By way of explanation of his musical intentions in a recent composition, “Impulsive Moments: For Five Intelligent Musicians” – and I have to say that this is a piece which, the further I listen to it, the more thought-provoking it becomes – Tramte invokes the moment-forms which Stockhausen defined programmatically already fifty years ago. In view of this, some sentences from that definition may be excerpted here: these are musical forms “die weder auf die Klimax noch auf vorbereitete und somit erwartete mehrere Klimaxe hin zielen,” and which “vielmehr sofort intensiv sind und – ständig gleich gegenwärtig – das Niveau fortgesetzter ‘Hauptsachen’ bis zum Schluß durchzuhalten suchen,” with the result that the audience may expect “in jedem Moment ein Minimum oder ein Maximum” without being able to foresee any “Entwicklungsrichtung aus dem Gegenwärtigen mit Gewißheit.” So stated, all these characterizations pertain as much to the way in which a listener or an audience experiences the music as they do to the music itself, and so they seem to constitute straightforward and clear criteria – according to which Tramte’s composition and the mode of listening it calls forth from us would qualify as an example of a moment-form.
However, that is not the only reason for bringing in Stockhausen’s own words. Taking into account his terms and the phrasing, one does wonder whether the experience of musical moment-forms is still mainly a hermeneutical one, an instance of Verstehen in any of its modes, whether it’s the Nachvollziehen that aims to retrace and thus to understand and in a sense to carry to completion the process by which the piece of music was composed, or the entry into that rather different Zirkel where, if one goes about it in the right way (bearing in mind Martin Heidegger’s dicta in Sein und Zeit, siebzehnte Auflage, § 32), in the interpretive movement from part to whole and back again it’s not only or even primarily that one aims to fathom the musical meaning or sense, as above all to increase one’s own Seinkönnen. Rather, instead of those kinds of possibilities, the manner in which Stockhausen phrases his remarks could be taken to suggest that the sort of listening he outlines is something that’s no longer especially hermeneutical in its character and implications so much as it is – I’m using this term only faute de mieux and as a first approximation – erotic.
To be sure, I can anticipate that the term “erotic” might itself sound innocuous or even a bit ridiculous (if only insofar as it is greatly overused in all manner of contexts); and yet this other definition of what the activity of listening embodies, it seems to me, has some plausibility in general and as regards this composition of Tramte’s in particular, especially on account of the way in which, in “Impulsive Moments,” the musicians are required to improvise together to a certain extent. But, of course, I now need to specify further what it is that Stockhausen’s own definitions have suggested to me.
Stockhausen’s invocation of climaxes, immediate intensities, levels of energy that are to be sustained but which may in the end not be, sudden interruptions, etc., all lacking a teleological orientation such that no definite prediction could be hazarded of where they were heading, leads me to think that in the mode of listening corresponding to such music many sounds and also perhaps whole movements would not be heard by the listeners so much as they would adhere to them, in a nearly tactile manner: in effect these passages would not pass fluidly by, but would slow or divert the course of musical time instead, which – if it’s at all plausible to speak of the auditory experience of music as being akin to a river or a passage – might then pile up into a heap blocking the way or turn into a stagnant and sticky pool, enmeshing or engulfing all who are present more and more in a palpable and unrelenting feeling of disturbance and unease.
In such a case, this tactile-acoustic experience would unveil and instantiate a mode of existing in the world in which literally everything, including, perhaps most horribly, one’s own consciousness and even time itself, either is felt to be sticky or viscous or threatens to become so: this is the particularly slimy mode of existence extruded in a salient paragraph, after a number of pages conspicuously full of padding, by Jean-Paul Sartre in L’Être et le Néant.
(If the sort of music and the sort of listening that Stockhausen sketched out can be correlated to this mode of existence as finally described by Sartre, then the term “erotic” could perhaps also help bring into focus any moments of revulsion and distaste that happen to be intermixed in musical pleasure.)
