One should always be a little improbable.

– Oscar Wilde

Compendium One: The Preface

This book is a compendium of all the texts that have been published on the Musicuratum website from the project’s launch onwards, arranged in chronological order from the beginning, omitting merely a few notifications of technical matters pertaining to the Internet platforms themselves, and incidental updates either relating to the playlists I’ve assembled on Youtube, or else presenting a new track from Soundcloud by someone or by some group already featured – and accordingly I intend to augment it with the writings which appear on the website subsequently, at least until the point perhaps when the compilation in its entirety will have surpassed a certain length.

Presenting these postings in their original sequence in the form of a single computer file, is intended as a convenience to those who may well find it difficult to read them on a screen with any degree of concentration or for any extended period of time, given that the book or parts thereof may be printed out and then perused ad libitum on paper. Earlier, some of the longer texts were offered individually in just such a way, and so it is but a further step to do the same with nearly all of them together. Although it has not proven feasible to include videos from Youtube or Vimeo, nor audio tracks from Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or other systems, in the present document, not even in the form of hyperlinked phrases or sentences – unhappily so, as these items in fact constitute the text, as it were, whereas my words amount to simply a sort of commentary – I hope that readers of these pages when printed will not fail to consult again the respective entries on the website, in order to listen to the pieces of music featured in them, which remain nach wie vor the raison d’être of my entire undertaking.

The Musicuratum project began towards the end of the first half of 2012, and initially the texts-cum-commentaries were quite short – I was, to say the least, a mere beginner and more concerned to take the lay of the land than to say little with many words. In truth, the first several rounds of entries comprised not much more than blurbs, though then the postings lengthened gradually until, a month or two having passed, they would frequently assume the shape of essays, sometimes short or middling in length, at other times quite long; but throughout it has been my aim to avoid taxing the reader’s patience unduly, not dilating in prolixity beyond a due measure, even though, in the attempt, I recognise that my paragraphs at points tend to a terseness and compression which may leave readers with the feeling of intellectual tinnitus or pangs of vertigo: thus, beyond a certain point, the overall course of the more abstruse passages might be hard for some to follow. Well, believe me, even after more than a year has elapsed, and more than two hundred entries later, I still feel rather unsure of myself and of the ideas that occur to me concerning the subjects I’m touching on, and yet, on the other hand, in my musical project I often think that precisely in the midst of this uncertainty is where I want and ought to be and to remain, if only for the sake of whatever sense does get conveyed in the end. So perhaps, under the circumstances, disorientation can itself become a minor virtue, by means of which some insights which otherwise would flit by unapprehended by an author or unremarked by a reader, may be gleaned after all – even if only by a neophyte.

Cela, dire cela, sans savoir quoi,* says Beckett, and that is what I too still hope to be capable of doing on occasion, leaving truth, validity, and method for once out of consideration, in favour of particular perceptions or judgments which strike me, however great the surprise of it, as plausible. No authority is needed to support this position, of course, yet here Lessing’s very famous public statement (even though it was contained in the privacy of a letter**) does spring to mind and may fittingly be cited: Jeder sage, was ihm Wahrheit dünkt, und die Wahrheit selbst sey Gott empfohlen!

* L’Innommable
** of April 6, 1778, to J. A. H. Reimarus

With a little bit of luck, some fermenta cognitionis – to speak Lessing’s language – may actually bubble up from the present book.

All the same, I am aware that these texts tend at times to stumble about, evincing some inattentive errors and glaring missteps (though not too many of them, I hope) which would rightly irritate those who know more about and who have done more with music than I. The forbearance shown by my various interlocutors leaves me feeling very grateful indeed.

In any case, within the span of a month and a half after I set up the website, the texts began to be numbered more often in pages than in lines, and thus, on the basis of my own case, I can verify the claim made by Morton Feldman: Six weeks is all it takes to get started.* I account myself quite fortunate that the locale and the circumstances joined together to clear such a span of time for me and my project during the summer months of 2012.

* “Give My Regards to Eighth Street

Thinking back now over what’s been done thus far under the Musicuratum title, what I recall most strongly is the feeling of the project’s sheer unlikelihood – a sentiment which enveloped its first steps and for quite some time thereafter continued to attend it in the direction it’s taken since.

