Antonio De Lisa- L’object ambigu – The microfluctuations of musical and visual matter from ornament to text

The hall of an art-gallery. Pictures on the wall, in an approximately intentional order. Somebody is playing something. Someone else, after being invited, is observing, and whilst listening to the music is wondering whatever is the music doing there, and whether it should be relegated in the background like a tapestry or given some greater significance. Yes, but what significance? This is the question of that intentional observer, from whose point of view we can look at the scene. If this is a plausible background – and this fact is testified by this catalogue, dedicated to the dialogue and relationship of Daniela Carati’s painting and Massimiliano Messieri’s music – we want to ask a question, maybe more than one, in an attempt to start a reflection. By asking the question, we try to extract a symbolic suggestion from the situation, given the fact that we can recognise several reasons for interest that can be explicated if we renounce the attempt of being exhaustive. This starting point defines the field and its limits and in the same time broadens it. In fact, it’ s not the type of music, or the criticism of that type of painting which is in discussion here. It’s the aesthetic situation that comes into play and creates a historical symbolic suggestion.

In the last few years the writer has had several occasions to note a growing interest in these problems concerning the mingling of music and visual arts, the most recent being in the Italian seat renowned for the high quality of the celebrated arts, that is the Biennale of Venice.1 In this event, many interesting points emerged that in a different context are elaborated here, and further examined.

Colours and volumes

 What happens when sound interacts with colour or whit graphic signs? Is there an internal force that pushes the sound towards the colour itself, or in some way to search for an epiphenomenal acknowledgement that being colour is in itself, without further remnants? If so, we can pose the crucial aesthetic question of musical timbric colour-based microfluctuations passing from the state of ornament to that of text.

In the twentieth century context  we find quite an accurate history of the relationship between the forms of colours and the forms of music. “Vasilij Kandinskij – writes Manlio Brusatin – reflects (…) a destiny of concords between forms of colours (1912) and musical sounds (light blue – flute, blue – cello), summing up the theme of the physiological colours as it is found in Goethe, in a very clear way for the use of artists, in order to make them aware of the harmony of sound and the parallelism with music”.2 At the same time he makes his artistic production explicit. Furthermore from a musical point of view, the search of the Farbklangbildt formulated by Schoenberg as the conclusion for his Harmonielehre (1911) appeared to have already been experimented by Webern in the exact theme of the Klangfarbenmelodie in the six pieces for orchestra (op. 6) in 1909.” Nevertheless, in order to give a precise definition to this aesthetic displacement, we must refer to our days and particularly to the compositions area of the so called French “Spectralists”. “The main objective of their work” – Tristan Murail wrote with reference to Giacinto Scelsi in a transparent texture, thought in order to weave in a net the revolutionary adventure of some great precursors of the twentieth century together with the experience of the “spectral music” – becomes what Scelsi calls the profondità of sound meaning the work done on the timbre which is intended in its widest accepted meaning: the timbre of the orchestra taken as a whole. Consequently the attention of the composer is concentrated on the movements and the density, the registers of internal dynamism, the variations and the microvariations of each instrument: ways of attack, of dialogue, spectral modification, modulation of frequency or intensity. The strings are obviously the favourite subject of this work, because of their great softness and the fine control of the timbre that they allow (without causing problems of homogeneity). Once again this obsession with sound makes Scelsi part of a great music movement of the western culture in which the timbre, once meaningless with respect to the text, is restored and recognised as an independent phenomenon at first and then as a category to all intents and purposes – ending up with submerging, or better overwhelming, the other dimension of the musical subject: this is how the microfluctuations of sound (glissando, vibrato, change of spectrum, tremolo …) pass from the state of ornament to the state of text.3

