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ca 1930 __ « Zauberassel und Menschenharfe »
Ernst Bloch (1885-1977)
Comment : In an essay entitled ‘Magic Rattle and Human Harp’, the Weimar critic Ernst Bloch describes the progress of music from the primitive and sensual to the rational and abstract. In origin, he argues, the musical instrument is not dissociated from the music which it produces: ‘sound is a property of the instrument and is objectively bound to it’. The primitive instrument so conceived has magical powers: it can cure the sick and drive away spirits; like the totem, it speaks to its audience. Subsequently, as he puts it, music becomes formalized and ‘the sound climbs out of the instrument, so to speak, treating it merely as a means to an end; the musical notes break loose from the chiming bells and ringing bronze’. Music replaces the ‘magical substance consisting of sound’, creating an abstract world of its own. And Bloch adds, ‘no one has ventured to “re-enchant” musical instruments’ . This is in part a version of standard nineteenth-century ideas about the development of music, but its focus on the instrument as akind of totem is interesting. (Tim Armstrong, 2003)Bloch's essay "Magic Rattle, Human Harp" outlines a narrative of music's progress from the sensual or material to the rational, beginning with a premusical age of ritual and magic. (Heather Hadlock, "Sonorous Bodies : Women and the Glass Harmonica", Journal of the American Musicological Society, 2000, vol. 53, n°3)In his essay, Ernst Bloch depicts a freely vibrating sound perceived as music as emancipating itself from its origin as a magical object. "In its first arbitrary production the sound is bound to its instrument, assigned to it. The primeval rattle rattles as itself -- the rattling is, so to speak, its verbalization in time." In the moment that the tone no longer signifies simply the object of its production but rather through musical structures acquires its own individual value, the state of music is magically sounding material is abandoned. It adopts a musical meaning characteristic of the modern age : sound as a cultural accomplishment. According to Bloch, the singer carries on the last archaic remnants of these origins : "A kind of human harp stands before us on stage; the voice of this instrument refers primarily to itself and its actions and secondarily to the musical content removed from the instrument". (Robin Hoffmann, 2004)
Original excerpt : « The vibrating note travels. It does not remain in its place, as colour does. True, colour is likewise emitted to catch the attention, but then it stays put. For a white to detach itself from a garment, or a wall, is unthinkable. In contrast, the whole of the surrounding air can be full of a sound. There was a time when the musical note did not appear such a free agent. It was linked quite specifically with the instrument producing it. When first consciously produced, it was wholly attached to its instrument and had no other association. Thus the original rattle rattled as the thing it was; the rattling sound is merely its verb, as it were. The thunder-stick whirred and the drum beat itself : that was the main thing. Thus here the sound is an attribute of the instrument, to which it is linked in a purely material sense. Its sonorousness is used for magical purposes, for healing the sick, driving away evil spirits and summoning good ones. But it is not primarily the sound which performs the spell, but the actual magic drum being used. The crucial element is the sacred instrument, as ancient as possible, specially painted or with special incisions. As the most it is through the power of rhythm, in the dance, that music as such becomes more advanced, itself exerting an immediate influence. Yet, even now, the drum will fascinate by being hollow, subterranean, the cymbal by being metallic. The more the musical note developed, the more it parted from this foundation. It surmounted its instrument, so to speak, and now used it as merely a means of assistance. Now the ringing and tinkling broke loose from the ringing brass and the tinkling bell; musicians no longer just 'attented on' their instruments but availed themselves of them. This change is marked by the invention of the pan-pipe : the first instrument which did not emit fearsome or muffled sounds in isolation but gave out a well-ordered series of notes. It is at this point that "music" is born, music as a shout of sorrow or pleasure and not as material magically sounding. [...] Sound's ability to be everywhere and nowhere has asserted its claim, yet it is not necessarily lacking in the instrumental 'where' which bound it to start with. In the first place this is still conveyed by the fact that trumpets are associated with kings and trombones are associated with priests. [...] Music still travels under top-secret orders. And assuredly these contain no references, directly or primarily, to an origin, linked with material things and the magic of things. [...] » (Transl. by Peter Palmer)
Source : Bloch, Ernst (1930), "Magic Rattle, Human Harp", In "Essays on the Philosophy of Music", trans. Peter Palmer, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 140-145.
Source : Armstrong, Tim (2003), "Hardy, History, and Recorded Music", in "Thomas Hardy and Contemporary Literary Studies", ed. Tim Dolin and Peter Widdowson, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2003.
Source : Armstrong, Tim (1998), "Modernism, Technology and the Body", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Urls : http://personal.rhul.ac.uk/uhle/012/0333_994450_15_cha10.pdf (last visited )

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