It would have squared much more neatly with my own background and the history of my interests – and thus everything would have happened so much more predictably – had I turned my attention last year not to a new subject I had never before explored seriously, music, but instead back to one or another of those of which I previously had had some depth of experience, such as literature, theatre, the visual arts, philosophy, or political science; while a project of establishing a website as a forum for the publication of short texts would have posed several technical challenges to me in any scenario, the written content thereof, if I had pursued any of those more familiar paths, was likely to have ended up as being very tedious indeed: and what then would have remained of the admirable love of risk that gave rise to Wilde’s bon mot, let alone its rougher cousin, Nietzsche’s notorious dictum?

Ich begrüsse alle Anzeichen dafür, dass ein männlicheres, ein kriegerisches Zeitalter anhebt […]. Dazu bedarf es für jetzt vieler vorbereitender tapferer Menschen, welche doch nicht aus dem Nichts entspringen können – […] gewohnt und sicher im Befehlen und gleich bereit, wo es gilt, zu gehorchen, im Einen wie im Anderen […] gleich ihrer eigenen Sache dienend: gefährdetere Menschen, fruchtbarere Menschen, glücklichere Menschen! Denn […] das Geheimnis, um die grösste Fruchtbarkeit und den grössten Genuss vom Dasein einzuernten, heisst: gefährlich leben!

Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft, bk. iv, 283

To speak plainly, during those months more than a year ago, I was seeking a challenge (or had the challenge sought me?), and then music entered the scene and seized me with something of the force of one of those ideas that one reads of in Dostoevsky’s Demons, the ones which take hold of people and then at a stroke turn them and everything around them upside down or inside out.

In fact one of the things that drew me into this venture from the beginning was the risk-taking it seemed to demand of someone like myself who, being neither a practicing musician nor a professional musicologist, would in writing about musical topics at best be an interloper in a foreign field, or rather, a stranger veering amongst several of them, given how frequently it happens that the different varieties of music hold one another at a considerable distance in pronounced distrust and thus convene in a single space only rarely. Generalising from this prospective embrace of risk, what I envisioned the website as constituting was a virtual arena wherein those who entered would be wrenched out of the spheres to which they’d gotten accustomed, thrown into musical encounters that might not be the most comfortable initially but which would make up for it afterwards, by one’s new familiarity with the other sorts and perhaps also by a number of new acquaintances or even friends.

For I had taken note, too, of Youtube and Soundcloud’s role in fostering something like a virtual community of musicians worldwide, and was especially struck by one thing the pianist Dejan Lazić had said while prefacing a performance of Giovanni Dettori’s “Lady Gaga Fugue” at a concert in London: he identified the composer as a friend of mine I’ve never met.

Before I leap any further ahead of myself, however, a brief explanation regarding my choice of moniker is called for.

A portmanteau coinage, I felt sure, would be the best flag to fly on my project’s behalf, and I spent some hours testing various possibilities before the word Musicuratum occurred to me; then, a quick consultation of the Internet having revealed that it was in fact quite unheard-of, I hastened to lay claim to it.

The second part of my portmanteau is curatum, which as an adjective evinces the varied meanings of the basic concept of cura, ranging as the latter does – this is no more than a rough summary – across a semantic spectrum from the custodianship over or care of …, through great worry about …, to a cure for something; thus, at the one end, the adjectival derivate signifies well-cared for, at the other, solicitous or anxious, and it also comprises several of the meanings situated between these two, such as earnest or tempered. Now, while etymological study should itself probably be pursued with caution, as it is certainly possible that intellectual endeavours may succumb under its weight, here I am mentioning these bits of etymology mainly in order to intimate in some manner that the underlying term matched and still matches rather precisely the character of my own concerns, whenever I think seriously and/or in levity about music, I mean, about both what it is and what it can do.

What interests me most in music, is its current state (and on the occasions in these texts when I’ve lit out to inquire into a region of the past, an implicit reference to our present has generally accompanied me), but I also tend to think that what is called the present moment usually is itself afflicted by the impending arrival of some futurities, and indeed not incidentally so but right in its very essence, however aware or unaware of their influx one may happen to be. Now, as regards the notion of the strange imminence – or perhaps, as it were, the pre-imminence – of this or that future, I may by no means find myself alone, insofar as the very devotion the musical show to music often seems that at bottom it’s an index of this fundamental condition, if such in fact it is. Accordingly, if one takes the precarious situation of the present vis-à-vis the future to be a given, what then could come to the fore and manifest itself in the shared experience that is music, with a force possible in few other fields, is the care which seems to recommend itself as a fitting attitude to embrace by way of response.

