NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1814 __ « Die Automate »
A (Ernst Theodor Wilhem Amadeus Hoffmann) (1776-1822)
Comment : The first major writer to be inspired by such automata to apply their capabilities to music was E.T.A. Hoffmann. In his story "Automata" (1814), after a lengthy description of the "The Turk", and a concert by musical automata, the main characters fall to debating the musical possibilities of as yet only imaginary technologies. (Andrew Hugill)"Die Automate" (Automatons) which was originally intended for inclusion in the "Fantasiestücke". In Hoffmann's philosophy, an almost mystical triangle connects comooser, singer, and auditor, one that suggests music's acoustic immediacy of impact. Beyond that, though, it was for the singer (music being in this case a re-creative art) to embody the very spirit of the composer, and actually become its Romantic essence. In the tale "Don Juan" the opera singer mysteriously appears next to the musician-narrator and says "Your spirit opened itself to me in song and I understood you. For -- here she called me by my Christian name -- it was of you I was singing, and your melodies were "me"!". Likewise, discussing performers in general, Hoffmann urged self-negation to be practised by any "true artist" almost as a condition for transmitting the 'composer's magical authority'. [...] [P]assages in the story "Die Automate" (Automatons), also contemporary, illuminate Hoffmann's consciousness of the music of nature. Here it must be recalled that important questions about musical acoustics were being raised at the time by the physicist Ernst Chladni (1756-1827), concerning patterns of vibration and the nature of sound. [...] In the copy of "Fantasistücke" in the British Library, the handwriting, in pencil, of the poet Coleridge has been identified. The only annotation he made was at the point where Hoffmann quotes Ritter) to the effect that 'hearing is seeing from within'. The decipherable portion of Coleridge's remarks is as follows : "I suspect, that this is mere ting tang [a jingling repetition of sounds; a rime], meaning nothing or a truism. But I have often thought, that Hearing might be called a Seeing of the Inward, of (not merely "from"), the Within. Only "from" within can we either see or hear. But a seeing of the Within is necessarily opposed to the seeing od the surface, i.e. of the positive shape, nature, colour ...". (David Charlton, Introduction to "E. T. A. Hoffmann's Musical Writings: Kreisleriana; The Poet and the Composer; Music Criticism", Cambridge University Press, 2004)
French comment : Chez Hoffmann, on perçoit une explication centrale du monde où la musique occupe une place divine comme cause prédestinée des correspondances entre les êtres et l'univers. Lorsque des sons musicaux franchissent les êtres et l'univers. Lorsque des sons musicaux franchissent une paroi, ce n'est jamais fortuitement ; dans sa nouvelle « les Automates », la chanteuse qui passionne le personnage déclare simplement : « Je le savais bien, je n'avais qu'à chanter pour revivre entièrement dans ton être, car chacun de mes accents reposaient déjà dans ta poitrine et mon aspect a suffi pour les faire retenir. » Tandis qu'un autre personnage assure : « La musique qui habite dans notre âme peut-elle être différente de celle qui est lâchée dans la nature comme un profond secret accessible seulement à un sens supérieur. » Dans une autre nouvelle intitulée « Don Juan », Hoffmann inverse le sens de l'opéra de Mozart : Donna Anna s'est donnée à Don Juan, Don Juan a la possibilité d'être régénéré par l'amour, mais pas sur cette terre. Si bien que lorsque Don Juan est englouti dans les ténèbres, Donna Anna meurt tout comme d'ailleurs l'actrice qui interprétait le rôle. Il y a une préoccupation mécanique chez Hoffmann qui s'intéressait aux automates, et on verra peut-être dans ces derniers les précurseurs des robots d'aujourd'hui. Mais attention l'Allemand n'est nullement un scientiste. Le penchant viendra plus tard. De nos jours, on le retrouve volontiers dans un désir d'associer technologie, science et ésotérisme. (Claude Glayman, 1984)
Original excerpt : « They called on Professor X --, in high hope that he would be able to throw light on many questions relating to occult sympathies and the like, in which they were deeply interested. They found him to be an old man, dressed in an old-fashioned French style, exceedingly keen and lively, with small gray eyes which had an unpleasant way of fixing themselves on one, and a sarcastic smile, not very attractive, playing about his mouth..When they had expressed their wish to see some of his automata, he said, "Ah! and you really take an interest in mechanical matters, do you? Perhaps you have done something in that direction yourselves? Well, I can show you in this house here what you will look for in vain in the rest of Europe: I may say, in the known world." There was something most unpleasant about the Professor's voice; it was a high-pitched, screaming sort of discordant tenor, exactly suited to the mountebank manner in which he proclaimed his treasures. He fetched his keys with a great clatter, and opened the door of a tastefully and elegantly furnished hall, where the automata were. There was a piano in the middle of the room on a raised platform; beside it, on the