There are many reasons why this has happened in the history of western art, one of them is to adhere with a more intimate reason to natura naturans as opposed to the marshes of official history: “Colour is the only means specific to painters” wrote Mario de Micheli referring to Cézanne. “The artist has only this mean to accomplish the miracle of art. In reality however is not colour the only fundamental mean for nature to express itself? Once we used to draw a landscape likening it to its historical scene, composed from the outside, and we didn’t know that nature is in depth more than on the surface, that we can’t attain profundity without attaining to the truth. Colours are the expression at the surface of this profundity, they come up from the roots of the world.” We have seen how nature manifests its truth through coloured forms in the same way, a painting must manifest its poetical substance by which it is nourished (…). For this  reason Cézanne’s painting cannot be a graphic or design but a plastic painting of volumes”.4

In the same way we can say that the creative thinking renounces the classic counter pointistic linearity or the linking of the harmonic functions in order to make volumetric music (e.g. Xenakis). This is a very important change in paradigm, and we must dedicate the right attention to it in the development of this discussion. From the moment that sensibility to colours, and consequently to volume has broken into music, things are not the same anymore. In any case music is not painting and, besides the analogies of reference we will see how its more peculiar elements, such as rhythm, silence, organised sound, will change its timbric colour-based texture in a very original way.

Colour in motion

The living eye continues on its virtual path (“virtual” because it goes beyond the immediate condition, not however forgetting it): First of all it observes it is a matter of art in the double form of sound and vision, not fiction. The game of representation is banished from the canvas and in the score there are no themes that are in themselves recognisable. Artists are playing with the essential elements of communication, giving priority to the linguistic texture more than the illustration of the themes. Colour emerges in itself, together with a significant paradox which stimulates its attention: colours of paintings tend to be subterranean movements almost denied by the timbric colour of music. For visual art it is like to adhere to that fluent form which is quoted by Ruggero Pierantoni in his important book, Forma fluens,5 which describes the relationship of pictorial sign and movement, from its origin to our days.

Our visual system – according to Pierantoni – in its entirety cannot give us a similarly accurate valuation of form and movement of an object. A sort of intermediate solution, a compromise, does exist, so that both the characteristics, the geometrical and the dynamic one, cannot be dealt with simultaneously with the same level of accuracy of analysis. However, information about both conditions are given with more or less precision, in accordance with the characteristics of the form in motion and the kinetic conditions by which it moves. Approximately we can say that a form which is rich in details can be better perceived the slower its motion is, and that a motion can be more accurately evaluated, for example in terms of its prediction, the poorer in details and formal elements the object in motion is”.6 if we examine works, or pieces like: Couleurs de la citÈ celeste a Catalogue dìoiseaux of Oliver Messeaen, Trio d’arco n. 2, n. 3 and n. 4 by Scelsi, Atmosphère e Lontano by Ligeti, Spiegel by Cerha, Compositions n. 7, The Tortoise, His Dreams and his journeys by La Monte Young, Stimming by Stockhausen, Iris and Luna by, String Quartet by Frisch, Melodie e Mondias e Interludios by Maigascha, Lonely Child and Trois airs pour un Opéra imaginaire by Vivier, Doriud and Thirty Dreams Ago by Radulescu, Mortuos Plango and Vivos Voco by Harvey, Io by Saariaho, L’orage by Dufourt, and again, the operas of Murial, Grisley, Dalbavie and Hurel that, according to the young English scholar Julian Anderson, would make the constellation of the percursors, the travelling companions and the representatives of the so called and cited French “Spectralists”, we could see how the “approaching of a form rich in details” has slowed down the creative process to the point of thinking of it as the very slow rotation of an effervescent sounding panel. In cases like this, the problem consist in the hypostatizing of a concept without a proper empirical check, whilst it should be advisable to be able to make distinctions. All the above cited composers, have in common the tension to go deep into the sound but not all of theme share the same temporal perspective, not all of theme tend to the same condition of stasis. This is not the proper place to operate any necessary distinction, herein we only examine a deliberately schematic picture in not unproblematic composition area, of the passage of the timbric colour from ornament to text. Not unproblematic, in the sense that we stress the necessity of making some distinctions and first of all of recalling that the themes of motion, rhythm and temporality, with their paradoxes and contradictions, are found throughout the timbric-colouring colour based matter, enhancing it with new features.

