Tuesday, April 2, 2013


87. Music

Here I continue a series on art that was started in item 8 of this blog.

What makes music different from other arts? I am not sure and can only offer some conjectures.

From very early on, in ancient cultures, music was seen to be transcendent, conveying religious inspiration, in the form of chants or songs. Does music reach the sublime more than other arts, perhaps?

For Schopenhauer art in general yields a temporary escape from the drive of the will, and to him music was especially conducive to such transcendence.  

In contrast with literary art, music is not logos, not words and concepts. In item 80 I suggested that art may upset or disturb reference, change meaning, but perhaps for music we should say that it is beyond meaning, reference, or lies outside it. In my discussion of meaning, in item 32, I defined sense as the way in which we establish reference. If art in general meddles with that, how does music fit in? Does it not fit, or does it seek reference beyond concepts, beyond the world and ordinary experience? This would connect with the idea that music is more prone to the sublime, and a more ready instrument for religion.

In item 29 I discussed the object bias that I suspect in our cognition: the hard to avoid metaphor of seeing abstract notions, such as happiness, or sorrow, or meaning, as objects moving in time and space. Perhaps music helps us to escape from that bias, in explorations beyond objects.

In contrast with visual arts (except film and theatre) music is dynamic, forming a connection between the present, past and future, in the development of a musical theme. Or, in terminology that I used before (in item 34): a script connecting elements in time. Thereby, perhaps music offers what Henri Bergson called duration, a subjective experience of time not as linear progression but as punctuated by rhythm, slowing down, accelerating, bending back, repeating and modifying the past and anticipating the future.

I proposed earlier that art is a breaking of universality, in a declaration of independence of the individual. Perhaps music goes beyond individuality, not in constituting a universal but in capturing the movement of the individual, in its emergence and transformation. 

Or does music go back to the womb: the beat of the heart and the echo and swirl of the waters? And if indeed music appeals to reminiscence of water, is it in our genes, from the time that we evolved out of fish from the sea? Could that be part of the evolutionary substrate of aesthetic judgement that I discussed earlier (in item 83)? 

David Stubbs asked Why do people get Rothko but don’t get Stockhausen? Why do abstract pictorial and plastic art create hypes, fetching astronomic prices and long queues at exhibitions, while modern music can barely survive? My answer would be as follows. Children rarely grow up with modern music and hence do not learn to appreciate it, while they are all the while confronted with abstract forms, in architecture, decoration, and logo’s. Children who do get acqainted with modern music early on are much more receptive to it.