right, a life-sized figure of a man, with a flute in his hand; on the left, a female figure, seated at an instrument somewhat resembling a piano; behind her were two boys with a drum and a triangle. In the background our two friends noticed an orchestrion (which was an instrument already known to them), and all around the walls were a number of musical clocks. The Professor passed in an offhand way close by the orchestrion and the clocks, and just touched the automata, almost imperceptibly; then he sat down at the piano, and began to play, pianissimo, an andante in the style of a march. He played it once through by himself; and as he commenced it for the second time the flute player put his instrument to his lips, and took up the melody; then one of the boys drummed softly on his drum in the most accurate time, and the other just touched his triangle, so that you could hear it and no more. Presently the lady came in with full chords sounding something like those of a harmonica, which she produced by pressing down the keys of her instrument; and then the whole room kept growing more and more alive; the musical clocks came in one by one, with the utmost rhythmical precision; the boy drummed louder; the triangle rang through the room, and lastly the orchestrion set to work, and drummed and trumpeted fortissimo, so that the whole place shook. This went on till the Professor wound up the whole business with one final chord, all the machines finishing also, with the utmost precision. Our friends bestowed the applause which the Professor's complacent smile (with its undercurrent of sarcasm) seemed to demand of them. He went up to the figures to set about exhibiting some further similar musical feats; but Lewis and Ferdinand, as if by a preconcerted arrangement, declared that they had pressing business which prevented their making a longer stay, and took their leave of the inventor and his machines. "Most interesting and ingenious, wasn't it?" said Ferdinand; but Lewis's anger, long restrained, broke out. "Oh! Damn that wretched Professor!" he cried. "What a terrible, terrible disappointment! Where are all the revelations we expected? What became of the learned, instructive discourse which we thought he would deliver to us, as to disciples at Sais?" "At the same time," said Ferdinand, "we have seen some very ingenious mechanical inventions, curious and interesting from a musical point of view. Clearly, the flute player is the same as Vaucanson's well-known machine; and a similar mechanism applied to the fingers of the female figure is, I suppose, what enables her to bring out those beautiful tones from her instrument. The way in which all the machines work together is really astonishing." "It is exactly that which drives me so wild," said Lewis. "All that machine music (in which I include the Professor's own playing) makes every bone in my body ache. I am sure I do not know when I shall get over it! The fact of any human being's doing anything in association with those lifeless figures which counterfeit the appearance and movements of humanity has always, to me, something fearful, unnatural, I may say terrible, about it. I suppose it would be possible, by means of certain mechanical arrangements inside them, to construct automata which would dance, and then to set them to dance with human beings, and twist and turn about in all sorts of figures; so that we should have a living man putting his arms about a lifeless partner of wood, and whirling round and round with her, or rather it. Could you look at such a sight, for an instant, without horror? At all events, all mechanical music seems monstrous and abominable to me; and a good stocking-loom is, in my opinion, worth all the most perfect and ingenious musical clocks in the universe put together. For is it the breath, merely, of the performer on a wind-instrument, or the skillful, supple fingers of the performer on a stringed instrument which evoke those tones which lax' upon us a spell of such power, and awaken that inexpressible feeling, akin to nothing else on earth--the sense of a distant spirit world, and of our own higher life in it? Is it not, rather, the mind, the soul, the heart, which merely employ those bodily organs to give forth into our external life what we feel in our inner depths? so that it can be communicated to others, and awaken kindred chords in them, opening, in harmonious echoes, that marvellous kingdom, from which those tones come darting, like beams of light? To set to work to make music by means of valves, springs, levers, cylinders, or whatever other apparatus you choose to employ, is a senseless attempt to make the means to an end accomplish what can result only when those means are animated and, in their minutest movements, controlled by the mind, the soul, and the heart. The gravest reproach you can make to a musician is that he plays without expression; because, by so doing, he is marring the whole essence of the matter. Yet the coldest and most unfeeling executant will always be far in advance of the most perfect machines. For it is impossible that any impulse whatever from the inner man shall not, even for a moment, animate his rendering; whereas, in the case of a machine, no such impulse can ever do so. The attempts of mechanicians to imitate, with more or less approximation to