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Unsayable Music

Unsayable Music: Six Reflections on Musical Semiotics, Electroacoustic and Digital Music

Paulo C. Chagas
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Leuven University Press
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    Unsayable Music
    Book Description:

    Profound theoretical and philosophical approach to contemporary music. Unsayable Music presents theoretical, critical and analytical reflections on key topics of contemporary music including acoustic, electroacoustic and digital music, and audiovisual and multimedia composition. Six essays by Paulo C. Chagas approaching music from different perspectives such as philosophy, sociology, cybernetics, musical semiotics, media, and critical studies. Chagas’s practical experience, both as a composer of contemporary music and sound director of the Electronic Music Studio of Cologne, nourishes his observations on the specific creativity that emerges with the use of the technical apparatus, the development of the electronic music studio, the different aesthetics of electroacoustic music, and the forms of audiovisual and multimedia composition. The title Unsayable Music is a reference to Wittgenstein, who suggested that sound is only the surface of music and that the musical work conceals something more profound that can hardly be described by philosophical models or scientific theories.

    eISBN: 978-94-6166-146-3
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. 5-6)
    Walter Aaron Clark

    The role of the composer in society has gone through many transformations over the past 1500 years or so. In hisDe Institutione Musica, the sixth-century philosopher Boethius perceived three distinctive types of musician, arranged in descending order of importance: the critic, the composer, and the performer. But composers have seldom been confined to a single category of musical activity. Throughout the Middle Ages, they were often responsible for important breakthroughs in theoretical (i.e., critical) knowledge, e.g., Philippe de Vitry’s seminal advances in rhythmic notation, meter, and isorhythm (taleaandcolor), which laid the foundation for the Ars Nova of...

  2. Introduction
    (pp. 9-12)

    This book presents critical reflections on key topics of contemporary music and aesthetics and represents nearly forty years of study. The six reflections elaborate a myriad of themes emerging from both my artistic experience as a composer and my research on musical semiotics, electroacoustic and digital music, audiovisual and multimedia composition. Different approaches are offered, including from philosophy, sociology, media, and critical studies. In this sense, the reflections can be used as a guide for navigating through today’s complexities and uncertainties while seeking musical understanding.

    The first chapter investigates musical understanding through the lens of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy. What is...

  3. Chapter 1 Musical Understanding: Wittgenstein, Ethics, and Aesthetics
    (pp. 13-42)

    I was first introduced to the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) as a graduate student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, in the late 1970’s. Reading theTractatus Logico-Philosophicuswas a formative and life-changing experience; not only because of the challenging nature of the work, which requires sophisticated logical-mathematical reasoning, but more so because of the way the book eradicates any certitude a reader may have about themselves and the world. As a young man, the main lesson of this study was that if one has something to say, that it should be said clearly, otherwise it is better...

  4. Chapter 2 Spectral Semiotics: Sound, Temporality, and Affect in Chopin
    (pp. 43-64)

    The concept ofspectrumemerges as an existential metaphor of sound and music in the digital era. A simple definition of spectrum is the representation of sound energy as a function of frequency. The conversion of acoustic vibrations into digital signals (Digital Signal Processing) allows the direct numerical calculation of the frequency content of sound. For that, the most widely used algorithm is theFast Fourier Transformation(FFT). It emerges from the scientific knowledge of waveforms in general, specifically periodic vibrations. Any sound, no matter as complex it seems, can be described as a system of periodic vibrations that are...

  5. Chapter 3 III – Communication and Meaning: Music as Social System
    (pp. 65-102)

    Niklas Luhmann’s theory for analyzing contemporary society is characterized as a “transition towards a radically anti-humanistic, a radically anti-regionalist, and a radically constructivist conception of society (Luhmann 1997, 35).¹ This system theory breaks with the Western philosophical tradition that assigns a central role to the subject as a frame of reference in accounting for the dimension of the social. It is a radical move away from humanism and towards a model of a society based on the concept of communication. The focus of analysis is not the human behavior and the social institutions, but the communications that occur within systems....

  6. Chapter 4 The Creativity of Electroacoustic and Digital Music
    (pp. 103-158)

    On a historical level, what we call electroacoustic¹ music today emerged in the early 1950s when composers began to use electric and electronic instruments for storing, reproducing, transforming, and synthesizing sound.² The systematic use of electricity and electronic equipment distinguishes electroacoustic music from acoustic music, whether vocal or instrumental. However, such a distinction is problematic in light of the growing influence of technology on all aspects of music including composition, production, distribution, and listening. The first electroacoustic compositions were created in studios in Paris, Cologne, and New York. The Paris and Cologne studios, both affiliated with state-owned radio broadcasters, became...

  7. Chapter 5 The Temple of Electronic Music: The Electronic Music Studio of Cologne in the 1990s
    (pp. 159-202)

    In the history of the WDR Studio for Electronic Music, there are myriad elements that have influenced the development of electronic music over the past 50 years. What is meant byelectronichere is music generated by apparatuses, which include a variety of categories such as electroacoustic music, computer music, and even more specific designations.²

    The essence of this genre from a contemporary perspective is not the name given to it, but the close relationship to media and the cultural-technological space. All contemporary or historical music that is medially produced exhibits a certain deformation through the electronics. It is electronic...

  8. Chapter 6 Audiovisual and Multimedia Composition: The Relationship between Medium and Form
    (pp. 203-250)

    On the basis of the distinction between medium and form, Luhmann proposes a theory of art as a social system (Luhmann 2000), which is the starting point for my reflections on audiovisual and multimedia composition.¹ Medium and form are not understood as structures, but as concepts accounting for operational distinctions made by an observer. Medium is defined as a loose coupling of elements and form as a tight coupling of elements (cf. Luhmann 2000, 104). The medium consists of elements or events in the time dimension, but these elements are only loosely connected. Form, by contrast, arises from the “concentration...

  9. APPENDIX I WDR Studio of Electronic Music: Works produced from 1987 to 2000
    (pp. 251-256)
  10. APPENDIX II WDR Studio of Electronic Music: Studio equipment used from 1990 to 2000
    (pp. 257-264)