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Homogeneity of Music

All things from the lowest to the loftiest, from the smallest to the greatest, exist within you as equal things. In one atom are found all the elements of the earth. One drop of water contains all the secrets of the oceans. In one motion of the mind are found all the motions of all the laws of existence.
Khalil Gibran[13, page 46]
A piece of music is a single piece of music. This fact may sound like a simple truism, but it is not. How can we have a single physical entity? Without getting into deep philosophy or physics, we have to agree that everything is composed of its parts. Even though we consider music as a logical entity, it has to abide by this rule as well. However, would an artist admit that rules govern her most intimate aesthetical thought and emotions? If there exists such a rule, then it has to be a universal rule, not only true for that specific space-time and that specific piece of music, but also for all places, moments, and art. Once conceived2.15, a piece of music breathes on its own, sets its own terms[38, page 7], and will be its own living entity. Schoenberg says[40, page 144]:
Thence it became clear to me that the work of art is like every other complete organism. It is so homogeneous in its composition that in every little detail it reveals its truest, inmost essence. When one cuts into any part of the human body, the same thing always comes out -- blood2.16. When one hears a verse of a poem, a measure of a composition, one is in a position to comprehend the whole. Even so, a word, a glance, a gesture, the gait, even the colour of the hair, are sufficient to reveal the personality of a human being.
It is not only romanticism which unifies form and content; it is an issue intrinsic to our intelligence and the way we perceive the world.

A composition has a message which, however, is not a clear one. If the message is too clear, the listener gets bored before the piece is finished; if it is too complicated, it becomes difficult to grasp, and again is not interesting. If the piece is composed of different parts, by the end of the first part the listener should get a feeling of introduction which is coherent with the structure of the piece as a whole, not only on the first hearing of the piece, but on every listening. No matter at which level the piece is listened to, the introduction has to feel like the introduction. On the second listening, the listener grasps more structure in two directions. He hears the more detailed ornaments better, while a longer-term structure manifests itself. All these manifestations have to be in accord or, in other words, related to each other. The listener should be able to assign a relationship not only to the process in which these different layers of structure manifest themselves, but also, once manifested, to the feeling which these structures portray, while the feelings and the process which fleshes out the feelings have to be in turn related to each other as well. Again, all these relationships, which can become quite entangled if we try to follow them in every macro and micro structure, have to be connected to each other by a single relationship - a single sentiment. Schoenberg says[40, page 290]:

Anyway, whatever one's views about the pleasure that can lie in conducting each part in polyphony independently, melodiously and meaningfully, there is a higher level, and it is at this level that one finds the question which needs answering in order to arrive at the postulate: `Whatever happens in a piece of music is nothing but the endless reshaping of a basic shape.' Or, in other words, there is nothing in a piece of music but what comes from the theme, springs from it and can be traced back to it; to put it still more severely, nothing but the theme itself. Or, all the shapes appearing in a piece of music are foreseen in the `theme'. (I say a piece of music is a picture-book consisting of a series of shapes, which for all their variety still (a) always cohere with one another, (b) are presented as variations (in keeping with the idea) of a basic shape, the various characters and forms arising from the fact that variation is carried out in a number of different ways; the method of presentation used can either `unfold' or `develop'.)
If a composition is rich enough it can be listened to more than once. While we may think that we know everything about the piece, the physical sensation of the sound will always surprise us. The introduction of a piece in the second listening has to follow the end of the piece after the first listening; therefore, the end of the piece has to act as a prelude to the beginning. When we assume such self-sufficiency in every part in every scale of perception, which says that every part has a message of its own, and at the same time we assume that the ensemble of all parts has a message which is related to the message of the parts composing the ensemble, we are assuming a sense of self-similarity or self-affinity.

One might suspect that: ``This is a very simple minded way of looking at what is in music and does not take into account the composer's emotional complexity or the hard labor of the realization'', however, we need to understand what self-similarity and its implications are. Self-similarity is a a very simple idea. However, its different ways of appearing in the physical world, and our thought and emotions are extremely complex.

When a composer is inspired, he imagines the whole piece at once. The inspiration seems to come from nowhere. Even though many of the elements of its creation (or evolution) process are dependent on the past, what characterizes it as original comes from nowhere. The inspiration seems to be self-sufficient, and by re-applying its own idea to itself, the inspiration grows. There are perhaps many contradicting accounts on this issue. Some composers may see a whole work in an instance and some may find the true self of the work during the compositional process. However, we believe that there is a point in time, which may not even become conscious to the composer, that the composition detaches itself from the composer and defines all its parts by itself. About inspiration, Schoenberg says[40, page 107]:

This comes about because in my case the productive process has its own way; what I sense is not a melody, a motive, a bar, but merely a whole work. Its sections: the movements; their sections: the themes; their sections: the motives and bars -- all that is detail, arrived as the work is progressively realized. The fact that the details are realized with the strictest, most conscientious care, that everything is logical, purposeful and organically deft, without the visionary images, thereby losing fullness, number, clarity, beauty, originality, or pregnancy -- that is merely a question of intellectual energy, which may only be taken amiss by those who themselves possess it and believe themselves entitled to despise it.

Briefly recapitulating:

The inspiration, the vision, the whole, breaks down during its representation into details whose constructed realization reunites them into the whole.
How does the ``constructed realization'' come about? In the mind of the composer, once she is finished with the mental work or when she is finished with the score? Or is it in the mind of the musician who reads the score and creates the sound? Or does it happen through the feedback of playing and listening at the same time? Or does the reconstruction happen in the mind of the listener who uses nothing but ears? Music has to be able to communicate itself, even if it is just to oneself. Therefore, should this whole not imply a coherency between all these wholes, in the mind of composer, musician, and listener. The path that the composer takes to realize an idea may be different from the path that a musician takes to learn the piece for playing. However, there is a certain feeling that remains the same in the mind of the composer and the experience of the musician, and that feeling is what makes that piece different from another piece. Again, this unity, this feeling, is not only a horizontal unity between the mind of the creator and the listener, but also a vertical unity in different levels of the perception of the piece. This last issue is very important in the practice of electronic music today. This perceptual relationship was perhaps the most basic principle which Stockhausen used for his electronic and acoustic compositions.

next up previous contents
Next: Unity of Perception Up: Unity of Material and Previous: Sound Recapitulation   Contents
Shahrokh Yadegari 2001-03-01