Music, Sound, Silence

This book asks the following questions:

Are ways in which psychoanalysis helps us connect classical masterpieces to the psyche of the composer and to us the composers' listeners helpful as well for popular idioms?

Are there aspects of classical masterpieces that conventional musicology and theory have overlooked and how might we deepen our understanding of those works drawing attention to these overlooked dimensions?

Most particularly, are there aspects of extraordinarily familiar works (such as Vivaldi's The Seasons) that are profoundly remarkable, and how is it possible that we might simply have gotten so used to hearing the work as it is that we don't realize the profundity of the compositions? And what are the more broad implications of the fact that repetition can cause the remarkable to seem (and to sound) normal, unremarkable?

Assuming that we understand the basic nature of Freudian and Lacanian theories (that Freud is predicated on the divided subject and that Lacan is predicated on the ternary topography of the psyche—Imaginary, Symbolic, Real), are there precise dimensions of these theories beyond the basics that can (still) help us understand both ourselves and our relationships to musical works and to culture?

If we (mistakingly) thought that German Oi-Musik was a hate music whose dynamics were specific to German culture, what does it mean that American hate music depends on very similar dynamics of appropriation of the music of the (hated) other?

What are the implications of the uses and misuses of sound in Long-Range Acoustic Devices? Civic warning devices are not only helpful but save lives. But can such devices be modified to project sounds upon which organisms depend (such as the 7Hz of human internal organs) be used to destroy life? What are the implications of the (mis?)uses of subsonic frequencies in civil and military contexts?

In each chapter, I shall address a work of music, a detail of a work of music, a musical practice, a use of sound in social space as a manifestation of this reorganization of the construct of Cartesian subjectivity of contemporary life.

Specifically, I am particularly interested in sound studies which

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hellolistens in classical and popular works beyond notes that comprise the focus of Cartesian music theory and musicology to consider parameters that used to be peripheral to analysis and are now potentially central: articulation, texture, the visceral dimension of instruments and the nature of flesh producing sound from them.
hellolistens to sounds in videogames—perhaps the dominant art form of the present
hellolistens to sounds in public spaces—such as long range acoustic devices (LRADs); these audible or inaudible acoustic devices are being deployed in a wide variety of public spaces and need to be theorized and studied in detail. From tornaodo warning devices to tools for crowd control to weaponization.

An Overview of the Chapters of Music, Sound, Silence


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

In this chapter I explore this movement in Vivaldi's The Seasons circa 1720 as a musical representation of dream. I begin with Freud's typography of the dynamics of dream from The Interpretation of Dreams 1899. I then suggest how many aspects of the musical structure of this movement evoke each of the dynamics Freud was to explore nearly two centuries later. I shall show how Freud's account of the counter-intuitive nature of dream finds a musical correlate in the work at hand through a consistent combination of rigorous resolution of one tendency tone and incorrect correct resolution of the other tendency tone of each tritone in the work. This combination of correct and incorrect resolution of tendency tones preserves parallel voice-leading at the pitch level, suggesting both the flow of dream in sleep and a deeper, latent logic of voice-leading. In addition these resolutions and non-resolutins occur in both left-to-right correct motion of harmonic dissonance resolution and in several instances reversed direction--a highly unusual harmonic device in music of the standard repertoire of any period.

Consonance and the Void—Bach, Fugue in C-sharp minor, WTC I, no. 4

In this chapter I discuss the relationship between consonance and dissonance in the work, focusing on the initial theme whose latent structure is the C-sharp minor triad with unresolved lower neighbor notes. For me idea that the notes of the tonic triad are consonances and the notes of the unresolved lower neighbors are dissonances makes sense in terms of the mutually-exclusive binary of consonance and dissonance at the foundation of western musical syntax since the Renaissance. However, I feel that the half-step motion with which each note of the tonic C-sharp minor triad descends, unresolving, by a half step means, points to, something else. I cannot not hear each of these descending half steps not as a gesture of incomplete coherence, as if each of those lower neighbor notes wants on some level to return to the note from which they descended. This structure of mutually exclusive consonance and dissonance owes a metaphysical debt to dialectics. For me the relationship between the C-sharp, E-natural, and G-sharp of the tonic triad and their lower, unresolved neighbors B-sharp, D-sharp, F-double sharp respectively goes beyond dialectical binaries. Each of those half step motions is a passage through the threshold between this world and a Void beyond.

In the chapter I shall expand on this claim supported by writings exploring the nature of non-dialectical binaries, as well as internal, syntactic, and formal evidence in the work itself.