Omitting the clauses in which he recurred to the “Pour-Soi” and the “En-Soi,” as it’s his description and not his own elaborate conceptual system that is of greatest interest here, this is what Sartre wrote (pt. 4, chap. II, sec. III): “Une conscience qui deviendrait visqueuse se transformerait donc par empâtement de ces idées. Nous l’avons dès notre surgissement dans le monde, cette hantise d’une conscience qui voudrait s’élancer vers le futur, vers un projet de soi et qui se sentirait, dans le moment même où elle aurait conscience d’y parvenir, retenue sournoisement, invisiblement par la succion du passé et qui devrait assister à sa lente dilution dans ce passé qu’elle fuit, à l’invasion de son projet par mille parasites jusqu’à ce qu’enfin elle se perdre complètement elle-même. […] L’horreur du visqueux c’est le horreur que le temps ne devienne visqueux […] C’est la crainte non de la mort […] non du néant, mais d’un type d’être particulier, qui n’existe pas […] et qui est seulement représenté par le visqueux. Un être idéal que je réprouve de toutes mes forces et qui me hante comme la valeur me hante dans mon être : un être idéal […] que nous nommerons une antivaleur.”
What Sartre had in mind in writing frequently of “the value” that “haunts” one in one’s being – roughly summarized, it is the prospect that the project that one is, will one day exist in a finished form, an actual project no longer, and as such be subject to assessment and judgment – was evidently a possibility that perturbed him existentially and philosophically; but here he touched on a matter he acknowledged as even more dire: a world constituted like quicksand in which resistance would only enmire one further, or in other words a world wherein one would cease to exist as a project at all. Though he did proceed to write of some ways in which, in the face of “le visqueux,” one might attempt to surpass and appropriate it, he also admitted that one would be far more readily inclined simply to flee from it, lest one become an agent of one’s own reduction into slime: but this admission would seem to throw into doubt the very plausibility of his insistence that human existence necessarily manifests the temporality of a project, and so it’s not only the essentially projective mode of time of human existence that would come to naught in the world’s thickening substance, but also, and much more to the point, the quality of the philosophical system he was constructing in his book. One would have thought that he’d have been cognizant of the weakness, and in fact the dramaturgy with which, so late in the tome, he introduced this “antivaleur” might give the impression that he’d waited so long to do so precisely in order that he could make a show of addressing and surpassing this doubt in a convincing manner – but then the concept was hardly heard from again and that full inquiry never attempted, at least in L’Être et le Néant itself. (It should be noted that while he employed the term once or twice earlier in his book, on those occasions it was not fraught with the significance it bore during its short-lived appearance late in the work.)
Well, let’s leave Sartre’s failure aside, without “surpassing” it or him, while bearing in mind the service he rendered in addressing so memorably the sheer “horreur du visqueux” – the horror aroused by beings which, in the usual sense of the term, do indeed exist, though in a manner that has nearly nothing in common with his particular notion of the project and its temporality. (His statement that such a being is an “être particulier, qui n’existe pas,” if it was intended to suggest anything specific at all – and not merely to refer us covertly to the realms of “l’imaginaire” – meant just this, given the special sense he assigns to the verb “exister.”)
To return to the moment-form as a musical mode: the question is, whether or in what manner it’s capable of disclosing the world and time in their horrible viscosity.
Now, as regards “Impulsive Moments,” which as music is considerably more ominous than that song, right from the beginning it’s filled with sounds that suggest in one way or another viscous things or states (not to mention the occasional noise that is even more redolent of something unpleasant and bodily); but above and beyond these constituent elements individually, it’s the conglomerate effect that lets us hear what the result would be were a consciousness to become aware of its subliminal permeation by all the scraps of noise, sound, and music to which everyone is more or less exposed each day and to register and replay them all with its inner ear. Such a consciousness would very soon be liquefied aurally and its specific temporality quickly drained out of it – not to mention what would happen to its other capacities – consequences of which Sartre’s nightmarish visions of “une conscience qui deviendrait visqueuse” and of “l’invasion de son projet par mille parasites” may be taken as apt initial depictions. So of course there is good reason why this permeation must remain subliminal, generally speaking, and even so, is it not the case that our consciousness and our temporalization are continually melting away under this subliminal influence – this viscous influx from all sides – to a much greater degree than we are aware of or would be inclined to admit? In truth, were we to be confronted by the full extent of it, would not we then be entirely overcome by “l’horreur du visqueux,” which usually strikes us, whenever it does strike us, with only a very glancing blow?
