The Contemporaneity of Music

by Giuseppe Gavazza
Translated from the Italian by the author

Maurizio Nannucci, All Art Has Been Contemporary, 1999.

 

Could a non-contemporary mother exist?

Can we equate artistic creation with a pregnancy?

In such a case the newborn - created in a relatively short period - will grow up to become a fully independent being. Years later, mo/fa-ther will die and she/he/it (probably) will survive as an independent (maybe long-lived) individual with its own first + family name.

Art repertoire is a Someoneson, like a big ancient nation: it is through these art works that the fa-ther/mily name also survives.

Goldberg-Variationen, La Divina Commedia, Les Fleurs du Mal, la Cappella Sistina, Hamlet, Mona Lisa, Der Process all still exist. And through them the mother/artist generator still lives.

I remember seeing on the entrance to Turin GAM (Modern Art Gallery) a big neon sign (I think it was - it is - a work of Maurizio Nannucci) saying, in English, “All art has been contemporary.”

Non-contemporary art exists: it is art history.

But could a non-contemporary artist exist?

It is very difficult (quite impossible) to escape contemporaneity, especially for a musician, for several reasons:

1 - Sound is contemporary: its life is momentary. Sound exists only for real-time perception.

2 - Music (as organized sound) lives on in the memory of human listener.

3 – Memory exists because human beings are alive; each has his own history (life) as a background.

In1 and 2, I refer to sound and to music: music is made of/with sounds, we all know this simple truth. But most of the inventory of existing music isn’t made of sounds; it consists of written pages. Music history is the history of musical writings (scores); but musical writing was invented just to synchronize sounds.

Because the perception of sound (audition) is not strictly directional (it’s a very astigmatic sound-vision) we have a compelling polyphonic perception.

When composers have wanted to be the primary performers of their own music, polyphonic keyboard instruments - like organ and piano - have reigned as the kings of instruments, and many composers were indeed good keyboard players. But to develop a full and complex polyphonic sound they always needed many instruments or voices playing at the same time, and until the arrival of multi-track recording technology, the only way to realize such a goal was by writing a score.

This could be the reason that although we know music is made of sounds we disregard the fact that a musical composition is nothing more then a long, complex, well articulated single sound; it is a unique object like a painting, a sculpture or a building. Musical writing imposes a lexical vision (audition) of music but more and more, the listener’s consciousness realizes that form has meaning only because it resonates in our internal perception, connected with memory.

Or not?

 

Giuseppe Gavazza
May 17th 2007

 

Giuseppe Gavazza is a composer who lives and works in Turin, Italy.

www.giuseppegavazza.it