Nicolae Brânduş

Limits of sound - Limits of notation


        As I have mentioned on other occasions sound is one of the elements operated within music, and the musical notation has both a denotative and connotative character.
        Music is a complex phenomenon that is not only reducibleto sound; the notation preserves the memory of musical work, the virtuality of its indefinite reiteration in time. The musical text prefigures the action of the formation of the musical work in a global manner, without circumscribing it. We will see to what extent the denotative, i.e., quantitative aspect of the musical sign supposes a number of subjective qualities. They refer to the behaviour, the global expression, to the personalization of musical communication, in which ponderables and imponderables are involved. Alongside with the so-called "materiality" of such components, as sounds and silence, both underlain by duration and objectifiable to a certain extent, in the act of musical communication, there are forces and experiences that are telepathically transmitted, in intersubjective ways. The awareness, and especially the explanation concerning them remain an open problem, and every score will solve it in its own way. There is a perpetual dialectic between the relativity of the signs proposed by the musical text, and the absolute of the performance, of its projection in time. Therefore, any musical text appears to us as a metaphor of a continuous work, in indefinite progress, as a matrix for unique solutions.
        It seems that John Cage reached a profound, radical understanding of the silence in music in the last half of century. Silence and sound are a question of duration, hence the consideration of it as primordial element of music. We participate in the integrality of the musical phenomenon only in duration, through the global, psychological and physical action of the performer / a performer of total expression. The message of the musical work is centered on the performer's being. More than that: the theatricality of the musical action gets substantially diversified. So, a number of elements which had always been implicit, inherent in the phenomenon of musical communication, begin to acquire new and explicit values and become operable in the new production of scores.
        I have been interested in the problem of musical notation for years, both regarding the aspect of the symbolism employed, and of the fields of "reading" represented by a certain semiographic structure of the musical text. I will not insist here on the structural aspect of musical notation. I will rather underline the personalized behavioral aspect, directly linked to the performing act, an attempt at finding a series of global intuitive metasystems directly involved in the building up of the musical discourse. An attempt, otherwise said, of explaining the essential interplay of mental attitudes which in fact are the essence of theperforming act, irrespective of the semiographic field which it refers to.
        Generally a score comprises indications of pitch, duration, intensity, timbre and (in the case of a stereophonic arrangement of the sound sources) also of the place in the performing area. If we replace the parameter of duration with that of tempo (the speed of the equal succession of elementary attacks), we will have to do with a homogeneous space of five dimensions which can be scaled in accordance with quantitative criteria, and in which the shift from one value/element to another can be achieved continuously and discontinuously.
        In the case of an electronic music, the control of the parameters above is absolute; the musical discourse in time has a strict quantitative correspondence to the criteria provided for in the score. In the case of the "natural" music, all these indicators become symbolic and get imbued with connotative meanings of a very personalized kind. This is in fact the dichotomy between "live" and electronic music, the latter being possibly considered as a separate art of the sound. A certain degree of unpredictability is connected to the living performance of a score, to everything regarding the so-called subjective quality of the interpretation (reading) of the signs included in the musical text.
        We will now approach a music text which may be considered a limit case of notation of the performing indications. This is the Third Sonata for Violin and Piano "in Romanian Popular Character", by George Enescu. I will particularly refer to the connotative recommendations associated with those of tempo, nuance and timbre, not including the non-tempered pitch aspect of the violin, also very accurately provided for by the score.


        A. The Agogic
The following indications usually appear between two changes of tempo noted metronomically, or within the frame of the same movement:
        - senza rigore, sostenuto, tranquillo, veloce, poco a poco, allargando, pocchissimo ritenuto, esitando, poco ritenuto, lunga, progressivamente di nuovo tempo, pocchissimo piu agitato, lento pensieroso, accelerando, rallentando, rubato con anima, etc.

        B. The Dynamic
Special indications of nuance beyond the usual, from ppp to fff appear in the score; bp (bien piano), pf (poco forte), bf (ben forte), psf (poco sforzando), prfz (poco rinforzando), brfz (bien rinforzando).

        C. As far as timbre is concerned (type of attack, kinds of arch, etc) the score is full of them, so we urge the listener (reader) to approach the text.