All the more so, perhaps, at a moment when neither the present nor the future appears to bode well. Häßlich ist die Gegenwart, die Zukunft noch häßlicher, von der Vergangenheit ganz zu schweigen – thus one might vary one of Nietzsche’s notes* – der Musik widmen sich die Musiker und deren Publikum, damit sie nicht an ihnen zu Grunde gehen.

* first half of 1888, no, 16 (40)

Well, may the extremes of one’s trepidation lead where they will. – In any event, to disclose and describe the fundamental structure of care, was one of Martin Heidegger’s main aims in his major work Sein und Zeit. Moreover, as one might plausibly infer from that tome, though I have now no time to go in search of citations with which to bolster my contention, it is within what Heidegger would call the “horizon” of care that the peculiar priority of the future in the order of time can strike one’s awareness with the greatest weight: the various ways in which it can do so, are taken note of by him at length and rendered in a variety of formulations. Not wanting here to enter much further into these topics, however, I should simply like to register my impression that frequently he writes of futurity as though it were fundamentally twofold, comprised both of one kind which recedes away from me, and of another which comes towards me, where each of these two can proceed along its own specific path only insofar as the other is brought to do likewise: thus a future which recedes from me must push another closer towards me, and conversely, a future advancing into my vicinity can do so only once another has been thrust farther away. Now, if the foregoing represents a defensible interpretation of Heidegger’s thinking about this topic in his book, at least in some of its Stimmungen, one might plausibly conclude that, according to him, all these future moments are as though jostled together in a crowd and can move at all only by exerting the modicum of violence required to make those around them move as well, all of them being displaced step by step in various directions along the way – and that this prospect, discerned best by those who attend to the future with care, would then in their cases intensify the latter even more.

Whether such prospects or vistas onto some future may not actually be more performative than they are constative, to cite two concepts from present-day theoretical linguistics, or, to remain with Heidegger’s own terminology, what the precise nature is of the Zeitigung der Zeitlichkeit* that is bodied forth through this attitude towards futurity, are interesting questions in themselves, but, as seems obvious, this is not the place to pursue them, either – even though the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy may readily spring to mind when one reflects on this part of the philosopher’s thought. No, here I merely wish to suggest that he understood this attitude as being other than a visual one in the first instance, and so to call its orientation a prospect or a vista is already inadvertently misleading, though always avoiding this error could prove difficult on account of the paucity of the vocabulary currently available. In the descriptions in his text, in any event, this attitude often seems to assume a fundamentally aural and acoustic character, with future time figuring there in effect as an extensive swarm whose buzzing is heard long before it ever can be seen, such that the greater the degree of one’s care, the louder the premonitory buzz in one’s ears will be.

* Sein und Zeit, sec. ii, ch. vi, §81

The foregoing, however accurate or adequate it might be as a summary, may be taken as indicative of Heidegger’s considerable sensitivity to the sense of hearing in particular and his consistent interest in aural experience in general, as well as his attempts throughout the course of his career to situate these at the centre of a philosophical inquiry (or to re-locate the latter within an acoustic horizon). These features of his thinking are evident and incontestable, it seems to me, and accordingly, when Heidegger looms up from time to time in these pages, the reason why ought not to be so very mysterious.

To those whose curiosity has by now been aroused sufficiently to want to inquire further into this Heidegger, I should like to recommend a work that is both provocative and incisive, Marlène Zarader’s Dette impensée, for several portions of her exposition, quite apart from the great interest of its own topics, have also contributed more than a little to the ways in which I am attempting to understand the acoustic sphere generally and music in particular.

A single example of this should suffice. In part it is to a consultation of her book that I’ve owed the impetus to unfold an idea sounded throughout this compendium in several variations (of which the more characteristically Heideggerian are not the only ones): namely, something as fraught as the rapport between the present and the future can be registered through perception that is above all aural in nature – and especially by virtue of the intent listening one knows from the experience of music – with a precision far better than we could ever think to attain in the case of the forms under which the adjacency of the two periods of time would reveal itself whenever the one, the other, and whatever interval there is between them, are all regarded from a standpoint over which the eyes hold the greatest sway.

