Many years ago, I had a school friend who was an evangelizing devotee of the abstract painter Marc Rothko. I bear in mind her gushing over a catalog of Rothko’s work, while I was thinking that I should be aesthetically challenged; I just didn’t „get“ it. After all, most of the paintings were nothing but large rectangles of coloration, with slight irregularities and a contrasting border or stripe. The entire familiar reference factors of line and form, perspective and shadow, were gone. I may admire them as „design,“ but not as „art.“ While they have been pleasing enough, I could not see why anyone would rhapsodize over these abstractions… until I first noticed them for myself in particular person–a very totally different expertise! After I encountered them at the Museum of Fashionable Artwork, they actually stopped me in my tracks, subverting conscious thought and plunging me immediately into an altered state. They weren’t just flat canvases on a wall, but seemed more like dwelling things, pulsing and throbbing in resonance to a wavelength that had a basic connection to the Source of things. I was stunned. They did not „express“ a feeling–they had been more like feelings themselves, and so they appeared like nothing personal to me, or Rothko, or anyone. When I later looked on the reproductions Rothko’s works in books, they reverted to flat swatches of color. There was a recollection, however no recreation of my experience. This was an experience that depended on the presence of the unique artifact (artwork: a truth).
A Tune is Not a Tone
I spent my early musical life working principally with music that used-like representational art–some set of acquainted musical conventions to create its effect. There are various vocabularies of melody, counterpoint, rhythm, concord, and structure that place music in a context of kind that makes it comprehensible to listeners. „Understandable“ will not be exactly what I imply–it suggests that music communicates only intellectual ideas, whereas in actual fact, it conveys and expresses a whole range of concepts, feelings, sensations and associations. But there is an element of „intelligibility“ to standard types of music that depends on a shared formal vocabulary of expression. There are familiar components that listeners use to anchor their real-time experience of a composition, formal or sonic elements which might be borrowed from other pieces created and listened to in the past. Once I discover myself buzzing a tune from a Beethoven symphony, or invoking one among its attribute rhythms (dit-dit-dit-DAH), I reduce a complex sonic tapestry to an abstraction, a shorthand that’s easily recognizable to others aware of the music. I may be able to share a musical idea with different musicians using the abstraction of notation. However a „tune“ is just not a „tone,“ and a „note“ will not be a „sound.“ It’s an thought, even a robust thought, but when I find myself humming the tune, I know that I have in some way „consumed“ the music, reduced it to a subset of its conventions, deconstructed and reconstructed it for my own purposes.
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