Pappenheim and Schoenberg's Erwartung: Repression and Disavowal

In this chapter I begin with the paratactic monodrama Erwartung by Marie Pappenheim. The work is a series of fragmentary utterances of a woman (die Frau) who wanders through a park in Vienna. These fragments juxtapose what seem like hallucinatory images, memories, musings in a psychological collage in which it is difficult to distinguish what has happened, what is happening, from memory and hallucination respecively. We know that Pappenheim met and had a conversation with Schoenberg about her work and that Schoenberg expressed interest in setting it to music. He did so in August-September of 1909. Schoenberg's music renders the paratactic nature of Pappenheim's libretto in its fragmentary juxtaposition of musical elements from tonal and atonal musics: there are triads (most often in second inversion suggesting the instability of tonic chords with a dominant function), short fragments of motives comprised of interval cycles, what we now think of as atonal pitch-class sets (particularly trichords that belong to set class (016)), and oscillating simple intervals (often major and minor thirds). To the absence of beginning and ending in Pappenheim's work, Schoenberg adds one thing: an ending—a single measure of rising and falling interval cycles which draw a curtain over the work.

I shall then suggest that the nature of the narrator's lack of psychic integration is an espression of disavowal of the fact that she has in fact murdered her lover and cannot bear to know what she has done. For this portion of the argument I discuss Freud's distinction between repression and disavowal and suggest evidence in both libretto and music for the work as a representation of disavowal

Barber's Adagio for Strings: Mourning and Melancholy

In this chapter I probe the question why this music is so beautiful, why it elicits in me and many others, a powerful emotional response. I seek internal, musical evidence for this reaction that goes beyond the affective power of the piece produced, for example, in the films Platoon and The Elephant Man. I begin with the well-known idea that the work at once evokes baroque counterpoint, modal harmony, and sequences that hover across the classical and popular thresholds. I shall show that the work is a series of interruptions (motions from tonic to an unresolving dominant). These interruptions are fragments—the piece is in B-flat minor, each interruption statement opens with a iv7 chord followed by the dominant. And the work ends with this unresolving dominant. But what interests me the most is the climactic highpoint of the work. I shall show that this point of the music takes the iv7 chord and moves counter-clockwise down the circle of fifths while the strings ascend to their upper register followed by a silent grand pause. In the descent that follows Barber enharmonically re-spells the harmonies (which had gotten thick with flats) back across the enharmonic divide to the sharp side before settling back on the dominant. It is the iv7 sonority after this unresolved dominant that I find so beautiful. And the reason for this is that Barber has modulated so far away from tonic B-flat minor that although we see the dominant of the interruption as F major our ears hear G-double flat major—the actual key from which B-flat minor had moved. So when that G-double flat major is followed by B-flat of the next iteration of the interruption, our ears need to realize in retrospect that in a heartbeat we cross back from the G-double flat major of pitch space to tonic B-flat.

To me (and I hope to you) this evokes the experience of trying to come to terms with something that the psyche cannot manage. And at this point I turn again to Freud whose writings on Mourning and Melancholy help me understand that the former mourning suggests the ability to represent, to transform, and to at least partially master loss, while the latter melancholy suggests being stuck in traumatic memory.

Black Note Panic: Robert Schumann and Lacanian Drive

In this chapter will I shall explore musical evidence of excess in the symphonies of Robert Schumann. I shall swerve around the fact of Schumann's mental illness in order to avoid one-to-one, closed correspondences between musical and psychic signifiers. Instead I shall explore the harmonic, melodic, and motivic evidence in the symphonies for excess. In particular I shall examine passages of "black notes"—streams of notes of very short duration whose energies fill space in an over-determined way. I shall connect this idea of "black note panic" both to a practice derived from baroque string technique of rapidly repeating the same note as a way of extending held notes and emphasizing, prolonging those notes, and to the drive in Lacan—a motion that reiterates rather than repeats. While the latter produces transformation, representation, the former produces stasis, and embodiment.

Ysaÿe's Sonata for Violin No. 2 "Obsession" (1923)

In this chapter I explore an early example of citation as composition. Ysaÿe's compositional persona in this piece is nearly completely evacuated. The work begins with Bach's Prelude to Partita no. 3 in E major. Then Ysaÿe combines fragments of the Partita with evocations of the Dies Irae. The evocation of Dies Irae suggests the idee fixe of Berlioz, and I shall connect the obsessive dimension of the work to the Lacanian gaze. For Lacan the look is an occular exchange among people whose relations to the big Other are manifest and equivalent; the gaze occurs when an ocular exchange or the potential of an ocular exchange occurs between someone and the big Other. Common images of the gaze include feeling that you're being watched when you enter a government building and hear your footsteps resonating in empty space, or the eyes of a figure in a painting watching you as you move through a room, or a policeman at your car window asking for licence and registration from behind sun glasses.