Thus the incipient awareness of these aurally viscous conditions would itself not come without risk, and accordingly one can understand that the theoreticians who have touched on them – this is by no means an issue that’s arisen only recently – have usually framed their inquiries with a great deal of caution: caution that’s palpable both in the descriptions they’ve provided, to begin with, and then in the suggestions they offer concerning the subject of what might be done about it. Often one has to listen hard if one is to comprehend that some statement actually contains just such a suggestion; this is the case, it seems to me, with what Stockhausen then went on to write in his definition of the moment-form from which I’ve already quoted some bits. He insisted that he was speaking of forms “in denen ein Augenblick nicht Stückchen einer Zeitlinie, ein Moment nicht Partikel einer abgemessenen Dauer sein muß, sondern in denen die Konzentration auf das Jetzt – auf jedes Jetzt – gleichsam vertikale Schnitte macht, die eine horizontale Zeitvorstellung quer durchdringen bis in die Zeitlosigkeit, die ich Ewigkeit nenne: eine Ewigkeit, die nicht am Ende einer Zeit beginnt, sondern in jedem Moment erreichbar ist.” On the face of it this sentence could certainly be dismissed as fashionable claptrap or the usual theoretical nonsense; but if one replays it, so to speak, one might hear in it the implicit observation that by concentrating on the aural “now,” on every such “now,” both the composer and the audience can clear their heads of the acoustic garbage that’s been deposited there unawares: and so what Stockhausen was actually speaking about could be an aurally emetic procedure that might be either a felicitous side-benefit of the best musical experience or perhaps even a piece of music’s main subject-matter. (The electro-acoustic composer Stephen Dedalus has actually come up with a jeu d’esprit that bears on this topic.)
One should recall that the “horizontale Zeitvorstellung” Stockhausen wished to slice through was not just any old notion floating around freely fifty years ago; on the contrary, it sounds as though it were derived from Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit, and since I referred to that labyrinth of a work once already, it would probably be a good idea here to resist the temptation to stray much further into it; this all the more, considering the especial difficulties that are involved in comprehending that very elusive notion “Horizont.” And yet I’ll venture a few further remarks, the risks notwithstanding.
On the face of it, Stockhausen’s invocation of the “horizontale Zeitvorstellung” seems also to take aim at the so-called “ekstatische Zeitlichkeit” that Heidegger was at pains to explicate (particularly in § 81) as offering the best way of coming to terms with time, for this temporality, he also insisted, is in some manner spatial: as he wrote elsewhere, and in italics no less (§ 69), “Die existential-zeitliche Bedingung der Möglichkeit der Welt liegt darin, daß die Zeitlichkeit als ekstatische Einheit so etwas wie einen Horizont hat,” and in accordance with this definition he went on to write about “das horizontale Schema” and “die horizontale Struktur” of the three “Ekstasen” of this kind of time, otherwise known as the future, the present, and the past; while the question of the interrelationships within this threefold unity of time is of crucial importance generally, what’s even more interesting here is the seemingly minor detail of the “so etwas wie” that Heidegger slipped into the text, for it was a conceptual and rhetorical precaution which, so it appears, was intended to leave one with considerable latitude in deciding how literally or rigorously all this should or could be taken.
However, as regards Stockhausen and the question of what precisely it was that he had his sights on when he set up this “horizontale Zeitvorstellung” as his target, the difficulty derives from the evident fact that the common explanation of time, in Heidegger’s account of it (he called it, quite derisively, the popular one: “die vulgäre Auslegung”), was described in such a way that it too may be said to extend in a “horizontal” manner, though here that term perhaps bears “something like” a different meaning than it does in the other case. This is the explanation of time as akin to a river that flows along, which is to say that time moves across a horizontal plane – at least if one decides to take all these terms literally.
