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The confluence between musical aesthetics and the philosophical concept of self-consciousness.

1. Introduction

Cascone claims that the Internet has helped spawn a new movement in digital music. The medium of digital technology holds less fascination for composers in and of itself. The Internet is responsible for helping give birth to new trends in computer music outside the confines of academic think tanks. The marketing departments of most audio software companies have not yet fully grasped the post-digital aesthetic. Donelan argues that Holderlin and Wordsworth follow a similar path of self-constitution through a musical conception of poetic sound. Hegel and Beethoven establish music and self-consciousness as mutually positing, reciprocal dialectical structures. At the core of early Romanticism lies a structure (the dialectic of Idealist self-consciousness) and a metaphor (the self- sustaining aesthetic of absolute music) that mirror and support each other.

2. The concept of self-consciousness and musical creativity

Cascone shows how current DSP tools are being used by post-digital composers, affecting both the form and content of contemporary "non-academic" electronic music. "Failure" has become a prominent aesthetic in many of the arts in the late 20th century. Ideas can spawn entire musical genres in a relatively short period of time. Today's digital technology enables artists to explore new territories for content. Computers have become the primary tools for creating and performing electronic music. Tools now aid composers in the deconstruction of digital files. Contemporary computer music has become fragmented (it is composed of stratified layers that intermingle and defer meaning until the listener takes an active role in the production of meaning). (1) Donelan examines how the concept of self- consciousness became associated with music and musical creativity and describes the relationship between the highly abstract discourse of philosophy and the concrete works of poetry and music of the early Romantic period. For Holderlin, music becomes a crucial site for mediation between the theory and practice of poetry. Wordsworth employed music as a structural metaphor for the dialectical workings of the mind. The late works of Beethoven contain clear, audible, and provable indications of self-conscious reflection in musical form. Donelan holds that the concept of self-consciousness, the category of the aesthetic, and actual manifestations of aesthetically ordered sound in Romantic poetry and music are parts of a continuous matrix of understanding that emerged at the turn of the nineteenth century and persist at the turn of the twenty-first.
   Mozart's music reflects not only his extraordinary talent
   but also a new paradigm for music and its effects on
   listeners and musicians alike. Before Mozart, Western
   art music had two fundamental purposes: to proclaim the
   glory of God in His churches and to provide musical
   decoration for the powerful in their courts and homes.
   As Mozart's influence grew, his compositions began to
   assume a larger role in intellectual life. By the time of
   the French Revolution, music had increasingly become a
   reflection of the composer's self-conscious mind, rather
   than a celebration of God or patron. The confluence between
   musical aesthetics and the philosophical concept of
   self-consciousness manifests itself as a distinctly Romantic
   phenomenon in Holderlin's poetry and prose. (2)

3. The function of musical aesthetics

Regev contends that pop-rock music is portrayed as a major embodiment of the transformation of national cultural uniqueness from purist essentialism into aesthetic cosmopolitanism. Examining the local production of ethno-national pop-rock, and its public reception and legitimation through half a century, Regev demonstrates how forces within the national context greatly contribute to cultural globalization, and looks at three aspects of the rise of ethnonational pop-rock music to national legitimacy: the agency of musicians, analyzed as structurally stemming from the intersection of the field of pop-rock and the field of national culture; a four-phase, half-century long process, called here the "historical musical event" of pop-rock; and the consequence of pop-rock legitimacy for performance of national uniqueness. (3)

von Appen writes that basic research into musical preferences and the question which sensory, intellectual, emotional and physical attractions music may offer is mainly empirical and follows music-psychological and music-sociological perspectives. Institutionalised musical aesthetics have not looked into popular music so far. Sound requires even less semantic interpretation than lyrics or melodies. The attraction of popular music is in part based on the value of aesthetic contemplation. The preference for certain musical styles correlates significantly with certain character traits. Singing and music provide atmospheric and emotional dimensions and personal significance for the content. The art character of a certain piece of music may only be defined on the basis of individual experience.
   Melodies, rhythms, sounds, and harmonies want to be
   pursued and heard with attention. They have been
   created to carry the listener away from his normal
   surroundings into the world of a particular piece of
   music with its own temporal rules and laws which he
   does not and need not understand. All this may be
   perceived not only contemplatively, of course; music has
   much to offer if we want to understand. But normally,
   music listening does not involve the need to understand
   meaning. Music has a purely sensual attraction so that
   we forget all considerations of purpose for a short while
   in order to just listen and yield to the music and its own
   laws. (4)