I shall suggest that the piece at hand is an embodiment of the gaze in the over-determined appropriation of Bach and the Dies Irae in a compositional moment of frozen stasis.

Jimi Hendrix "The Star-Spangled Banner" Revisited: Interpellation and Remainder

In this chapter I revisit Jimi Hendrix' celebrated rendition of the American National Anthem at Woodstock in 1969. I shall begin with the writings of Louis Althusser on Ideological Interpellation--that we all always / already inscribe ourselves as subjects through the hail consciously as gestures in which we accept the gaze and / or call of the big Other (and their surrogates) in social space, or unconsciously through adoption of the mother tongue or the enactment of socially normalized unconscious behaviour. Žižek criticizes the cleanliness, the mutually exclusive binary opposition of Althusser and suggests that interpellation always makes invisible the obscene presence of the superego as it inscribes us into our social order. Dolar extends Žižek's critique to argue that Althusser ignores a remainder, a trace of alterity at the heart of intepellation.

In this chapter I shall argue that Hendrix' adaptation of the American National Anthem, and its inherent critique of the war in Vietnam, make visible the obscenity at the heart of ideological interpellation. And I shall conclude the chapter with an overview of African-American critique of the National Anthem beginning with the writings of Fredrick Douglass.

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.

Caretaker: Music and Nostalgia

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.

Limbo (Playdead 2010): Sound and Suture

In this chapter I explore the use of sound in the videogame Limbo from the Danish group Playdead. The game evokes the visual ambience of black and white television, German Expressionism, and a dystopic world of a post apocalypse. The game also relies on an adaptation of the myth of Orpheus and Euridice. In the game a boy awakens in a forest; his task is to find his sister. In a continuous shot we take the boy along his path using right and left arrows (right moves right; left moves left), the up arrow to jump, and the option key to grab objects. Forward progress through the game requires that we solve puzzles along the way. The puzzles are always obstacles that place the boy in great danger; he is often killed by spiders, traps, electrical shocks, and he always comes back to life as often as necessary until we figure out how to get him past a given threat.

There has been much written about the nature of film music, from theories of the sonorous envelope to the acoustic mirror in which music in film tends to be both essential to viewer identification but subordinate to image, to diegesis, in the conscious reception of the content of the film. I shall apply and adapt this body of theory to videogames emphasizing the role of sound in Limbo. In particular I shall apply the theory of suture to the game. Suture designates the structure(s) with which a game inscribes a user into a particular form of gaming subjectivity.

LRADs: Silence as Panopticon and Lethal Weapon

In this chapter I shall explore the technologies behind Long Range Acoustic Devices and their uses in social space. These devices are used as part of civic warning technologies (for example as tornado and severe storm warnings); they are used to control animal behaviour (as in devices to deter dogs from barking); they can be used by law enforcement as crowd control (as in the use of LRADs to control demonstrators in Ferguson Missouri in 2014); and they can used as weapons in war.

In this chapter I shall focus on two dimensions of LRADs: first as crowd control; second as weapon of war. As devices to control crowd movements in a civil context, LRADs evoke a new transoformation of the gaze of the panopticon theorized by Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault into audible sounds that control subjects through visceral discomfort. As weapons of war, LRADs have the potential to be lethal weapons that leave no trace. This is possible through technologies that deploy subsonic sound at very high decibel levels.

In this chapter I shall explore the implications of the technologies of audible and inaudible uses of sound in LRADs.

Cage: ASLSP: Sound and Silence

In this chapter I shall explore this piece by John Cage that he composed in 1987 for organ. The title bears the acronym "As SLow aS Possible." The piece is being performed in a project at Halberstadt, Germany in a church containing an organ. The project is meant to last as long as an organ lasts—639 years. The performance began on September 5, 2001—the 89th birthday of the composer, with a 17 month silence before the first note was sounded.

In this chapter I shall revisit Cage's Silence in light of this work and its implications. I shall explore the nature of silence from an acoustic, phenomenological, and aesthetic point of view as it relates to sound. I shall explore the potential of a theory of silence that is not dialectical.

Rewriting Neural Pathways: Playing, Hearing, Imagining Music

In this chapter I shall provide an overview of current research and development of technologies that track and influence how sound and the imagination of sound reorganize neural networks in the brain. This technology has been used in medical and therapeutic contexts, treating patients experiencing the effects of dimentia, paralysis, and stroke. In this chapter I shall explore the most recent trends in research and development of technologies that focus on sound and music (both experienced and imagined) with a focus on the potential of these developments and the discoveries they are revealing about cognition for our post-Cartesian subjectivity.