Here is one of Heidegger’s most concise and also most sarcastic passages about the common explanation of time (§ 81): “Die vulgäre Auslegung” – i.e., of time – “bestimmt den Zeitfluß als ein nichtumkehrbares Nacheinander. Warum läßt sich die Zeit nicht umkehren? An sich ist, und gerade im ausschließlichen Blick auf den Jetztfluß, nicht einzusehen, warum die Abfolge der Jetzt sich nicht einmal wieder in der umgekehrten Richtung einstellen soll.” Though the term itself was not used here, how would one avoid the conclusion that this “Auslegung” too is essentially “horizontal”?
(Well, I had not wanted to wander through the labyrinth of Sein und Zeit, and yet this passage I just quoted . . . “Warum läßt sich die Zeit nicht umkehren?” Martin! Common sense is much more sensible than you say; it has its reasons for looking ahead and not behind itself, even when it is looking exclusively – if such an exclusive glance is even conceivable at all – at the “Jetztfluß” as though the “Jetzt” and they alone were passing by along a horizontal plane, and these reasons have their ground in the very constitution of the human body, whose physis lends a special priority to the unique direction called “forward.” One would have to be blind indeed not to see how our bodily constitution is heard from in the irreversibility that is generally, naturally assigned as a primary datum to time, regardless of how one would then explain the fact or grasp its direction; and so it’s hard to avoid thinking that you – even you, who were not exactly known for your sense of humor – must have posed this question while in a mischievous mood, or else as a red herring to distract the attention of those whom you dub “vulgär,” or perhaps even as some sort of joke to amuse the initiated.)
Please excuse the interruption . . . To return to the matter at hand: according to Sein und Zeit (§ 81), the common understanding of time – which is closely correlate to the “durchschnittliche Alltäglichkeit” investigated elsewhere in the work (§ 9) – conceives it as being like a river made up of a succession of instants or “nows,” each of which is thought of as a pure moment of presence, and with this conception of time most people rest satisfied, a result which then gets in the way of further inquiry and a better comprehension. In this common conception of time the present tense is accorded priority, and without disputing that this may often be justified (he did affirm that it could be: “Die vulgäre Zeitvorstellung hat ihr natürliches Recht”), Heidegger also called attention to a consequence of such a procedure, namely, a dilution of our sense of what this or that particular moment could betoken for us, in favor of the weaker desire to retain them all somehow as such – a desire which conversely would indicate that the specificity of those that actually had been important was being forgotten. And thus, if Heidegger was right, one’s very notion of what the moment might be, is flattened out when the present tense is prioritized in the common conception that the succession of nows that is time is passing by, horizontally as it were.
So, it begins to seem that Stockhausen’s call to dispose of the “horizontale Zeitvorstellung” in favor of the variable intensities of the moment, moments which music might uniquely be able to explore, would have had in view not Heidegger’s own “ekstatisch-horizontale Zeitlichkeit” but rather the common explanation of time whose limitations Sein und Zeit was keen to expound. Without of course meaning to imply that Stockhausen and Heidegger were thinking along the same lines, nor that they moved on anything like the same level, it does appear to me probable that some of Heidegger’s observations exerted an influence on Stockhausen, who might have been especially receptive insofar as he, as he said, was concerned with the variations amongst the potential musical intensities of the “now” and also, it seems, with the possibility that there might be something like a non-temporal state to which such “nows” – or better, the acoustic kenosis of the mind that could be attained by concentrating on some in particular – might open a main avenue of access.
In “Impulsive Moments,” for his part Tramte also seems to take aim at something like a common conception of time – although here much will depend on what one thinks the title means, for it could of course refer to the structure of time itself as readily as it could to certain points in a life when some choice is made nearly all at once, seemingly spontaneously. And the composition itself, dark and aurally ominous as it is, could likewise have as its subject-matter time and its dispositions just as much as it could be about the constitution of experience.
But far more intensely than was conveyed by Stockhausen’s theoretical remarks, here one actually hears what a consciousness permeated by aural refuse and in fact acoustically immersed in the destructive element all around itself would sound like from within – and this, as I suggested earlier, could arouse “l’horreur du visqueux” to a high degree. At least this is the first overwhelming stage in my experience (which, to raise this point again, does not seem to me to have a specifically hermeneutical character, at least in the more usual senses of the term) of Tramte’s piece of music, and it doesn’t seem likely to me that all this could have been unintended by him: this is not only a very striking composition but also one that’s accomplishing what it was composed to do.
