Closing the Gap: Neurology, Music, Psychoanalysis

In each chapter of this book, I seek to understand the syntactic coherence of a work (music theory), the context of a work (music history), how our subjectivities form and are formed by a work (psychoanalysis), and how our nervous systems enable a work's apprehension (neurology). For me, a work is less an ontologically stable entity than a representation of threshold-crossing among these three dimensions. Each of these approaches yields knowledge when applied to a work directly; for me, even more knowledge results from listening awry, a process that reveals data in the margins, in the shadows, at the edges of each discipline.

An Overview of the Chapters

Vivaldi's Adagio from "Autumn": Music as Dream

In this chapter I explore the Adagio from Vivaldi's Concerto in F major for violin and Orchestra from The Seasons as a musical representation of dream. I begin with a musical-theoretical analysis of the treatment of dissonances in the voice-leading of the work, an account of harmonic sequences, and the presence of an anomalous sonority to suggest a principle of the work's composition in purely musical terms. Having found such a principle (it is one of controlled disorder), I compare the syntax and structure of the movement to Freud's account of dreams formulated in The Interpretation of Dreams of 1899. I conclude the chapter by relating the claims of Freud, the musical-theoretical features I have discovered in the work with theories of the "overfitted brain" from recent writings in Neuroscience.

Bach, the C-sharp minor Fugue from the WTC Book 1: a Study of Awe in Music, Philosophy, and Neuroscience

In this chapter I explore the structure of Bach's C-sharp minor Fugue from the WTC book 1 focusing initially on the relationships between consonance and dissonance in the subject, answer, and countersubjects of the work. For me, these relations are awe-inspiring, and I relate them and the implications of how I hear them to the Kantian sublime as set forth in The Critique of Judgement of 1790. Kant distinguishes two registers of the sublime—the dynamic (embodied by immensity, power, and the grand scale of nature) and mathematical (embodied by infinitely large or small numbers). I extend Kant's approach to the sublime by examining the writings of Christian Friedrich Michaelis who posits a sublime of the delicate. I will then study of neuroscientific research into how the brain registers awe. In short, most neurological writings on awe point to a loss of function of the Default Mode Network (DMN)—that portion of the brain that produces an effect of self-awareness. I shall conclude by asking what this loss of self-awareness suggests as we experience the sublime (or awe as neuroscience describes it) understood or examined critically through music analysis.

Pappenheim and Schoenberg's Erwartung: Repression and Disavowal

In this chapter I begin with an overview of neurological theories about how we process trauma with an emphasis on what parts of the brain are activated and which de-activated in the processing of traumatic experiences. I then discuss how the libretto by Marie Pappenheim and the monodrama by Arnold Schoenberg came into being. The libretto is a highly paratactic series of fragments uttered by the work's single character—die Frau. Although it is difficult to distinguish among these fragments as expressions of memory, dream, hallucination, fantasy, I suggest that there is a subtext of "what really happened" that it is not only possible but necessary in order to understand the libretto. This subtext is, in a nutshell, that while we seem to be witnessing die Frau is a disordered state of panic looking for her lover who has abandoned her, in fact, she has killed him and the disorder of her senses is the product of the traumatic shock at the violence of her own actions that she cannot bear to know. For me, Schoenberg represents this state of psychic disorder perfectly with paratactic fragments of musical signifiers (triads in second inversion, pitch-class sets that belong to set class (016) especially, oscillating drone-like figures, symmetrical bits of music like twin shells, and chords in open pitch space that verticalize these figures) that are not sublated by any over-arching principle of hypotactic order. I conclude the chapter with the distinction between repression (which involves the return of transformed emotions) and disavowal (the utter inability of the psyche to absorb an element of reality) as articulated by Freud, locating the libretto and monodrama within the latter modality—disavowal.

