Music and technical reproducibility: the art that has no name (Part 2)

Di Gerolamo Sacco
Data di pubblicazione 12/10/2007

We were talking about Nietzsche. This magical column created by me, that will end up with fireworks, began by presenting the problem of the dialectic between art and science. It's a serious problem, so read part 1 if you haven't read it yet, otherwise you can't understand what it's about. Once I presented this "dialectical struggle" intuited by me while reading the words of a certain musicologist, I would like to conclude with the words of a young Nietzsche who dealt with the same problem more than a century and a half ago: he was the first Western thinker to highlight science as a problem for art. A problem whose solution, according to him, would be a "metaphysical" rediscovery in art. Metaphysics=Getting beyond the physical. Translated into simple words, enhance the magical sides of art, ignoring science and consequently "everything that can be explained". However, finding "metaphysics" in a world that proposes itself already translated by the technological and mathematical sciences is not easy. Considering above all that the sciences themselves, according to the French philosopher Lyotard, are those that tend to "incorporate", to eat from within, the arts, philosophies, religions, which he calls "narratives". And the evolution of music (now studied in schools as a science) and religions (often forced to consider scientific problems) would confirm.

But what I noticed immediately after meditating on these words is that there is something extremely different, today, in the age in which we live. Our historical era is dominated by science, but by now we are so scientifically evolved, compared to only 20 years ago, that the memories of the "modern" era are now far away. Looking historically at the relationships between "physics" and "metaphysics" today we can even assume that we are in a historical era paradoxically similar to the archaic one without using any rhetorical artifice, an era very far from that described by Prieberg (musicologist who assumed the advent of a machine capable of making art). Prieberg modern man. Fascinated by robots, convinced that a machine can one day make art. What is interesting about today's world is that it is no longer a modern world.
It will be interesting now to understand why today's age is similar to an archaic age. Let's start with the concept of physical/metaphysical.

In ancient times, the relationship between the physical world and the metaphysical world was supported by mystical beliefs of a magical type, undoubtedly cloaked in charm, that men used to understand facts and events that today have a scientific explanation. I find interesting stuff about it reading Marius Schneider, scholar strongly passionate about the subject so as to devote his whole life, he in "the role de la musique dans la mythologie et les rites des civilisations non europèennes" (tract. it. for Adelphi "The Primitive Music") describes interesting and evocative combinations of sound and light that constituted the mythological fantasies of ancient men.

“In ancient Persia, light was evoked by the celestial bull of Ahura Mazdah. The Kathaka Upanisad describes the Atman (supreme being) that appears in the syllable OM, as an intense light. The Maitrayana Upanisad says that the Atman is a first sun that emanates numerous rhythms, which "after having glistened, poured rain and sung hymns, return to the cave of the supreme being". The Tahitians believe that the creative light comes from the mouth of the god Tane (do not make jokes). According to the Maoris, God created the Universe by means of a word that evoked light; they sing that the power of procreation, the first ecstasy of living and the joy of growth transformed the silence of contemplation into sound. In Polynesian myths, Atua began her song in the middle of the night and the glow was released the following morning.”

It seems absurd, well, these combinations that the mythological fantasy offers us are much more credible today than in previous eras. It seems that science, using narrative knowledge (which poses the question in a metaphysical way) to legitimize itself ("explain" phenomena physically and empirically), then creates the conditions to bring back to life the narrative knowledge that has tried to incorporate. Today's technology, for example, allows sound to come out of light. Electric and electromagnetic energy spread acoustic energy. This brings to mind collective human phenomena that in the archaic era were abundantly internalized and then completely lost. In the mists of time, it can be guessed by reading ancient mythological and religious writings such as those I mentioned, the phenomenon of light and sound was in a way predicted, abundantly internalized even without any kind of knowledge of physics. Today, paradoxically, the same thing happens. The housewife or Mario who see the new scientific "devilry" no longer pose the problem. You don't need to be an engineer to surf the Internet and talk to your friend in Australia. It 'instead unclear the concept in all that part of the era that is called modernity, from the industrial revolution to the post-war period. At that time there was still this need, far from the spiritual if we want to, magically, indulge in the inexplicable that puts our ancestors in common with us today, at the dawn of a new, brand new civilization.

It's a problem that may be of interest, of course. But I'm sure that if you've come this far, what I'm bringing back now will leave you speechless.

