Listening as a fall into the unknown.
Read the article by Marcel Cobussen. The following sections of the essay are optional:
- Absence pp. 191 - 194
- Return pp. 198 - 201
The website does not link to the endnotes. They are provided here as a pdf: Cobussen endnotes.pdf. You should read these together with the text.
There are four components to the written responses (see below).
Respond to this statement by Crumb:
I have always considered music to be a very strange substance, a substance endowed with magical properties. Music is tangible, almost palpable, and yet unreal, illusive. Music is analyzable only on the most mechanistic level; the important elements—the spiritual impulse, the psychological curve, the metaphysical implications—are understandable only in terms of the music itself.
- How does Black Angels proceed from these ideas? Pay particular attention to the use of timbre as a formal element, the use of (distorted) quotation and allusion, numerological associations, etc.
- Develop your own position in response to Crumb’s statement. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
- How does the author of the essay, Marcel Cobussen, deal with this problem in writing about Black Angels (below are some revealing quotes from the essay)? Also refer to the section on rhizomatic structure at the bottom of this assignment.
In other words, "analysis" always has two related connotations: to disentangle what was entangled and obscure, and to disperse and to destroy that which belongs together. 3.3 Ancient Voices (Echo) p. 203
What I am alluding to is that “something” always already seems to withdraw from these theories, methods, and categories….There seems to be a space between the sounds that we relate to and the language we have to communicate with, a space between category and experience, representation and reality. 2. Departure p. 183
This is my idea: to talk in a minor language around music, to write (in) a musical language, deferring to name and frame music and thereby tracing a spiritual force. p. 194
4. Analyze ONE of the following movements in relation to elements of pitch, duration, instrumentation/timbre, quotation (if applicable), etc. The movements are short, so 1 - 2 paragraphs (c. 100 - 200 words) on this should be enough. Then respond to the questions below.
Score to Black Angels
3.1 10 God-Music: examine Georges Bataille’s idea of a-theology. Compare/contrast this to the idea of the loss of analytic understanding in music such as that of Cage/minimal composers and to the idea of the meaning of structure in Serialism, Messiaen’s works.
3.3 12 Ancient Voices: compare Cobussen’s statements on analysis to those from the editorial we read at the beginning of the course. Does analyzing this movement give you any insight into these arguments? Does it make you agree/disagree with them further?
here is a reading guide to help you
Black Angels has a very episodic form, in which various striking images pass one to another or break off suddenly, as though in dreams. Cobussen has this to say about that:
The disrupted music only serves to make this experience present as a void within itself. The extreme experience does not allow itself to be pinned down in musical means: styles, languages, genres, scores. 2.1 Pavana Lachrymae p. 195
In other words, one of the most evocative qualities of the piece is the sense of absence brought about by this fleeting stream of fragmentary visions. So much is said without saying it; absence can be more expressive than presence. Compare this to the (negative) definition of timbre below:
Crumb’s music is very timbrally oriented. In fact you could say that Black Angels uses timbre as its primary structural material. But what is timbre? One common definition has it that, "timbre is the difference between sounds that are otherwise identical in terms of the determination of their physical parameters (pitch, duration, loudness)." As you can see, this tells us only what timbre is NOT, it doesn’t tell us what it is (this is called a negative definition). Of course, timbre is also one of the most salient aspects of sound (e.g., if you ask a friend to identify the most characteristic elements in the sound of their favorite band they will almost always start by talking about timbre — even if they don’t know it).
Cobussen: This is the paradox: timbre escapes representation and cannot exist without it or outside of it. 3.4 Threnody III: Night of the Electric Insects p. 205
Crumb seems to confirm a traditional thinking in hierarchically organized binary oppositions. And yet, does not the music—dissociated from its creator and (therefore) independently (re)acting in a network of other (musical) texts—justify other readings, other interpretations, other conceptions of God and Devil, for instance one in which the polarity is less pronounced? Crumb himself makes an opening and elicits such thoughts by his numerological additions to both parts: “Devil-Music” (7 and 13) and “God-Music” (13 and 7). If we accept for a moment the idea that in our Western, Christian culture, 7 is usually connected to the Go(o)d and 13 to the (D)evil, then Crumb himself indicates that the two poles are actually interwoven; the one is always already at work in the other. 1.4 Devil-Music p. 188
“God-Music” is no consoling music. It is no promise that everything will be all right in the end. Like the images 1, 7, and 13, it is a threnody, a lamentation “on our troubled contemporary world” where the old representations of God have disappeared and the new ones leave us in fear. The disharmonies and atonality within “God-Music”—bittersweet, soft, but unmistakably present—testify to this, as do the silences at the end, the musical marks of an empty, uncontrollable space. 3.1 God-Music p. 203
Deleuze’s rhizome as an analog to form in Crumb, Cobussen
rhi·zome noun (BOTANY)
noun: rhizome; plural noun: rhizomes
a continuously growing horizontal underground stem that puts out lateral shoots and adventitious roots at intervals.
This sort of organization is one characteristic of the post-modern world, that is, a world in which notions of progress, power relations, information, etc. tend toward lateral stratification rather than a top-down arrangement. The most intuitive example of this is probably the Internet in comparison to older broadcast or published media.
Compare this idea to the familiar notion of hierarchical, or top-down, tree-like structure. For instance, when we write an outline for a paper we usually start with the main idea (sometimes a definition), then under that we might list arguments, under the arguments we might note examples and sub-ideas with further subsidiary examples, etc. In effect we move from a general or more essential (or even abstract) idea to increasingly specific and localized examples. The notion being that the individual examples are subsidiary or generally less important than the "big picture." But what is more "real" the actual, specific examples, or the "big picture?"
Transposed into a musical composition we might think of sonata form as being essentially hierarchical in a similar way. Consider the exposition:
A. main theme
i. tonic key
a. fast/energetic, sounds happy
B. second theme
i. dominant/relative major
a. slower, lyrical, perhaps a bit melancholy, etc.
almost everything that happens in the sonata could be related to the ideas that are set up in the exposition -- at least in terms of melodic motives and tonal structure. But is this really everything in the sonata? What about things like timbre, dynamics, expression, turns of phrase that aren't easily explained by what happens in the exposition? What about melodic transitions that aren't based on the two themes, not to mention the interpretive nuances in individual performances? Quite often, these are the most striking and expressively 'meaningful' elements in a piece of music and its performances -- and is there any difference between a piece and its performances? There are many things that this sort of hierarchical organization of ideas is prone to missing.
Now think about the episodic structure of Black Angels. Is there a main theme? Is there a main key? Is the piece even in a particular musical language (tonal, atonal, otherwise)? There are clearly relationships between movements - though sometimes not based on the "hard facts" of motivic relationships, but on "soft facts" such as evocative titles, extramusical allusions, indications of mood and other emotive signifiers.
There is a clear narrative of departure and return that Crumb sets out, but how does this differ from the departure/return narrative in an 18th-century sonata form? Is Black Angels structured rhizomatically?
How does the episodic nature of Cobussen's writing respond to this? Compare for instance to the writing outline mentioned above.