1939 __ « Music as an Art-Science »
‣ Comment : "There is an idea, the basis of an internal structure, expanded and split into different shapes or groups of sound constantly changing in shape, direction, and speed, attracted and repulsed by various forces. The form of the work is the consequence of this interaction. Possible musical forms are as limitless as the exterior forms of crystal” (In “Rhythm, Form and Content” (from a lecture given at Princeton University, 1959), In “The Liberation of Sound”, In “Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music”, Schwartz and Childs (Eds)). This analogy distills Varèse’s aesthetic of the marriage of science and music while simultaneously providing justification for his theoretical conception of form; it also presents a radical challenge to the perpetuation of musical tradition and lineage by rejecting entirely the prospect of inherited models. The semi-organic nature of the process, in which the form grows out of the implications of the content brings into question the basic generative processes of Western music: variation and development. Odile Vivier suggests that this process "attempts neither development nor transformation, but rather the transmutation of an initial cell or agglomeration which he subjects to different tensions, different dynamics, and different gravitational functions." The engineer could, therefore, through subtle alterations of movement and dynamics, generate a self-contained form of tension, release, attraction and repulsion; the sound-masses, through careful manipulation and arranging in space are not governed by any formal system, but form blocks of sound in space that together result in the growth into a complete form, individual to each work. The openings of 'Intégrales' and 'Octandre' provide an example of these initial cells; cells which undergo in the former a process of transmutation for fifty-two bars before collapsing and reconstituting itself in a new formation. The significance of Varèse’s conception of music as an art-science cannot be overemphasised at this point. Its influence pervades his musical thinking at every level, leading him to the belief that it is only through collaboration with science, with the recognition that sound itself is the fundamental material of music, that music can make a genuine progression: "There is solidarity between scientific development and the progress of music. Throwing new light on nature, science permits music to progress . . . by revealing to our senses harmonies and sensations before unfelt." "The raw material of music is sound. Today, when science is equipped to help the composer realise what was never before possible, the composer continues to be obsessed by the traditions that are nothing but the limitations of his predecessors." [...] Orchestration is, therefore, an essential part of the conception of a work, no less so than consideration of pitch. Each work is scored for a unique combination of instruments, with wind and brass instruments and pitched and unpitched percussion of particular significance to Varèse’s careful construction of sonorities. Although he was without the new instruments that he felt were so badly needed to “enrich the musical alphabet”, he made use of a bewildering array of exotic percussion and noise-making devices throughout the major works of the twenties and thirties, with each instrument chosen for its specific sonorities and resonant qualities: gongs, anvils, sirens, sarrusophones, heckelphones, dynaphones and countless others were all made part of the extended orchestra. It was difficult for Varèse to understand why composers continued to restrict themselves to the limited palette of the traditional orchestral instruments while “whole symphonies of new sounds have come from the new industrial world” ; and while for him the purpose of music was clear: “to reveal a new world is the function of creation in all art.” The technological means required to bring his conceptions to into being always lagged behind, despite the great effort he expended in promoting his ideas. As early as the 1930s Varèse had conceived of a “secret project” to found a music laboratory, in which, under his direction, and with the assistance of a physicist, “there would be a a working laboratory in which sound could be studied scientifically.” Disappointed with the limited versatility of the 'ondes martenot', he also alerted the Bell telephone company to his cause, but lack of interest and funding foiled both attempts. As a result, Varèse’s orchestral works occupy the peculiar position of compromise, being limited to the resources of largely traditional instruments, despite being theoretically grounded in processes and techniques that technology would only be beginning to make possible in the last years of his life. Nonetheless, his conception of himself as an “engineer” remains entirely appropriate, particularly as he was painfully aware that the