What I seek is a different understanding of avant-garde music that will in turn amount to new sonic presentations. Taking as inspiration post-war visual art driven by abstraction, I hope to apply my thoughts on the abstraction in their methods to music.
It began with a visit to the Musee d’art Comtemprain de Montreal this summer, where I was consumed by
the work of Paul-Emile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle, in a trance from a fever and over-caffeination. I understood their methods of abstraction as the removal of the object from the presentation, allowing for a more fundamental truth transcending the limitations of traditional correspondence between representation and real object. Following Kant, these artists, these philosophers, as they seemed to me, recognized that our most profound truths would be had by removing the
external object from the equation and focusing on the conveyance of the truths about our structuring and cognitive apparatuses of human subjectivity. Here, lines and colors speak for themselves as the structures that are placed into experience. We remove the false image of the thing, the entity from which the secondary qualities emerge, we remove what we think to be the origin of those secondary, yet brutally phenomenological properties, leaving us with the true origin of those qualities, the structuring apparatus of cognition. The end result is a painting of raw, human subjectivity, revealing insights into the processes of cognition, and creating the possibility of intersubjective truth.
About a week ago, on my twenty fourth birthday, I was sitting in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,
absorbed by a work by Franz Kline, when I recalled these thoughts I had had about abstraction and truth. I began to wonder whether another form of artistic expression near and dear to my heart, music, had been or could be used to convey such fundamental truths about human cognition. Realizing this idea has been my project as of late. It might turn out to be rather fruitless, but this sort of thing fits well with my personality, which shows a disposition for obsessive behavior in the expectation of continued gratification.
I’m nowhere close to the realization of this idea, but I am certain now that the end product would be nothing like the paintings of Borduas, Riopelle or Kline. I say this because the mimicking of the methods of abstraction in visual art would not be going far enough in music, perhaps because music is abstract by default. For example, a guiding idea of abstraction in visual art seems to be the working out of the intersection of form and content.
We see the simplification of form and content to the point of being non-representational in the work of Rothko, allowing the colors to speak for themselves and not as the content of an entity that is being pictured. In other words, we see content without form. The bifurcation of content and form is a distinction not so easily placed into music, but we might see the form of the musical note or pitch as being a product of the instrument from which it resounds, giving it its certain timber, while the content of the note is the specific frequency that the sound is, such as 440 Hz, the ‘A’ above middle C. Such separation of content from form seems made possible by synthesizers but doesn’t glean any special insights into the capturing of human subjectivity.
Indeed, the most promising way I see in moving forward upon this distinction is in considering the sound waves, the resonating frequencies of the pitches of notes, as the forms, and the experience of ‘A’ as the content. But how can we have ‘A’ without 440 Hz, how can we have content without form? I believe the answer to that question will be the realization of the project at hand.
A further question emerges from the preceding ruminations. Visual art, in its being visual, cannot fail to depict something – it is in its essence representational, for even if we remove objects of representation from the image we are left with a depiction of non-representation. This is, of course, what allows for the resulting picture to be capable of truth, as its being a depiction of raw subjectivity that corresponds, in some fashion, to human cognizing, makes it describe reality in a way consistent with a general correspondence theory of truth. Visual abstract art aims to depict and represent subjectivity, while it might seem that music aims to express subjectivity (express in the expressivist’s sense of exclamations of non-cognitive mental states). My project would seem to fail at the start if music is in its essence non-representational, as being but mere expressions of emotion or feeling, such displays would not be truth-apt.
But I think we must be careful not to confuse the artist’s act of creation and the subject’s experience of the thing created. Even if the creation of music is pure expression, wherein nothing is asserted to be true, but rather all is exclaimed, this says nothing about the experience of music and sounds in general. The subject’s qualia in relation to external sources are meant to guide the actions of the subject as inner is meant to sync up with the outer world. An inner experience can be erroneous, such that it can be said that hearing is meant to represent the world, and we can have audial representations that are true or false, such as the audial representation that the front door is being opened. So it seems clear we can have audial representations of the external world, and audial expressions of the inner realms of the artist. The hope of the project is to convey audial representations of the internal realm.