Now, to end this disquisition on the moniker Musicuratum, a few words may be offered about the decision to utilise one to begin with. Why did I not simply proceed under my own name? Leaving aside my own private reasons for doing so, adopting a pseudonym had much to recommend it, as regards the risk-taking mentioned before, if only by way of encouraging myself not to withhold the results merely on account of their ultimately tentative or experimental content. Above all, the choice to refrain from entering into the academic discussions in which one must defend whatever consistency may be contained in one’s own position – at the outset this felt like liberty, and it continues to afford a freedom which by now I should not want to surrender. Furthermore, there being as it seemed to me already quite a lot of overbearing care in these pages, it’s largely due to my pseudonymous authorship that along the way I’ve felt myself free to interject various humorous notes in order to diversify the mood as needed.

The following collection of texts does not exactly constitute a whole, but neither is it merely an assemblage of unconnected notices. Although some are ephemeral and others the work of a week or longer, when read in the original sequence an underlying coherence should begin to appear, with actual themes coming to the fore and particular ideas being playfully developed, varied, opposed, and contradicted, generally in a more or less tentative vein, especially when from time to time the zones between music and other subjects are also explored. Yet the diaristic aspect of the entries will remain evident throughout – the influence for better or worse of the vagaries of the climate is recurred to rather frequently! – or even their often epistolary character, as it may not be so wrong to say that many of them are akin to missives to those whom they were written about.

Missives, not missiles! The role played in these commentaries by the negative, even on those occasions when they flirt with criticism, has been I hope kept to a minimum, for this question represents considerably more than a mere matter of etiquette vis-à-vis those whom I’m writing about. Generally speaking, I’ve eschewed not only any forays into outright negation, but also the indirections by which such a treatment might then be administered more efficaciously – preferring instead in these cases to observe something like a careful rule of silence. Along these lines, every so often I’ve found it to be (inverting a maxim of Goethe’s*) notwendig und freundlich, lieber nicht zu schreiben, als nichts zu schreiben. After all, isn’t it true that there are times when sending out sweet nothings may be worse, incautiously opening more room for nothingness to strike, than simply to write nothing?

* Die Wahlverwandtschaften, pt. i, ch. i

One last point remains to be addressed. Those who delve into the following texts may notice a progression whereby some of them circle more and more frequently around the topic of the human heart, most often in connection with that uniquely resonant instrument, the voice, for the latter’s enormous power seems to consist not least in its singular capacity, if not also to share, at least to sound out without significant falsification the former’s inner life, which can be revealed deliberately in all other modes only at the price of undergoing an adulteration fatal to itself – occurring before, concurrently, or after the fact. Or at least this has been my unspoken assumption thus far.

However tempted one might be under certain conditions to put one’s own heart on display, I am inclined to agree that the very desire to do so is already rife potentially with grave perils, which may then be realised most disastrously in the sphere of political life: this was the dangerous prospect against which Hannah Arendt cautioned us all so presciently, precisely fifty years ago, in what has proven to be her most profound book.

There she insisted that the human heart indeed has reason to protect its own inscrutability, for it keeps its resources alive through a constant struggle that goes on in its darkness and because of its darkness* – while in the not quite parallel passage in her own edition, in her mother-tongue she amplified the thought even further. Was das Herz hervorbringt, sind Kräfte, aber keine Gestalten, und diese Kräfte haben die Neigung, miteinander in Streit zu geraten. Durch dieses streitende Spiel seiner Kräfte erhält das Herz sich lebendig, und eindeutig wird es erst, wenn seine Kraftquellen versiegt sind.** Accordingly, the human heart would already have been conquered entirely by one of its several, most often mutually counterbalancing forces, whenever the attempt were undertaken by the one whose heart it was, to display it to others, as though it had been transformed into an artefact of virtue or an exquisite work of art – but by the same token, its resources would then already in effect have expired, perhaps even irreversibly. So, however admirable risk-taking may be in general, it too has its limits, and from this cliff one would do well to hold one’s heart back.

* On Revolution, ch. 2, iv
** Über die Revolution

And yet, although the struggle within the human heart without which it would perish, is literally not fit to be seen, for its sake and our own, it may perhaps be overheard, if one knows how to listen carefully to the human voice, and to teach this may indeed be not the least of the prerogatives of music.

Musicuratum

August 2013

Amsterdam