The volumetric rhythm

The element we want to emphasise is that the paradigmatic turn which has occurred in the making of the “timbre emergency” hasn’t only involved the features of the latter but also the phenomenon of composition in itself, and consequently also the interval system, the chord texture and the rhythmic dimension. As far as the last aspect is concerned, for example, a complete etherophonic, reorganisation of the musical space has been carried out. Some criticism of some critic has written about has been made of Henry Lowell’s work: “In its overall sound the Quartet Romantic (by Henry Cowell, N. d. A.) is quite unlike anything else in music. As with some of Ruth Crawfords later pieces one is simply unaware of traditional values of synchrony between parts: rather, one hears only the complete heterophony of four independent lines co-existing in musical harmony and rhythm-this is rather paradoxical”.7

Perhaps the paradox consists in the will to look for an alchemical link between harmony and rhythm. It is however quite a productive and not in the least isolated paradox in the American Experimental Musicî, starting with Charles Ives, throughout the works of Charles Seeger, Carl Ruggles, Ruth Crawfords, Henry Cowell, and its decanted echo is perceived in Elliot Carter’s compositions and of others. An obvious example of this “subtle influence” would be Cowell’s own work as a teacher and new music entrepreneur in the 1920s and 1930s, through which two composers as different in outlook as John J. Becker (1868-1961) and Lou Harrison (1917-) were introduced to the disciplines of dissonant counterpoint”.8

Someone might think that we can talk about rhythm only when we talk about music. This is not the case: its pertinent dimension belongs to the iconological area as well. In fact, it is a reasonable suggestion that music can draw hints from the way rhythm has been handled in painting. Herein the research of Pavel Florenskij can be cited “A homogeneous time, flowing smoothly, is not able to give a rhythm. A rhythm requires pulsation, concentration and expansion, slowing down and speeding up, steps forward and stops. Consequently, figurative means conveying rhythm must possess some sort of link among their elements in order to keep the attention and the eye, whilst different intermediate elements lead them from one element to the other. In other words, the lines forming the basic scheme of a figurative work, must link together in the alternating elements of rest and movement”.9 These elements are not far from a film-like technique which ‘assemble’ the dynamic scene of a certain detail of a modern whirl. The very fact of recalling a film-like logic, suggests that we are actually dealing with a non-metric rhythm, for a big mass to induce to rest or leave in motion, which is to say a volumetric rhythm. Conceptually, this intercommunicating aggregate of plain objects reorganised on a global scale, has deeply affected both the macro and the microform.

It is not just music, no other art can do without rhythm. It is probably in this very context that we can consider the paradox of the object ambigu when it emits the unknown force of the underlying rhythm with whom it is interwoven. In this framework we reverse the game of give and take between music and visual arts. Lots of people (the writer being amongst them) think that music is quintessence is rhythm; those ones who believe that compositive-thinking is reaching a deadlock very difficult to overcome, have never accounted for rhythm and its creative potential. When the soil is ready time is ripe for a new synthesis between the timbric and rhythmical dimensions and we’ll probably see a new creative season.

Breaking of the linear paradigm

Bending of time and space

In Western-culture, referring to arts of continuity (like poetry and music), text is historically based on temporality and linearity. It reflects the cultural code from where it originated. Western culture is based on full of linearity, as Czechoslovak philosopher Vilém Flusser  reminded at the Kunstmuseum conference of Berna in ’88 “Wir sind ‘westliche Menschen’, weil unsere ‘forma mentiss’ von der Linearitāt des alphanumerischen Codes ausgebildet wurde”. 10 If it is not easy to understand the processes, putting aside the ēintentialityì of the author, which can be graded on a awareness scale ranging from empiricism to the most abstract rationalisation, in the same way it’s not possible to forget the specific dimension of the cultural macrotext – in this specific case, based on the western code – within which the composer locates its musical text. Acceptance or refusal, what comes out is a cultural choice of the musical space that he uses. Where there is talk of naturalness, one must always read historicity. Works of art are results of a cultural choice, they are not products of nature. Between the second half of the last century and the end of this century, due to the crisis of the specific linguistic code, a different form of the musical space, in physical terms, has dominated, thus throwing into doubt the linearity of music in itself.

