Unreal Nature

August 12, 2017

In Listening

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… Because the listener, in listening, is himself what he is hearing, adapting oneself to the music means becoming the music.

This is from the chapter on ‘Listening to Music’ in Gestures by Vilém Flusser (2014):

… The gesture of the seer has been so thoroughly stylized through myth and tradition that every day and everywhere, in television and in advertisements, we can watch it becoming a pose. The pose of the statesman, gazing with determination at the stars, for example. The gesture of thinking has, by way of Rodin, become a cliché.

[line break added] The gesture of the listener, conversely, does not seem to have been stereotyped in the same way, although it is related to seeing and thinking, inasmuch as it involves not a movement but a positioning of the body. Looking back at medieval iconography with gestures in mind, however, one finds the gesture of listening to be one of the central themes. It is Mary’s demeanor at the conception, the demeanor of being fertilized by the word (logos).

[line break added] Mary “receives,” which is to say she hears a voice. It is instructive to observe the way the gesture changed with the coming of the Renaissance. In the Gothic, the gesture was one of surprise, of being called; in the Renaissance, that of a resolute, attentive Mary. If we are concerned with hearing music, if it is the Renaissance gesture that is of interest, we should look at Ghirlandaio and not to Giotto.

And yet we must pause for thought almost immediately. Music is heard differently from speaking voices (logos). With speaking voices, one hears as one deciphers, one “reads,” which is the reason the deaf can read lips. They cannot do this with music.

[ … ]

… Someone listening to music … is not actually concentrating on himself but — within his body — on the incoming sound waves. That means that in listening to music, the body becomes music, and the music becomes a body.

The gesture of listening to music is, accordingly, a posture that incorporates music (in listening, it is characteristically no longer possible to distinguish the plot from the passion, action from suffering, so the music from the body). So the objection that the listener cannot adapt to the message because he is in a passive position is refuted. Because the listener, in listening, is himself what he is hearing, adapting oneself to the music means becoming the music.

… The reception of music in the belly (and chest, sexual organs, head — all body parts disposed to oscillation, in short) is pathos, and its effect is empathy with the message. The acoustic message alone literally has this pathetic character. In all other messages the effect is only metaphorical. In listening to music, a person is “touched” by a message in an entirely physical (not a metaphorical) sense; he is empathizing with the pathos of the message (Pan and Orpheus come to mind readily, but so does aerodynamics).

… Listening to music is the gesture that defeats the skin by transforming it from a boundary into a connection.

… It is exactly because the gesture is so profane, so technical, so public, because there are schools of music and musical animations and happenings, it is for this very reason that music is the very greatest, most sacred mystery. It does not need to conceal itself, for in its magnificent, supercomplex simplicity, in mathematical simplicity, it is obscure.

My most recent previous post from Flusser’s book is here.

-Julie

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