Barber's Adagio for Strings: Mourning and Melancholy

I open this chapter with an overview of the two theories that dominate current neurological research into how we process emotions—the "Basic Emotion Theory" and "Psychological Constructivism."" The former assumes that we are all born with a small number of innate emotions (often six—happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, surprise); the latter assumes that all emotions are context-produced, experienced, and represented. In the chapter I shall argue, along the lines of psychological constructivism that an emotional response to this music is the complex production of its musical syntax and how that syntax behaves over time, in the pitch space of the orchestra. In short, I will show how the tonic B-flat minor of the work is more evoked than stated; it is defined by the reiterating, incomplete progression iv7 V with which the piece ends, with Barber opening the space between the subdominant iv7 and V with increasingly chromatic motions counterclockwise around the circle of fifths. I shall show that at the workÕs climax, Barber touches upon a first-inversion B-flat minor sonority for the first and last time in the work, modulating to F-flat major. There is a grand pause following this F-flat major sonority and it is reiterated an octave lower in pitch space, initiating a counter-clockwise circle of fifths progressions that lead us (again) to the never-resolving dominant of B-flat major (courtesy of enharmonic re-spelling of course). For me, the affective power of this one non-resolving dominant exceeds this explanation and I ask what it would mean if we see the enharmonic re-spelling but hear the music become ever more thick with flats as it pauses not on an F major chord (the dominant of tonic B-flat minor) but G double-flat (the dominant of C-flat). If so, the return of the iv7 V will drive home the reality that we have been and will always be—"besides ourselves." I conclude the chapter with Freud's distinction between mourning and melancholy; in the former (like repression) we can process grief, transform it into something we can manage; in the latter (like disavowal) grief remains and reappears again and again like a shard of traumatic shock.

Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre: Opera, Hallucination, Neurology

Left! Right! Left! Right!: American Hate Music after Charlottesville

I have theorized that German Death Metal (0i Musik) of the 1980s and 1990s appropriates the music of the other it ostensibly despises and turns it to the right. In the case of German Oi Musik that appropriation took the form of the appropriation of Communist worker songs, upbeat accents from Ska and Raggae, in addition to monophonic melodies of the blues minor scale set to heavy back beat percussion of Punk and Heavy Metal. In this chapter I shall examine a parallel in American Hate Music, especially Hate Music composed after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. This music depends upon a similar left-to-right appropriation through setting explicitly racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic language to music evocative of American folk songs. In this chapter I shall listen to the music to determine the extent and nature to which this appropriation of folk music takes place and what the parallel between German Oi-Musik and American Hate Music suggests. I shall relate this musical embodiment of hatred to psychoanalytic studies of alterity in the Lacanian and post-Lacanian literature. I shall then consider neurological evidence how the brain registers hatred.

Caretaker: Music and Nostalgia in the Soundtrack to the film Patience

In this chapter I explore the popular music of Caretaker. Caretaker calls into question the nature of popular music composition, performance, and reception. In a nutshell Caretaker works sound almost just like classic popular jazz and Tin Pan Alley standards. My phrase "just like" in the previous sentence is crucial. Since the works sound subtly distorted, slowed down, thick with quiet ambient noise, warped, they evoke the wow and flutter of tape recording imperfections of reel-to-reel and cassette technologies.

I shall suggest in this chapter that the music of Caretaker evokes the Lacanian notion of nostalgia as described by Žižek. Žižek, describes the essential structure of nostalgia as looking at oneself looking, remembering, listening. Nostalgia is a psychic mirror of mirrors in which frames of reference contribute to the memories being evoked. I find Caretaker to have created a musical nostalgia through the texture of technological interventions it uses to thicken, to mediate, to draw attention to the visceral sounds of the music. And the essence of this nostalgia is a two-fold texture of technology: first, to use sounds of noise and distortion from the early days of tape recording; second to use digital technologies available today. I shall conclude this chapter with an exploration of the implications of this nostalgic music for subjectivity in our post-Cartesian present. And finally I shall explore how neurology maps acoustic memories.