“Generally speaking, a phenomenon is called non-linear when, altogether its effects are not proportional to its causes (…). In the linear condition, the system is actually the pure sum of the sub-parts. Mathematically this is known as the principle of superimposition of effects, and makes most mathematical methods for physics successful. In non-linear condition, all this stops being true, and the system is not the sum of the sub-parts plus their mutual interaction. Consequently it doesn’t make sense to try and distinguish elementary sub-systems, but the crucial point is moving and to focus on the interaction of such sub-systems. Lacking a principle of superimposition, it is no longer possible to create general categories of solutions, starting from solutions to single problems. Each problem, therefore, must be solved in its individuality. (…) It has to be specified, though, that some sort of generality is allowed from the fact that the intrinsic characteristics of the ones, have less importance in respect to their properties of communication. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that different looking systems behave in the same way, when their interaction laws are similar. This is certainly true for example, talking about Volterra-Lotka’s “oscillation and relaxation” cycles that are common to many totally distinct phenomenon, but interrelated between themselves by the fact that they are all provided with retroaction”. 11 The result is that “It is possible and effective to create  a complex system, by putting together many plain objects on a large scale”. 12 Furthermore ìthis aggregate of plain objects, provided with local non-linear laws, is able to show phenomena of self organisation on a global scale”. 13 These plain objects in mathematical modelling are called “cellular automations”.

In art however, we often find the phenomenon of the concealed historical correlative in the appearance of revolutionary breakthroughs. It can actually be easily maintained that this fragmentation of the experience is an analogue of the mathematics orientated view of the Renaissance artist. Erwin Panofsky writes “The Renaissance precise perspective construction not only radically abstracts its results from the structure of the psycho-physiological space, but even its aim is to realise the homogeneity and affinity in the representation of space that is ignored by the immediate Erlebnis of space and to transform the psycho-physiological space in a mathematical space. Therefore it denies the difference between front and back, right and left, body and element in-between (‘empty space’), in order to solve all the parts and contents of space in one ‘quantum continuum’, it doesn’t consider the fact that we don’t see things with a fixed eye, but with two eyes which constantly move, giving our field of vision a ‘spherical form’ “. 14 This game of cross-references to help us realise that, whatever direction we take the result is that in the conceptual horizon of the object ambigu, colour and geometry often change places. In other words, right when the colouristic themes seem to dissolve into complete indefiniteness, at that precise moment, we realise that Cezanneìs cones and cylinders are appearing again. The common concept is the bending of space and it is on this base that the Western culture has repeatedly brought the “alphanumerically code” on which its way of thinking was based, to a crisis.

Light and Colour

If it is generally true that the relationships between sounds and colours share an interactive space where movement is possible, it’s not the same when we talk about the relationships between light, (or shade) and sound, as it doesn’t seem to find any connection or parallelism within its universe. This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect. It has been pointed out rightly by the already mentioned Brusatin: “If we could guess a connection between sound and colour, the alphabet of sounds and the harmony of colours, in which time is timbre, brightness is highness, saturation is intensity, the unfathomable original theme of colour remained blank not finding any correspondence in sound: the shade, if not in a long silent pause”. 15 It’s an exciting subject, and would be well worth making a detailed study, surely it would hold lots of surprises in store and it would be very interesting from an aesthetic viewpoint. Where colour becomes something else, turning to light, there sound seems to be unable to keep pace. It seems so, but if we examine it carefully, we see that music has different means to express this phenomenon. In the actual fact, we must admit that beyond the convergence’s, there are lots of divergence’s that the common themes of matter cannot conceal. Art has got this ability to veil, to hide a symbolic element by a gesture: painting leads it through a game of light and shade – When following patterns, like Skrjabin’s Prometeo (1908), with his “clavier à luniére” music turns out almost naïve in its vagueness in fact the symbolic element refers to a colours, not luminosity correspondence, red with C, violet with D flat – C sharp, yellow with D and so on. In painting it is light which translates matter into symbol. With reference to Vermeers exhibition, writes Emilio Tadini: “What is it in Vermeer’s painting that gives value to everything, people and objects, outside and inside spaces? It is light. A sort of secular consecration – pure, simple. This is not Caravaggio’s tragic light, that light which seems to come from the spaces of spirit – from the spaces of some modern spirit of anxiety. It’s not even the magic adventurous light that acts in the confusion of Rembrandt’s mysterious nights. Vermeer’s light shows itself and appears as a product of a mechanics of illumination, a phenomenon of elementary physics. It comes from the window. It’s the day-light. The secular day-light. No manifested tragedy of course in Vermeers painting. However his world gives space to shadows, gives space to the Stranger and yet, in his houses, similar to peaceful fortresses standing against violence, the figure of some melancholy lives”. 16