However, that is only the first phase in the experience (and because I don’t think that this could be just my own idiosyncratic one, I shall not phrase my observations in the first person). Once the initial quasi-instinctive movement of recoil has terminated, one begins to attend to how the different sounds are heaped up one over the other in aural layers that are not so easy to listen through, as it were, and which for this very reason start to create aurally something like a fully spatial environment with its three dimensions, its various distances and densities, the nearby and the farther away, foregrounds and backgrounds, heights and depths, corners and obtrusions one can hear around if one’s lucky, etc. And then, when one notices how the sounds are arriving from all directions, one also becomes aware of something very curious: it’s as though one’s time-consciousness has been suspended and one is no longer attentive to the movement of time, whether it’s by means of some mode of counting, by watching something successive flow by, or in fact by any other perceptible method of keeping track of it. One might go so far as to feel that in this space that’s both unsettled and unsettling, there’s simply no place for time, or, to put the point just a bit differently, that in this viscous zone in effect time has already been snuffed out; and then one might conclude that the intention of Tramte’s composition is to unveil a confused region where neither the signs of time nor the inner time-sense would be of any use in helping one to discern a way through or, more likely, away from it – if they even remain available to consult at all.
At this point the horror in the face of “le visqueux” might well up again – which could propel one to listen once more to Tramte’s composition, but now without consenting to a suspension of one’s time-sense and in fact devoting as much attention to its operations as one can. (Perhaps it could then be claimed that here the listener’s experience becomes something like a specifically hermeneutical one after all; but on the other hand, to use that term for this focusing of one’s attentiveness would still stretch it quite a ways beyond its various usual meanings.)
With the various sounds in it materializing suddenly somewhere and then bouncing around, some impinging quite close, others remaining much fainter, before other sonic waves, other acoustic ripples are set going and push the preceding ones away and supplant them in our ears and elsewhere, with the total effect replicating the spatiality of a crowded, very crowded three-dimensional environment, we listeners are indeed afforded aural means of registering time’s movements, but not it seems as mere listeners, in the most obvious sense that we’d comprise an audience that’s stationary for the duration of the performance: rather, while listening to “Impulsive Moments” it’s as though we ourselves are either actually on the move or intent on moving, poised to move – whether the movement is our own, strictly speaking, or of the sorts in which we as passengers are encompassed, say as riders in the confined room of an overfull subway car, or, most likely, some combination of all of these. Furthermore, in this sonic environment it’s as though what we hear, and also how we hear it, varies as a result of our movements and indeed in response to them; all our movements and not only those that are specifically purposive and locomotive, and Tramte’s composition might prompt us to wonder what parts these various types of movements do in fact play in lending a shape to our acoustic experience and in so doing stamping a form on time. One of the questions it raises, in other words, concerns quite a bit more than merely the way in which the path we are taking through some space affects and helps to determine our aural perception of it as a whole, even though that topic (recalling L’Être et le Néant once more, it could be investigated by an inquiry to which one might give the name “acoustical-temporal hodology”) is already intriguing in its own right.
So, insofar as “Impulsive Moments” was written to require a measure of improvisation from the performers, this characteristic of the piece is augmented in a very interesting manner; it feels as though in its performance we listeners too, or rather, to speak more precisely, our movements are being enfolded as virtual participants in its improvisational dimension; and from this we can infer that they and we would share the responsibility in some sense for the music that results.
Not only our actual movements in the present are involved in shaping this result, but also those we are anticipating, that is to say, both those we are poised to make and those we are in various ways expecting and awaiting – and all those that might come at us without much warning. The title of the composition already seems to point this out, and as in fact “Impulsive Moments” seems to sketch out musically the scene of a very crowded space, a single impulsive move could have any number of consequences . . . insofar as we listeners too are virtually present on the scene, what the results of such impulsive moments would be, is something that each of us could fill in according to our own various situations.
