WARMTH

by danielgoode

Somewhere in his ground-breaking book, “The Tuning of the World” R. Murray Schafer wonders aloud why music tends to be an anchor to the familiar, rather than an antenna receiving new exciting information from “out there.” There could by a one-word answer to Schafer’s question: ‘lullaby.’ But instead, let this whole essay be an answer.

           touch
           vibrato – buzzing in the ear (even damage) – low frequency weapon (WWI)
           “meditative making out:” RIP Hayman’s kissing/humming action
           low E on the clarinet vibrates her/his trusting body
           compare sound frequency to light frequency: you can feel one, not the other: the
           scale is different
           rock music is high amplitude, especially the bass which is felt in the body
           visual art is “cold,” pop music is “warm,” what is classical music?
           question of modernism and anti-romanticism
           the pomo reactions
           the mindless neo-romanticism of e.g., “the derriere-garde,”or movie sound
tracks
           the role of tonality in warmth? There may be, but considering tonality’s widest
range from drone music to highly chromatic music in the post-Viennese school or the
new complexity music, there is no correlation to anyone’s style
           tendency of forgetting duplicates of previous styles as if they had never
happened
           serve [as] memory and also mark the spot previously occupied by so-and-so or
such-and-such: in that, we are like a “traditional culture,” that only revives, re-stages,
replays, but doesn’t innovate consciously
           consciousness feels like it is in the head, not the torso or the limbs – is that
because of voice, ears, eyes?
lack of parallelism between sound (music) and light (visual arts)- there is no touch

until infra-red and heat lamps, but then it is not in the visual range

Still, heat rays are too fast to feel as vibration. The warmth of vibrational frequencies is obvious. Both metaphorical and literal. The spectrum of orgastic vibration makes heat.

Vibrating one’s body to keep warm is as rock-bottom as you can get to warmth. Sound begins at the high end of that frequency range. You can get warm by singing. So, harmonic relations probably have warmth encoded within. Quotients (of warmth!) may be measurable. This could lead to a dumb or a very smart critique of serial music (and the “new complexity” type). But not Alban Berg’s, which is why the dumb critique won’t work.

Warmth is not just a direct conversion of physical vibration of something bound into temperature of the receiver’s body. The transmitted, culturally determined melodic/harmonic/rhythmic shapes of a certain tradition (pick your culture) stir the emotions somehow (pick your theorist), and warmth results. Even sadness, maybe especially sadness brings warmth. The constant exercise of emotional organs is what it feels like. Emotional aerobics? Music can stimulate emotional aerobics.

Warmth and tonality:
Given the over-determined causation by both acoustically generated warmth and by historical styles of melodic and harmonic shapes that trigger emotional warmth, it seems an obvious connection to link warmth with tonality. There are strong counter-examples in Schoenberg and Berg, though: that the emotional gestures are there and effective without their being based on tonality. Also strong counter-examples in the “Polish School” of ‘60s tone-color music, and also in the decades of Phill Niblock’s tape music for his films. In both these, and others of similar effect the rubbing of dissonant tones to create “beats” is a source of acoustical warmth not from tonality, though (as Schoenberg might protest these are the result of TONES, so cannot be called “atonal music.”)

Let’s consider what I’d call the “Appoggiatura Mime,” (mime, the short-hand formula, mental “radical” around this musical term). Originating in harmonic practice going back to the Renaissance, and flowering through the Baroque and Classic periods, it emerges in the late Romantics and early 20th Century composers, of Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg as an increasingly intense, complex, and over-arching phenomenon. In this figuration warmth is both acoustic (dissonances rubbing frictionally) and emotional —made up of layers of association with the music that pushes through to the listener with this mime.

A more subtle emotional mime might be the sequence: the melodic-harmonic repetition at successive pitch levels. Many, many passages from Vivaldi through Bach’s Brandenburg concertos (his 3rd has a doozy one), on through Bruckner have a way of building excitement through varied repetition that can lead the listener into a kind of emotional response I’d call restrained frenzy—sometimes to tears. The sequence is the basis of my long minimalist symphony, Tunnel Funnel. Warmth generated.

The connection of music and mimes is the basis of Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game [Das Glasperlenspiel]. It is the idea that discreet units of culture: music or word-based complexes, visual, mathematical formulae (Hesse is brilliantly vague in describing what these cultural modules are exactly) become the “glass beads” in a chess-like game of friendly competition among the intellectual elite. This is the most seductive use of ideas as palpable serious playthings I’ve ever found. And it contains within it, as the novel shows, an elitism that burns out on its own decadence and self-defeat, told in its last page by the death by drowning of the hero who has become the master of the Game.

But if we extrapolate to Minimalism: I once had an imaginary conversation with Tom Johnson (at least I think it never happened, but maybe it did) in which we agreed that minimalist typology could stay implanted in culture as firmly as traditional genres of composition like the canon or fugue or variation procedure.

Thus:
One-tone composition
Phasing of various parameters
Meditative sound concepts
Pulse composition
“Deductive Music” (Tom’s self-description of his style)
Etc.

These would be on-going genres as confident of continuance as the high Baroque seemed to be.

An aspect of these genres would be their warmth quotient. Not as an evaluative thing, but as one aspect of style.

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