Colour in space

(Figurative space, musical space)

after the composition experiences of Boulez or Berio, it’s no longer possible to deny music a spatial dimension. In cases like this the volumetric sensitiveness – originating from a sharp feeling for timbre and colours – becomes architecture of musical space. The complexity of this would lead to a long discussion, we must however leave this for another occasion. At present we only want to illustrate the peculiarity of the relationship between colour and spatial values, a hint of which has given us by art criticism, with the clue of a question which directly refers to music. Let’s listen to Pierre Francastel: “we know now that a colour must not only be handled according to the complementary law (accepted for centuries), but also taking into account the fact that it possesses an absolute, spatial significance in itself. Blue move things away and yellow pulls things nearer. This discovery has revolutionised the technique, definitely breaking with the traditional relationships between drawing and colour. The latter doesn’t need to be defined or completed by lines, it bears its own special significance. It is possible to create a complex space by simply juxtaposing spots of colours. It is no longer necessary to cover with small touches a linear pattern, even a schematic one a the impressionists used to do”. 17 Is it possible, one may wonder, to state something similar for frequency links? Maybe it is, as it has been observed by philosopher Ernst ach: the note connections outline a space. These problems are raised in order to stress that the compared analysis of visibility and audibility might help not only to evidence big thematic fields (the macroscopic dimension) but also for the sharpening of detailed analysis (the microscopic dimension). A reflection, willing to go further, might lead to recognise some great retrospective interesting subject. From the perspective of contemporary art analysis, we might go back to Flemish music: the former give us the instruments to understand the latter better. The theme of space is repeated: how did the Flemish define musical space? It must he said that the comparison between music and visual arts is helpful because it brings the musicologist in touch with the great critical literature about visual arts where these subjects have been deeply discussed.

The eye and the ear on reality

The figure and the mirror

Aldo Taglaipietra writes: “In the introduction of his study on that ‘scientific legend’ told by Lo Specchio, Jurgis Baltrusaitris noted that ‘allegory of the real vision, the mirror is also allegory of profound thinking and of that work of the spirit when it is carefully examining a problem. ‘Reflectere’ (in latin) in fact, means to ‘send back to mirror’, and to reflect-meditate.’ “The mental process of sending back in order to reconsider, is described in terms of optics” (…) Reflection and speculation are ‘names given to the thought’, in which, especially since the modern age, an old ‘sleeping metaphor’ has been hidden, the metaphor of the mirror which has been delivered as a whole to the complex strategies of the subject by the wave of pre-classical knowledge organisation”. 18 That’s a fact. From a certain point of view, the thought has been described as a faithful mirror of Nature. It’s a thought articulated in words and images, with an exact code, whose faithfulness and Cartesian clearness are seen as a guarantee of reflection. Now, let us consider the consequences occurring when the code is made crinkled by the emerging matter of its constitution. It will no longer reflect an outside world, but will bend towards its inside world: here come the sparkles of  ambiguity, spotting the reflecting speculum, making it opaque and unreliable. Painting no longer reflects objectives reality in a mimetic way, music resigns its metaphor of harmony of the universe. They bend one over the other. They discover the artifice of something which is beyond the mirror, the texture of something elusive. Modern art lives beyond the mirror. The chained objectivity of logic connection fell into pieces and music had nothing to say any more about the syntactic axis; after a short while it would stop functioning as a language; having been left with the axis of paradigm, it would start functioning as timbre. Matter took its revenge on language. What is this if not a chapter of the great mannerism in western art? The one who is looking for freedom at any rate will soon be wanting the utmost freedom – wrote Gustav R. Hocke, a distinguished historian of mannerism – but, bit by bit, the more his libertarian imagination breaks lose, he will wear himself out, in order to find the enchantment of the most rigorous, almost superhuman, inhuman orders. This mixture of impetuous excess and cold reduction, is a fundamental law of mannerist music (…). When dealing with mannerist music we can approach the centre of the labyrinth, its creator, the first inventor, the ingénieur damné, Daedalus”. 19


