Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-08-15 - 8:38 p.m.

I mailed Paul Wheeler yesterday about the shift I detect in how the relationship between music and meaning is being mapped. For a couple of decades textual meaning has had the upper hand and provided the dominant templates for thinking about any kind of meaning – including meaning in music.

I am beginning to whether the terms of the debate may be shifting. Meaning has many faces. Music might connect with meaning in its own way – apart from the rules and patterns of text and speech. Music and speech/text are two different avenues with meaning at the end – and they share some characteristics and have some unique characteristics. Neither has the upper hand.

Against that I have just sent Laurence a SMS which plays with a different view. Music obviously causes experiences in listeners. Maybe these experiences cause the listeners to articulate. Their articulations may contain truths (or they may may not) – rather as novels or poems may contain truths, or falsities, or delusions. This model would fit Ian Macdonald’s approach to Shostakovich. As Imac listened to the string 4tets and the symphonies etc he felt provoked to offer the meanings of the works in terms of the dramatic circumstances of the composer’s unfolding biography and conflicted circumstances surrounding the composition of the works.

Currently I am very struck by the way that Adorno and Brecht and Lukacs debated the relationship between progressive goals and art, especially music – at precisely the same time that Shostakovich was finding his way through – the 5th symphony, the Leningrad Symphony, the first 3 SQs, the 5tet for which he received the Stalin prize etc. Adorno concluded that in modern circs the relationship between truth/liberation and the artwork was intricate and the artist needed to do lots of hard work to code the situation in a truthful manner – the listener would have to mirroir this labour.

Adorno saw that enlightenment had yielded to domination on 3 planes. The first plane is clearly evident this month – powerful nations use the fruits of science and technology to oppress the powerless. The second plane is the one that Aldous Huxley saw so clearly – as we understand ourselves as biological machines we use biological technolgies to engender empty satisfaction at the expense of truth. The third is the one where arguably Adorno and his chums have had greatest success – the domination of nature. They have persuaded us that the domination of the natural world is destructive – both of the natural world and our place in it. But these three are different facets of the same problem.

Could it be the case that the solution to the problem might arise by listening to difficult music?

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