         The composer gives at the beginning of the score some indications concerning also
the fluctuations of tempo written with smaller letters, or between brackets, meaning that the changes are almost imperceptible. The indications of expression (contents) are interesting too, associated with either the dynamic, the agogic or the timbre: moderato malinconico, tranquillo, espressivo, con grazia, vibrato appassionato, sostenuto piangendo, con suono patetico delicatamente, cantabile, nostalgico, con calore sostenuto vibrato, lontano, equale senza espressione, strascinandosi, dolcissimo teneramente, legatissimo tranquillo, poco vibr. nostalgico, rustico, dolce dolente, q = 152 con fuoco, furioso, etc.
        Studying this Enescu score closely, we find that almost every segment of the musical text comprises indications of a connotative type. They refer to the expressive-behavioral, psychological aspect of the play. Training in this sense with respect to the text seems to me of utmost importance. It belongs to a high, cultivated stylization of the performing gesture. There is no more than a step from that to Instrumental Theater.
        Starting from this aspect of personalization in the musical performance, I considered necessary to define the musical phenomenon from still another coordinate, which I called density. We seem therefore to have six spatial dimensions within which music exists. And many things could be said about this polydimensional, polystructural, polysemantic universe...
        The density, which cannot be reduced to a superposition of sound sources, but regards the number of individual persons who participate in the musical play, psycho-physical entities, centers of action, is a coordinate which does not belong to the electronic music; it may only be linked eventually to a relation human intelligence-artificial intelligence. Density strictly refers to the field of live music, it being the basic opening towards a psychological potentiality of indefinite complexity, creativity, spirituality, experience of a total communication in act, in time, in duration.
        Here is the meaning of musical silence:
                Noting Density by D and Intensity by IT, we have:
                A. D = l and IT = O
        That means that on a sequence defined by this relation, the musical action continues in non-sound (psychic and physical "gesture"). It is a permanent involvement of the performer in the musical play.
                 B. D = 0 → IT = 0
         That means the discontinuation (psychic and physical) of the musical action in the sequence defined by this relation. I.e. = total mental and gesture immobility (non-involvement); arrow means implication.
        Musical silence appears to have two distinct meanings. It can be active, while the performer continues the musical action in gesture and non-sound, or passive, through creating a break (lapsus mentis, emptiness, void) in the musical action. Both the involvement in the musical performance and the withdrawal from it can be produced continuously (through stimulating or diminishing one's internal psychological state), or discontinuously (through a sudden abandonment or return into the play).
        We can thus imagine, with Enescu, a profuse, refined and very differentiated world of psychic-behavioral connotations concerning every moment of the play. We will share a poetic world of highest quality, a hyper-stylization of the artistic gesture. Enescu is unsurpassed in the usage of the sign and the metaphor in this score, he supposes an over-sophisticated, over-nuanced behavior in the act of performance. Gestures (either psychological or physical), theatricality, the subjective experience of all the imponderables involved in the musical communication and their transgression in act by all the "waves" (sound vibrations included) are to be achieved naturally, in a simple way. Studying the score carefully, the performer has a chance to convey a subjective meaning to every musical fragment, in point of emotion, attitude, and psychological involvement in general, and to cover it imaginatively, culturally, stylized up to the most profound mechanisms. This is what the role of the performing school consists of. While in the notional language we deal with a play of significances, in the process of musical performance we witness an extremely complex and diverse display of attitudes and psychological states.
        That was my starting point for an instrumental theater piece, in the 1970s - which supposes the positioning of three performers in a heptagonal stage space. The three performers - a pianist, a clarinet player and a solo voice - comment on the seven lines of Ion Barbu's poem Infrarealism. Each line is imaginarily placed in one of the corners of the polygon; the musical commentary is made either in a certain place, or in motion (stereophony) from one point to another. At the same time, each musical fragment is framed by a psycho/verbal attitude, minutely specified in the text. There are indications such as: sinister-exciting; grieving-grotesque; hieratic-impressive; boorish-stupid; bleak-sinister, etc. The permanent interplay of fragments - which may be sounds or gestures - of the stage movements and of the psychological attitudes generate a prolix, absurd, surrealistic world, basically centered upon the idea of a requiem, immanent in the lines of a poem.
        Therefore, I have established new limits in sign and sound, with a view to granting to the musical practice a greater amount of awareness, liberty and rigour; being sure that neither the sign nor the sound can put limits to music, but routine can.