in the tonal sense, of course, but in the sense of proportion, of balance.
In all the preceding discussions around my music it was raised that my music is too strict on itself, too self-identical, too limited. The guiding question was “where does something other come from in this music?” Chaya put it nicely when she said that the relationship of something to the other is always a blindspot.
The problem with that discussion was that everything remained abstract and it was an impossible question to answer: “where does something other come from?” – from the same? but how? from the other? but what is that? It led the thinking down the path of relinquishing much of what I have tried to develop – tight control over material, overfullness, inexorability in development, rejection of sound fetishisation – in favour of something more palatable to the modern ear.
It was grounded in a misunderstanding of my music. The critique was that my music suffers from too much self-identity, when in fact it suffers from the exact opposite: a lack of clarity over its purpose and a lack of distinctiveness in the basic disposition of the ideas.
The basis of this is a classical conception of harmony of the elements in the work. This is represented in the balance of register that I write in (low, middle, high), the balance of the length of phrases, the balance of the rhythmic distribution of lines, the balance in the harmonic world (to the point of greyness). I semi-consciously took on this idea of classical harmony in my music in a rejection of psychologism and vulgar expressionism. But the problem is the two are antinomic: neither the classical nor the unmediated expression have anything ‘true’ about them. Through it’s classicism, my music at once gained more of a sense of identity, but also undermined that identity through balance, which made this identity diffuse and indistinct, or simply musically weak.
The Art of Fugue represents something particular in relation to this. The clarity of what it is doing is undeniable, yet at the same time the development of the clear logic of the work drags the listener under at many points and produces a disorienting sensation. The point is not that the fugues are directionless and you descend into their fog, or that they simply represent the concept of ‘disorientation’, nor is it as in Ligeti’s micropolyphony where compounding information reduces to a single if decidedly intricate texture. The point is that the logic of the fugues operate in an overdetermined way that draws you into a space in-between comprehensibility and incomprehensibility. It is a thoroughly mediated disorientation, an overcoming of clarity by means of clarity. So the increased self-identity at a point tips over into non-identity. This goes against the idea of classical ‘balance’ and in this sense Bach is no classical composer. In developing a non-classical, non-Romantic counterpoint, Bach is a good place to start.
So it is clear that what is other to my music must be produced by radicalising its own propositions – pushing for more definition of ideas, through the use of more information in the lines and their development, a greater extremity of the logics at play, and the ability for the logic to integrate more elements.
The philosophic-political dimension of this – its relation to the harmony of the one and the many, and the question of critique – will have to be explored at a future point.
After the session I jotted down the following points:
– Smash classicism – Smash balance – Submerge in logics – More information – Produce irrationality from overdetermined rationality – Extend phrases to the point of incoherence – Not contrast, but clarity – Clarity through extremity – Determinate negation of listening through density – Liminal point between comprehensibility and incomprehensibility, a production of the logical work of lines.