technological means to bring about his vision of what music should, and could be were tantalisingly close: "Personally, for my conceptions, I need an entirely new medium of expression... Today it is possible to build such a machine with only a certain amount of added research." "When new instruments will allow me to write music as I conceive it, the movement of sound-masses, of shifting planes, will be clearly perceived in my work. When these sound masses collide, the phenomena of penetration and repulsion will occur. Certain transmutations taking place on certain planes will seem to be projected onto other planes and other angles." This kind of extended spatial analogy, in which these sound-masses can “collide” in space, is by no means a mere metaphorical reference to superficial aspects of his work; it is founded throughly in his compositional process from the work’s inception. Long before his 'Poème Electronique', for which a system of hundreds of loudspeakers provided an explicit distribution of sound in space, Varèse said of the orchestral 'Intégrales': "Intégrales was conceived for spatial projection. I constructed the work to employ certain acoustical means which did not yet exist." [...] The goal Varèse had set himself, the liberation of sound through electronic means, was certainly achieved in the last years of his life. His enthusiastic exploration of the limitless new world of 'organised sound', which had become possible as the result of his determination to ensure for composers “a whole new world of unsuspected sounds”, had brought with it a theoretical foundation and formal process equal to it. Varèse, motivated by this conviction that “on the threshold of beauty, science and art collaborate", recognised the necessity of turning away from music and assimilating processes and formal models from other disciplines in an attempt to reinvigorate an art that he felt was in state of decline and stagnation. Rather than as an enemy of music Varèse saw himself as its liberating force, removing from it “the crutches of impotency”, firmly believing that like all innovators “the links in the chain of tradition are formed by men who have all been revolutionists.”. (Jim Connell, “On Varèse”, 2006)
‣ French comment : Varèse, “Art-Science of music today”. Varèse reprit quelques passages de ce texte dans "Music as an art-science", in Bennington college Alamnae Quaterly, vol. VII, n°I, 1955.
‣ Original excerpt 1 : « At different times and in different places music has been considered either as an Art or as a Science. In reality music partakes of both. H. Wronsky and Camille Durutte (H. Wronsky (1778-1853), also known as Joseph Marie Wronsky, was a Polish philosopher and mathematician, known for his system of Messianism. Camille Durutte (1803-1881), in his Technie Harmonique (1876), a treatise on "musical mathematics," quoted extensively from the writings of Wronsky.), in their treatise on harmony in the middle of the last century, were obliged to coin new words when they assigned music its place as an "Art-Science," and defined it as "the corporealization of the intelligence that is in sounds." Most people rather think of music solely as an art. But when you listen to music do you ever stop to realize that you are being subjected to a physical phenomenon? Not until the air between the listener's ear and the instrument has been disturbed does music occur. Do you realize that every time a printed score is brought to life it has to be re-created through the different sound machines, called musical instruments, that make up our orchestras, are subject to the same laws of physics as any other machine ? In order to anticipate the result, a composer must understand the mechanics of the instruments and must know just as much as possible about acoustics. Music must live in sound. On the other hand, the possession of a perfectly pitched ear is only of a relative importance to a composer. What a composer must have, must have been born with, is what I call the "inner ear," the ear of imagination. The inner ear is the composer's Pole Star ! Let us look at music as it is more popularly considered-as an Art-and inquire: what is composition ? Brahms has said that composition is the organizing of disparate elements. But what is the situation of the would-be creator today, shaken by the powerful impulses and rhythms of this age ? How is he to accomplish this "organizing" in order to express himself and his epoch ? Where is he to find those "disparate elements" ? Are they to be found in the books he studies in his various courses in harmony, composition, and orchestration ? Are they in the great works of the great masters that he pores over with love and admiration and, with all his might, means to emulate ? Unfortunately too many composers have been led to believe that these elements can be found as easily as that. In every domain of art, a work that corresponds to the need of its day carries a message of social