The Canadian sociologist Marshall McLuhan in 1961 wrote "Gutemberg Galaxy" in Italian you can also find it as "The Gutemberg Galaxy", from the name of the inventor of the printing with mobile characters. In this great book he shows all the changes, a real galaxy, that this invention has brought about by radically changing our culture and transforming it from "oral" to "written". This has been the case since 1500. Printed paper -> literacy -> the eye becomes the predominant sense in our brain -> we change the perception of things. And in this intuition lies the answer to all our questions, because he enters into the question of how humanity changes precisely in relation to the relationship between physical and metaphysical.
MacLuhan has the grandeur to intuit how the absence of a metaphysical (artistic) perception of things coincides with the illiteracy of oral cultures, while the incredulous and rationally structured attitude is related to literate cultures. For this concept to be clearer to you, I must quote his words. I will quote the titles of the paragraphs.
They are only paragraphs, but very clear. Volcanic splinters that refer to vast structures of thought.

- "The internalization of phonetic alphabet technology translates man from the magical world of the ear to the neutral world of sight."

- "Schizophrenia is perhaps a necessary consequence of literacy.”

- "The Gutemberg Galaxy intends to show why the alphabetic man was inclined to desacralize the form of his being."

And what is even more great is that this book not only defines the relationship between narration and science, metaphysics and physics, but also explains how the new technologies will bring man back to a cultural condition similar to the archaic one, or pre-alphabetic, a condition of "neo-orality", to define it as Walter Ong (one of his students) would say. Here are the volcanic chips in this regard:

- "Civilization provides the barbarian, i.e. the tribal man, with an eye instead of an ear, and now he doesn't know how to deal with the electronic world."

- "The increase of the visual element among the Greeks alienated them from the primitive art that today the electronic age has reinvented after having internalized the unified field of electrical simultaneity".

"Primitivism has become a trivial cliché of much modern art and thought."

- When technology extends one of our senses, a new translation of culture occurs as quickly as the new technology is internalized.

- The encounter of the twentieth century between two cultural aspects, the alphabetical and the electronic, gives the printed word a primary role in slowing down the return to Africa within us.

In short, a metaphysical connotation that has been lost with the predominance of alphabetical technology. The primitive culture that comes before alphabetical technology has a metaphysical connotation that has been lost with the predominance of scientific knowledge and that is reappearing on the "postmodern" world of today, so technological to propose a magical reality, timeless, devoid of space. I take this theory for granted. I marry her 100%. I do not question it because in my opinion it is not questionable. It's enough to look around.

McLuhan vigorously denounces those cultural assumptions dependent on written culture which, unlike those of oral culture, tend, for example, to associate the religious with the irrational, the mystical with the non-knowledge, destroying in some way the realm of metaphysics; charges this dangerous mechanism with the impossibility of explaining a certain type of event, that is, abstract and metaphysical events, with the use of the phonetic alphabet, which lends itself to transforming them into anachronisms of orality, the remnants of a culture of oral transmission that has now been overtaken by alphabetical technology.

In a nutshell, oral culture took particular account of everything that could represent the unknown, for example, elevating it spiritually to the sacred; written culture instead offered processes of rationalization that came to denigrate, with explanations, all the magical aspects.

This is exactly what Lyotard wrote, if you remember the first part of this article. Lyotard wrote that it is science that brings "narrative knowledge" (religion, music, art and philosophy) to a level of "incredulity" and on this assumption of incredulity science began to search for the "true". Seeking the "true", one ate the narratives that it had itself made "unbelievable"!

Now that electronics are bringing magical aspects back to life, however, the lost constructs of oral culture become necessary again. McLuhan still writes: “Civilization provides the barbarian, i.e. the tribal man, with an eye instead of an ear and now does not know how to deal with the electronic world”.

The postmodern man is faced with a series of aspects that, although explained through an in-depth study, remain incomprehensible at the instinctual level. I used to make the example of everyone on the Internet: you don't have to be an engineer to chat with a friend in Australia. But above all ... studying the sixty-five thousand doors of access of the personal computer to the network does not fully clarify the feelings that you feel talking, writing and exchanging "objects" in real time with a person on the other side of the planet! Just as in music it does not explain the feeling of omnipotence in which the composer can also compose the "non playable" and, at the same time, can listen to its performance. Will he take care at this point of the rules that presuppose the composition? At first he will simply want to start a wonderful journey into the world of art.

And if we want to talk about music, taking into account all the cultural aspects that influence music, from the advent of musical notation and printing in mobile characters to the use of electromagnetic technology in musical instruments, it is enough to structure a reasoning that takes into account what I wrote there, that you get in a very fast way to discover great truths, indisputable as buried by heavy layers of cement.

Continue to part 3. See you soon;) !



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