I am an improviser and a musicosopher. An improviser whose only score is a well-tempered keyboard, one same soul in one same body, the same ten fingers, and a certain trust in the unique instants music creates when it manages to emerge from the world of sound and unite a performer with an audience in one same feeling of certainty. A musico-sopher, because of my dissatisfaction with the “musico-logical” approaches to music. I therefore turned to the philosophical seizure of consciousness, and to Edmund Husserl in particular. I found my happiness in the texts, the teachings and the interpretations of a certain number of wanderers of musical meaning hailing from the Eastern and Western parts of the world. They taught particular instruments, musical analysis and improvisation; some were also choir directors. Then came the writings and conferences of conductors such as Ernest Ansermet and Sergiu Celibidache. They knew how to place human consciousness at the operative center of music, in practice and in theory. Then also came composers, such as Giacinto Scelsi or Slamet Abdul Sjukur, who had found their inspiration at the very heart of sound.
Today, such people still sing Gregorian chants in monasteries, or Orthodox chants in their own hearts, or Hindu mantras throughout the world, like Shyamji Bhatnagar. Street singers should not be forgotten either, as they proclaim the unhoped-for. The explorers of sound infinity must also be mentioned, for they know how to hear the world in which they live. The world that is here.
Through vocal inflexion, through the quality of touch, through the beauty of phrasing, many anonymous people also allow the Profound Chant, which we all have in common, to vibrate. I finally want to acknowledge the ones who succeeded in touching my Heart of Hearing, a place in which the Universal beats in each of us. All of these people made me understand the value of experiencing music in light of our full consciousness.
These are my forays in the world of music and with my peers, the instrumentalists, the composers, the improvisers and the entertainers. I am most of all referring to the common substance that connects us all, whether we are musicians or not, music lovers or not. This substance, it is the consciousness of music which I call “musical consciousness” and for which I try to understand the movement and the “work” it does in each of us.
I turned to a few composers I was lucky to meet, read or perform – A Concertant Autobiography – and to others I have only heard recently – A Few Steps Forward. I looked to a history that is already far away – Orpheus’s Odyssey, (Monteverdi, Bach and Ravel) – to the worlds of Debussy and Bartok – Elsewhere and Now. I considered the role of the voice in our lives, in opera and in cinema – The Ear and the Voice. And, finally, I turned to the presence, all around us, of musical styles that have survived the twists and turns of history and the uncertainties of Evolution. I see in the young princess Kartini, the feminine icon of modern Indonesia, a predecessor of my own writing. I have dedicated a short study to her and her exceptional ability to grasp the unifying consciousness that music can awaken in us.
I attempt, through my writings, to shed light on today’s interrogations and mutations in order to help open up incessantly expansive and more intensely conscious fields of experimentation.
I would, once again, like to mention the Indonesian composer Slamet Abdul Sjukur (1935-2015) whom I met in Paris in 1975 in circumstances that are recounted in the Tribute presented here. I would also like to give my heartfelt thanks to his talented student, the composer and publisher Jenny Rompas, without whom this book would never have seen the light of day.
I am interested in discrete revolutions. The ones that have great effects but that don’t make much noise. The ones that come from the deepest confines of consciousness and return to such depths after having made one’s consciousness evolve decisively and irreversibly. A smile, a voice, can have a deeper impact than a big burst of laughter or the noise of a crowd. Many of these small gestures made greater contributions to the history of music than esthetic debates and disputes between ideologues. Essence travelled from consciousness to consciousness without a word. As it has been forever since the dawn of time.
These small revolutions have forged the way towards new experiences. They imply new fields of perception which are only rarely described by philosophers, musicologists and by the musicians themselves. This book aims to give a voice to the palpable experience we have when we play or listen to music. Such an experience includes our auditory perception, but it also implies other channels of perception that need to be located and named. This is important for the contemporary musical consciousness. Nowadays, the protagonists of contemporary music, through their clear words and their consciousnesses, must support things that used to happen without saying a word. Fair attitudes depend on adequate words; fruitful orientations depend on the fairness of the attitudes.
I use two main operating modes to conduct my enquiry in the subsequent texts. There is the concept of mediology, to which I refer often when exploring the connection between content and message. I examine the elements that are said, written, sung or played, and the instruments or the technical media broadcasting them, as well as the time periods and the institutions that make them possible, and the schools of thought that go along with them. Mediology, an Interpretative Art is entirely dedicated to this, as I consider two contemporary artists, Bela Bartok and Charlie Chaplin, and the ways in which both played with the technological mutations of their time.
I use the term Tonality in a broad sense. To me, it is the activity of human consciousness in the world of sounds. Its evolution in the history of humanity coincides with the history of music. While often reduced to three centuries of Western music, it is not limited to such a time frame. The reason tonality has been associated with this historical period is because it was its last evolution: first through Monteverdi, and then, even more evidently, through Bach. But its present and its future now belong to humanity as a whole.
The word Tonality refers to the way in which musical pitches are organized around one pitch and how they relate to it, just as the points of circumference of a circle relate to its center. This center is known as the “tonic”.
However, as musical consciousness evolved, the tonic gradually became the start and end points of fully realized musical forms, of all works. It was the point of the circle wherein the movement loops back on itself. Books on harmony also tell us that it is the “functional center of attraction”. But these authors fail to fully understand the scope of their own words.
In the world of sounds, music appears through two simultaneous movements of consciousness in action. One of them is peripheral, as a succession (the notes follow each other, as in a melody), the other is axial, in an integrational mode (by pertaining to only one note… it is the harmony).