and cultural value. Preceding ages show us that changes in art occur because societies and artists have new needs. New aspirations emanate from every epoch. The artist, being always of his own time, is influenced by it and, in turn, is an influence. It is the artist who crystallizes his age-who fixes his age in history. Contrary to general notion, the artist is never ahead of his own time, but is simply the only one who is not way behind. Now let me come back to the subject of music as an Art-Science. The raw material of music is sound. That is what the "reverent approach" has made most people forget-even composers. Today, when science is equipped to help the composer realize what was never before possible-all that Beethoven dreamed, all that Berlioz gropingly imagined possible-the composer continues to be obsessed by the traditions that are nothing but the limitations of his predecessors. Composers, like everyone else today, are delighted to use the many gadgets continually put on the market for our daily comfort. But when they hear sounds that no violins, no woodwind or percussion instruments of the orchestra can produce, it does not occur to them to demand those sounds of science. Yet science is even now equipped to give them everything they may require. Personally, for my conceptions, I need an entirely new medium of expression: a sound-producing machine (not a sound-reproducing one). Today it is possible to build such a machine with only a certain amount of added research. If you are curious to know what such a machine could do that the orchestra with its man-powered instruments cannot do, I shall try briefly to tell you: whatever I write, whatever my message, it will reach the listener unadulterated by "interpretation”. It will work something like this: after a composer has set down his score on paper by means of a new graphic notation, he will then, with the collaboration of a sound engineer, transfer the score directly to this electric machine. After that, anyone will be able to press a button to release the music exactly as the composer wrote it-exactly like opening a book. And here are the advantages I anticipate from such a machine: liberation from the arbitrary, paralyzing tempered system; the possibility of obtaining any number of cycles or, if still desired, subdivisions of the octave, and consequently the formation of any desired scale; unsuspected range in low and high registers; new harmonic splendors obtainable from the use of sub-harmonic combinations now impossible; the possibility of obtaining any differentiation of timbre, of sound-combinations; new dynamics far beyond the present human-powered orchestra; a sense of sound-projection in space by means of the emission of sound in any part or in many parts of the hall, as may be required by the score; cross-rhythms unrelated to each other, treated simultaneously, or, to use the old word, "contrapuntally," since the machine would be able to beat any number of desired notes, any subdivision of them, omission or fraction of them-all these in a given unit of measure or time that is humanly impossible to attain. » (From a lecture given at the University of Southern California, 1939)
‣ Original excerpt 2 : « Les avantages que je vois sont ceux-ci : une machine semblable nous libèrerait du système arbitraire et paralysant de l'octave, elle permettrait l'obtention d'un nombre illimité de fréquences, la subdivision de l'octave, et, par conséquence, la formation de toute gamme désirée, une étendue insoupçonnée de registres, de nouvelles splendeurs harmoniques que l'usage de combinaisons sub-harmoniques rendrait possibles, des sons combinés, des différenciations de timbres, des intensités inhabituelles au-delà de tout ce que peuvent accomplir nos orchestres, une projection du son dans l'espace par son émission de l'une ou l'autre partie d'une salle de concert, selon les besoins de l'œuvre, des rythmes qui s'entrecroisent indépendamment les uns des autres, simultanément en contrepoint … cette invention pourrait jouer toutes les notes voulues, en fractions de notes dans une unité de temps ou de mesure donnée, tel qu'il est maintenant humainement impossible de la faire […]. »
‣ Source : Varèse, Edgard (1939), “Music as an Art-Science”, in Bennington college Alamnae Quaterly, vol. VII, n°I, 1955.
‣ Source : Risset, Jean-Claude (2004), “The liberation of sound, art-science and the digital domain: contacts with Edgard Varèse”, In Contemporary Music Review, Volume 23, Issue 2 June 2004 , pages 27 - 54.
‣ Urls : http://www.zakros.com/mica/soundart/s04/varese_text.html (last visited ) http://varese2005.free.fr/ (last visited ) http://www.addlimb.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=16&Itemid=16 (last visited ) http://helios.hampshire.edu/~hacu123/papers/varese.html (last visited ) http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/VOLUME10/From_technique_to_technology.shtml (last visited )
No comment for this page