The experimental dimension of aesthetic histography and theory, applied to contemporary works, is justified by the fact that it deals with very rapidly changing phenomena; they are not fixed, stable, sacred. Some critics may claim that they are too changeable, up to the point of losing the meaning of what they are or would like to be. Changeable like an atmospheric tourbillon – a recurrent metaphor in composer Xenakis’ score. Temporality, far from being a mere accident of something which persists, assumes the weight and the function of variation. Variations can also transform entities to the point of making them unrecognisable; their own ontology remains as the only link between the transfigured entities and their origin. What does this impalpable exchange between persistence, temporality, variation, suggest? The anatomy of principle! “Antinomy applies to the principle of variation, in the sense that it doesn’t simply imply a change, but it also involves a kind of stable or well know ‘substance’, which sometimes is a theme, in whose respect a change takes place. It must be said however, that this ‘theme’ is only the occasion, the material base of more or less substantial variations, but it cannot account for the intimate necessity of the variation principle. This necessity cannot originate from the limitations of the theme or the monotony of its repetitions: one of the aims of the variation could be to avoid all that but it cannot be obtained by a pure necessity of variety because variation must take its origin from a technique of its own and, further back, from a positive aesthetic of variation. The impression that a theme is limited, creates hope to overcome this limit, and also for finding the way: the variation offers a coherent way and permits a phenomenon only apparently limited and finished in itself, to show its possibility of being something different, even by exclusively using its inner forms, arranged and interpreted in a different way. (Incidentally the same technique is used by imitative polyphony). If we consider it like this, variation is something profoundly different from the way the bourgeois sensationalism tends to explain it, as a superficial variation whose task is only to adorn a substance, which is almost worn out and boring for nay mature audience. The concept of variation, implies the same level of importance and necessity of the two contradictory principles, one tending to the wholeness, the other to variety: this, by Sachs, is called the ‘two-sidedness’ of variation ‘spiritually similar members which are in fact quite dissimilar’. 20

We don’t want to make the common mistake typical of this fin de siĒcle, of identifying the revolution in composition with the frequency and amplitude modulations which have emerged from cold mathematical procedures and sophisticated machines in appropriate research institutes equipped with modern computers. Different tensions do exist, different modulations that cannot be framed and reabsorbed in the vertical spectrum of sound. A musical horizontalness does also exist, producing the Schoenberg-like question, recalled by Massimo Cacciari in a conversation with Luigi Nono in which Leibniz’ question resounds as well (why something is given rather than nothing?): why another sound after a sound? Therefore it can be said that the problem from which a new musical situation springs, appears just to have this form: why another sound after a sound? This ‘why’ has the power to doubt to their roots all the traditional “why?” that usually find their answers in programmatic definitions or statements. On the contrary, this question remains, since every sound goes back to it, like a completed cell coming out from silence and going back to silence again…Webern for me, is this constant possibility that everything is given at every point, but for the same reason, that everything can really end at any point. Far from those purely technical-serial interpretations about Webern…! Every sound is changed with the responsibility of immediately preceding the nothing; and every new sound is charged with the wonder of the first one, and is astonished like the first one… In the third act of Tristano we hear a “listen”, free from any restrictive indication relative to ‘what’ ”. 21 The depth of sound, evokes a depth of music like a question without an answer, like experience of listening without what listening to, experience of going “right or left” backwards and forwards, above and underneath”. “One must go on without asking what is in front or behind” as Gabriele at the beginning of the Scala di Giacobbe said when citing the Talmud.

