251D: Discussion 8

Chapter 14 "Images in Motion: Film and Television" in Feldman develops some of the basic premises of the book: "the visual arts- including the newer media of photography, film, and television- have been engaged in restoring balance to a cultural situation that has grown badly out of kilter." (P. 450). What Feldman is suggesting is that the dominance of words and abstractions for the last few centuries is becoming balance by more democratic artistic media.

Motion pictures and TV depend on two factors: 1) the long artistic tradition that re-resents out world and our experience, and 2) a "continuous stream of new technologies that record reality..." (P. 440). There is an illusion of reality created by a series of static images; and this illusion simulates the "natural activity of the eye [and] the mental activity in experiencing the duration and quality of time." (P. 441). One of the differences between film and television can be seen in the social effects: TV is "live" in that event take place in or close to real time, as opposed to edited film. The immediacy of the medium has a direct impact (also, the control of this medium seems to make more conservative and less apt to use avant-garde techniques).

There is a great democracy to these media: "Film and television tend to eliminate distinction based on money or class." (P. 447). Closeups and other editing tricks make every seat of the audience the same. A similar phenomenon probably occurs with recorded music ands with electronic music, in general, since the artificial distinctions between chamber and orchestral music are blurred with electronic music.

Embodied in Feldman's arguments is a kind of contradiction: we have seen that technology had tended to fuel avant-garde and experimental techniques; however, it may have also caused the present demise of the avant-garde because of the democratization process. Avant-garde works require greater effort and a more informed sense cultural awareness. There may be a more elitist following, and artistic decisions usually do not reflect a mass market (as in film and television).

"Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture" (1965) by Robert Venturi (in Nesbitt, PP. 72-77), addresses the prblem of the reductive in modern archtecture: artistic solutions were too pure and lacking in inherent complexity. The situation could be likened to the neat solutions of certain modernist disciplines like 12-tone serialism which go against the varied vocabulary of historical precedent. By implication, the avant-garde may have more to offer us than the modernist approaches, because of its reliance on emblematic symbols. Modernism, for it elegance may have been an oversimplification of the basic conflicts in any human endeavor (P. 74). Venturi refers to Frank Lloyd Wright's "Truth agaist the world" (P. 75) motto which has outlived its usefulness. The August Hecksher view, that life is complex and ironic, often eschewing rationalism, seems more compatible with avant-garde procedures.

Venturi is careful to avoid the picturesque, another term for Clement Greenberg's decorative kitsch, there will be a new formalism [here the implication is toward tapping into deeper human values and traditions, something intrinsic in the avant-garde].

Peter Eisenman's essay on "Post-Functionalism" rails against the idea of Postmodern, because he argues that Modern has not occurred yet, since all architecture [we can extrapolate and say all art]has maintained traditonal semiotics from the past. He may be confusing deep seated traditions with status-quo bourgeois values, which must always be overturned for new things to occur.

Matthew Cody's Summary on the Berio Sinfonia Movement follows:

Luciano Berio's opus Sinfonia is a case study in the avant garde, specifically, the third movement "In ruhig fließender Bewegung". Using techniques already associated with our definition of the avant garde as well as extensive literary and musical quotation, Berio succeeds in creating a multi-layered work rife with associations that are less cultural than emblematic.

The "cultural associations" (Steve VanWye in Discussion 6) in Cathy Berberian's Stripsody are not the same as the subtle associations made in the third movement of Luciano Berio's Sinfonia (1968-69). Instead of Tarzan and Superman, Berio uses quotations from other musical masterpieces that act as 'outmoded spaces' (Hal Foster in Compulsive Beauty) to attain his effect. Instead of a contemporary cultural association, what is made is an association with a piece of music (of which only a quote is required) that is "emblematic" (Paul Reale in Discussion 7) of its time. That type of association is what Berio seems to be critiquing; the middle class can only approach the works as symbols of another time, place and culture, rather than documents of expression and reaction. In this way, the Berio movement is avant garde.

Additionally, it is significant that these quotes take place in time over a pavement of the Scherzo movement from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.2 ("Resurrection"). By the late 1960s Mahler was seen as the pivotal composer of the century; one foot in the 19th century and the other in the 20th (which way he leaned to be decided by the interpreter). So Mahler is a logical choice for Berio; set the various pieces against a backdrop that itself is emblematic of a particular time and changing aesthetic.

Many of the effects and conventions Berio uses in Sequenza III to "question the western notion of the voice" apply here (see Steve VanWye in Discussion6), as well as his amplification of the eight voices that challenges tradition of "choir" and "orchestra."

The layers of associations that Berio employs seem to say an array of different things, and what is so very avant garde about the listener's experience is that he is unlikely to make them all or even some. Some of the ways in which Berio layers the associations:

Mahler's own themes are related to other works, like the Trio in the Scherzo of Bruckner's Symphony No.4 ("Romantic").
the text of the original song that the Mahler is based on: Sir Anthony of Padua delivers fruitless sermon to the fishes, then using music associated with water.
musical quotes and their various associations, especially those that have quotes withing them (Scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth in La Valse).
Use of Beckett's The Unnamable as commentary that art cannot change people, only move them.
Other texts, including bathroom graffiti from the Sorbonne as well as student protests.
Text-music associations are made via images, commentary, programme, and simultaneous text: "nothing more relaxing than chamber music" (as Hindemith's Kammermusik 4 is played)
Berio's own messages to the listeners and musical public via transplants from works where the lines have entirely different meanings: "Keep going" from Beckett, "Let us look back", "oh, so there is an audience" etc.

Finally, there is a sense of isolation from Berio, as if all that there is left to "say" in music is to quote and recycle. In his eclecticism, Berio has provided a work that will be different every time one approaches it. He achieves this avant gardism in the work by working with disparate materials in an associatively layered way.

Matt W. Cody