One remark to illustrate this should suffice. The brief bits of well and less well-known tunes that wash suddenly over us – the impact of some of these on us will depend on how much interest they’ve previously aroused and now again arouse in us as we hear them here so briefly in passing; but generally speaking they could well call back to mind old snatches of our lives and what we were in those moments moved to do, as though we are once again in the vicinity of an open doorway through which – but it’s already too late: the train is about to leave the station – we hear something that sounds as though it were meant just for us, an exclusive invitation to enter or exit . . .
Leaving these more existential matters to one side, I’ll turn now (yes, it’s about time!) to the feeling that while listening to “Impulsive Moments” one attains a better sense of what the moment itself is. Here, in my view, Heidegger’s most concise and clearest statement of the underlying constitution of the kind of time he championed seems to furnish something like a hypothesis that squares with the evidence in this case, although even so the formulation may stand in need of some amendment; but be that as it may, it’s outlined in a few sentences late in Sein und Zeit (§ 81): “Die ekstatisch-horizontale Zeitlichkeit zeitigt sich primär aus der Zukunft. Das vulgäre Zeitverständnis hingegen sieht das Grundphänomen der Zeit im Jetzt und zwar dem in seiner vollen Struktur beschnittenen, puren Jetzt, das man »Gegenwart« nennt. […] Das Jetzt geht nicht schwanger mit dem Noch-nicht-jetzt, sondern die Gegenwart entspringt der Zukunft in der ursprünglichen ekstatischen Einheit der Zeitigung der Zeitlichkeit.”
(To be sure, throughout that work one encounters a number of alternate formulations, and it’s not especially obvious how they all are supposed to supplement one another. Less relevant in this context, it seems to me, is the rather different and considerably more enigmatic passage (§ 65) where Heidegger pondered the origination of the past or rather of that which is already gone and yet perhaps will again enter the present in the form of something like an essence (but it’s less than clear where it’s gone to, nor is it made quite obvious from which side or sides it would then come), in which one reads the following: “Dasein kann nur eigentlich gewesen sein, sofern es zukünftig ist. Die Gewesenheit entspringt in gewisser Weise der Zukunft.” And stranger still is the even more intricate account (§ 69), where Heidegger’s concern seems to have been the question how “die Gegenwart in der Einheit der Zeitigung der Zeitlichkeit aus Zukunft und Gewesenheit entspringt.” So, rather than pursue the question of the “Wesen der Gewesenheit” or inquire how the “Gegenwart” might possibly be born of something like a conjugal union of “Zukunft und Gewesenheit,” here I’ll limit myself to his espousal of the futural and its primacy in and as time.)
Precisely because it’s so difficult, while listening – listening hard – to the performance of “Impulsive Moments,” and being transported into the three-dimensional space defined by all its sounds, to ascertain where exactly they are hailing from, one begins to apprehend that they are coming towards one from the future, and indeed that they are being emitted from that source and bursting forth from it into the present, in much the way that Heidegger suggested; if one cares to take the language (the verb, the cases, and the prepositions) in his definition literally, it would seem that there is something like a chasm between the future and the present which the moments of present time must successfully leap across if they are to be (regardless of which mode of temporality it is with which they are then received on our side of the chasm – a chasm which, come to think of it, could seem to us to be something like a horizon) for any tract of time at all.
Yet any uncertainty they face is of course entirely metaphorical and irreal; nearly the most disconcerting part of our condition, by contrast, is the possibility that they will land in the very worst way, at the worst place and time, on this side: and it’s to Heidegger’s credit (whatever else one might care to say about him) that in Sein und Zeit he attempted to explore and explicate how human life is affected by the manifold anticipations of this possibility that remains both incalculable and inescapable, no matter how much we’d generally prefer to overlook it.
As for Tramte’s composition, it’s one of its several virtues that the impulsive moments which it comprises are not resolved into a duration that would conclude of itself, but are simply terminated, in a manner that’s meant to be as deliberately disturbing as everything else in it is.
P.S. Mea culpa. I should have liked to devote some attention to that other composition of Tramte’s entitled “Corse Mode,” but as I have long since exhausted the reader’s patience and my own, I shall save that subject for some other occasion, space and time permitting.