Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Musika’s Becoming, Musical Assemblages: Approach to Music as a Medium of Consciousness

“Music is music and the rest is the rest,” John Cage once said. In the past century, notions like ‘autonomy of music’ or ‘independence of music’ or ‘music itself’ have became progressively problematic, if not openly rejected, to a point where one may feel a bit apprehensive about using particular word combinations without the quotation marks.

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Stanimira Withers

Efforts to think of music as music have been depressed and superseded by the dominant line of contemporary musicology, which considers music an inherent part and result of culture. This switch of paradigms is perhaps natural and certainly refreshing after the centennial reign of the ‘absolute music’ in the 19th century. However vital and fertile the social phenomenon hypothesis may be, there are ideas and curiosities, facts and aspects of music that may be underinterpreted by it. Is music what we think it is? From where does music take its power in order to affect us physically, emotionally, and psychologically? How does music engineer an individual’s personal ontology in an invisible, tacit, and utterly private affair? How does this abstract art of time and movement present ethical dilemmas to our minds, philosophical frameworks, and moral imperatives with unmatched subtleness and emotional clarity? What about the numerous stories shared by composers and artists about the moment of creation – some simply call it magic (Benjamin Britten), others talk about ‘right-brain absorption’ where the composer accepts rather than makes music (John Cage)? What is going on in the mind of the performer who casually admits that s/he personifies different music works (Yuja Wang, Alfred Brendel), in the mind of the scholar who states, “ In some regards music works are not unlike people” (van den Toorn), or even openly suggests that music constructs a virtual person (Watt & Ash)?

This research explores modes of thinking about music and is so doing, stands at a crossroads between musicology, musical aesthetics, philosophy and performance. Approaching some of the questions above with a sense of adventure, literally, and motivated by my own experiences with and observations of music, I propose that music is an entity coexisting and evolving in a symbiotic relationship with other life forms. Music is regarded as an organization of sonic material with particular constitution, processes, and conventions. The core premise construes music as an act and manifestation of consciousness, where the latter is defined as the fundamental nature of reality, the content of which is information. As an agent of Consciousness, music enhances our ability to integrate information; it accelerates, expands, and ultimately improves the quality of our consciousness by increasing organization and decreasing entropy. Music is, then, regarded as technology for self-refinement within the becoming of self-cultivation. In order to differentiate between the multiple and the singular – the rhizome of music and its trees manifestations – I propose that musical phenomenon consists of three major components or states – musika, the becoming, and the musical assemblage.

Musika is the nursery of the phenomenon, a dimension of sound probabilities. It is a topological space of sonic possibilities, which grows and learns in an ever-expanding surge towards new organizational forms of sonic reality, and we, sentient live forms (from cells through mycelia networks, trees, animals, birds etc. to humans), are the petri dishes providing the necessary conditions for culturing the primal material. These embodied, material instances of music – manifestations of musika – are regarded as musical assemblages, each one of which is a particular crystallization of certain capacities of musika´s. Finally, the becoming is the process of evolution, movement, change, and learning; lines of territorialization/deterritorialization, coding/decoding and stratification/destratification define it.

The model so described has emerged out of three major sources: 1) the conceptual reality frame proposed by the physicist Thomas Campbell in his book My Big TOE (2007), 2) the ideas pool philosophizing the virtual of Deleuze and Guattari’s in A Thousand Plateaus (1980), and 3) my observations as a life-long pianist growing up and living with my instrument and, through it, with music. Without my years of practice as a performer this model would lack conviction. A major chapter of this thesis constructs the becoming of a musical assemblage through my experiences with practicing and working with music.

In the course of the thesis the thought trajectory initially charged by the premise, “Music and the rest” curves considerably and opens up to meet its astral double, which is embodied in the words of Peter Sellars, “Music is about everything else.”

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