251D: Discussion 6

This week's readings address general issues relating to anything modernist with regard to historical tradition. Alan Colquhoun's Three Kinds of Historicism explains history in three very differnet terms:1) theory, in which all sociocultural phenomena are historically determined, 2)attitude, which revolves around concern for the traditon of the past, and 3)artistic practice, which involves the use of historical forms. Although these distinctions are related to a theory of architecture, they will work when applied to history in general.

In the first section of the article the author refers to Postmodernism, which in architecture dates from around 1973, Philip Johnson's AT&T building and the destruction of the pseudo-Bauhaus Pruitt-Igoe complex in St. Louis, as a return to eternal values. In other words, the function of buildings is revealed in their design. The Bauhaus glass box cannot be a catchall for the schoolhouse, home, or office building. In music the use of an umbrella compositional technique, like serialism would be anathema to the postmodern aesthetic.

Colquhoun's take on the avant-garde and its roots in the late 19th century is that it is an outgrowth of Hegelian historical determinism, a template of theoretical historicism. "Art and architecture could fulfill their historical destinies only by turning their backs on tradition." (P. 206). Therefore, a deterministic theory of history provides the justification for the revoluton of the avant-garde. On the other hand, eclecticism "depends on the power of historical styles to become emblems of ideas associated with the cultures that produced then." (P. 205). Subtext becomes everything: we used Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony, begun in 1988, as an example. The evocation of the Superman comic strip, movie music, specific sound effects, produces a torrent of cultural associations.

Chapter 9 of Feldman's Varieties of Visual Experience gives us a good traditional framework for the analysis of the structure of any artwork. Avant-garde works may share some of these values: "Design is th artist's chief tool for controlling what and how viewers see." (P.234). He sets out a series of attributes:

Unity: It is made from the sequence of ordered events that we see (or hear; and it is achieved by 1)size, 2)color intensity, 3)location, and 4)contrast (difference or exception).
Balance: 1)symmetry, 2)balance by weight, and 3)balance by interest in music would relate to phrase structure and use of different durations and concepts of musical rhythm.
Rhythm (special use of the term): "the ordered use or regular occurrence in space of one or more of the visual elements." (P.244). In music this attribute would imply repetition, theme, variation, reprise, development, etc. Feldman sets out a notion of progessive rhythm which involves "repetition, plus a consistently repeated change " (P.246).
Proportion: the relationship of the parts. We used Brian Ferneyhough's String Quartet No. 2 with its deconstructed text by Exra Pound and an example of an avant-garde use of expectations that are thwarted and stretched proportions.

The last reading is a comparative analysis of three writers on musical aesthetics: Boulez, DeLio, and Rochberg in Susan Blaustein's The Survival of Aesthetics in Rahn. Boulez (Orientations sees style as "writing within a framework of functions as limited in their potentialities as in their historical effectiveness." (P.334). In the logical eveolution of a [musical] language, ideas that are more general and abstract replace those of the forgoing period. Boulez has " constructed his own plot of musical history." (P.337) and sees the history of music as the history of individuals for individuals. This view would put Boulez squarely in the classic modernist camp by those definitions of this class.

Thomas De Lio (Circumscribing the Open Universe) makes a case for open-form works, a kind of structural procedure embraced by the avant-garde. "What is revealed through this music is the fact that an art's most vital function is to re-create the condition of being- not the experiences of one's life but that [underline mine] perpetual state of transcendence which is the very substance of life." (P.343). With a composer like Feldman there is a "language of pure process" (P. 344). Changes in notational practice bring about changes in traditional form [narrative] vs. open form.

Blaustein's summary of Rochberg's essay, "The Marvelous in Art," suggests that the composer's "thinking appears to flow from his understanding of man's rightful place in the universe." There appears to be two interrelated realities: nature and man (in art). "Much of contemporary music specializes in the annihilation of memory," (P.347) and modern life has the tendency to obliterate human consciousness. Rochberg insists on pattern and tonality on "cognitive grounds." (P.351). Also eclecticism and pluralism seems to be suggested. Rochberg's ideas, as we will see next week in The Avant-Garde and the Aesthetics of Survival, are a template for Postmodernism, the present reigning stylistic trend and probably NOT an avant-garde movement [my conclusion].

Steve VanWye's examples from Berio et al. follow).

Using Berberian's "Stripsody"(1966) and Berio's "Sequenza III"(1966) we can find similarities in their Vision and Technique which redefines the traditional notion of vocal music and the relationship between music and text. The voice,in the traditional notion of vocal music, is "transcended" from the everyday mode of expression in speech often creating a subtext, such as in long melismatic passages like the 'jubilus' in chant or in the end of ActII of Don Giovanni where Mozart juxtaposes three different dance forms simultaneously. The vocal instrument might be thought of as something that can be packed up and put in a case such as a violin. Incorporating everyday sounds of speech into a contolled spectrum of sound, they create a huge range of cultural associations, and challenge the listener's perception of any exsisting hierarchy between music, text, and instrument. "Stripsody" derives its dramatic entity by splicing together snippets of 'scenes' from comic strips of Tarzan or Superman to swating a bee which creates an agglomeration of sound and cultural references. The score itself are drawings of these 'scenes' in which the performer must interpret the pictures,words, or sounds and shape them into a unified structure. Any structural unity it contains is derived from its visual organization mixed with our own associations. "Sequenza III" is more refined, ordered, and contains a larger envelope of expression. Through the controlling of: 1) the segmented text through sung vowels, parts of words, words 2) vocal gesture through the transformation of a cough into a laugh 3)range of expression through abrupt shift of moods(close to 40), there is given the impression of polyphony from a single voice similar to the cello suite's of Bach. Though Berio adheres to the western tradition of polyphonic texture he questions the underpinnings of the western notion of the role of the voice, music and text and we can therefore call it Avant-Garde.