Intention, expression, aesthetics

As music is intentionally a kind of language, meant to share a musical vision (even the most abstract works like some Renaissance polyphony or fugues by J.S. Bach), a vision which is meant to be experienced emotionally, the performance context is defined by expectations of listening where communication is at the centre. We know that the means through which musical communication travels, is tonality, i.e. the interrelated system whereby individual notes derive their meaning from the location in the tonal network, forming a whole with different layers of coherence. With sonic art, i.e. atonal modernism, it is the level of pure sound and its ordering which forms the communication: ‘the medium is the message’. Although the sonic surface may be structured in an aesthetic way, as to create an aesthetic impression, this impression differs from the communication which forms the heart of the art of music.

For communication to happen, there must be an intention, a ‘message’, some content to be communicated. But what happens if the means of communication is the ‘message’, if there is no communicative intention but the means are presented as such? A purely functional housing block, which is not meant to convey any aesthetic expression or meaning, nevertheless can create an impression if looked upon with the mental framework of aesthetics: the block may create a miserable aesthetic experience where none was ever meant, and an expectation framework which looks at the block in a purely functional way, where only the functionality of the object is considered, may find the building entirely satisfying. It is even possible that a purely functional architecture achieves an aesthetically pleasing effect, and this will have to have been the architect’s intention, it does not come on its own accord. One has to forget a couple of thousands of years of aesthetic training by seeing great architecture, of any culture, to be able to enjoy modern, purely functional architecture which was meant to convey an aesthetic effect. This effect is the pleasantness of patterns and surfaces without any mimetic meaning, and this explains the sterile and inhuman, inexpressive effect of so much modern architecture.

With sonic art, it is a grave mistake to listen to it as music, which would be the same as considering a purely functional housing block aesthetically. Sonic art has no intention to convey a musical impression, but wants to demonstrate the interest of purely acoustical patterns and colour combinations, and to be able to do this, recollections of music with the inherent quality of interrelated tonality have to be avoided. What rests, is pure sound devoid of musical meaning, and only in this way can we enjoy the patterns, gestures (which can be dramatic in themselves, as gestures) and colour combinations of, for instance, the sonic works of Matthias Pintscher:

This means that if we want to truly enjoy, really appreciate sonic art, we have to forget the existence of music as an art form, and listen as if there never has been any serious musical art at all. The implication is, that sonic art is ruinous for the appreciation of music, and including sonic works in a musical context can only be considered damaging the reception framework in the mind of musical audiences. The resistence or indifference of music audiences towards sonic works is not ‘conservatism’ or the ‘unwillingness to open their ears and heart to the creations of their own time’, but the instinctive awareness that ‘this work’  does not belong in the context for which they have bought a ticket. Including sonic art in musical contexts is not progressiveness, but regression to a more primitive state of mind and reception framework.

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