Multimediality of the object ambigu

A burning question today is the relationship between contemporary and historical twentieth-century musical phenomenology, and the ‘common sense’ of listening. In physics as well, the results of the research moves further away from the standards of perception and “common sense”. “Ingenious physics” as it was called by psychologist Paolo Bozzi,22 contradicts Galileoìs motion laws. Is it useful to produce some sort of judgement? Surely not about physics. And what about music? It is certainly a much debated controversial question.

All post tonal music seems to be fighting with the common sense, culminating with the most extreme experimental results. However these experimental outcomes sometimes reveal productive contradictions for those who are not satisfied with a quiet life within their own specific code.

Contemporary music in its different aspects, has released several thinking processes from old prejudices and the new questions and experiences are evidence of the permanent vitality of music itself. Talking about vitality of music might sound rather pretentious, in front statements of crisis and dissolution. It must be ‘interpreted’ by outlining a conceptual horizon which doesn’t want to transcend from the empiricism of its own developing, from the contingency of it being here and now, and within which it can assume some significance, according to the evolution of creative thinking. It is necessary to be positively inclined towards a process which, in a certain way, lacks speculative excitement. It is interesting to study arts in the same view of the problems to which music is trying to give an answer, phenomenologically starting from “zu den Sachen selbst”, things starting from themselves. We certainly cannot pretend exhaustiveness when we refer to a century still in course, but perhaps it is advisable to accurately examine the reasons of contemporary music, in all its components; to define the “structure that connects” the many experiences and sensitiveness in a wide choice of possibility: to understand how listening itself has come out transformed by the cyclic waves that originates within a global change of paradigm.

Let us return to the art gallery where the event takes place. This event recalls other events, perhaps with a different sign. Somehow the paintings on the wall don’t allow themselves to be like appointed places of art. For sure, music listening doesn’t call for priority and consequently it develops itself more likely the soundtrack of a clip then the centre of the representation, to which it would naturally aspire in a concert hall. There is no need to be scandalised, or better, one could be scandalised if the whole operation wasn’t marked by definite experimental character, aiming to conquer a new audience, more than to congratulate itself. Remo Bosei writes “Among the effects of propagation of beauty in everyday life, we must account for a reduction of its traditional ambition to last, to represent something ‘more everlasting than brass’. This is why we see works of art that are openly ephemeral, even given their deliberately perishable or unstable material support, like in certain sculpture made of foam and soap or sand exposed to the wind. It is of no use to despise such tendencies which, by the way, stress some characteristics aspects of contemporary sensitiveness, which tend to emphasise the of object ambigu aspect of the work of art in a world in which the experience becomes a serial one, or is rapidly rewritten, being often centred on separate discontinuous events which are virtually deprived of their historical weight, and undergo an infinite number of transformations, similar to all the possible elaborations of a computerised text”. 23

We must not neglect the central importance of the “machine experience” in milestone moments of the late twentieth century, starting from Schaffer’s “musique concrete” to “Elektroniische Musik” of the Cologne studio, up to the Ircam’s research of musique-acoustique. Born out of the big American universities, tyoday a new phenomenon stands out, music produced by “virtual instruments”. Some experiences of Tod Machover are explanatory in such sense. His research must be followed with great attention, being likely to open new possibility within the human-machine relationship.

However, we must indicate a very relevant paradox. From the moment when the machine enabled us to take the place of nature, we start again to imitate it. In front of a computer machine we put our eyes down again, after having looked up to the Nothing for a while, putting our eyes in line with an aesthetically certainly pleasant ornamentality, but not variegated by the questions that nourish it.