Berger points out that we should look for features of partial autonomy in all music, features that give the music an artistic character. The central prerequisite for music's acquisition of an artistic character was the emergence of composition as a process of music-making distinct from performance. "A composer, not being forced to make music in real time, can afford to experiment, to try things out, to risk making mistakes, to an incomparably greater degree than even the most skillful performer and thus can make music whose artistic character is potentially much greater." (5) Berger holds that the separation of composition from performance and the survival of the products of composition as written texts independent of performances are the two defining features of art, as opposed to popular music. What modern European musicians found in Greek and Roman ideas about music were two ideas about the nature and aims of music: music was the sensuous embodiment of intelligible harmony (harmonia) and was capable of making humans feel various changeable passions (pathos) and thus of forming a person's enduring character (ethos). "European art music experienced its first paradigm shift. [...] The idea of music as capable of stirring passions and forming human character began to be taken seriously." (6)

4. The organization and presentation of sounds in time

Dierkes-Thrun points out that a close reconsideration of the presumed opposition between Richard Strauss's modernist opera Salome and the original aesthetics of its libretto source, Oscar Wilde's 1891 symbolist-decadent drama, shows that despite seemingly divergent styles, they share major formal and thematic characteristics. As Dierkes-Thrun puts it, both respond to the metaphysical crisis of modernity and aim systematically to replace metaphysical purpose and sublime religious experience with physical sensation and secular ecstasy, to corporealize affect, and to glorify amoral modern individualism as embodied by the perverse Salome. Wilde's and Strauss's goal in Salome turned out to be the same: to manufacture secular sublimity by modern aesthetic means. (7) London argues that musical works involve the organization and presentation of sounds in time. The limitations of our ears and brains are fundamental constraints on our experience of the musical medium. If a melody is played slower and slower, at some point it loses its sense of coherence and motion, and becomes a series of isolated tones. Most musical rhythms involve qualitatively different "kinds of time." (8)

5. Conclusion

Donelan interprets individual works through historical, social, or biographical materials rather than to understand or create something outside them. On London's reading, aesthetically relevant properties of a musical artwork are tied to our first order experience of its primary medium. The aesthetic success of a work cannot depend upon our experience of work's rhythmic structures if they involve distinctions or configurations which we cannot perceive. The music of high modernism becomes conceptual art (scores to be seen but not necessarily heard). Hyper-complex musical forms are challenges to the listener (or performer) and to the very notion of what constitutes the musical artwork itself.


(1.) Cascone, K. (2000), "The Aesthetics of Failure: 'Post-Digital' Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music", Computer Music Journal 24(4): 12-18.

(2.) Donelan, J.H. (2008), Poetry and the Romantic Musical Aesthetic. New York: Cambridge University Press, xiv.

(3.) Regev, M. (2007), "Ethno-National Pop-Rock Music Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism Made from Within", Cultural Sociology 1(3): 317-341.

(4.) von Appen, R. (2007), "On the Aesthetics of Popular Music", Music Therapy Today VIII(1): 11.

(5.) Berger, K. (2002), A Theory of Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 116.

(6.) Ibid., 122.

(7.) Dierkes-Thrun, P. (2008), "'The Brutal Music and the Delicate

Text'? The Aesthetic Relationship between Wilde's and Strauss's Salome Reconsidered", Modern Language Quarterly 69(3): 367-389.

(8.) London, J. (2007), "Temporal Complexity in Modern and PostModern Music", lecture given at the International Orpheus Academy for Music & Theory, April. [C] Ion Olteteanu


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Author:Olteteanu, Ion
Publication:Analysis and Metaphysics
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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