accuracy, the human organs in the production of musical sounds, or to substitute mechanical appliances for those organs, I consider tantamount to a declaration of war against the spiritual element in music; but the greater the forces they array against it, the more victorious it is. For this very reason, the more perfect that this sort of machinery is, the more I disapprove of it; and I infinitely prefer the commonest barrel-organ, in which the mechanism attempts nothing but to be mechanical, to Vaucanson's flute player, or the harmonica girl." "I entirely agree with you," said Ferdinand, "and indeed you have merely put into words what I have always thought; and I was much struck with it today at the Professor's. Although I do not live and move and have my being in music so wholly as you do, and consequently am not so sensitively alive to imperfections in it, I, too, have always felt a repugnance to the stiffness and lifelessness of machine music; and, I can remember, when I was a child at home, how I detested a large, ordinary musical clock, which played its little tune every hour. It is a pity that those skillful mechanicians do not try to apply their knowledge to the improvement of musical instruments, rather than to puerilities of this sort." "Exactly," said Lewis. "Now, in the case of instruments of the keyboard class a great deal might be done. There is a wide field open in that direction to clever mechanical people, much as has been accomplished already; particularly in instruments of the pianoforte genus. But it would be the task of a really advanced system of the 'mechanics of music' to observe closely, study minutely, and discover carefully that class of sounds which belong, most purely and strictly, to Nature herself, to obtain a knowledge of the tones which dwell in substances of every description, and then to take this mysterious music and enclose it in some sort of instrument, where it should be subject to man's will, and give itself forth at his touch. All the attempts to evoke music from metal or glass cylinders, glass threads, slips of glass, or pieces of marble; or to cause strings to vibrate or sound in ways unlike the ordinary ways, are to me interesting in the highest degree. The obstacle in the way of real progress in the discovery of the marvellous acoustical secrets which lie hidden all around us in nature is that every imperfect attempt at an experiment is at once lauded as a new and perfect invention. This is why so many new instruments have started into existence--most of them with grand or ridiculous names--and have disappeared and been forgotten just as quickly." "Your 'higher mechanics of music' seems to be a most interesting subject," said Ferdinand, "although, for my part, I do not as yet quite perceive the object at which it aims. "The object at which it aims," said Lewis, "is the discovery of the most absolutely perfect kind of musical sound; and according to my theory, musical sound would be the nearer to perfection the more closely it approximated such of the mysterious tones of nature as are not wholly dissociated from this earth." "I presume," said Ferdinand, "that it is because I have not penetrated so deeply into this subject as you have, but you must allow me to say that I do not quite understand you." "Then," said Lewis, "let me give you some sort of an idea how this question looks to me. "In the primeval condition of the human race (to make use of almost the very words of a talented writer--Schubert--in his Glimpses of the Night Side of Natural Science) mankind still lived in pristine holy harmony with nature, richly endowed with a heavenly instinct of prophecy and poetry. Mother Nature continued to nourish from the fount of her own life the wondrous being to whom she had given birth, and she encompassed him with a holy music, like the affiatus of a continual inspiration. Wondrous tones spoke of the mysteries of her unceasing activity. There has come down to us an echo from the mysterious depths of those primeval days---that beautiful notion of the music of the spheres, which filled me with the deepest and most devout reverence when I first read of it in The Dream of Scipio. I often used to listen, on quiet moonlight nights, to hear if those wondrous tones would come to me, borne on the wings of the whispering airs." However, as I said to you, those nature tones have not yet all departed from this world, for we have an instance of their survival, and occurrence in that 'music of the air or voice of the demon,' mentioned by a writer on Ceylon--a sound which so powerfully affects the human system that even the least impressionable persons, when they hear those tones of nature imitating, in such a terrible manner, the expression of human sorrow and suffering, are struck with painful compassion and profound terror! Indeed, I once met with an instance of a pheno-menon of a similar kind myself at a place in East Prussia. I had been living there for some time; it was about the end of autumn, when, on quiet nights, with a moderate breeze blowing, I used distinctly to hear tones, sometimes resembling the deep, stopped, pedal pipe of an organ, and sometimes like the vibrations from a deep, soft-toned bell. I often distinguished, quite clearly, the low F, and the fifth above it (the C), and often the minor third above, E flat, was