Nevertheless from this extreme contamination, sometimes the gorgonic face of art shows up again, even among a thousand contradictions. We hope we have been clear enough in developing this discussion and to be even clearer in the conclusion. Contemporary art lives by digging in the contradictions of its own age even in those cases when it seems to be assimilated or about to be. A work of art is not television “let us consider any of its news programmes” Giulio Ferroni had the chance to observe “what do we see? A fast uninterrupted sequence of images, all very different from one another, chasing themselves and overlapping: lots of windows open on the senselessness of the world. What are those images looking for? A continuous shocking effect. Everything is concentrated in order to shock us. Just like an advert spot. This is how, thanks television, also reality has become unreal”. 24 Unreal and chaotic. Lets follow the opinion of an art critic: the standardisation of lifestyle, together with the dizzy circulation of images (…) in the last few years has enormously increased the number and the flow speed of visual stimuli with a consequent overload (next to saturation?) of the presence expectation system and an obvious and evident wear and tear of the receivers capacity of attention (…). It is as if the crowd of signals would build up a wall and any component in our mass society would not be able to distinguish the single stones of it. This is how it is possible to explain the trend of contemporary artists towards large dimensions, but it is also possible to explain the advertising experts “research of colours and shapes to provoke or even break into the retina”. 25 This is the crucial point. Here is the knot of all the possible contradictions. The most self-consciously critical art – far from working like advertisements – is trying to change the marks of these unreal chaotic shock. There, where it looks more degraded, it keeps its wrinkled face. The problem is how to amplify its signal, how to live and think about it in a creative way. Is there anybody who can do it? Is there anybody who can do it? Is there anybody who can see beyond the world of ads?

Antonio De Lisa


1 “Civiltà dell’immagine e ruolo dell’ascolto”, round table conference with A. De Lisa, P. Petazzi, J. Noller, M. Messinis, Biennale di Venezia, July 1995.

2 M. Brusatin, Storia dei colori, Torino 1983, p 106.

3 T. Murail, Scelsi de-compositore, in P. A. Castanet – N. Cisternino (put together by) Giacinto Scelsi. Viaggio al centro del suono, La Spezia 1993.

4 M. de Micheli, Le avanguardie artistiche del novecento, Milano 1986, p. 208.

5 R. Pierantoni, Forma fluens, Torino 1986.

6 Ibidem, pag. 135-136.

7 D. Nicholls, American Experimental Music 1890-1940, Cambridge 1990, p. 148.

8 Ibidem, p. 96.

9 P. Florenskij, Lo spazio e il tempo nell’arte, Milano 1993, p. 162-9.

10 V. Flusser, Krise der Linearitat, Bern 1992.

11 S. Succi, Automi cellulari. Una nuova frontiera del calcolo scientifico, Milano, 1991, pp. 45-48.

12 Ibidem, p. 48.

13 Ibidem, p. 48.

14 E. Panofsky, La prospettiva come forma simbolica, Milano 1987, p. 40.

15 M. Brusatin, op. cit., p.107.

16 E. Tadini, in Vermeerìs room in the light of day, in Corriere della Sera, 1st march 1996.

17 Francastel, Lo spazio figurative dal Rinascimento al Cubismo, torino 1957, p. 141.

18 A. Tagliapietre, La metafora dello specchio. Lineamenti per una storia simbolica, Milano 1991, p. 172.

19 G. R. Hocke, Il manierismo nella letteratura. Alchimia verbale e arte combinatoria esoterica. Contributo a una storia comparata della letteratura europea, Milano 1975, pp. 223-224.

20 G. Damiani, “The necessity for variation in progressive viennese thinking”, in studi musicali, Anno XXII, 1993, n. 2, pp.447-465.

21 “Verso Prometeo”. Conversazione between Luigi Nono and Massimo cacciari collected by Michele Berteggia, in M. Cacciari (put together by), Verso prometeo, Milano 1984.

22 P. Bozzi, Fisica ingenuta. Oscillazioni, piani inclinati e altre storie: studi di psicologia della percezione, Milano 1990.

23 R. Bodei, le forme del bello, Bologna 1995, p. 75.

24 Discussion with G. Ferroni by M. Fortunato, “Save paper, write fewer book”, in L’Espresso, 1st March 1996.

25 . Maltese, semiologia del messaggio oggettuale, Milano 1970, pp. 62-3.

Categories: A00.01- Raccolta di scritti e riflessioni - Collection of writings and reflections], A20.01- Semiotica visiva

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