perceptible as well; and then this tremendous chord of the seventh, so woeful and so solemn, produced on one the effect of the most intense sorrow, and even of terror! "There is, about the imperceptible commencement, the swelling and the gradual dying of those nature tones -- a something which has a most powerful and indescribable effect upon us; and any instrument which should be capable of producing this would, no doubt, affect us in a similar way. So that I think the glass harmonica comes the nearest, as regards its tone, to that perfection, which is to be measured by its influence on our minds. And it is fortunate that this instrument (which chances to be the very one which imitates those nature tones with such exactitude) happens to be just the very one which is incapable of lending itself to frivolity or ostentation, but exhibits its characteristic qualities in the purest of simplicity. The recently invented 'harmonichord' will doubtless accomplish much in this direction. This instrument, as you no doubt know, sets strings vibrating and sounding (not bells, as in the harmonica) by means of a mechanism, which is set in motion by the pressing down of keys, and the rotation of a cylinder." "The performer has under his control the commencement, the swelling out and the diminishing of the tones much more than is the case with the harmonica, though as yet the harmonichord has not the tone of the harmonica, which sounds as if it came straight from another world." "I have heard that instrument," said Ferdinand, "and certainly the tone of it went to the very depths of my being, although I thought the performer was doing it scant justice. As regards the rest, I think I quite understand you, although I do not, as yet, quite see into the closeness of the connection between those 'nature tones' and music." Lewis answered, "Can the music which dwells within us be any other than that which lies buried in nature as a profound mystery, comprehensible only by the inner, higher sense, uttered by instruments, as the organs of it, merely in obedience to a mighty spell, of which we are the masters? But, in the purely psychical action and operation of the spirit -- that is to say, in dreams--this spell is broken; and then, in the tones of familiar instruments, we are enabled to recognize those nature tones as wondrously engendered in the air, they come floating down to us, and swell and die away." "I am thinking of the Æolian harp," said Ferdinand. "What is your opinion about that ingenious invention?" "Every attempt," said Lewis, "to tempt Nature to give forth her tones is glorious, and highly worthy of attention. Only, it seems to me that as yet we have only offered her trifling toys, which she has often shattered to pieces in her indignation. A much grander idea than all those playthings (like Æolian harps) was the 'storm harp' which I have read of. It was made of thick cords of wire, which were stretched out at considerable distances apart, in the open country, and gave forth great, powerful chords when the wind smote them. "Altogether, there is still a wide field open to thoughtful inventors in this direction, and I quite believe that the impulse recently given to natural science in general will be perceptible in this branch of it, and bring into practical existence much which is, as yet, nothing but speculation." Just at this moment there suddenly came floating through the air an extraordinary sound, which, as it swelled and became more distinguishable, seemed to resemble the tone of a glass harmonica. Lewis and Ferdinand stood rooted to the spot in amazement, not unmixed with awe; the tones took the form of a profoundly sorrowful melody sung by a female voice. Ferdinand grasped Lewis by the hand, whilst the latter whispered the words, Mio ben, ricordati, s' avvien ch' io mora. »
Source : Hugill, Andrew (2007), "The Origins of Electronic Music", In “Electronic Music - The Cambridge Companion to electronic Music", Edited by Nick Collins & Julio d'Escrivàn Rincón, Cambridge University Press, pp. 11-12.
Source : Hoffmann, E.T.A (1814), "Automata", In "The Sand-Man and other stories"; and also, “Automatons”, In "The Serapion Brethren", Translation by Alexander Ewing, London, 1886.
Source : Hoffmann, E.T.A (1814), "Les Automates", In in “Contes Fantastiques - Tome 2 : Contes des frères Sérapions 1”, Editions Gérard & C°, Bibliothèque Marabout Fantastique n° 902, 1979; and also, In “Nouvelles Musicales”, Ed. Stock, Bibliothèque Cosmopolite, 1984; and In « L’Homme au sable » (1817), Contes nocturnes, Éd. Panthéon Populaire (éd. originale française illustrée par Foulquier), traduction française de La Bédollière, Paris, 1856.
Source : Hoffmann, E.T.A (1814), “Die Automate”, written and published in 1814 in the Zeitung für die Elegante Welt; and also, In “Die Serapions Brüder”.
Source : Benert, Colin (2006), “Dividing time: musical memory and the dis-closure of fate in E.T.A. Hoffmann's Die Automate”, In Studies in Romanticism, December 22, 2006.
Urls : http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0605791h.html%20/l%20c8 (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZzV5E2TtuA (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L39_AhTHKYQ (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycSCxfpdvjY (last visited )

No comment for this page

Leave a comment